Ethical Fashion Conundrums


Recycled Polyester Dress from H & M Conscious Collection
Ethical fashion is coming on leaps and bounds. There is so much more choice than there used to be and some of the bigger brands are starting to become more ethical. But there is still a lot green wash out there and confusing aspects to ethical fashion or for want of a better word conundrums. It can be difficult to know what to buy for the best.

Ethical fashion in itself is a bit of a conundrum and many question whether there can ever be such a thing as ethical fashion. Afterall fashion and the concept of being fashionable implies that it is constantly changing. It is difficult to see how this could be sustainable and ethical as it is a continous drain on natural resources and produces waste. As far as I am concerned in order for fashion to become more sustainable, we need to move away from the need to constantly update our wardrobes with new cheaply made clothes and towards buying quality clothing that we treasure and look after. Perhaps ethical style is a better term but eventually, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to use the word ethical anymore because everything was ethical.

Some more of my ethical fashon conundrums include:

Synthetic or natural fabrics?

I have always considered natural fabrics to be  far better for the environment than synthetic fabrics. But perhaps I have been wrong. Whilst the process for making synthetic fabrics is energy hungry and uses non renewable resources and they do not biodegrade, they do last longer, can be washed at lower temperatures and often don’t even need ironing. Conventional cotton is grown with the help of pesticides which are damaging to the environment and there are also some animal welfare issues associated with the production of wool and silk. Unlike natural fibres, polyester can be recycled to its original state. Issey Miyakes 132 5 collection include some beautiful polyester pieces that are based on origami. H & M also made good use of recycled Polyester in their recent Conscious Collection.  Whilst I have always claimed to hate synthetic fabrics, I have a collection of vintage pieces many of which are made from synthetic fabrics.

Leather or vegan shoes

For those that have animal welfare high on their ethical agenda, vegan shoes seem like the best option. Both the rearing of cattle and tanning of leather have an environmental impact. But some vegan shoes are made from plastics that will not biodegrade and they can contain health damaging chemicals. Some say that leather is a bi product of the meat industry and so it doesn’t cause any additional suffering to the animals. It is not neccesarily quite this simple.

There are however lots of ethical shoe alternatives now, ranging from those made from vegetable tanned leather to shoes made from completely natural alternatives to leather and even recycled materials. But of course finding the right styles, made from the right materials continues to be a challenge.

Whether to only buy from ethical retailers

In the past I have also considered the best option to be buying from companies that are completely ethical and only sell ethical products. This makes it much easier to ensure that you don’t get greenwashed and support those  companies that are really investing in ethical sourcing. But lately I have been thinking that it might be better if ethical fashion was sold amongst conventional fashion as it is likely to be seen by a much larger audience. A good example of this is the ASOS Africa collection and the H & M Conscience Collection. If we buy these collections, then perhaps the retailers will be persuaded to sell more ethical lines.

I really have no idea where to start with the issue of whether to buy locally or support Fairtrade and co operatives abroad.

I guess the truth is that as with many of the worlds problems, there is no simple answer. It would be great to go into a shop and instantly know which products had been produced most ethically with the least impact on the environment and to know that you could always find an affordable ethical option. In reality, nothing is that black and white. There are so many different impacts of the fashion industry and who decides which holds the highest priority. I just try my best to buy clothes that will last and where possible choose second hand or support ethical brands in the hope that it will make a difference.

I would love to know your thoughts. Do you try to buy ethically? If so how do you choose what to buy?

With warmest wishes

Ceri X


20 thoughts on “Ethical Fashion Conundrums

  1. This is a tricky concept because there really isn’t an answer. Ideally people wouldwear their clothes until they need replacing (and thenuse the material for other things, rags etc) but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    I think part of the solution lies in quality (regardless of what company made it). I have certain pieces that are (gasp) 5+ years old but I can still wear them because they’ve held up and are in classic shapes.
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  2. Excellent points! I was buying a Crimplene dress at a jumble sale the other day and the elderly lady who served me said that she thought that ICI stopped producing it because it wore so well that women didn’t bother buying new clothes. I’m sure she had a valid point. Although synthetics no doubt have a greater impact in the enviroment the need to keep buying more as they’ve worn out is reduced.
    A few years ago I went backpacking with just two dresses, a TopShop cotton maxi and a 1970s polyester one. After a month I had to dump the modern dress as it had worn so thin and faded in the sunlight but four years later I’m still wearing the other one. x
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  3. I don’t think there is a right or wrong thing to do – i think doing a mix of options is one way forward. In the end as ethical fashion gets more mainstream then the high street will take this on board more and more. In the end sustainable textiles will be the norm, as we really won’t have much spare water for crops for fashion, so by nature we will have to change our ways.

    I would just add, supporting ethical brands rather than retailers is worth thinking about = they are the ones that have made the commitment to ethical supply chains, developing relationships with the producers and many are supporting the development of innovation in terms of sustainable textiles. Brands such as People Tree, Kuyichi & Gossypium have been in this game for 20 years. If we don’t support these brands, the pioneers so to speak, then there will be less pressure on the high street to keep getting better. Although the magazines would give an impression that ethical fashion is becoming the norm, I think we are still at the very beginning of this great idea. It might seem like we need to dig deep into our pockets to invest in “new” ethical fashion, but in the long run its going to be worth it 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. Some interesting points especially on supporting ethical brands to put pressure on the high street to keep getting better.

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  6. I completely agree, buy quality over quantity. But I’m still lost on where to buy ethical clothing. There are a lot of shades of grey out there & the information to know what you’ve buying isn’t always available.

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  10. These conundrums absolutely resonate with me! As a teenage girl I wanted to become a fashion designer, but I shied away from it because I preferred the idea of lasting style to that of fast-changing fashion, however the latter is what you make money from as a designer… now as a low-budget student I live mostly in reclaimed / refashioned / inherited clothing, so I’m pretty good about that aspect of ethics, but I still buy fast fashion basics (undies, socks, tees, ballet flats) because these are rather “disposable” items no matter what price range they come in and I don’t want to strain my budget for them… I’ve also bought a H&M Conscious Collection dress on clearance, but because H&M clothes still get produced under unethical working conditions, I suspect it’s just a form of greenwashing and I feel bad about it. Thanks for addressing this complex topic!
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  14. Whoever wrote the section about the vegan shoes obviously knows nothing about the way Indian cows are treated on their death walk JUST so they can be murdered for leather. It’s a very painful process which DOES CAUSE ADDITIONAL SUFFERING to the cow because they aren’t being slaughtered for their meat, but their skins. If you’re interested in the process these poor cows go through just so we can wear their skins, click this link:

    Even though vegan shoes may contain chemicals… THINK hard about the harsh chemicals used to dye and maintain the leather that you’re wearing… those aren’t healthy, either.

    I am really considering cutting animal products out of my wardrobe altogether. Every single animal is being abused and exploited by humans for their own profit. I feel truly ashamed of the clothing industry.

    • Thank you for your comment. When I said that ‘Some say that leather is a bi product of the meat industry and so it doesn’t cause any additional suffering to the animals.’ I did not mean that it is necessarily true or something that I agree with, I was trying to highlight the difficulties that I (and probably many others) face in choosing what to buy.

      I perhaps could have elaborated more on the animal welfare issues but the article was supposed to more of a thought provoker than detailed analysis of every single way that an item of clothing can be unethical. The point that I was trying to make is that not everything is always as it seems. Just because a pair of shoes is vegan does not mean that they have been ethically produced or are good for the planet. I am glad that the article is stimulating such a good discussion though.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this link to PETA which I am sure will be useful for those readers who want to find out more about animal welfare and leather.