Ethical fashion and sustainability


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As an industry that is reliant upon mass production, fashion is hardly renowned for its dedication to sustainability. In addition to issues regarding manufacturing, other ethical problems, including the poor treatment of employees in sweatshops and cultural appropriation, demonstrate the short-termism that has historically dominated the industry.

This approach, however, is changing thanks to the ethical fashion movement, which promotes the long-term aim of ethical, and ultimately, sustainable business. The Ethical Fashion Initiative, a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, is at the heart of this movement.

Promoting sustainability in the fashion industry

Founded in 2009, the Ethical Fashion Initiative is headed by Simone Cipriani, an industry practitioner with a long history working around the world. In the past, Cipriani has promoted sustainability through working with micro-producers and artisans in Africa, connecting them to the western world, and encouraging successful partnerships.

Cipriani describes the programme as ‘not charity, just work’, and the key target of the Ethical Fashion Initiative is to seek sustainability – both socially and environmentally. This initiative is not the only one, with the Ethical Fashion Forum also promoting good practice as the industry body for ethical fashion.

Ethical fashion is about more than promoting good morals though – it is a movement that extends across the industry. Representing an approach to design, sourcing and manufacturing that takes an active approach in poverty reduction and fair trade, ethical fashion critically aims to minimise impact upon the environment.

In practical terms, this means finding ways to reduce wastage in the manufacturing process, exploring new recycling techniques, developing eco-friendly fabrics, and promoting sustainable brands over the mass-produced clothing lines that saturate the market.

Practitioners and sustainability

As a result of the successful work done by both the Ethical Fashion Initiative and the Ethical Fashion Forum, various practitioners are now involved in the movement. YOOX, an international fashion retailer, is one example, launching their Yoox Loves the Reef initiative earlier this year.

Partnering with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the Australian brand We Are Handsome, Yoox Loves the Reef promotes conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. The largest living organism on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef declined by 50% between 1985 and 2012, partly due to climate change.

Through promoting responsible, sustainable practices, ethical fashion is beneficial to the various natural phenomena, like the Great Barrier Reef, that have been damaged by the effects of climate change.

In addition to YOOX, many other practitioners are working to promote ethical fashion, including world-renowned designers like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood. Sass & bide, another Australian design label, has worked alongside the Ethical Fashion Initiative to partner artisanal micro-producers across sub-Saharan Africa.

Through this partnership, sass & bide ensure fair and responsible trade partnerships, promoting sustainable business without exploitation or mass manufacturing.

The ongoing commitment from practitioners within the fashion industry, including sass & bide and Yoox, aligns with the long-term aims of the Ethical Fashion Initiative. Through this dedication to sustainability, the ethical fashion movement is changing things for the better in the fashion industry.

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