Ethical Fashion has been a buzz word for a number of years now, but what does it really mean, and how do you know if the clothes you are buying are ethical or not?

The term “ethical” is most commonly associated with the working conditions and treatment of the people manufacturing the product. But more recently, the term has also begun to encompass concerns about environmental impact and sustainability.

Many small fashion brands who have positioned themselves as being 100% ethical have amassed a loyal customer base through such ethical marketing messages. For most of the larger brands, claims of ethicalness are built on relationships and common goals with their suppliers and can be easily controlled and verified. However, what happens when the brand grows and its supply chain expands? How then, do they satisfy trading standards in the selling markets that the claims they make for their products and supply chains are true?

A US investigation into eco claims reports that bamboo fibre is no more natural than synthetic rayon. Labels and advertising on 450,000 textile items, as well as on 250 websites that sell clothing and textile products had to be corrected following this investigation.

So how does an average consumer find out which T-shirt is sweated and which is really ethically made?

Indeed, ethics in fashion and clothing manufacturing are complicated, with many initiatives and many leading programmes around the world, but other consumer goods industries can certainly learn from the mistakes and successes of the clothing and fashion industries.

As there is no single recognised standard or label, it is difficult to tell at point of sale if the pair of jeans you bought last week really is ethically made or not. Membership or participation in the initiatives listed below can shed light on whether or not the brand you’re buying is taking its social and environmental responsibilities seriously.

Working Conditions:

Ethical Trading Initiative
Better Work Program
Fair Labour Association
Business Social Compliance Initiative

Environmental Impact:

Sustainable Apparel Coalition
Sustainable Clothing Action Plan
European Outdoor Group
Eco Metrics

Sustainable Raw Material Initiatives:

Better Cotton Initiative
Cotton Made in Africa
Fairtrade Cotton
Global Recycling Standard
Global Organic Textile Standard

If this reference list looks too daunting, you can get a more comprehensive view on the subject at The SOURCE, an online platform run by the Ethical Fashion Forum that offers information and the latest news on ethics and fashion, as well as profiles of fashion industry leaders who are blazing the ethical sourcing trail.



-Abi Rushton, Director, ethicalexpert

Photo credit: Flickr/tezzr