What The Ethical Fashion Industry Has To Get Right To Go Mainstream

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 years ago | Features

Image: the Strappy Jumpsuit in Black.

In The State of Fashion Report 2016, Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company identify ‘Responsible Innovation’ as one of ten key fashion industry trends for retailers to be aware of. And without doubt, there has certainly been far more conversation around ethical fashion over recent years. “Ethical innovation offers a way forward,” the report explains. “Consumers and brands have prioritised sustainable fashion, which is transforming product design and manufacturing.” But if ethical fashion is truly to have a positive impact on the world, we need these principles to go mainstream.

At the moment, there are quite a few barriers to making this possible, including a lack of creativity in design, wishy-washy sustainability definitions and not enough of a focus on values such as Transparency and repair. If ethical fashion is truly to become mainstream, then, these are the key things that the industry needs to get right first. Because then and only then can we really see fashion change for the better. 

1) Taking creative risks
We have spoken recently about how we need to see creative risk-takers in fashion and this is just as true in the ethical fashion space. Because, without creativity, all fashion ceases to be exciting. “Everyone needs plain, well cut staples in their wardrobe, but if that’s where ethical fashion stops, we’re stopping fashion’s key purpose - expressing yourself,” explains Sophie Dunster for The Huffington Post. “If we are going to move into an era where a significant number of people become engaged with ethical fashion, we need to connect with a very different audience. This means ethical fashion brands have to take risks.” Whether that’s incorporating bold prints and colourways, or experimenting with fabrications and silhouettes — the bottom line is that ethical fashion needs to broaden its appeal in order to go mainstream.

2) Focussing on transparency
Although the country in which a garment was made is an important consideration, we would actually argue that a focus on transparency is far more vital. This is because ‘Made In’ labels can actually be very deceptive. As Business of Fashion points out, for example, “‘Made in’ disclosures are not required for products traded within the European Union. Even where required, ‘Made in’ criteria are easy to meet: cost thresholds can be reached with finishing, quality control and packaging, while manufacturing is kept offshore.” Transparency, on the other hand, represents a commitment on the behalf of the brand to open up honest dialogue with their customers about all stages of the supply chain. For ethical fashion to go mainstream, then, we first need to see more of a focus on transparency industry-wide.

3) Getting clear on sustainability definitions
Another important thing to note about ethical fashion is that it can often be downright confusing. Just as the ‘eco’ products in the beauty aisle can seem a little dubious at times, it’s often hard to know how ethical a brand’s garments really are. Especially when a lot of the fast fashion companies start making it all seem so straightforward. So in order to go mainstream, then, the ethical fashion industry needs to get clear on its definitions around terminology like ‘sustainability’ first. Does this refer to the overall picture, for instance — as is suggested by the holistic nature of the word? Or are we defining this, instead, in terms of the materials used and the overall environmental impact made?

4) Encouraging longevity through repair
A lot of ethical fashion companies advocate for buying quality over quantity, but in what other ways do they open up conversation with their customers about improving the longevity of their garments? Patagonia is one progressive brand that achieves this through their Worn Wear repairs program. But until other brands can start implementing their own repair solutions (whether that’s through providing tailoring services or how-to videos, for example), it’s unlikely that the average consumer will be able to come to terms with such a radical shift in their consumption habits. Introduce these initiatives and people might begin to understand how they can repurpose their pieces for the future. 

5) Celebrating your ethical achievements wherever possible
Finally, in order for ethical fashion to go mainstream, brands need to be shouting their positive achievements from the rooftops. Although things have been improving, a lot of fashion brands still aren’t celebrating their ethical chops enough — despite making great progress in this regard. Consider the likes of Stella McCartney, for example, whose campaigns didn’t really hammer home her staunch sustainability focus until the recent fall-winter 2017 images shot at a landfill facility by Harley Weir. If more brands celebrate their ethical achievements wherever possible, then consumers will start to view this as an expectation, rather than just a ‘nice to have’.  

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