"Buy now, try later, maybe return"
That's been my shopping motto off and on throughout my life. And I know I'm not alone. Basically, we like stuff: new stuff, more stuff, any stuff will do as long as we can consume. According to Statista, the global retail apparel and footwear markets were valued at approximately 1.9 trillion U.S. dollars as of 2019. That’s a whole lot of money spent on what we wear.
How does this lead us to the topic of “ethical fashion” and what the heck is "fast fashion"? The goal of this post is to give you a high level explanation of fast fashion and ethical fashion.
WHAT IS FAST FASHION?
One of the phrases that may have raised an eyebrow earlier is “fast fashion”. I learned this term while watching The True Cost documentary during a nap time one day, and I haven’t been the same since. I shed many tears watching this documentary explain the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh where over 100 garment factory workers were killed and thousands were injured. Structural weaknesses had been noted in the building just days before the collapse, but the workers were still required to show up for work and produce garments despite the conditions. This was not the first nor the only tragic incident to kill and injure workers in the apparel industry. We just usually don’t hear about them in the media - it’s not good for business apparently.
The idea of “fast fashion” is that we’ve moved from having a fall/winter and spring/summer fashion rotation into mini seasons in-between. We’ve got all kinds of new trends, outfit inspo, and liketoknowits smacking us in the face on a daily basis. Start paying attention to how quickly your favorite stores rotate inventory or replace the old with the new. Start paying attention to all of those e-mails in your inbox asking you to check out the sale or sign up to receive exclusive access to the new deals. I say these things because I fall prey to this all the time.
WHAT IS ETHICAL FASHION?
So, what in the world is “ethical fashion”? Essentially, it’s a blanket term used by lots of different people and can have lots of different definitions...so glad we cleared that up. I’ve researched and come to my own conclusions over the past several years, so this is my personal definition of ethical fashion.
"I believe ethical fashion encompasses brands that are working hard to break the cycle of fast fashion through ensuring safe working conditions, offering a living wage, partnering with artisans to support local economies, ensuring sustainable practices and overall focusing on the fact that how a garment is made matters greatly."
Whew. That’s lots of words to define one term, and interestingly enough that’s my personal definition. If you’re vegan, you’re going to have a completely different view of ethical fashion and probably not like my thoughts on how Sseko is ensuring less waste by using all parts of the cow from leather to horn to craft beautiful accessories. Each person has their own definition of what they find "ethical" - though I'm sure there are many basic tenants of treating garment workers and the environment "ethically" upon which we can agree.
Let's get real, friends. My closet is not entirely made up of garments that have been produced in conditions I’m comfortable with, and that’s okay with me…for now. I consider this a long journey - a process. It’s taken me years to even understand how I define ethical fashion and what that looks like for my consumption habits. I have closet goals in mind for sure, but it makes no sense to throw out an entire closet full of clothes I already have in the name of “ethical fashion” and less consumption.
Is your head spinning yet? I’m an “all or nothing” kind of gal, so when I was first presented with this idea of ethical shopping, I wanted to start with a clean slate. Don’t go throwing out your wardrobe just yet. We're here, too, walking this line imperfectly, so let’s walk together.