What is ethical living and why should we care?

Posted by Sharon Sitters
15 December 2016 | Ethical Living

Eco, ethical, sustainable and organic are the chic words of 2016.

Like planking for white-middle-class women, everybody’s trying it. There’s no better Instagram formula than one that involves a hot cup of single origin filter coffee, a paleo muffin and your favourite sustainable rubber, fair-trade kicks (no-joke I know where to find these!).

But ethical and organic are so much more than just a good Insta hashtag. These words signal the return of true business. Business working the way that it was created to; where every person along the chain receives a fair deal for their time and effort. Isn’t it crazy that this is the exception to the rule? Ethical fashion brands are forging a new way and bizarrely, it’s a challenge to go against the norm of fast fashion, to slow production down, pay living wages, and care about the little guy. Yet in the midst of the West’s awakening, fast fashion still remains a rampantly successful industry. In 2008 an ambitious kiwi bloke went to the ends of the earth to find out where his underwear came from and uncovered the unforgettable truth of fast fashion. In 2013 the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh killing over 1000 garment workers; workers who were forced to work for fear of losing their jobs, silenced when they mentioned the worrisome cracks in the factory walls. It is news time-and-time-again, we all know about it, and yet continue to grow like H&M opening it’s doors to a crowd of 1000 devoted kiwi consumers.

The fast fashion industry is well polished, it is tried and true, it’s roots are deep and well supported. Preying on every person’s desire to have more and to pay less for it. Perhaps that’s why it has been ignored for so long. It is such a convincing system, that personally I spent years choosing to believe most of the fashion in my wardrobe was made by well-paid, respected workers, but how could that be when I paid less than $30 for each item! The image and branding of fast fashion stores is so perfectly manufactured that it has never forced me to reconsider my shopping choices. In the end it was simple logic that got me thinking; how can a seamstress make this top and sell it to this store so that I can buy it for $10? Hmm something isn’t right here…

And that is indeed the case.

Fast fashion has flourished in the last 2 decades, growing steadily since the late 1970s. An industry that was made possible by globalisation, offering western fashion brands dirt cheap, yet effective garment manufacturing. It sounds ideal, but when we step back and take a long hard look at this industry we see 40 million garment workers in Asia earning little over (and some less than) hand to mouth pay; that is enough money to buy their food and that is all.

We see the second largest producer of global pollution, an industry thriving off of the backs of desperately poor communities; not simply exploiting the people, but their environments as well.

Read the rest of Sharon’s piece in Issue 1 of the magazine – print and digital copies available here.

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