Sustainability is becoming a key consideration in the purchases that consumers make. With the rise in environmental consciousness and the need to preserve the planet for future generations, sustainability is more vital than it’s ever been before.
One of the industries that have a substantially negative impact on the environment is fashion.
The manufactured fabrics used contain plastics, and there is a lot of pollution caused by the production process. Artificial dyes contain chemicals that are harmful to the planet.
Another reason the fashion industry has come under scrutiny in recent years is the labor force it uses and how workers are treated. One need only remember the Rana Plaza tragedy in Dhaka, Bangladesh as a case in point.
Garment industry employees were working in deplorable and unsafe conditions making clothing for some well-known brands.
The building they worked in was structurally unsound, and it collapsed on April 24, 2013. The death toll was over 1,000, with more than 2,000 people injured.
This tragedy and others that occurred before it highlighted plights of the people making the clothes millions around the globe buy. The idea of first-world countries taking advantage of impoverished workers in third-world countries became repulsive to many consumers.
Sweatshops, forced labor, and low wages became talking points. It was hard to swallow the fact that someone who had made a garment in distressing circumstances did not earn enough money to provide food, let alone clothes, for their families.
Out of this came the sustainable fashion movement. These businesses aim to introduce several valuable concepts into their production practices.
Child labor and involuntary labor are strictly forbidden. Employees are to be treated fairly, with no threats or acts of physical, verbal, psychological, or sexual harassment or abuse.
Employers may not discriminate against workers based on union membership, religion, age, gender, race, or disability. Pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, or political persuasion are also grounds on which employers may not discriminate.
Collective bargaining and freedom of association such as union members are allowed as long as their activities are peaceful and responsible.
Health and safety standards must be stringently applied. A worker should not be exposed to any unnecessary risk of illness, injury, or death in the conduct of their job.
A factory should have good lighting and ventilation, fire safety measures in place, and functioning sanitary facilities.
Workers must receive a regularly paid, fair wage for the job they do. There are maximum work hours beyond which employers may not expect employees to work.
These include some overtime hours for which employees are paid 1.5 times the regular rate. During the workday, employees must get short breaks and meal breaks.
Employee grievances should be heard and attended to where possible. For any disciplinary proceedings, all actions need to be procedurally and substantively fair.
Companies should strive to make a minimal environmental impact in their production processes.
Emissions from the manufacture and transport of the garments should be kept to an absolute minimum. The use of all-natural fabrics and water-based dyes is encouraged.
Fashion businesses should buy the fabrics and garments manufactured by third parties at a fair price. While profit-making is the primary goal of any business, it should not come at the expense of the livelihoods of others.
It is not enough to ensure workers’ rights are observed. Companies are also expected to contribute to the development of the communities from which their workers come.
As part of their corporate social responsibility programs, companies should address the needs of the community such as providing education and healthcare facilities.
Ethical obligations to consumers
Sustainable businesses are transparent about their products. They can show the supply chain that led to the production of the garments.
Organizations should demonstrate their environmental ethics by showing what resources were used in the manufacturing process.
The company can apply for fair trade accreditation which is a further reassurance for the consumer that the organization is committed to sustainability.
If the idea of buying clothes from sustainable fashion retailers appeals to you, here are five fashion retailers to read about:
Based in California, Everlane has become well-known for its range of affordable clothing. Their clothes are produced according to strict ethics regulations from which the company will not deviate.
The company supplies men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories. The backbone of Everlane is transparency. The company believes in being open and honest about where their clothes come from and how they were manufactured.
They also describe the resources used in the production process. As part of a new radical transparency move, the company shows how much it costs to make each garment.
The price is broken down into the cost of materials, hardware, labor, transport, and duties.
The company believes in building strong relationships with its suppliers. Employees travel the world looking for factories that adhere to their vision of environmental and ethical responsibility.
2. Thought Clothing
This London-based company is a supplier of organic clothing at affordable prices. Thought Clothing sells men’s and women’s clothing and accessories.
All clothes are manufactured from organic cotton and other sustainable fabrics. Garments are made to last, and the designs are timeless which keeps them relevant.
Thought Clothing makes the welfare of the workers making their clothing top priority. The company establishes sound relationships with suppliers and factories.
The aim is to ensure that each person who contributes to the making of their products is fairly treated. The company has a working partnership with Traid.
Traid is a charity that encourages the reuse and repurposing of clothing. Thought Clothing also works with Smart Works. Together they help unemployed women by teaching them interview skills and providing them with clothes suitable for job interviews.
Kotn produces men’s and women’s basic wear. The Toronto company is best known for its Egyptian cotton basics that complement any ensemble.
Their top-quality clothes are durable and long-lasting. Fair and safe working conditions are critical to the owners and employees of Kotn.
From the people who work in the cotton fields to the factories that manufacture the garments, Kotn makes sure they are well-treated. Kotn is working with its suppliers to help them convert to 100% organic manufacturing.
Kotn gives back to the people of Egypt’s Nile Delta from which they source their cotton. Up to 500,000 children in the area do not have access to education and illiteracy rates are high, especially among girls and women.
The company has built schools and uses a portion of each sale for maintaining and improving them.
Matter is based in Singapore. One of the hallmarks of this company is its close collaboration with local designers and artisans. This accounts for their uniquely colored and patterned fabrics.
These materials make very bold statements in Matter’s women’s clothing range. Two main techniques for fabric manufacture feature prominently in Matter’s ranges.
These are block printing using natural dyes and fabrics woven on handlooms. These processes help to sustain rural textile communities by providing employment opportunities.
Thanks to Matter, textile crafts are a growing industry. The second part of the company’s hybrid supply chain is the factories that turn the striking fabrics into fashion items.
Compliance with international labor standards and fair practice are mandatory requirements for any factory with which Matter associates itself.
The company is always searching with new artisan communities to start new collaborations.
With its products described as minimalist workwear for men and women, this Hong Kong-based company offers its clients high-quality chic apparel.
Hong Kong is a central point from which to ship products. This minimizes the carbon footprint, as shorter distances mean fewer carbon emissions.
The Grana team travels to the factories that produce their garments to ensure that they maintain their strict requirements regarding ethics and fairness.
The company works with factory owners helping them to improve working conditions and pay workers fair wages.
The range also includes Japanese denim. The manufacturing process is different from that of regular denim, making it eco-friendly and sustainable as it creates less waste.
Care for the environment and ensuring that waste is minimized is at the core of Grana’s beliefs.
Bright future of sustainable fashion
The internet is abuzz with sustainable fashion retailers with new ones opening virtually daily. With so many options, it’s easy to find one that suits your needs, budget, and sense of environmental responsibility. You can find more information about this subject at the Ethical Fashion Initiative website.