Be realistic. Demand the impossible. – Picasso
It’s not impossible to find clothing that’s ethically made, ethically sourced and affordable. It’s difficult, it takes time and determination, but it’s not impossible. Neither is reforming a sector that has normalized and rationalized the idea that everything – and everyone – is disposable. Again, it’s difficult, it takes time and determination, but – let’s be realistic – it’s not impossible. Perhaps it can be as easy as demanding it.
What do I even mean by ethical?
I’m not sure. But I’m on a quest to find out. I don’t have many answers, but I have a lot of questions. Since I decided to stop consuming fast fashion, I’ve been paralyzed. I don’t know where to buy clothes. Not any clothes, though. Clothes I love. Garments with loud colors, wild patterns, rich textures. Garments that make me feel brave, confident, strong, unbeatable. On my search I have found enough ethical brands that use sustainable cotton or comply with fair trade standards and are sometimes even both cool and elegant. But most of the time they’re prohibitively expensive – makes sense that fair wages have a cost – and focus on one aspect to the detriment of the others.
My search so far has not yielded any one definition of ethical fashion. Instead I have found many, usually tied to a specific lifestyle and ranging on a spectrum. A 3D spectrum, where concerns or interests between different lifestyles may intersect, but not overlap. From the minimalist zero-waste lifestyle, especially concerned with non-degradable, non-toxic materials but not advocating for human or animal rights; to Veganism advocating for the rights of all sentient beings but often content to wear polyester; to fair-trade proponents more interested in human rights than organic cotton… to everyone in between. The list is long. The issues are endless. The opinions… confusing.
Where do I stand? Right in the middle. Trying to avoid labels and judgement. My wardrobe, by the above standards, in nothing short of sinful. Toxic dyes? Check. Leather? Check. Polyester? Check. Forced labour? Double-check. Giving away my clothes and buying ethical replacements did not seem like a reasonable use of my resources (rather scarce at the moment) or a sensible manner to create less waste.
So why am I here, talking to you about ethical fashion if I don’t know what it is and don’t know what to do about it? Probably for the same reason that you are here, reading these words. Because the path to ethical living is hard and it often comes with a choice to let go of aesthetics for the sake of ethics. For anyone who loves fashion and isn’t into a minimalist and monochrome wardrobe, that’s almost impossible. But not unrealistic.