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What is Ethical Fashion?
April 30 2019·
April 30 2019·
‘Ethical fashion’ can mean different things to different people. Generally, it refers to four different aspects of the brands core values; environmental impact, human rights, sustainability, and animal rights. These aspects will naturally intertwine with each other and cannot exist independently.
The fashion industry contributes 10% of global greenhouse emissions, due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production. This is a higher consumption rate than the aviation and shipping industries combined. The industry also contributes greatly to both water consumption and water waste, with 20% of the worlds waste water being produced by the fashion industry. And after all the emissions, water, and waste water produced to make the garments, 85% of all textiles end up in landfill.
The Australian Bureau of Statics estimate that Australians send 500,000 tonnes of leather and textiles to land fill each year, with only 15% of this being recovered through recycling. It is estimated that two thirds of this waste (roughly 330,000 tonne) is made up of synthetic/plastic fibres that may never break down.
Whilst a lot of people think they are doing the right thing by donating their unwanted clothes to a thrift store, rather than throwing them in the bin, the truth is that a lot of charity stores are overwhelmed with clothing that they are unable to sell. A lot of the clothing that is donated to third world countries ends up in land fill, or worse, dumped on the streets of villages that have no use for it.
Ethical clothing labels are making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprints by making better choices in the fabrics that they use, reducing plastic used in the production process, replacing harmful chemical products with natural alternatives, and promoting responsible disposal of unwanted garments either through specialized recycling depots or through an appropriate form of donation such as a clothing swap meet, or similar.
This aspect of ethical fashion is one that we at Yellow Thread hold dearest to our hearts. After the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 that killed 1,134 people in Bangladesh, my view of fashion was changed forever. The average garment worker working in a fast fashion factory in China will work a minimum 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and earn the equivalent of $0.96AUD per hour. At least 80% of garment workers are not being paid a living wage. This means that the wage they bring home each week is not enough to cover basic living expenses such as food, housing, medical expenses and education for their children.
It is important to note that 'minimum wage' and 'living wage' are not the same. minimum wage is the minimum amount an employer can legally pay an employee, and living wage it the amount required to cover the cost of living. A living wage is not a luxury! A living wage is the absolute minimum a person or a family needs to survive and to break the cycle of poverty.
Ethical brands demand the people making their clothes are paid, at the very least, a living wage. This means that without working over time, they are paid enough to properly feed themselves and their family, to provide safe housing for their family, to pay for medical expenses when required, for their children’s education, as well as having discretionary funds for savings and unexpected expenses. Ethical brands should also be ensuring that the factories uphold a high level of health and safety standard with adequate safety equipment, fire escapes, and building maintenance to ensure that the workers are provided with a safe and supportive working environment.
Sustainability can cover a range of different aspects, but in general will refer to the reduction of waste within the industry either through responsible production of fabrics, reducing consumption, choosing better alternatives to plastic products such as biodegradable shipping bags, natural fibres etc. With the devastating effects the fashion industry has on our environment, adapting sustainable practices are paramount to the survival of the fashion industry.
Ethical Brands should encourage their customers to purchase fewer items, to properly care for their garments to ensure their longevity, and to re-home unwanted garments where possible. Brands should be ensuring that the quality of their garments allow the consumer to hang on to them for years to come.
Animal rights are most commonly referred to in reference to the use of leather products for clothing and accessories. And whilst there is much debate within the industry both around the ethics behind farming of animals for human consumption and around whether leather alternatives are better or worse for the environment from a waste perspective, I believe it is important to take into account the entire process of producing the leather that we use. The water that is used to raise the cattle, the emissions created by the farms and the transport of the animals, the toxic chemicals often used in the tanning process that are harmful to workers health when breathed in and are also commonly disposed of irresponsibly resulting in these running directly into a water supply. There are many leather alternatives on the market now including some fantastic plant-based alternatives such a Pinatex pineapple ‘leather’. Pinatex is a company that uses the environmental waste produced by pineapple farms (the pineapple leaves) to make a leather like product. These products are very expensive and are consequently not used as often as they should be, but I believe this price will come down in time and these products will become more readily available.
Where does Yellow Thread stand in all this?
Whilst we make considerations in all these aspects, Yellow Thread focuses heavily on human rights. It is of the utmost importance that the workers in our factories are paid a living wage, are not forced to work over time, and have a safe and supportive work place. Our first micro collection was produced in Bali, by an Australian owned company called ‘S+F Manufacturing’. The workers here are treated like family and even enjoy group exercise sessions followed by healthy morning teas every Friday. You can read more about this factory in our ‘Who made my clothes?’ page.
We also make efforts to be more sustainable and reduce our environmental impact by using home compostable shipping bags, removing swing tags altogether for items purchased online, and using only acid free, recycled tissue paper to protect the garments inside the shipping bags. We also encourage our customers to care for the garments as instructed to ensure they last for years to come.
Unknown to a lot of consumers, most factories will individually package each garment for delivery. This means that on even a relatively small order, say 2000 units, there will be 2000 plastic bags that are simply thrown away once the garment arrives in store. All garments received by Yellow Thread from S+F Clothing Manufacturing come wrapped in a plastic alternative called Cellulose nanofiber. Cellulose Nanofiber is made from wood pulp and is entirely biodegradable.
Future endeavors to better our sustainability
We aim to set up a clothing swap system in the future that will enable Yellow Thread customers to swap their pre-loved garments with other customers to reduce the volume of textiles that is purchased and discarded to end up in land fill. We intentionally do not participate, and will continue to not participate, in sales such as ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ as we feel these encourage mindless consumerism and would rather our customers purchase our garments as an investment that they are going to care for and cherish for years to come.
As we continue these blogs we aim to cover topics such as; how you as a consumer can reduce your environmental impact, how to purchase clothing that will last for years to come, avoiding trend purchasing and the like. If you have a specific topic you would like us to write about, please let me know and I will be sure to cover it for you!
We are always looking for more ways to better our practices and invite all suggestions that might help us on this mission! If you have a suggestion as to how we can better any of our practices, please let us know! We’d love to hear from you!