Can fashion ever be ethical? It’s a big question for a small blog post, and once you start asking questions about ethics you have to ask questions of the questions, with each interrogation spinning into a new interrogation. After all, people make entire academic careers out of that.
When Ceri of Style Eyes Ethical Fashion Blog invited me to submit an ethical outfit to her online competition I started asking myself a lot of questions. Some of the accessories I’m wearing above are handmade: the patchwork tote bag I sewed together with fabric scraps (there’s a clearer image here), plus the handknitted scarf and socks (also seen here). And handmade is ethical, right? But what if the wool came from neglected sheep? And what if the dyes used had a negative environmental impact by getting into the reservoir and poisoning all the children in the village? It’s just a theory, but it could happen.
The coat, and dress beneath it, came from charity shops. And secondhand clothes are ethical, right? But what if the coat – a 1995 Marks & Spencer dusky pink trench – was manufactured by people earning less than a living wage? Today, Marks & Spencer’s ethical policy demonstrates their commitment to workers’ rights, but what about 16 years ago? And is the trade in secondhand clothing really something to be proud of, or a wasteful element of our consumer society? And what if the previous owner was a murderer? Does that make me an accessory?
Returning to my opening question – can fashion be ethical? Probably, depending on your definition of ethics and the resources available to you. Despite my questions, this outfit is as ethical as I can afford to be. Buying secondhand clothing prevents unwanted textiles going to landfill, and gives money to charities. Making clothing and accessories gives me an understanding of the processes involved in garment manufacturing, and therefore a respect for well-made clothes. So, forgive me for the potential smugness, but I think this outfit could be applauded as, yes, ethical.
scarf – knitted by my mother // shades – st ann’s hospice charity shop // pink trench – hope house charity shop // patchwork tote bag – handmade by me // socks – knitted by me // boots – oxfam originals manchester