Finding an ethical way to shop fast fashion brands is a thought that has been in my mind for some time now. And it is quite a controversial one!
If you know anything about ethical fashion you are probably thinking that I’ve gone mad and that there is no ethical way to shop in fast fashion brands. But stay with me for a minute here, I will try to make a point.
When we think about ethical fashion the first thing that comes to our minds is clothing that’s handmade, or made out of sustainable/organic fabrics, dyed with toxic free dyes, made in a small village in India that is empowering women, or anything else equally amazing and inspiring that is good for us consumers, for the producers and for our planet.
We want clothes that are made out of natural fabrics, farmed free of pesticides. And we also want the people that make our clothes to be paid fairly and to have safe working conditions.
But can we, as ethical fashion consumers, have it all?
Is there a clothing brand that is doing all the above listed and more?
The answer is simply no.
The goal of any company is clear. To have profit. Anyone who builds a clothing brand or any other type of product wants to sell it and make money. Everyone wants to make a profit. And if the environment has to suffer a little for that, then so be it. It is sad but it is the reality.
Luckily, there are companies that not only care about profit, but they also care about the environment. Surely, if a company is implementing responsible practices in their production process, that is an added value for an ethical consumer. But quite often it is difficult to find responsible brands that are easily available.
To date there is no brand that implements a 100% sustainable cycle with their clothing manufacturing process. And the reason is simple: there is no technology at the moment that allows a clothing brand to have a completely clean production process in a cost-effective way.
There is technology that can help with that, but it is very expensive and therefore not all brands can afford it.
But we want our choices to be responsible with the environment and with the people that make our clothes. We want to choose wisely. And this is what I will try to help you with.
THE BIG PROBLEM COMES OF COURSE WHEN WE ARE TALKING ABOUT FAST FASHION COMPANIES.
They are the devils of the fashion industry. The bad guys. The villains. They are the root of the problem and should be eliminated from this planet. Or so many anti-fast fashion activists would claim.
There used to be 2 seasons a year and now there 54 (at least). Thanks to Inditex and H&M to name the bigger ones. Fast fashion companies are the creators of this system in which we see brand new stylish pieces twice a week arriving in the stores.
Zara receives new clothes every Tuesday and Friday in every store. They own about 2,160 stores worldwide. Imagine the logistics there. Insanity. And the emissions from the transportation. Crazy.
But fast fashion companies are also jumping on the ethical fashion trend.
H&M is investing millions in sustainability and promising to be 100% circular by 2040. And launching a Conscious Collection every year.
Zara is launching their sustainable “Join Life” collection, made out of organic cotton, recycled wool and Tencel.
And a lot of people call this Green Washing. I like to call it improvement.
These companies are going to be as rich if they don’t implement these practices because most consumers want new clothing that is stylish and cheap. They don’t think about their true cost.
Or are consumers increasingly becoming more aware of what is behind a garment? (Please watch the True Cost documentary if you haven’t already. It’s on Netflix!)
Investing this much money in such practices will, in fact, bring them even more profit in the long run. Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M says it herself:
Our customers are showing growing interest in the issues around sustainability. Therefore, we see this new focus as investing in and further strengthening our customer offerings. Investing in sustainability means investing in H&M’s future as a brand.
But how do big companies decide on what practices will be implemented?
Big companies have a hierarchical structure. There are stake holders and investors that are involved in the decision making process. And their thinking goes along these lines:
-If we are going to invest millions to change your production process, you better be damn sure that you are going to bring me profit out of that investment. Otherwise I’m gonna get out of here and put my money somewhere else-.
Profit, my friends. That is the deal breaker. And profit is generated by demand and supply. The more demand on sustainable clothing we generate as consumers, the more supply there will be.
WHAT IF A FAST FASHION COMPANY MARKETS A BRAND THAT HAS GREAT DESIGN, GOOD QUALITY AND many (but not all) OF THEIR CLOTHES ARE MADE IN EUROPE?
Inditex is the owner of Zara, Stradivarius, Oysho (underwear and home wear), Bershka, Massimo Dutti, and Uterqüe.
Stradivarius and Bershka offer less quality than Zara, and Zara offers less quality than Massimo Dutti. Uterqüe seems to have higher prices than Massimo Dutti, but I am not so sure that the quality is higher. Seems quite similar to me.
In any case, one of the main reasons why Massimo Dutti and Uterqüe are more expensive is because they use higher quality fabrics and their clothes (or some of them) are made in Portugal.
Portugal is a country well known for the quality of its clothing manufacturing industry. Being a member state of the European Union ensures that the workers in Portuguese factories are paid fair salaries and have good working conditions in general.
So, is it ethical to buy a T-shirt that is made out of 100% linen (a natural fabric) and that was made in Portugal?
I would say it is.
At least it is a much better choice than buying a shirt made out of polyester manufactured in Bangladesh.
While researching for this blog post I came across this article from Fashion Revolution where they showed how Massimo Dutti answered the “Who Made my Clothes” question to a customer, providing detailed information on where that specific garment was made, after the customer sent them a picture of the label.
I believe this is a great sign that brands are listening to consumers. And proves that at the end of the day, the consumer’s choice matters.
To me there are 3 basic steps to shop responsibly:
- Think if you really need it. Do you see yourself wearing it at least 30 times?
- See if you can shop it second hand or borrow/buy from a friend
- Choose a responsible brand if available to you and if it suits your style and budget
- If you go to a fast fashion store, look at the label. Where was the piece made? Does this country provide fair working conditions? What fabric is it made of? Is it natural?. If the fabric is a mix of different components, you should know that it cannot be recycled.
How do you shop responsibly? Do you think that there is an ethical way to shop fast fashion brands? Let me know your opinion in the comments below!