Does ethical fashion have the potential to trump fast fashion?
By simply watching the 6 o clock news, we can be well aware of the unfortunate circumstances and suffering that goes on in the world. What some people may not know is how closely fashion is related to much of the suffering that goes on overseas, in developing countries, and even in our own backyards from the production of the clothing that we wear every day.
The long held debate on animal furs, overworked children, poor wages, and environmental impacts has plagued the fashion world for decades. The ultimate question is, where do we draw the line? What would most people prefer, cheaper and quicker clothing or a higher price point that honors social responsibility? In the perspective of Canadian fashion, I asked the question, “can ethical fashion actually become a popular demand? Or will it always be seen as overpriced and undervalued?” The housing market in Ontario is at an all-time high, wages are low, and ethical fashion may not be the first thing on everyone’s minds. Within the next ten years, are slow fashion concepts a viable movement or is fashion simply not a sustainable industry?
We have seen success in “main stream” ethical brands such as American Apparel, and now, Canadian Apparel. However ethical brands are not leading in any major circles, and are seen are more of a luxury to the upper class, despite their design or quality. Also note the popularity of brands such as Canada Goose who are known for using animal fur in their products. I have had the opportunity to intern with Laura Siegel, a Toronto based fashion designer who employs artisans from rural villages all over the world to sustain traditional cultures and crafts. Along with ensuring ethical working conditions and living wages are provided to the skilled artisans, she collaborates with organizations to ensure they receive mentorship and workshops to learn how to maintain practicing their craft, provide for their families, education on wealth management, business practices and more. The Laura Siegel Collection ranges from $150 to $1,500, and is designed in a way to mirror the cultures in which they are constructed in. When asked about how “fast fashion” is changing the way we relate to our clothing in an interview with Ecouterre in 2015, Laura said that, “fast fashion has grown to a point where many of us view clothing as disposable. And how can we not with the volumes being pumped out each and every season by large brands? On the other hand, the growth of fast fashion has caused an alternative movement in the industry where quality triumphs quantity, a return to a slower and more sustainable way of making clothing. And that is a very positive thing.”
This is an optimistic approach to the ethical fashion issue, and Laura believes that the demand for ethical fashion is only going to grow in the future. And how may it be possible to market ethical fashion and enhance this movement? Laura believes that, “transparency provides consumers a spectrum of information needed to make a purchasing decision” according to the same interview with Ecouterre in 2015. In order words, if more people were able to see exactly how their clothing was produced, such as where a garment made, who made it, and what were the conditions for those across the supply chain – an awareness and regard for ethical clothing may continue to grow. It is designers like Laura Siegel who are revolutionizing the fashion industry and making a separation between quality and quantity.
Diamonds in the rough like Laura are few among the sea of highly marketed, fast fashion brands that are able to reach consumers on a level that smaller collections are not. The production costs of producing one garment made by a skilled artisan is substantially higher than one produced in a factory setting. Therefore, ethical designers adhere to those consumers who are socially conscious, aware, and determined to find an original piece. Unfortunately, this group is very few in comparison to consumers who are more likely to buy a piece because of the design, price, or quality. As mentioned before, Canada Goose capitalizes on the fact that they use real animal fur and feathers in their clothing, but the quality of the product trumps the fact that some may not find it entirely ethical.
Ultimately, the way to get more people to “go green” is to raise awareness of overseas conditions and the process in which clothing is made. But is guilt tripping consumers into buying clothing out of their price range entirely ethical? Probably not. The downfall of ethical fashion is that despite its popularity the price point can never be dropped because of the higher production costs and money that is spent bettering another Country’s economy, or spent producing within our Canadian borders. Therefore, rather than focusing on the major contrast between brands like Laura’s and fast fashion brands, perhaps the only way to maintain an ethically conscious industry is for all (or the majority) of the big, fast fashion brands to slightly limit their social and environmental impact. In a price driven economy, that is largely effected by trends and propaganda, slow fashion may remain a small fish in a big pond.