In my years as an ethical fashion entrepreneur and advocate, I have seen first-hand how the garments we wear can contribute to a more sustainable earth - and a more sustainable business model. Eco-apparel and organic textiles are rapidly growing market that can create opportunities for companies, employees and the environment. So what is ethical fashion, and does it have the potential to be the next organic food craze?
Ethical fashion brands do right by their society, environment, employees and customers. According to The Ethical Fashion Forum, it's all about maximizing benefits, while minimizing negative impact. Everybody wins.
Some fashion industry insiders are making it their collective mission to alter the effects fashion has on the earth and the people who make our clothes. A new generation of consumers are using their spending power on ethical goods, and fashion businesses safeguard their market position by taking advantage of this customer base. Eco-apparel is a $5billion market in the US, and has grown 300% in a decade. Google trends shows that searches for "sustainable fashion" are rising faster and more steadily than searches for "organic food". Here's why sustainability is so important to fashion's future:
After big oil and agriculture, fast fashion is the third most pollutant industry in the world. Manufacturing and shipping clothes uses massive amounts of toxic chemicals and leaves tons of waste. Fast fashion also creates a life cycle problem: the average American tosses 82 pounds of textile waste each year, or 11 million tons in the US alone. Fashion companies with an unethical carbon footprint will end up paying the price as the ethical fashion movement grows: from levies imposed by governments and international waste-reducing bodies, to a bad public image.
2. Scarce resources
A pair of jeans and a t-shirt takes 5000 gallons of water to produce - 12 times what the average American drinks in a year. Top scientists warn that a water crisis is looming, and the World Economic Forum rated water scarcity the single most important global risk over the next ten years. Companies who can adapt to sustainable practices, using less water, will earn respect from their customers - and will be well placed to survive when water supplies are less abundant, and more expensive.
All too often, the fashion industry falls short in paying a living wage and providing safe conditions for its workers. Who can forget the 2013 factory collapses in Bangladesh, which killed over 1500 people, and caused outrage at the mass market brands who manufactured there? Customers want to feel great about their clothes, and that includes feeling great about how they were made. Fair wages and happy workers are ethical policies - and they are a strong selling point.
Documentaries, public campaigns and celebrity advocates have all made ethical fashion a major buzzword. Eco-friendly consultancies and shopping sites like Eco-Age, ethica, and Maison de Mode are becoming more and more popular. As this trend grows, customers become more and more willing to pay a bit extra to invest in sustainable clothes - and a sustainable fashion future.As this trend grows, customers become more and more willing to pay a bit extra to invest in sustainable clothes - and a sustainable fashion future.