When I started on my journey into slow fashion, I became more aware of the people who made the products I use daily. I started asking myself questions. Who made this? Did they make it in a safe environment? Are they fairly compensated for their work? And the most profound question of them all: Would I want to live the life they live?
These questions changed how I see sustainability and my personal choices.
When we talk about sustainability in fashion or daily life, we often focus on things like natural materials, organic fabrics, reducing our carbon footprint, or avoiding harsh chemicals. In other words, we focus on making our impact on the planet smaller.
That, to me, is very important. At the same time, social aspects are just as important. Our sustainability efforts and ethical living should be intrinsically connected.
No brand or product is truly sustainable if it doesn’t pay attention to human rights, labour conditions, and community wellbeing. Things like organic cotton, recycled materials, and carbon offsetting don’t mean much if a company isn’t transparent in how and where they make their things. Because everything we produce and consume has an impact on people around the world.
With that in mind, here are 4 ways our sustainable choices can have positive social impact.
Fair, living wage
When we buy a product that has been ethically made, it means that people who made it are paid fairly for their work.
Unfortunately, the reality is that most people in the fashion industry, can barely live off the work they do. According to Fashion Revolution, 98% of garment workers don’t earn a living wage. This means that they cannot afford to pay for basic means, like shelter, proper food, healthcare, or education. That is why we need to ask brands questions like #WhoMadeMyClothes. We need to demand that, when we buy something, our money fairly goes to those who made it possible. When the farmers, garment workers, technicians, artisans, and other makers earn a higher wage, it means they have a bigger chance of a decent life.
Ethically made fashion doesn’t only revolve around fair payment, although it’s a big part of it. It is also a matter of safe working conditions.
Because of the constant pressure to produce faster, meet tight deadlines, and work with shrinking margins, many factories around the world simply don’t have a budget to invest in their infrastructure. Again, we are talking about simple things, like proper ventilation. Sometimes, factories that have been neglected for years collapse or cause other deadly incidents. The Rana Plaza collapse in2013 was the biggest industrial tragedy in the recorded history of fashion. But tragedies continue to happen, like the recent factory fire in Egypt.
When we buy from sustainable and slow fashion brands, we buy from businesses that prioritise safety and ethics over profits. Because they usually produce slower and in smaller quantities, they don’t put financial or time pressure on the factories. In fact, many ethical brands disclose the exact factories and the conditions in which they produce.
Investing in the future
The current dominant model in which we produce clothes, but also food, cosmetics, coffee, and just about anything else we use daily, is perpetuating the poverty cycle. What I mean by this is that jobs that are a part of global supply chains are keeping people poor. Many people enter these poorly paid, dangerous jobs because there simply are no other opportunities. But because the jobs bring so little money, barely enough for survival, the workers are not able to save up. Often, their children are forced to help and bring in extra money for their household. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 170 million children are working in the garment and textile industry. This prevents them from going to school, getting the education they have a right to, and finding better jobs for themselves. Thus, the poverty cycle closes and starts again.
Instead, when brands ensure a decent (at minimum) living wage for their workers, they invest in them but also their children and families. It’s an investment in the future.
Smaller ecological footprint
As I mentioned above, sustainability and ethics are interconnected. Here’s just one example.
Unsustainable manufacturing practices, such as those in the fashion industry, hurt our ecosystems. The ecosystems around the factories are where we see these consequences fastest. For example, because of the intense dyeing process of our clothes, about 70% of Chinese rivers are polluted. Not only does this kill the life in those rivers, but as a result, millions of people don’t have access to clean drinking water today.
The communities living near the factories are usually those bearing the worst consequences of the industry. Thus, when we buy from brands that have a smaller ecological footprint, we also reduce their impact on the communities around the world.
All of the above are reasons why I choose to support sustainable businesses. These businesses are a part of making the world better for everyone, not just us who buy from them. I’d love to hear what motivates you to make more sustainable choices! Drop me a message and let me know!