Monday, March 10, 2014

Is there Such a Thing as Ethical Fashion?

I've recently finished reading To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World by Lucy Siegle.

There was a lot of information in this book for knitters, mainly in the chapters concerning wool, cotton and cashmere. I was fascinated by the details regarding the disappearance of some breeds of sheep as consumers demand the softness of merino wools. At the same time cashmere quality is being reduced trying to keep up with demand.

I found the chapter on making our own clothes perhaps a little naive. While doing so certainly means we aren't taking advantage of underpaid garment makers it really doesn't deal with any of the environmental or animal rights issues. As someone who has made many of my clothes knitting, as well as sewing I'm not sure this is practical for most people. It takes a fair bit of skill, a huge time investment and neither is especially economical. I've done these things because I enjoy the process and the end result but not everyone sees making clothes as fun.

I found myself even more confused about what good ethical choices in fashion mean by the end of the book than before I started it. There are so many views and problems to be dealt with when making decisions. They fall mainly into humanitarian issues, animal rights, environmental concerns regarding pollution, sustainability and consumption of water. 

After reading the book I came away feeling that you really can't be ethical in all areas at the same time. I did do a brief online search to see what is available in my local shopping area that could be viewed as ethical fashion and did not find a single retailer marketing themselves that way.

While the book certainly got me thinking about the issues I don't see many opportunities for me to take action. 

What are your thoughts?


    1. the only solution i've come up with is don't use fibers you find objectionable, and buy hard-wearing clothes in classic styles, and wear them until they wear out. This means I'm never on the cutting edge of fashion, but I don't feel the need to be, either.

      1. Like you, I've been spending more and wearing things longer. My last fast fashion purchase may have come from the Joe Fresh factory that collapsed. I feel guilty for contributing to the problem every time I think about that purchase. I went cheap because the item was trendy and I know I wouldn't wear it often. I'm rethinking that choice.

    2. I'm definitely curious about the book, particularly the part pertaining to the natural fibres you've mentioned. For instance, what does it say have to say about man-made fibres and their impact/durability? Where/is there a distinction between fashion and clothing? Is it the industry driving demand or us demanding cheap clothing? Alas, my local library doesn't have a copy....yet....

      Like Crazy Colorado Knitter, I also tend to buy vintage/used clothing and when buying new try to get higher quality/longer lasting, 'ethically' sourced or handmade if possible.

      I've found that the industry has changed and quality has decreased over the years. I have a series of 5 cashmere sweaters (3 of which I bought used, 1 traded, 1 new): ~1960's, ~1970s, ~2000's GAP, ~2000's expensive, ~2010's medium$. The 1960's sweater is still the highest quality, tightest twist, warmest, most number of plies etc. I now consider this my hard-working gardening sweater because over nearly 60 years it's discoloured and has a few holes I didn't get to mending quick enough. On the other hand, the 2000's GAP sweater is about to be relegated to the rag pile it's so threadbare. The medium priced cashmere is already pilling after less than a year's wear. The expensive 2000's cashmere is roughly the same quality of the 1970's. I bring these sweaters to my beginning spinning class to show new spinners what twist and number of plies is all about.

      I hope that encouraging people to make their own clothes at least gives them firsthand experience in how long it takes and appreciate the handwork that goes in to making some clothing. It also gives a sense of self-accomplishment. Additionally, the basic skills of mending/sewing have not surprisingly disappeared as clothing has become cheaper but with the growing number of online videos to show people how to regain these skills, blog posts such as yours and local yarn/sewing centers/guilds/community center/school workshops are all opportunities to take action.

      1. I'm very interested in your comments about the changes in cashmere quality. I've never bought cashmere in manufactured clothing only as yarn. There's another book on the topic as well written by Elizabeth Cline, you can find it here, it was in the Toronto library system so perhaps it is in yours.