What is ethical fashion?

Simply put: Clothes that are made ethically.

A more complicated answer to that would be:

Clothes that are made with materials that don’t hurt our planet, and don’t use up too much of our natural resources. They are made by workers who are given fair wages, in decent conditions and with accountable employers. They are made well, last long, and don’t harm the environment during the making of it, or through its life cycle, and can be re-purposed and given a new life, when it’s time.

Yes, it’s quite hard

And it gets harder the more you read about it. While it is the unicorn that everyone in fashion is chasing today, the fine print only becomes smaller, more ambiguous and harder to read.

For example, let’s look at one of the more shocking headlines:

Fashion is the world’s second biggest polluter in the world, right after the oil industry.

It definitely does the job – it makes you sit up and take notice. It makes you want to do something about it. But it’s not immediately clear what you can do about it, other than giving up buying clothes altogether. Nor is it clear how we came to this claim – this New York Times article calls it fake news.

Lack of reliable research on the subject, unsubstantiated claims that get repeated time and again make it very difficult to support the sustainable fashion movement.

But here’s what we do know – brands themselves seldom possess knowledge about their own supply chains and the conditions of the workers. In fact, the fashion industry is accused of perpetuating modern-day slavery. We are buying more clothes than we did 10 years ago, and we are still overproducing, at severe cost to the environment.

But I can’t give up fashion. I love pretty clothes! I love how I feel when I wear a well-tailored dress. So how can I contribute?

There are many things we can change in our daily lives – small changes, that go a long way to support this movement.

Firstly, reduce how much we buy – if we wore the clothes we own for only 9 more months, that reduces its carbon footprint by 20%.

Secondly, re-purpose and repair – that shirt that lost a button? That saree that got a little tear? We’re so lucky in India to still have tailors on every corner, fixing your beloved clothes rather than discarding them is one of the cornerstones of this movement.

Third, research – find out all you can about the brand you’re shopping from. Ask for transparency and hold them accountable. Find out #whomadeyourclothes and #whatsinmyclothes. Check out Fashion Revolution, they’ve done extensive work to simplify the movement.

Finally, recycle – from renting out clothes for special occasions to swapping dresses with your BFF, give your clothes a second lease of life before throwing them away. Remember, there is no ‘away’, there is only a limited piece of land which is already burdened with more non degradable garbage than it can handle. Your clothes deserve better!

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