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Ethical - Sustainable - Slow

What do they all mean? We hear the words slow, sustainable and ethical a lot in fashion marketing these days, are they all the same thing? Read on below to find out more....



As a bit of an extension to last week’s blog post, I wanted to look at some of the other terms that get used A LOT in the fashion space at the moment, what they really mean and why brands can’t pick and choose if they’re genuine about their efforts.


Ethical - usually refers to the people who made the clothes (or fabric) being paid a ‘living wage’ and being able to work in safe conditions. Although it should be noted that a living wage in many garment producing countries is often still not enough to live on. All clothes are hand made with the help of a sewing machine. The technology doesn’t exist for machines alone to make our clothes, real people are involved at each stage of the process and garment workers are highly skilled makers.


Sustainable - refers to minimising the environmental impact of a garment starting with the fibres and dyes used to make the fabric, production waste, air/sea miles it’s racked up along the way, how it’s cared for and what happens to it at the end of its useful life.


Slow - as opposed to fast fashion - aims to merge the two with small & mindful production. It also refers to our mindset as customers, encouraging a slower more thoughtful way of accumulating clothes.

[It’s important to note though that even if fast fashion is the only place that offers a style and size you want at an accessible price point, you can still have a ‘slow fashion’ mindset by buying at a slower pace, keeping it for longer, caring for and repairing it.]


Many small independent makers often tick a few of these boxes without much effort, having oversight over their own sourcing and production and many work really hard to create as responsibly as possible. But fast fashion brands are using these terms in ways that are not true to the meaning of the word.


So what’s the problem with brands (specifically big high street names) picking and choosing which terms they want to label their products as? It boils down to profiting from the problem, one which they had a hand in creating and also have the resources to fix. Profiting from selling us something “ethical” but continuing to profit from other unethical practices at the same time.


Venetia Le Manna, podcaster and fair fashion campaigner, puts it best with:

“Fashion is not “conscious” if the recycled range was made by women who don’t earn a living wage”

There are so many examples of brands using buzzword terms to catch our attention but their actions elsewhere contradict their own campaigns:

  • Entire sustainability publications and numerous website pages dedicated to showcasing their efforts but failing to meet their own commitments to paying a living wage to the workers who make their clothes (H&M)

  • A dress made from ‘sustainable materials’ but shipped halfway around the world on it’s journey to be woven, dyed, cut, sewn and sold not to mention continuing to overproduce the rest of it’s range (Zara)

  • Paying workers a ‘living wage’ but making products from polluting materials.


Environmental and social impacts have to go hand in hand. It’s not sustainable to exploit workers and it’s not ethical to cause damage to the environment or bin excess stock. The climate crisis hits developing countries the worst and these are also the countries that produce the majority of the world’s garments. Paying workers fairly isn’t as commendable as a brand would have us believe if they continue to produce products that pollute the environment - most often that of developing countries.


Where do you stand? Is there one aspect that’s most important to you in deciding what to buy or make?


I reckon whether you are a shopper or small maker, start where you can and aim to achieve others where possible - this whole thing can be a minefield but small actions will make a difference. While governments take their time making legislation to hold brands to account, we have the power to put pressure on brands ourselves by asking questions and voting with our money. After all, money is all these companies listen to and if they think they might loose ours, they'll take action.


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