Fifty Shades of Fashion

Skirt – vintage
Shoes – Melissa

First of all I would like to apologise for jumping on the fifty shades band wagon with the title of this post. I just couldn’t resist it as it seemed to fit so well with what I wanted to say, although I have never even read the book (I promise there will be no kinky stuff in this post!).

I usually like to view the world in a very monochrome or black and white way (hence the outfit picture). Something is either right or wrong and nothing in between. I think we all tend to generalise in one way or another just to try and make sense of such a complex world. But as most of us know, nothing is ever that simple particulally when it comes to ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry. This is partly the problem that I have with the term ‘ethical fashion’, apart from all the other debates about whether fashion can ever be ethical anyway, the label forces us into to taking the ‘black and white’ approach – either something is or isn’t ethical.

The problem is at what point does something switch from being unethical to being ethical. Take for example those retailers who have committed to minimum ethical standards for example the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code. Without a doubt, these fashion brands and retailers are more ethical than those who refuse to commit in any way and it is great they are taking steps in the right direction. But many would argue that the Ethical Trading Iniative does not go far enough, with minimum wages in some developing countries being desparately low.

Then there are the brands which are ethical and sustainable to their very core and are pioneering new ways of working to increase sustainability and reduce poverty. It is so very difficult to differentiate between these and everything in between using just one term ‘ethical fashion’. As a consumer I fear this approach forces me into taking a ‘black and white’ stance which leaves me open to at best complete confusion over what to buy and at worst green washing.

This is where the Fifty shades analogy comes in… It is all fashion, isn’t it? just with different degrees of ethics and sustainability. A bit like a spectrum of colours rather than plain black or white. And so the difficult part for the fashion industry is how to communicate these fifty shades in a way that consumers can quickly and easily understand and use to make an informed buying decision. At this moment in time, it is probably unrealistic to expect every consumer to make the move from buying the darkest shade of grey to the lighest shade, but wouldn’t it be great if we could all buy maybe one or two shades lighter? This would not only reward and encourage those brands taking positive steps and send a clear message to those not making any effort at all that it is not good enough. The norm might even become just a few shades lighter, a fantastic step in the right direction.

I would love to see a 5 star system for clothes where they are awarded stars based on set criteria that they conform to for commitment to people and planet, a bit like the star system used for hotels. We could drop the term ethical fashion and just check out how many stars.

At the moment the only way that we can really find out how ethical a brand is, is by time consuming research and reading their own corporate responsibility page which can be misleading as they may well highlight the positives but play down any negatives. I am considering something like this for brands on my new website that is launching very soon. Although I think it could work out far more complicated in practice than it sounds in theory!

I would love to know what you think? as a consumer would you find it easier if their was some way of easily recognising a brands commitment to people and planet? do you think it would change how you shop?

With warmest wishes

Ceri x



6 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Fashion

  1. I totally support your idea of providing a way for consumers to clearly and easily understand the social and environmental impacts of the products they buy. You might be interested in work being done by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and their Higgs Index. Still a long way to go, but it’s a start!

  2. Hi, visiting from Recycled Fashion FB page, have you heard of The Good Shopping Guide ( It is an amazing resourcce and has done all the hard work for loads of the major fashion brands along with everything else you could possibly want to buy! This book has totally changed the brands I buy and I don’t buy anything until I have consulted the book.

    Buying anything ethical seems to be a mine field, I normally stick with second hand, handmade with ethical fabric, people tree or seasalt!

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