Ethical fashion has grown in popularity in recent years, and as a result many fast fashion businesses have jumped on the bandwagon despite not having ethical practices. The trick they often use to confound shoppers is to use jargon and greenwashing.
Even the fastest of fast fashion manufacturers can (and will) throw on a sticker or label identifying their product as 'conscious' or 'earth friendly' or other similar sentiments, regardless of how far from conscious or earth friendly that product (or the rest in their range) really is. It can make shopping for new products challenging if your goal is to minimise your environmental impact.
So, how can we tell whether something really is sustainable and ethical? Below are a few rules of thumb that can give you an idea of whether the company is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
The first is the cost of the item. We know that price will give you an idea of its quality, and this rule of thumb also goes for whether an item is ethically and sustainably produced. Typically, the less expensive an item is, the less ethical and sustainable it's likely to be.
When we buy something, we want to know that the person making it was making it under fair work conditions and earning a liveable wage. The cheaper something is, the more likely a company has cut corners, and often it is at the expense of the worker.
Equally, the cheaper something is, the less likely it is the materials have been produced sustainably or sourced consciously because there are usually significant costs associated with doing so.
Unfortunately, we have come to associate ‘Made in Bangladesh’ with abysmal working conditions, due to a tragic garment factory fire in 2012 which took the life of over 1000 workers. That event did shine a light on the poor conditions factory workers endure, however, neither it nor the other fires that have occurred since, has seen a diminished demand for, or supply of, fast fashion.
Brands use workers in countries like Bangladesh or China because of the low labour costs and limited workers' rights. The products, however, are typically poorer in quality and durability so the unethical practices are just compounded by the massive waste problem that is created. The only real option to avoid this is to avoid fast fashion completely.
This is where the most greenwashing comes in, so it is where shoppers need to be most wary. Terms like ethical, sustainable, conscious and responsible, relating to the production of the materials used, are freely thrown around with no accountability or regulation. You also see terms like recycled materials and post or pre-consumer waste, which can just add to the confusion.
The topic of sustainable materials is immense so even without all the jargon, it is still complicated to navigate. The best advice is to stick to natural materials that are organic and/or recycled, if possible, like cotton, linen, hemp, rayon or bamboo linen or synthetics that have the least impact and the longest life span. Good examples are pinatex (made from pineapple), Tencel (wood pulp) or recycled synthetics.
If you need help sifting your way through this maze of terms and brands, the website Good On You is an invaluable resource for recommendations and ratings.
Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.