Fashion as a Tool for Social Change: What’s the Difference between Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

Fashion helps us express our identity and create connections with others. It’s something that we use to interact with the world around us, to say who we are and what we value. At the same time, there is a dark side to fashion. Many ethical dilemmas arise when dressing up for an occasion, such as supporting sweatshops or faking fair wages, or using animals in production.

There is also this notion of sustainability that works to ensure an environmentally-friendly future. But how do you tell if your clothes are sustainable? What makes something ethical? And how does it affect your social change efforts? These questions will be answered here.

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The Development of Fashion

Long ago, men dressed up in “innocuous” animal pelts to not be recognized in battle. The people who made clothes in the past had few choices in the matter, so we can be thankful that they were bound to do the best they could. But to survive and succeed, people needed to look the part, to be fashionable.

As time went on, people began to explore more ways to develop their style. They experimented with fabrics and colors and developed techniques for turning leather into shoes, dyeing yarn to make clothes. Then they made clothes to be more comfortable.

The next generation made clothes with more of a functional purpose, with more clothes that could be worn to all sorts of activities, and that could last long before being thrown out or going out of style.

Importance of Fashion

First of all, it’s important to define what makes something sustainable. This is important in terms of how we define and describe what our goal is in terms of fashion, and how we assess it from a social change perspective.

Before we start, we should clarify what we mean by sustainable. This is often used interchangeably with “ethical” which implies a bit of a false dilemma in which we are forced to choose between a cheap option and a more expensive option, i.e. if I buy this sweatshirt, I’m not being ethical. This is not a valid concern as you can buy almost anything that’s sustainably produced. This is why social change activists use the term “ethical” as it’s a more nuanced way to describe a commitment to creating a sustainable world.

Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion strives to minimize the negative impact fashion has on our environment, society, and individual well-being. However, not all sustainable fashion is ethical, as there is a difference between the two. To understand what sustainable fashion is, it’s important to first examine ethical fashion.

Ethical Fashion

There are many definitions for this, but we will start with the United Nations and the definition of sustainable development put forth by former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. This definition is described in his book Sustainable Development: Rewriting the Future, which is available on the U.N. website and describes sustainability as the “first and foremost human goal.”

It’s something that should be required by law and non-negotiable by individuals and institutions. Simply stated, ethical fashion means you are consciously avoiding making or buying things that you feel are unethical or unnecessary, and you make conscious efforts to address these issues in your community.

Ethical fashion isn’t just a choice based on what you want. It’s an overall message based on how one person wants to change the world. Whether that be through selling goods in secondhand markets, working at a fair trade fair, working at a local community center, or working in a local animal shelter, these are all ways to help those who cannot help themselves.

Benefits of Sustainable Fashion

According to the fashion industry trade association UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFTA), clothing is one of the biggest producers of e-waste in the United Kingdom. Moreover, it generates approximately 5,000 tons of CO2 per year.

E-waste consists of a wide range of parts that can be reused. For example, garments can be recycled into insulation, home insulation, car parts, or electricity cables. Similarly, old batteries can be reused in consumer products or sent to refurbishing centers.

Benefits of Ethical Fashion

Ethical fashion provides consumers with a way to take care of the planet, simply by wearing it. Ethical clothes are manufactured from renewable resources and use only a minimum amount of water, electricity, and chemicals in their production.

The environmental damage caused by conventional fast fashion makes it difficult for people to justify purchasing conventional products over a less harmful alternative.

Which is Better

One way of looking at this problem is: which one is better? Which one is going to make more difference to people?

Each environmental effect has a significant impact on the environment and how we can mitigate the effects. Depending on what criteria you are looking at, sustainable fashion may be better. Of course, this would require a huge amount of research to figure out the exact impact of each method on the environment, but it’s a question that needs to be answered.

Social Change

Social change is a broad topic that involves a whole spectrum of actions such as, supporting and working for a cause, improving the lives of other people, or simply making a difference in a particular field.

Most of us consider philanthropy to be a form of social change. The idea of philanthropy is that we can help and support those who are less fortunate by giving to charitable organizations. The concept of social change is even broader.

If you can support other people, through volunteering, being a good influence on a friend, or simply helping someone in need, you are performing social change. While the social aspect of it is not as pronounced, you are still helping people in your everyday life.

Whether you’re at work, in school, at a conference, or traveling the world, you can learn a lot about social change and how it can be achieved by reading up on sustainable fashion.

You can consider how you can be a part of the change, whether in your local community or worldwide. Social change can come through awareness, education, community action, individual action, and much more.

These questions will help you to decide if it is sustainable to buy your clothes from an ethical brand or from a brand that doesn’t have its ethics straight. You can also find detailed information about Ethical & Sustainable clothing brands on TRVST.

To start taking action, you need to find out which brands are committing to social justice and make a conscious effort to purchase from those brands.


Read More: 

What are sustainable use practices?

The social impact of sustainable fashion