It’s no secret that the fashion industry was built on the backs of unsustainable, unethical and exploitative labour. But if sustainable fashion keeps moving into the mainstream as it has in recent years, those labour practices will be a thing of the past.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen major fashion brands as well as small labels ditch unethical and unsustainable business and practices, moving toward cruelty-free, ethical and eco-friendly methods. It’s a great step, but the question remains: are there enough sustainable fashion brands on the market?
The History of Fashion
In order to change current practices, it’s important to understand how we got here in the first place. The fashion industry’s unsustainable trajectory started way back during the Industrial Revolution. For the first time it was possible to mass-produce goods, including clothing. Up until then, people had mostly made their own clothes at home, but once the revolution rolled around, textiles took off – and labour demand increased.
It didn’t take long before labour practices began to decline. Working in factories was dangerous. The workers spent long hours in buildings with improper ventilation, no windows and high heat. Plus, children as young as nine years old were often working alongside adults. In many countries, laws were enacted to protect workers from these poor conditions and exploitative practices, but the Industrial Revolution had changed things forever – and not always for the better.
After the revolution, people began to dress for style instead of practicality. They bought clothes that suited their tastes and for different occasions instead of simply having enough clothes to get by and be functional. This increased demand has brought us full circle to today, where clothing is as popular as ever. The problem is that sustainability and ethical practices have not continued to blossom as the industry has grown, and many countries with looser labour regulations have become the largest producers of textiles in the world, fuelling the growth of shops on the high street and fashion in general.
Another issue that went hand-in-hand with the growth of the fashion industry was the growth of the middle class. When there are more people with the ability to purchase products, demand rises. To maximise profits, companies often sought out suppliers who could provide what they needed cheaply, giving rise to exploitative labour practices in places like Bangladesh and China.
Today, there’s been more of a demand for sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical practices from companies. Even though the middle class is shrinking, issues such as climate change are forcing people to stand up and take notice. They are challenging companies to improve their practices, and that is slowly changing the world we live in today.
What Are Some Sustainable Fashion Brands?
The good news is that many companies today are listening to what people want: ethically sourced, environmentally friendly and sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion brands are out there – perhaps not as many as one might hope, but there nonetheless. So which clothing brands are ethical? Let’s take a look at some examples.
Patagonia is a popular brand that has delivered on its claims of sustainability. They use organic cotton and recycled materials for their clothing. They aren’t as transparent as they could be about the carbon emissions of their supply chain and water use, but when it comes to being kind to animals and people, Patagonia is a brand that is on the right trajectory.
People Tree is another company making strides in the areas people are concerned about. They make high-quality clothing that can last for years while still remaining stylish. Remember, part of a company being sustainable is its commitment to quality. If you can buy one piece of clothing that can literally last you years, it’s better for the environment than cheap clothes produced with exploitative labour practices that you must replace every season.
The California-based brand Reformation uses sustainable, upcycled fabrics. They also purchase carbon offsets to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions and pay workers producing the garments a living wage. Each piece of clothing comes with a description of the impact it had on the environment, so you know just how much of a mark your jeans have left on the planet.
Protected Species is committed to producing versatile performance wear with ethical manufacturing processes. Our partners in the Far East run ethical factories with skilled labourers, helping to empower the community around them – which is a mission we take to heart. Our performance wear pieces have been painstakingly designed to be of the highest quality, fitting in with our philosophy as a company.
Sustainable Fashion – Demand It!
What has the biggest impact on sustainable fashion? You do!
If you want to make an impact on the world around you through something as simple as the clothes you’re wearing, then only buy from companies that have sustainable, responsible and ethical practices as a cornerstone of their business model. There may not be enough sustainable fashion brands on the market right now, but you have the power to ensure that the industry keeps growing in a positive direction.