Identity Ethics

Ethics of Global Fashion

Emma is a Law & International Relations student, and aspiring diplomat with a passion for journalism. This semester she will be challenging the everyday choices we make, and the origins of the very clothes on our backs, as she explores a range of ethical concerns relating to global fashion.

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Let’s recap. Since July this column has discussed issues of morality related to fashion: the burqa debate, environmental issues, sexism, branding and sweatshop labour. Fashion is great, but it creates injustice in our world. As consumers, we all contribute to these injustices. As cliché as it sounds, we have the power to make a difference. Without us, the fashion industry has nothing. Today, I thought I would discuss consumers and designers embracing this power.

Local designers often engage in more sustainable and ethical practices than multinationals. Often, these stores do not have the wealth of resources that commercial chains have, and are therefore unable to purchase materials and manufacture clothing in unethical environments overseas. Instead, independent designers usually rely on local products – like Australian wool etc. – to manufacture their garments. They also tend to rely on local labour – meaning that workers are paid acceptable wages because they are employed under Australian labour standards, as opposed to those of developing countries. Independent designers are thus more likely to produce ethical and sustainable clothing.

The number of independent designers, both here in Australia and abroad, is increasing. It’s become ‘fashionable’ to shop at local boutiques. This is a positive step for ethical fashion, and there are a number of reasons for this growing trend.

Firstly, there are simply a greater number of independent designers’ boutiques for consumers to shop at. This is because it is increasingly possible to make independent boutiques financially viable – largely a by-product of globalization. It’s well-established that globalization has facilitated the spread of social media, and social media has enabled independent designers to reach, and advertise their products, to a larger audience. I mean, think of the number of times you’ve received an “invite” from a friend on Facebook to like a local brand’s page. Independent designers and local brands are no longer forced to solely rely on the ‘word of mouth’ to promote their businesses. Bespoke is now more fashionable than mass-produced products.

Secondly, the poor quality of mass-produced clothing often deters consumers. Globalization has enabled these corporations to utilize these rapid means of production in order to cheaply produce masses of clothing for stores all around the world – however, this comes at the price of good quality. Local designers, in comparison, are not forced to produce clothing on such a large scale. Moreover, they have their finger to their customers’ pulse, monitoring the styles, materials and quality of the garments their particular audience favours. This data can easily be used to change designs mid-season.

People want to associate themselves with this personal element – it adds a kind-of ‘natural flair’ to their image, and also means that because the store is one-of-a-kind nothing in it can be found anywhere else. Maybe this reflects the growing desire of our generation to carve their own identity in the world – a generation wanting to stand out from the current ‘fast fashion’ consumerist culture. Regardless of motives, the growing attraction to this identity is reflected in the profits of these boutiques.

The worldwide trend towards independent designer, ethical clothing was reflected in the Fashfest line up here in Canberra. As many as 10% of designers in the showcase actively pursue ethical and sustainable clothing lines. One of these designers, Pure Pod, believes that their success lies in their label’s rebuff of the ‘fast fashion’ trend, and endeavours to design and produce clothing which doesn’t date, and so won’t end up in landfill a month after it’s purchased. Their success demonstrates that consumers have responded to this idea. Indeed, their growing customer base suggests that people are increasingly looking to associate themselves with this unique, natural and ethical image.

So, while in my previous articles I’ve suggested what not to buy, today I’m saying (after exams!) go out and spend at local boutiques! Be conscious of the fact that you’re doing the right thing by others and the planet. So happy shopping ANU – enjoy Australia’s unique fashion!