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An ever-evolving art form, fashion is not just about the clothes we wear; it is a narrative that intertwines creativity, trends, and culture. But in the midst of this dynamic and fascinating industry, there is one element that is often overlooked: ethical production, a cornerstone that shapes the entire fashion industry. Ethical production in fashion reflects a holistic philosophy at its core. Intertwining comfort and longevity, timeless designs, innovative materials, versatile and planet-friendly choices, and a commitment to fair working conditions, it encompasses the final product and the complex web of processes and decisions woven throughout the entire production chain. Together, we will explore these layers that define the ethical perspective of the fashion industry in our blog post.
Comfort and Longevity: Ethical Durability
The lifespan of clothing has been drastically reduced in recent decades. Since the 1990s, this change has been largely unavoidable with the rise of disposable garments and fast fashion. Yet the fashion industry is responsible for 93 billion cubic meters of water each year, enough to meet the needs of 5 million people, 10% of all carbon emissions (more than all international flights and shipping combined), 20% of the world's wastewater (fabric dyeing and treatments), and tons of waste.
The garment life cycle consists of production, distribution, use, and end-of-life stages with significant environmental impacts. However, a full life cycle assessment has identified that extending the active life of garments through design, use, and reuse is the most effective intervention in reducing the overall impact of the clothing industry.
In this regard, one of the most important principles adopted by ethical fashion is the principle of longevity and comfort. In this way, the wear and tear of the products purchased is reduced, and it is easier for them to last for years. In addition, designing for the durability or longevity of manufactured products has been identified as the greatest opportunity to reduce the carbon, water, and waste footprints of clothing. In 2013, WRAP published the comprehensive Design for Longevity report, which eloquently highlights the importance of extending the life of apparel. According to this report, extending the life of a garment by even 10% can reduce carbon emissions by 8% and save 10% of water. Moreover, extending the life of a garment by 33% reduces carbon emissions by 27% and prevents 400 thousand tons of waste.
The best opportunity to increase longevity within the garment lifecycle is through changes in design practices. Features such as how long each individual product will remain wearable are shaped during the product design phase. In this process, how comfortable the product will be is calculated, and how good it looks. Fashion brands that embrace ethical production can support the longevity of garments by using more durable materials and stitch construction in the design and production stages or testing to ensure high standards of color fastness.
Innovative Materials: Leading the Way in Sustainability
Since the creation of fabrics and clothing, textiles have followed a long and complex journey. Many materials have been used in this process, so much so that the first known plant-based textile dates back to 8,000 BC. Textile products have evolved and improved over time according to the conditions of the time, which shows that the emergence of new materials is an inevitable reality.
Innovative materials play an important role in ethical fashion and demonstrate a dedication to seeking planet-friendly and pioneering alternatives in their sustainable properties. From recycled fabrics to cutting-edge eco-friendly materials, the industry keeps pace with this innovation, with ethical fashion brands constantly seeking new ways to reduce their environmental footprint while improving product quality.
The importance of these materials lies in their capacity to redefine traditional norms of fabric production and use, offering alternatives that minimize environmental impact while maximizing durability and versatility. These materials cover various environmentally responsible options, from recycled textiles to groundbreaking plant-based or biodegradable fabrics.
One of the most important reasons to embrace innovative materials in ethical production is their potential to address the industry's huge environmental damage. In addition, plant-based or biodegradable alternatives offer opportunities for shorter biodegradation, reducing the long-term environmental impact at the end of a garment's life cycle. Integrating these materials into fashion production contributes to sustainability and encourages a shift towards a circular economy where materials are reused, repurposed, or biodegraded, thereby minimizing waste and resource consumption.
Timeless Designs: Sustainability in Style
One of the aims of ethical production processes is to develop timeless designs that defy the ephemeral nature of their seasons and display a sophisticated look.
Ethical production embraces the concept of timeless design. Creating pieces that transcend temporary trends, these designs go beyond seasonal fashion and ensure that comfortable and long-lasting products are loved and used for years to come. Although they are not completely independent from the time period in which they are produced, timeless products carry the traces of different times and make these traces holistic. Timeless designs, which encourage consumers to invest in quality rather than quantity, are designed to harmonize with many different pieces and styles.
Timeless designs also encourage personal style. By enabling the adoption of versatile pieces, they allow for creativity and self-expression rather than following short-lived trends, enabling consumers to develop a style that is uniquely their own and not dependent on fads. In this way, they adapt to ideas that may change over the years and accompany our lives for long periods.
But what actually makes a piece timeless? Is it its quality? Or maybe it's color? Or maybe the way the fabric is cut, the silhouette, or something else entirely? Contrary to popular belief, timeless designs don't have to be boring or in certain colors. According to Sophie Hersan, Co-Founder and Fashion Director of Vestiaire Collective, it's all about transcendence: "A key indicator is whether or not the piece can transcend for years and fashion seasons to come. Not only that, timeless pieces have impeccable quality and craftsmanship."
Fair Working Conditions and Transparency: Empowering the Workforce
Ethics in fashion production is also associated with a commitment to fair working conditions. Recognizing the importance of the human element in the industry and promoting environments where workers are treated with dignity, respect, fairness and ensuring their well-being is crucial. Ethical brands prioritize safe workplaces, fair wages, and the overall well-being of their employees. By fostering a supportive environment, these brands ensure that every product is made with the dedication and expertise of a respected workforce.
International labor standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO (International Labour Organization) constituents—governments, employers, and workers—that set out the fundamental principles and rights at work. The following requirements should also apply to ethical production:
- Employment is freely chosen: No one working for production can be subjected to bonded or forced labor. Everyone is free to choose to work or not to work.
- Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining: All workers have the right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively.
- Non-discrimination in employment: Equal opportunities for all, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, etc., in all matters such as hiring, wage policy, employee promotion policy, dismissal policies, etc.
- No exploitation of child labour: Child labour is prohibited. The age of admission to work cannot be less than the age of completion of compulsory education and, in any case, not less than 15 years of age.
- Payment of a fair living wage: The living wage represents the minimum amount a family needs to meet its basic needs (food, rent, health, education, etc.). Wages and benefits paid for a standard working week meet at least legal or sectoral minimum standards. These wages are always sufficient to meet the basic needs of workers and their families and provide some savings income.
- Reasonable working hours: Working hours comply with applicable laws and industry standards. Overtime is voluntary, not regularly requested, and always paid at the premium rate.
- Safe and healthy working conditions: A safe and hygienic working environment is maintained, and best occupational health and safety practices are promoted. Due attention is paid to the occupational hazards specific to this branch of the industry (e.g. workshop accidents, etc.), and effective regulations are implemented in the working environment to prevent accidents and minimize health risks as much as possible. In addition, any form of exploitation or intimidation by the employer is absolutely not possible.
- Legally binding employment: Obligations arising from a regular employment relationship for workers covered by labour or social security laws and regulations cannot be avoided through the use of labour-only contractual arrangements or through apprenticeship schemes where there is no real intention to impart skills or secure regular employment. Young workers will be given the opportunity to participate in education and training programs.
Why is Vegan Fashion Ethical?
Vegan fashion embodies a holistic approach that considers various interconnected aspects of ethical and sustainable practices in the fashion industry. It encompasses a broad ethical perspective that extends beyond animal welfare. It offers a broad perspective on environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and ethical business practices.
Animal Welfare: Vegan fashion avoids using materials derived from animals, such as leather, fur, wool, and silk. Not using these materials reduces the demand for animal products and prevents animal harm in the fashion industry. At the same time, as we mentioned in the previous topics, it also guides the industry by showing that innovative, sustainable, and ethical materials can be used instead of these materials.
Environmental Impact: The production of animal-based materials often involves processes that cause environmental problems. For example, raising animals for leather or wool requires significant land use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. In previous blog posts, we discussed the environmental impacts of using animal materials. Vegan alternatives, such as plant-based materials, have a lower environmental impact because they are designed for longevity and are produced responsibly.
Sustainability: Vegan fashion products often encourage using sustainable and environmentally friendly materials such as organic cotton, hemp, vegan silk, and plant-based leather alternatives. These materials can be produced with fewer resources and often even contribute to symbiosis by recycling waste as a product. In this way, it also supports the circular economy.
Ethical Considerations: Vegan fashion pays attention to ethical considerations beyond animal welfare. It advocates for fair labor practices, transparency in the supply chain, and the ethical treatment of workers throughout production. Many vegan fashion brands align their supply chains with ethical labor practices. They strive to ensure fair wages, safe working conditions, and transparent sourcing to ensure that human rights are respected at every production stage.
Consumer Preferences: Vegan fashion products appeal to a growing number of consumers looking for cruelty-free and environmentally conscious products. Offering vegan fashion options allows consumers to make ethical choices in line with their values and beliefs, offering them new alternatives.
Ethical production in fashion embodies a broad perspective that encompasses comfort, long-lasting quality, classic styles, innovation, and fairness. This collective perspective acts as a compass, seeking to change the fabric of the industry and transform fashion into a conscious system. We must actively advocate and support ethical fashion as we move forward. Let's consciously choose sustainability, fairness, and accountability and lead the industry toward a more conscious and sustainable path together. It's not just about choosing ethical production; it's a shared journey towards a more balanced and sustainable future.