Opinion: Ethical is the new black: it’s time for a fashion revolution

By Natalia Popielska – wfto.com
Fast Fashion’s Dirty Secrets

“Fast fashion is like fast food. After the sugar rush, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth”. (Livia Firth)

How would you describe your clothing style? Most of us would probably use words like fashionable, stylish, elegant, casual, vintage, bohemian, artsy, comfortable, sporty…. but what about FAST?

Yes, above all, we love our clothes fast.  The term “fast fashion” refers to low-cost clothing collections that usually move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends.

Very often we are not even aware that retails change their stock on a regular basis in order to keep customers coming back. This means that clothing manufacturers have to produce clothing as quickly as possible while reducing costs.

Cheap clothes have a terrible impact not only on workers who produce them but also on the environment. Fast fashion relies on less expensive materials such as low-quality polyester or cheap cotton. What is more, producers very often use toxic dyes and other chemicals that are bad for our planet.

The tragedy from 2013, where more than 1,100 people died and thousands more were injured, during the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, revealed the horrifying working conditions in garment manufacturing.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building is one of the deadliest accidents in the history of the global garment industry and kickstarted the discussion about the real price of fast fashion.

What is more, it made people realized someone else is paying for their cheap clothes… and that someone else is usually an exploited woman or a child on the other side of the globe.

Be the agent of change

“As consumers, we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy” (Emma Watson)

We can all agree that fast fashion is bad, but what can you as an individual do about it? I have some great news: WE ALL HAVE THE POWER TO MAKE POSITIVE CHANGE. If you agree that your t-shirt should not cost less than your morning coffee, you care about the environment and human rights then stay with me.

Did you know you can buy Fair Trade clothes now? Unlike most conventional labels, at the heart of Fair Trade fashion is honouring the artisan. Fair Trade Fashion contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions while securing the rights of marginalized producers and workers and protects the environment at the same time. Everyone should give Fair Trade and ethical fashion a chance.

Fair Trade offers:

  1. Ethical and transparent workplaces: paying fair price and creating opportunities for producers who have been marginalized by the ‘traditional’ trading system. What is more, Fair Trade provides safe working conditions (paid sick and maternity leave) protection of fundamental human rights and it also fights against child labor. Fair Trade certification is a long and very rigorous process in which all requirements are regularly checked.
  2. Upcycling: Fair Trade Enterprises often use unwanted, worn out or damaged materials, clothes etc. and transform them into unique new garments.
  3. Natural dyes: Fair Trade producers use natural, eco-friendly and organic products to ensure beautiful colours for their clothes. Fair Trade Enteprises also often use traditional and indigenous techniques to preserve ancient skills and pass them onto new generations.
  4. Natural fibres: in fast fashion, most clothes are made from synthetic fibres such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, etc. They systematically contribute to water pollution as plastic fibers are released to the water via our washing machines. The message of Fair Trade is clear: get plastic out of your washing machine!  Fair Trade producers use organic fibres such as cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp or polyester made from recycled bottles.
Green is the new black

The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.

(Robert Swan)

Now you know a bit more about fatal consequences of fast fashion and you know that there is an alternative in fair trade and slow fashion. You’re probably wondering what YOU can do? Don’t worry! I will provide you with some first steps to mindful consumerism:

  1. Global Mamas, Ghana, WFTO

    Buy from companies that are transparent, fair trade, sustainable and organic

  2. Make more conscious choices this season with the labels upping their ethical game. Look down at what you’re wearing. Do you know who made it and where? If you do not know, then try to find out. Do not be afraid to send an e-mail and ask who made your clothes. Let brands know that YOU CARE.
  3. Buy durable, classic clothes
  4. Buy less, and buy less often
  5. Recycle your unwanted clothing
  6. Stand up and speak out! Encourage your family and friends to support ethical consumerism!


Oh, and if you think that ethical, Fair Trade and sustainable clothes cannot be at the same time fashionable, then check out the World Fair Trade Organization’s fashion catalogue to find Fair Trade producers that make beautiful and unique clothes and accessories.