More than ever, it seems, clothing brands are making strides to provide consumers with sustainable fashion options.
That being said, it’s unfortunately common for companies that claim to be “green” to not be as ethical as they seem, a practice known as greenwashing.
Collective Fashion Justice, a nonprofit that advocates for a new approach to fashion, is on a mission to challenge those greenwashing companies to take a holistic approach to sustainable fashion.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like a complex problem to solve, you’d be right.
According to the organization’s website, there’s nothing simple about the fashion industry — or the steps that need to be taken in order to see radical, positive changes.
That’s why founder Emma Håkansson coined the term “total ethics fashion system.” This term encapsulates the efforts to take a holistic approach to the problems posed by harmful practices.
By doing so, major fashion brands can put “people, animals, and the planet before profit,” as Håkansson said in an interview with Green Matters.
“There were people that were addressing animal rights issues in fashion, or people really focusing on labor issues, or on deforestation… but generally, there was a lack of collectivity in the thinking,” Håkansson said in the interview.
“And I felt like that was really important, because I do believe we can’t effectively address problems in fashion if we’re not looking at how they’re all interconnected.”
What is total ethics fashion?
To get a better idea of what total ethics fashion looks like in practice, and to understand why it’s so needed, the company put together a diagram that shows what happens when companies only focus on one area of sustainable fashion.
The three main areas of focus include fair fashion (caring for humans), sustainable fashion (caring for the planet), and vegan fashion (caring for animals).
Here’s an example of what can happen if a company doesn’t take a total ethics approach: They choose to follow a slow fashion business model to create jackets free from animal skin, but they still put their employees in harmful working conditions.
Alternatively, a brand that’s known for refusing to create fabrics from fossil fuels, a process Collective Fashion Justice says is a part of the leading cause of the climate crisis, could still choose to slaughter animals for material while paying their workers poverty wages.
Essentially, the concept of total ethics fashion examines the intersectionality at play in the industry.
“What if old clothes were symbols of pride, adored more with each wear rather than tainted with boredom in a newness obsessed culture?” an excerpt from the book reads, as shared on Instagram. “What if we connected again with quality, craft, and how exceptionally brilliant the work of people who make clothes really is?”
A free booklet, “Total ethics fashion: a primer” is also on the organization’s website in digital and print formats.
While some companies intentionally cut corners when it comes to being ethical, there are those who simply aren’t aware of what they could be doing to be better.
Either way, though, the end result is the same: Consumers falsely believe they’re supporting a company that’s making the world a better place while the planet, people, and animals continue to suffer.
At its core, this is what Collective Fashion Justice aims to stop.
“It is really an exploitation of people’s willingness to do the right thing,” Håkansson explained in an Instagram video when speaking with nonprofit Greenwash.com.
According to Håkansson, in order to see substantial change in the fashion industry, action must be taken on a governmental level.
That’s why the nonprofit has partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme. Along with other organizations and companies, Collective Fashion Justice assisted in the creation of a guide called “The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook.”
This guide, according to the UN’s website, is for “marketers, brand managers, imagemakers, storytellers, media, influencers and beyond.”
“[This guide] presents the need to redirect fashion communication toward sustainable and circular solutions as a creative opportunity, and provides a much needed framework when policies around how to communicate environmental claims increasingly come into force,” the website continues.
How can I make a difference through total ethics fashion?
Waiting for massive fashion companies to take action can leave us feeling defeated. If the bulk of the negative impact comes from them, what could we possibly do that will make a difference?
This is an issue that Collective Fashion Justice has taken steps to address. While it’s certainly fair and natural to feel defeated, there are steps we can take, too.
First, we can educate ourselves on total ethics fashion through paid and free resources provided by places like Collective Fashion Justice. In addition to books and free booklets, the organization posts articles on its website that are full of the latest news from the fashion industry, as well as advice each of us can take.
An article about questions to ask brands before supporting them is a great starting point.
“We have an enormous amount of power as citizens,” Håkansson wrote in the article. “The fashion industry exists to clothe us, and so we influence the fashion industry not only by voting with our dollar, but by telling the fashion industry what we think is important, and what we want to see from it.”
As usual, it’s also important that we consumers use their voices so more people are aware of the issues posed by the fashion industry. This means connecting with those in your social circle as well as making your demands known on a political level.
“I think it’s so important that we remember the most effective way that we can positively impact the world around us is not by buying things,” Håkansson explained to Greenwash.com.
“It’s by using our voices. It’s by getting involved politically. It’s by supporting organizations that are pushing for change.”
Header images courtesy of Collective Fashion Justice and Very Good Looking