Is Ethical Fashion An Oxy Moron?

There are a number of members of the Hub working in fashion so it's worth taking note when one of the fashion industry's most famous names, supermodel Lily Cole, describes 'ethical fashion' as 'oxymoronic', particularly since she herself is the co-founder of an ethical fashion label, The North Circular.

But this apparent contradiction highlights a very important question for those who work in ethical fashion. Is it really possible to deliver meaningful positive social impact within an industry that is so inherently unsustainable?

The fashion industry, as it has evolved, is environmentally rapacious. It relies on consistent turnover, having four collections a year, every single year. As an industry its capacity to cultivate 'wants' and transform them into consumer 'needs' is unparalleled, with the result that consumers constantly feel compelled to replace their clothes, even if they haven't been worn.

The industry's waste record is alarming, with 1.2m tonnes of textiles ending up in landfill in the UK alone. The attitude to waste is reflected in the comments by the managing director of the clothing label, Lyle & Scott, when he indicated that he would rather 'burn' the company's excess stock than recycle it or sell it at a discount. Other companies, including Swedish clothing company H&M, have recently had their practice of dumping unsold stock exposed in the media.

While waste is certainly not a new issue in the fashion industry, it has undoubtedly become worse in recent years, as production costs have fallen and consumption has risen.

Much of the early focus of the ethical fashion movement was at the lowest level of the supply chains where efforts were made to improve the plight of farmers and factory workers in developing countries who supplied much of the labour and materials that fed the fashion machine in the developed world.

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