Sustainable Fashion. Ethical Fashion. What do they mean to you?

Do they share the same meaning?  And are they interchangeable?

My curiosity was piqued as I saw that these phrases were used in describing the same term on social media and as someone who has been in the apparel industry for a number of years, I knew there was a difference, however I also knew that  a lot of consumers didn’t have the experience of understanding the nuances.

This article is adding to an already well researched and covered conversation that has influenced opinions as individuals, as a society and as an industry.  As more information and transparency from within the apparel industry is known, change and evolution of the industry will happen.  And now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic and the largest Anti-Racism Movement since the 1960’s, there is opportunity for the industry to evolve even further.

Opinions are formed based on our individual values and knowledge.  And just like learning any subject, the more we delve into these topics, the likelihood that our opinions will shift and change. 

Knowledge is power after all.

Sustainable Fashion:

It’s a buzz phrase within the fashion industry that has gained more and more traction in the last few years, due to the knowledge that climate change is a serious worldwide shall we say, situation?

#sustainability is a key hashtag, having been used in 5.6million posts on Instagram at the time of writing this post and #sustainablefashion has been used in 6.3 million posts.

Does that mean it has now infused its way into our vocabulary and is here to stay?

Is sustainable fashion now a movement?

Sustainable Fashion, sometimes known as Eco-fashion (Ecology Fashion), means that products made from recycled materials, and/or produced in methods not harmful or have a lesser impact to the environment than traditional manufacturing.

So, how does a sustainable fashion brand incorporate these characteristics?  From the raw material components and construction through to the garment production/manufacturing process and finally into the hands of the consumer. 

Talking to Aurore Plavis, owner and designer behind the Vancouver eco-friendly, athleisure wear brand Recreative Apparel, whose mission is “To ditch the plastic whenever you can, and repurpose what’s already here.“

“We exclusively use recycled fibers made from post-consumer water bottles in our activewear to keep plastics out of landfills and our oceans – that is until we find THE solution to our plastics problem.

We use rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) in our products as within the manufacturing process, it uses less water, energy and emits less greenhouse gas than conventional methods. It’s also dyed with non-toxic dispersed dye.

Manufacturing locally in Vancouver is one way we can reduce our carbon footprint and at the same time support local industry.

As part of our manufacturing process we utilise pattern cutting methods which create as little waste as possible and by creating small, meticulous batches to reduce excess product.

“Ultimately we want our customers to keep their Recreative garments for as long as possible so we share specific care instructions and how to minimize micro-plastics from entering our waterways. Our ‘Take-Back’ program addresses the end-of-life, turning used products into a new product.”

Ethical Fashion:

The collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013, killing over 1,100 people and injuring more than 2,500, bought to light, how many ‘Fast Fashion’ brands manufactured their apparel, and the conditions in which garment workers experienced.

This was a wake-up call to consumers about the way in which their clothing was made. And Ethical fashion was bought into the limelight. It can be defined as manufacturing that has emphasis on the rights and needs of the workers and their communities.  The environmental impact is also part of Ethical Fashion, however it is secondary to human and animal rights.

Off-shore manufacturing for larger apparel brands, occurs in developing countries as a way to keep production costs lower and their margins higher due to lower wages, and so in theory, consumers pay less for finished goods.

As consumers, we have a bigger influence than you might think. If we support and buy from brands that have transparency in their supply chain, including the conditions of the garment workers, they can continue to manufacture and grow whilst supporting others.

There is power in our consumerism, and we can instigate change.

Recreative Apparel took 2 years to launch as sourcing components took time to find and test.  They also invested time to get to know the people that they work with and to build relationships with suppliers. 

“We could do more.  We are conscious of that.”

We should find out about the conditions of the workers in the elastic and thread factories, we should be asking our printer about the ink they use.  We are a small team doing everything.  From sourcing, design, production, marketing and sales.  We are determined to ensure that our business practises don’t have a human cost.  And it’s a journey.  A journey that we are 100% committed to.”

Apparelentrepreneurship.com a company that helps designers start, run and grow apparel brands, summarized these terms in a way that was simple, yet to the point!

Whether a brand states that they are sustainable, ethical, or both, it is up to you, the consumer, to decide if they align with your values.

A lot of local and global brands are doing the work and showing their supply chain through their websites and social media, which is amazing to see, as there are so many great stories out there to be shared.

It is your job as a consumer to research and decide for yourself, if you think a particular brand is sustainable and/or ethical.

If a brand doesn’t have this information readily available, use your power as a consumer and ask.

Through their website, through social media.  And remember, no response is also an answer.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, on whether a brand that is sustainable or ethical, influences your decision in purchasing!

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