What is the difference?
The head marketing honchos of companies all across globe work tirelessly to keep one step ahead of the trends. That’s a pretty impressive feat now that trends are largely dictated by social media, street style, and our 24-7 news feeds. With computers in our phones and at our fingertips at any time, there has never been a harder time for those who want to keep on trend of what to sell to us. Consumers have greater buying power than ever before because we are spoilt for choice and know how to shop for the best price. Ever been shopping in-store for the tactical experience only to go home and buy an identical product online from somewhere else? Many folks are guilty of this and getting the best deal is something that marketers have trained us to do. They use all sorts of tricks to get their products stuck in our minds and discounting and ‘deals’ are just one of these. Another is using terminology that appeals to our values. When it comes to environmentally conscious and ethically produced items some of the marketing terms you may have seen may be; ethical, eco, sustainable, fair trade, and vegan. All of which sound like lovely things to have in our lives, however they won’t necessarily mean the same thing for everyone, which is where things can get a little complicated when you start shopping.
Break it down.
There are a few basic things that terms like these are used to describe when it comes to fashion. These things are issues that are associated with the production and consumption of fashion items. The picture above is a little infographic of these terms and examples of how they can be applied to different areas of the fashion industry. It’s a bit of a mess isn’t it? You can use any term to describe pretty much any or all of the above product benefits. In many cases you don’t even have to cover any more than one aspect in order to stick a label on your item. Got some organic content in your manufacturing process? Might as well use the word ‘organic’ in your brand name (beauty brands do this all the time) even if it is only one ingredient of many. Unless you have had your items certified by an external source such as Fair Trade, GOTS or Ethical Clothing Australia (just to name a few) marketing teams can pretty much use any term in any way they like, they don’t need to have anyone check that their products live up to the name they have been given. Generally speaking one of the biggest issues with the way that these terms are used is that in the fashion industry ‘sustainability’ if often used to describe issues of human or animal ethics. While these are a part of a sustainable future they aren’t the ONLY issue. Which means that often people get confused about sustainable fashion and fair trade, ethical and vegan fashion. This is something I have noticed during the Fashion Revolution campaign, when the focus of ‘who made my clothes’ often results in a bit of head scratching about the environmentally sustainable production side of things. There was a little bit of what seemed to be loaded commentary on my Instagram when one label I questioned mentioned their efforts to have less environmental impact (which is an environmentally sustainable and/or eco focus) while another shunned this effort by adding that they are looking at the ethical (human) side of their supply chain implying that the other brand was not. Both animal and human ethics and environmentally friendly practice are equally important when working towards a sustainable future. It’s just that the Fashion Revolution campaign of ‘who made my clothes’ hints more at wanting to know about ethics than environmental sustainability.
The trouble with Vegan fashion marketing.
If that wasn’t confusing enough then Vegan fashion will blow your mind. While there are many positives to being vegan, the first obviously being the fact you aren’t killing or exploiting animals, and the second being that it’s good for your health and the health of the environment, Vegan fashion is a minefield of environmental faux pas. Why? Because you can slap a ‘Vegan’ label on pretty much anything you like that doesn’t have animal product in it. Bottle water? Yup it’s vegan but it sure as heck ain’t good for the environment. How about an acrylic sweater? It’s vegan too. You know what else an acrylic sweater is? It’s pretty much the same as a plastic water bottle, they are both made from petrochemicals and some of our fashion items are actually made from recycled plastic water bottles. Synthetic textiles are a disposal nightmare because for most part we don’t have municipal solid waste disposal systems in place to recycle them and they aren’t biodegradable. While they do have their place in the textile world for their water repelling qualities, stretch and recovery, and easy care (I do love a good pair of recycled plastic yoga leggings and recycle my dead ones in this way) they are a bit of a nightmare for the environment. The worst bit is they might even be polluting from the comfort of your washing machines! If you are vegan it’s best to ask yourself if you are doing it for the personal health reasons, animal ethics, and/or environmental reasons and carefully research the whole lifespan of your fashion items before buying.
What can I do about this?
The best thing we can do as consumers is to research and ask questions. As long as there are no requirements for labels to certify their claims then marketers are able to say whatever they like. Some excellent resources you can use to find our more include:
You should always shop based on your personal values, and choose items that you know that you will wear for a long time. Livia Firth of Eco Age suggests that you should take a 30 wears challenge and wear the same item at least thirty times. This is aimed at reducing the ‘throwaway fashion’ culture. Most items in my closet are YEAR’s old and have come my way through my work in fashion or as a secondhand thrifted/vintage item. I do have a few ‘new’ things that were purchased after my Wardrobe Workout challenge. The reason for all the pictures of me (and believe me, I quite dislike having my photo taken) is that Project JUST are encouraging us to share some of our ethical fashion sources for their #justapproved social media campaign. I’m wearing a Country Road second hand hat that I sourced from SWOP that’s had WAY more than 30 wears. The shirt is a thrifted Top Shop one that again, gets worn over and over again for everything from ‘nice’ outfits to sun coverage while kayaking. My dress is the official Dressember one from Elegantees that I wore every day for the whole of December to raise money for A21 and The International Justice Mission, so it got more than 30 wears in just one month! It’s made by women who were freed from sex trafficking and offered new livelihoods working in dressmaking. My boots are secondhand from a little boutique in Coolum called The Cacti Fly. The scarf, necklace and earrings were all christmas presents. My sister gifted me this The Spotted Quoll scarf that she was lucky enough to find at her local tip shop, however as The Spotted Quoll is committed to slow fashion, you can still get nearly the same one online here. The recycled China was gifted to me by my BFF and the lovely designer Aimee at Whiskey and White. They are simply the best and always get compliments! Lastly, the bag is one that my sister gifted years ago and is made from recycled newspaper, and bike tyre inner-tubes. I don’t remember the label but she said it was made by disadvantages communities as a way of developing industry.
How do you shop? Are you ethically minded or sustainable? Perhaps you have a pet peeve about the way products are marketed. Whatever’s on your mind can be shared in the comments section below!