Concern for the climate has sparked conversation around the harm that unsustainable and unethical fashion causes. In response to this, awareness regarding ethics, environmentalism and fashion has positively grown. However, because the unsustainable and unethical fashion industry is so prevalent, it can be difficult to truly understand and prioritise the actions that need to be taken to protect the planet and every living being on it.
Ethical fashion is a movement which describes a multitude of sustainable processes that focus on reducing the major negative impact that unsustainable fashion has on people, animals and the environment. Design, manufacturing and distribution are some of the main components of production that ethical fashion practices take into consideration. Although the goal of ethical and sustainable fashion is consistent overall, not all labels that are ethical or sustainable follow the same formula or practices.
According to Andrew Morgan’s documentary The True Cost the world’s population is consuming 400% more clothing than it was at the start of the millennium. 80 million garments are purchased around the world annually, and due to the growing convenience of online shopping, online sales with the most affordable and quickest shipping times are at an all-time high. Our relentless relationship towards fashion consumption has consequences that we were never prepared for.
The environment suffers greatly at the hands of fast fashion production and consumption. The global fashion industry is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions and is the second-largest water polluter. Dyeing and finishing, yarn preparation and fiber production are the main pollutants caused by the apparel manufacturing process, according to The Quantis International report carried out in 2018. 92 million tonnes of clothes-related waste are discarded and sent to the landfill every year. Half a million tonnes of microplastics riddle the oceans each year (usually from washing synthetic fabrics), which infiltrates sea life habitats and makes its way up the food chain until we are also consuming it in our seafood.
Fast fashion has serious negative implications for those who produce it, and those who consume it. Workers are grossly underpaid, overworked and exploited. Mass production of fast fashion often occurs in developing countries because of the loose working laws, anti-union policies and lack of general protection. A 2019 Oxfam report concluded that 0% of Bangladeshi workers earned a living wage, leaving workers trapped in a cycle with no rights, security or safety.
The Whitecliffe School of Fashion + Sustainability understands how detrimental fast fashion is on the planet and stresses the urgent need for a more ethical line of production in the fashion industry. This care and concern for sustainable practice is emphasised to students during study, and some alumni have even created their own sustainable fashion labels.
Maggie Marilyn, a label started by alumni Maggie Hewitt, understands the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion at all stages of production. With several sustainable missions and extensive ethical practices, Maggie Marilyn reminds consumers of the true importance of caring for people and the planet. The website contains a thorough and transparent range of information regarding all the ways in which the label keeps ethics at the forefront of the business. One way in which they do this is by maintaining a Supplier Code of Conduct which covers the essential standards that need to be met regarding environmental impact, human rights and animal welfare. They are also carbon positive, meaning they have moved beyond carbon neutral, and are removing more carbon and greenhouse gases from the environment than they are producing.
Oosterom, a label started by alumni Nicole Hadfield, maintains a sustainable line of production by utilising a made-to-order method of construction. This ensures that consumers are completely satisfied with their tailored product, which eliminates the possibility of excess supply. All garments are made locally by Nicole Hadfield, which reflects the true care that goes into the construction of every single Oosterom garment.
At a time where trends are excessive and influenceability is thriving, it can be difficult to break the comfortable cycle of satisfying our fashion cravings as quickly and cheaply as possible. But the good news is that small changes go a long way. Shopping at second-hand stores or renting clothes instead of buying them new is an incredibly effective way of prolonging the life of garments and reducing overconsumption. Sourcing clothes made from sustainable and ethical fabrics like organic cotton, recycled cotton, organic linen, organic hemp, faux fur and vegan leather is another helpful way to remain environmentally conscious. Prioritising finding out how and where a garment was made before purchasing is a significant step that ensures ethical and sustainable consumption can be monitored.
Whitecliffe is at the forefront of providing sustainable and ethical fashion education in Aotearoa. We cultivate talent, teach valuable skills and encourage sustainable practices throughout our schools. We help you create meaningful change which can be applied during study and far beyond. Although being sustainable and ethical can require additional effort and thoughtfulness, we strongly believe that any small changes will make a positive difference on the future. Creating meaningful change starts with you.
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