Make it lasts sustainability expert Anna Brismar talks about ethics in relation to sustainable fashion.

Every other week, Make it last’s sustainability expert Anna Brismar of Green Strategy answers questions about fashion and sustainability. Have a question you want answered? Send it here! And read more about what sustainable fashion really is, or at least how we define it with the help of Anna, here.


Photo from Made in Africa

Sustainable fashion is fundamentally about ethics. How do you believe consumers will approach ethical aspects of fashion in the years ahead?

Anna Brismar: Ethical fashion covers a broad range of topics. Some experts would even equate it with sustainable fashion, i.e. environmental, social and economic issues of fashion. In the media, it is often associated with poor working conditions in the garment factories, for example in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia. The need for fair living wages, proper safety measures, and healthy working facilities and hours is here of key concern. Animal rights and sustainable livelihoods are other ethical issues often raised in relation to fashion.

Yet, ethical fashion also involves a genuine respect for local artisans and their original designs and traditional craftsmanship. Traditional artisans and craftsmen are sometimes found in small villages and country sides of developing countries, where people have little knowledge of intellectual property rights, and no power to fight for their rights against big companies. Thus, artisans run the risk of not being (properly) compensated for their unique designs and crafting skills. Instead, their products and patterns are often copied and reproduced at large scale with little concern for their livelihoods. As consumers, we generally lack insight into these situations. How can we tell if the print on the blouse came from a local artisan in Peru or was developed by a designer at the headquarters? (Note: finding inspiration from other cultures is not the same as making an identical copy.)

In coming years, consumers are likely to demand greater transparency of supply chains. We will also probably be keener to support authentic designs and craft skills, and more inclined to ask questions about the actual origin of a design. Was the pattern on the fabric originally created by an artisan in South Africa, or was it in fact developed at the design office? Over the coming years, authentic designs will surely become more attractive among the fashion conscious consumers. Many consumers have already grown tired of today’s homogenized fashion styles, design copies, and mass production. Once we have our favorite wardrobe essentials, we tend to long for the unique, authentic and personalized.

One of 39 experts interviewed in Ecouterre regarding their predictions for the fashion industry in 2015, was Simone Cipriani. Cipriani is head and founder of International Trade Centre’s Ethical Fashion Initiative. According to him, a key trend that will shape the fashion industry in the coming year is “a growing and unstoppable desire for authenticity and uniqueness, whereby consumers will demand real fashion which is about original products with strong artisanal content”, and this will happen “in the top segment of fashion”. He believes that brands will start listening more to the growing consumer demand for authenticity and begin to “integrate artisans in the production cycle of fashion in a dignified manner”. Also, he predicts that “consumers will keep on shifting their loyalty from top fashion brands that have gone to mass production to those who can prove real and authentic artisanal work that is innovative and includes creative design.”

Today, new fashion brands are founded which build on local design heritage and crafting skills. This trend is seen in Europe (e.g. Heart of Lovikka), Asia as well as the United States. In New York, Manufacture NY will be launched later this year, with the aim to rebuild the fashion industry in the U.S. and support local designers, pattern makers and manufacturers in New York. More exciting initiatives and industry developments in this area are expected!

Top picture from ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative

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