Featured in our July/August 2018 issue of TOI Magazine.
Ethical fashion blogger, content creator,BTL (LA's beyond the label) Creative director & graphic designer, professional freelance photographer, and stylist Allison Sherman from Scottsdale Arizona, currently repping Long Beach, California shares her deep passion for ethical fashion in an interview with us.
"Eco" (ecological or sustainable) fashion is clothing that is kind/good to the EARTH, and "ethical" fashion is kind/good to PEOPLE (and animals). Eco fashion is not always ethical, just like ethical fashion is not always good for the environment--but when your fashion items are both eco and ethical, its a win-win for both the environment AND people!
Examples of ethical fashion include:
-Having a "Sweatshop" free environment: There should be no harsh working conditions for the employees, all the design and production and shipping facilities and factories must comply with state/country regulations and standards.
-Fair Trade: Workers are compensated fairly for their work in accordance with regulations and wage guidelines.
-Any initiatives, programs, partnerships, etc. that a brand may have that is dedicated to social/environmental good. An example could be an artisan jewelry company that donates a percentage of profits to the World Wildlife Foundation or charity wellness programs for the artisans who make the jewelry.
Overlap of ethical and eco fashion include:
Made in America: Most clothing items made in the United States are not necessarily eco-friendly or sustainable. However, if the clothing is made in the United States, wages and working conditions in American factories are usually better than in other countries, due to stricter regulations and workplace standards. However, there have been reports that there are still sweatshops in the US where workers are not earning minimum wage, or are required to work long hours or work in other potentially hazardous conditions, so try to do some research. By shopping local(ish), you also cut down on transportation pollution. Something shipped within the same state or country has much less of a transportation environmental impact than something shipped from overseas. Some companies take greater measures to implement sustainable practices and materials than others. Depending on the company or brand though, you could be shopping both eco and ethical made in the USA items! Bonus: by purchasing items within country or state lines, you're also supporting the economy and hardworking Americans! Made in Europe, Australia, or Canada generally have similar working conditions to the US.
Vegan fashion includes clothing items that are free of any animal products! This means no leather, suede, wool, silk, cashmere, fur, etc. The debate of vegan fashion needs to be addressed--you can make the case that it is eco or unsustainable and you can also make the case that it's ethical and non-ethical. Every situation requires a bit of thoughtful analysis--Here are a couple of examples:
Example 1: Company X sells Vegan shoes for ($10 - $30)
-Eco: Good because you're using much less resources to produce the fabrics and materials to make the shoes. Bad because this particular company is known for its pollution, harsh chemicals, etc. to produce shoes--thus potentially harming both the environment and workers' health.
-Ethical: Good because you're not harming animals, but not so good because this company may cut corners in taking good care of their employees, and not pay them a fair wage for work, and there have less than good working conditions in their factories.
Lower price point items are typically made cheap, do not last as long, but are much less likely to have animal products, whereas most more expensive items (unfortunately) are made with animal products and are durable. This is not the case with all brands and items though.
Example 2: Company Y sells Vegan shoes ($500+)
Eco: This company as a brand is dedicated to sustainability efforts in every area of its development and production.
Ethical: This brand is ethical all the way around - to humans, animals, and the environment.
PROMOTING AND PRACTICING SUSTAINABLE INITIATIVES
Environmental sustainability is both a concern for both ethical fashion and eco fashion. While it is both eco and ethical--there is sometimes a conflict in that you can't always afford to buy the most expensive items you'd like--a good time for shopping for resale.
I don’t think many people are aware of what “ethical fashion” means because it’s not something that is generally mentioned or advertised. The fashion industry doesn’t want to bring attention to its unsustainable or polluting practices, similar to other industries such as factory farming. You have to seek out the information! Once you get a taste though, you have to know more. And once you have that information, it’s almost impossible not to shift your habits.
All the pretty stores in the mall look so glamorous, but in reality, it’s quite the opposite. Consumers are lured in by new, shiny, pretty, and phrases like “what’s in style now”, “you gotta have these”, “best ____ for the season”, etc. etc. rather than sticking to styles they enjoy. Fashion goes in and out of style in a relatively short cycle (ie. everything retro from the 70’s is somehow totally in style again).
It can also be much more work to seek out an ethical fashion brand, to shop sustainably, or buy secondhand. There is less of a market; there is also more research and searching in general for the items. People often like to try on in-store, and there are very few in-store sustainable or ethical brands. It’s almost all online, with the exception of shopping secondhand at a thrift or consignment store.
Basically, long story short: it’s out of sight and out of mind for most people.
THE BEGINNING OF ALLISON'S ETHICAL FASHION JOURNEY
It started out small and over the years I’ve implemented more sustainable habits into shopping ethically. I was a vegetarian for seven years and in college I got a random vegan roommate. I had told myself I would NEVER go vegan because it was too extreme and too limiting and I could never give up all my sweets, cheese, and my fabulous shoe and handbag collection.
Basically, one documentary led to the other and I was vegan within a couple months of her moving in. It was mostly the sustainability reasons that got to me, but the animal and health reasons quickly followed. At first I still wore leather and suede because I was a fashionista and what else was I supposed to wear? Was I supposed to sell my Brian Atwood’s, Tory Burch’s, Rebecca Minkoff’s, Jeffrey Campbell’s, etc.?! Oh no, I couldn’t do that. But, time would have it that when I was faced with moving states, I needed to reduce my closet to have room in my new apartment in Long Beach as my boyfriend, Zach, had just gotten into graduate school there.
Over the summer, I made the decision I needed to get rid of all the clothes I didn’t wear and *queue dramatic sigh* sell all my leather and suede as I had started to feel guilty wearing it and wouldn’t have room in my new closet. This was the biggest step for me in transitioning into a more sustainable wardrobe and was definitely the hardest part. I still own a couple wool hats, but I am in the process of replacing them with vegan ones (these are hard to find!), and there may be a few pieces I still own that have a tiny leather piece on them but it’s hard to tell if this is the true material.
After that summer in 2016, I started to research more sustainable fashion brands, ways to shop, and the environmental, health, and humanitarian implications the fashion industry was having. I began shifting my habits slowly and started educating others on what I had been learning.
Ethical fashion is so important because it holds the concept of “respect” at its foundation. It’s about respect for the planet, respect for your own health and the health of others, and respect for the well being of sentient animals. Whether you are aware of the implications or not, when you buy something, you are voting with your wallet.
THE MANY MISCONCEPTIONS
Ethical fashion is expensive.
-In most cases, yes - ethical fashion is more expensive because you are paying fair-trade working wages for the people who made your clothes. You are paying for sustainable manufacturing, sweatshop free environments, etc. However, there are some brands that are pretty affordable, you can always be more selective in what you buy, you can shop at thrift or consignment stores, or you can search those brands on secondhand marketplaces like eBay, Poshmark, Mercari, Tradesy, Swap Society, ThredUp, etc. Many of the products listed on these sites are brand new with the tags--and are much less expensive and it is a more sustainable way of purchasing in comparison to regular retail. You can find both ethical brands or regular brands, but either way it’s way more sustainable as you are literally reducing the amount of manufacturing/transportation/carbon footprint for the brand, reusing something that could have gone to landfill, and using something that already exists.
Ethical fashion isn’t very cute.
- I get where you’re coming from. At first, I thought ethical fashion would be plain, boring, and unstylish. WRONG. There are so many ethical fashion brands that make really trendy and stylish clothes that also have a real classic appeal. You just have to do a little bit of research!
-Is it fair trade?
-Is the brand sweatshop-free?
-Where is it made? America, Europe, Australia generally have better working conditions than countries in Asia, Central/South America, and Africa, but it totally depends. Do your research on the brand!
-Is it made using sustainable materials?
-Are they dedicated to social good? (ie. Do they give back to any non-profits, work on humanitarian or sustainability efforts, etc.?)
-Are their fabrics organic?
-Do they advertise where or how they manufacture? Odds are if they don’t openly boast about it, it’s likely unethical.
-Is it vegan and is it cruelty-free? Yes, there’s a difference. Vegan means that no animal products are used in the making of the item (ie. leather, suede, wool, silk, cashmere, beeswax, etc.) Cruelty-free means that the product did not undergo animal testing (this is common for beauty products). Others may argue, but in my opinion, in order for something to be truly ethical, it also needs to be free of any animal products and ingredients as well as not be tested on animals. All beings deserve the right to go unharmed, especially when there are perfectly good alternatives.
PROS & CONS LIST
-Better for the environment (less or no surface run-off, less wasting, lower carbon footprint, less chemicals in the growing of fabric crops, etc.)
-Better for humanity (working conditions, sweatshop-free, fair-trade, etc.)
-Better for the animals (if it’s vegan and cruelty-free).
-Better for your health and the health of others (harsh chemicals and manufacturing methods can be used in typical clothing production– these toxins seep into your skin while wearing and have even deeper effects on the garment workers)
-Harder to find
-Need to have more patience
-In general, will be more expensive unless you’re shopping secondhand. There’s no such thing as new ethical clothes for $10.
-More limited selection
ALLISON'S GO-TO BRANDS
If it’s luxury, 100% love Stella McCartney. The brand is all vegan and dedicated to sustainability. I only own a few things from the brand, but it’s definitely good for a special occasion, birthday, the holidays, etc.
Although I don’t own something from all of these brands, I absolutely adore them. In due time, I hope to add some pieces to my collection: If we are going everyday brands, I love: Reformation, Christy Dawn, Groceries Apparel, Mate the Label, Matt & Nat, Coconuts by Matisse (not an all vegan brand, but has a ton of options), BC Footwear, Segara Swim, Freebella Swim, Vitamin A swim, Whimsey & Row, Elliott Clothing, Everlane, Eileen Fischer, Boyish by Her, DL1961, Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather, Bhava, Nicora, Patricia Correia, Rafa, Abask Clothing, Azura Bay, Veerah, Nae Vegan Shoes, White Rabbit, etc.
If we are doing boutiques/marketplaces, Bead & Reel and MooShoes are all sustainable and vegan boutiques. Also, Artisan & Fox is a sustainable artisan marketplace.
I get most of my clothes secondhand though, and in this case no matter which brand you buy it’s considered sustainable!