Immortalise Your Own Personal Style With Ethical Fashion
what is ethical clothing – the big grey debate?
What makes one garment ethical and another not? Can a garment be ethical at every stage of it’s creation, from the growing of the plants to make the fabric, through to the sewing of the fabric and making of the garment into the design? Clothing can be ethical in many different ways; is a a top made from organic cotton better than a top made from normal cotton that is grown, spun and sewn under fair trade working conditions?
There are definitely many questions that can be asked and complexities that should be considered. Questioning industry practices enables us to be on a positive march towards greater awareness, allows us to embrace more eco, green and sustainable initiatives and ensures a genuine industry move towards more ethical garments.
let’s celebrate ethical fashion, rather than the term being an oxymoron?
Fashion by its own definition means ‘what’s in now’ and what we’re currently seeing are styles coming in and going out of fashion more quickly than ever before. Creating a garment from the design stages to be on the retail floor in only a few weeks and enabling the garment to be sold at low retail prices, helps fuel a culture of throw away fashion that is unsustainable, especially as the garments are usually of such poor quality, they cannot be re-sold.
Seeing a shift towards a much wider variety of clothing styles and designs being on trend at any one time and a greater acceptance of mixing brands brings hope. This allows consumers greater space to choose from a more diverse range of clothes that actually suits them and therefore may be worn for longer, coupled with specific styles, patterns and colours coming back into fashion much quicker and allowing the consumer to revive clothes long forgotten from their wardrobes or to visit their local charity or retro/second-hand clothes shop.
Ethical Fashion should be, and is fast becoming, a celebrated term, one which ensures we question rather than accept, think before we purchase, and brings greater integrity and understanding to the fashion industry, as well as better supporting the environment and communities around the world. The movement of Slow Fashion is a great example of this as it champions taking the time to ensure quality in production and the value of a product and that of it’s relationship with the environment and ourselves, allowing us to immortalise our own personal style, which is always much more exciting and interesting than copying a homogenised style, with everyone looking the same!
organic or fairtrade fashion?
So a big debate in the past has been do I buy a top with a Fair Trade Certification or one with an Organic Certification, as maybe surprisingly it was harder to find a top made from fabric that had both an organic and fair trade accreditation. Certifications are both costly and timely to a business, can take a great deal of work and time to be awarded and therefore in many cases, a business would have had to decide which accreditation to pursue first or was the priority to hold. We are very pleased to say that since The Natural Store launched in 2005, year on year we are seeing an increasing number of garments made from cotton that is both Fair Trade and Organic, which is great news.
so many wonderful fabrics
There are so many wonderful ethical fabrics now to choose from. Fibres from plants such as bamboo and banana have been used by specific countries sometimes for hundreds of years and with globalisation continuing apace, are becoming increasingly popular and more well known and favoured around the world. In Japan, banana cultivation for clothing and household use dates back to at least the 13th century. Fabric made from bamboo fibre is becoming much more popular in the West, as it is extremely versatile with a strong and fast growth rate, with highly absorbent and anti-bacterial qualities. Indigenous plants and fibres that were used in abundance in the past and may have become forgotten are being rediscovered and cherished, such as stinging nettles and wool from rare breed sheep in the UK. Resilient plants that don’t require pesticides to grow well, like hemp and flax/linen. The realisation that certain plants can make excellent fabric, like soy.
Each of these materials has it’s own personality and qualities, and demand has never been higher for certain ethical fibres, only made the more special by them not having had pesticides or chemicals applied during their growth or harvesting.
don’t forget the smaller elements and finishing touches of a garment
It’s not just the fabric or material (the main body of the garment) that should be considered but also all of the smaller elements that comprise the garment and hold it together like: the threads and glues; the fastenings - buttons, poppers, zips; the embellishments. Piccalilly
use nickel free poppers on their baby grows and body suits. Kite Kids
uses natural coconut buttons on many of their garments. Kerala
’s button and loop fastenings are made from banana fibre. Po-Zu Footwear
avoids harmful glues by stitching their shoes together, which also makes them more breathable, durable, repairable and recyclable. Snood
embellishes some of its sweaters with reclaimed fabric corsages or reused buttons.
unethical manufacturing processes
Sometimes it is not the actual fabric itself but a part of the manufacturing process or supply chain that makes a garment unethical. Sandblasting on jeans has received a lot of headlines recently, with thanks to reports and articles like Labour Behind The Labels Report
titled - Killer Jeans: a report on sandblasted denim. Another example is Mulesing, which has been a routine husbandry procedure for the majority of merino sheep in Australia for the last 80 years and entails running a sharp knife around the breech area about the size of a dinner plate, then ripping off the wool bearing skin within that area.
certifications help to seal the deal
Certifications are great guidance tool, as they can give us immediate assurance and confidence to buy products that carry their specific Certification logos, provided the certification body retains integrity and credibility by ensuring its members adhere to and maintain a certain set of strict standards and criteria. Some are more well-known than others and have international recognition like The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)
, formerly the International Fair Trade Association ("IFAT"), whilst others are national or region specific, like the Organic Farmers & Growers
in the UK and in North America the Organic Trade Association (OTA)
In our fast paced world, all certifications are trying to help us make a more-informed and overall better decision. Please see below for a list of Certifications used by the Textile, Fashion and Accessories Industries and that you may see on ethical clothing that you buy.
but don’t forget the small guy
Some garments without a certification mark can be just as ethical as those that do carry one. The garment may be made by a brand or small business that cannot currently afford to adjust their working practises to meet a certifications specific criteria or to pay for the annual fee to be a certification member. They might be in the stages of applying for accreditation and sometimes this can take many months to secure. It can be difficult initially to distinguish whether a brand is truly trying to be ethical or just using the words ‘ethical’, ‘eco’ or ‘green’ as immediate buzz words to gain greater sales, but we have found the more transparent a label is about their business model and how forthcoming they are to answer questions, is a good indicator of their integrity and genuineness in trying to create an ethical business. Also, some fibres such as bamboo, don’t as yet have a certification body.
Kayoo Jewellery is such a business - they work with and support a small family business in Bali, where they use reclaimed rosewood and wood from irreparable Balinese fishing boats to make their jewellery. Kayoo are not members of a Fair Trade association but adhere to fair trade practices in the execution and manufacturing of their products.
It can be a veritable minefield determining whether a garment is ethical or not. Certifications help tremendously with this, although we have to bear in mind what the accreditation mark is for. It may be accrediting how the plant was grown which made the fabric, or the working and living conditions of the people who made the garment, or how much carbon dioxide has been used up in the creation and delivery to the consumer of that garment, or that the company give a certain amount of their profits to charity.
from start to finish
Eco labelling does encourage more sustainable production and consumption and the EU Commission is currently being presented with a number of eco labelling options that will show much greater transparency right from the beginning when the seed is sown, through to the end when the garment is sold, as there has been debate on whether the EU Flower Eco Label
successfully delivers all the eco answers that consumers want when purchasing a garment. The EU is currently looking into the feasibility of an initiative on the Ecological Footprint of Products and to establish a common European methodology to assess the environmental impact of products and to label such products.
it doesn’t end there
Even once you’ve purchased the garment there are considerations to make, such as how to clean it and with what product, and how to get rid of the garment once you have finished with it, charity shop, clothes collection bin, re-sell on ebay, revamp or cut up and use on other garments or in the home. For laundry, Home Scents Violets Laundry Range
is great for normal washing, sensitive skins and also baby clothes. To complete the range it has natural stain removers and laundry sanitisers. For delicates, try Maison Belle’s Silk and Wool Laundry Wash
or Home Scents Rose Scented Wash for Pashminas and Silks
we’re not just talking about clothes
don’t forget, we’re not just talking about clothes, these questions and concerns apply to anything that you wear...shoes, belts, scarves, bags, jewellery. With so many beautiful, versatile and adaptable clothes and accessories, why choose anything other than an ethical!
LIST OF CERTIFICATIONS
Fairtrade Foundation - http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/
Organic Farmers and Growers - http://www.organicfarmers.org.uk/
Soil Association - http://www.soilassociation.org/
EU Flower Eco Label - http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel/
North America / USA
Fair Trade USA - http://www.fairtradeusa.org/
North America Organic Trade Association - http://www.ota.com/index.html
Fairtrade International - http://www.fairtrade.net/
Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) - http://www.global-standard.org/
World Fair Trade Organization - http://www.wfto.com/