The wider world perceives fashion as a... frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and problems that are enormous... in fact... it's the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don't think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.
Fashion Photographer for The New York Times
Bill Cunningham New York
Oftentimes, just saying the words "ethical fashion" immediately brings up images in peoples' minds of wearing ill-fitting, handmade potato sacks or crazy outfits that are just... well, weird. I think many folks believe that those who promote ethical fashion would rather do away with the whole fashion thing altogether, seeing it as an extravagance, and don't like being made to feel guilty about wanting to look nice. Look at these starving African kids and then tell me you just HAVE to have that dress.
Well, I'm here to tell you - ethical fashion's goal is not to dismantle the art of personal style.
In a documentary called The True Cost, fashion designer Orsola De Castro noted that fashion is "our chosen skin" and is "fundamentally a part of what we wish to communicate about ourselves." For as long as humans have existed (unless you count Eden) we have had the need for clothing and have added onto that need with aesthetic, expressive choices.
Almost every fashion company I've encountered that operates ethically has been passionate about both the "ethical" and the "fashion" aspects of their field. The difference between ethical fashion companies and conventional fashion companies is often found in the way the designs are built. Safia Minney, CEO of fair trade and ethical brand People Tree, explained in The True Cost: "I think most fashion brands start with a concept of a collection, or a "look." They don't tend to think, "Who is going to make the product?" and "How can I ensure that producers or suppliers are going to eat?" So what we're trying to do at People Tree is really start with the skills that we have at each producer group, and then design the collection up, whilst also looking at the integrity of the collection in it's aesthetic."
What I'm trying to say is that there is a real need for fashion in our culture, and to do away with it would be devastating and probably impossible. But I'm also trying to dispel the myth that ethical fashion can't also be pretty fashion.
By making fashion ethical, we are pushing the industry forward toward better horizons, not abolishing it or condemning those who love it. Ethical fashion is the idea of combining this living, communal art which everyone in the world participates in with a cause that will make our world a better place. It's making beautiful things and celebrating this fabulous art form, but with a solid base of support for our planet and the people who live on it.
This is the 21st Century for crying out loud. We can make this work. We can marry these two concepts into one responsible, fabulous movement - one person, one purchase at a time.
I would love your thoughts in the comments below, or you can get to me on Instagram!