Ethical is the New Black

Styles and trends are constantly changing, but do you ever wonder what happens to all the stuff that inevitably goes out of style? As a shopaholic, it’s  incredibly easy to forget where your new threads are coming from. My experience in retail opened my eyes to how much product flies in and out of our stores.

Look…we all know the fashion industry is incredibly wasteful. We’re reminded of it constantly by the streams of posts on our feeds. It’s now public knowledge that, after petroleum, fashion is the second most polluting industry.  Fast fashion is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. To put this into perspective, it’s five times higher than all of the output of the world’s airlines combined. This has given the fashion industry a terrible reputation.

In the past, many brands have used Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)  as a marketing tactic rather than an ethical decision to make their company greener. An example of how this tactic can backfire on a company  is Gorman. They grew their loyal customer base on a foundation of false ethical advertisement. The marketing was always about being natural, earthy and world focused. However, Gorman was scrutinised when the Baptist World Aid Australian 2016 Fashion Report was released. With the lowest ethical score possible, Gorman got a big fat F for lack of transparency. Many other brands didn’t do much better. Essentially, Gorman gave the entire fashion industry a bad rep for it’s attempt at CSR.

One of the most pressing contemporary problems has been how to promote sustainable practices in relation to fashion apparel, by reducing its excessive production, consumption and disposal. Ironically, while fashion has commonly been considered an innovative industry, it is desperately behind in sustainability, with some scholars arguing that fashion as a field of research is too late…

But, are times (finally) changing?

Sustainable design and development has been a goal for fashion researchers since 2008. A philosophy was developed that suggested that instead of simply saving natural resources, attention should be on the lifecycle of materials. So instead of throwing products away, their material should be reused. Ten years later, this idea has come to life.

According to The State Of Fashion 2018, sustainability will now be the forefront of innovation, with leading brands harnessing the circular economy.  The circular economy is essentially linking the product life cycle by recycling clothes. It uses those fibres to create new clothes, rather than the “take-make-dispose” approach. This means that sustainability has evolved from being a part of fragmented initiatives to an integral part of the entire fashion value chain.

The Shelton Group, a marketing agency specializing in sustainability, found that 90% of millennials buy from brands whose environmental and social practices they trust, so they are more likely to recommend the brand to their friends. Additionally, 66% of global millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable.

Consumers have taken to social media to vocalise sustainable issues, making it imperative for brands to offer transparency over their apparel production practices. A theory created by Schwartz concluded that consumers are thoughtfully evaluating the life cycle of different products, and will select whichever product that has the least environmental load.  The growth in consumer awareness and demand for sustainable clothing has justified retailers’ investment in sustainable apparel. Brands like Patagonia, Stella McCartney and Gucci (often named dropped by millennials) have all made massive strides to commit to going green. Which means that they aren’t afraid to put their money where their mouth is.



Many high fashion and fast fashion brands have adopted alternative business models and new concepts centered around sustainability. An example of this is H&M’s biggest move towards a circular economy, which is their recycling program. H&M has invested in Newcell and Eileen Fisher’s Renew program, which mends or renews clothes for reuse. Essentially, consumers can exchange old clothing for discount vouchers. This helps to reduce clothing from becoming landfill, and instead recycling it into new clothing.

H&M’s Recycling Program

However, sustainability collections need to stand up to core fashion in terms of design, fit, quality and fashion credibility.  Research has found that to make sustainable alternatives more attractive to customers, stylish designs will encourage them to embrace it. Studies concluded that beauty and creativity should not be in conflict with social and ecological sustainabilities in the world of fashion. And that is exactly what designers are doing. Fast-fashion giants such as H&M, Zara and ASOS, have grown their sustainable ranges to be sophisticated in terms of design and competitive price. It has been marketed in line with wider collections, easing consumer adoption, which disintegrates perceptions of unappealing sustainable collections. Because let’s be real, no one wants their clothes to look like their granny’s collage book.


Sustainable fashion has been described as an oxymoron as fashion theory assumes that something goes in and out of style. This contrasts with the long term perspective of sustainability. Fashion is seen as an art form that complements the long-term perspective of sustainability that it focuses on craftsmanship and artistry and is not bound to seasonality. This art-form is being seen left, right and center with fast and high fashion brands creating sustainability plans and  discontinuing the use of fur.

There is no doubt that the “next level” of sustainability is being brought to fruition. Companies are starting to fully embrace the competitive advantage that green fashion provides. Retailers alike are paving the way, and showing the fashion industry how to drive innovation by closing the fashion loop.

If this article sparked your interest on ethical fashion then check out this podcast by Business of Fashion on the fur debate.

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