Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Small Changes in Big Business

Can fashion ever be ethical?

And more to the point; can fast fashion ever be ethical?

This point is discussed and debated in the world of ethical fashion on a regular basis. When I first came across the ethical fashion industry I think I was maybe a little too idealistic about the ethical labeling organisations and maybe a little too critical of the fast fashion industry. Either that or just maybe the fast fashion industry is improving. 

I think it's probably a bit of both but either way, I feel like I need to state the case for the fashion industry that in the past I may have judged rather harshly.

The high street has come a long way since I first became acquainted with corporate social responsibility and ethical trade. In the beginning I cast my judgment upon the high street indiscriminately, failing to take notice of those brands that were seeking to change. To be fair, the brands that choose to seek more ethical ways of trading are not always the ones who shout about it. If we take a look at brands like ASOS and New Look, you might not immediately think of them as very 'green' companies but both are going above and beyond the average for where they sit within the industry.

Big high street fashion retailers are obviously going to face challenges when trying to improve working conditions in supply chains that are hugely expansive, impossibly global and intrinsically complicated. But the positive aspect of their daunting size is the incredible impact that they are capable of creating. Just one small policy change can impact hundreds of thousands of workers lives. I don't think that we should be so quick to cast aside the huge changes big retailers can and do make to workers lives just because we judge that these changes are relatively small. In big business, a small change can have a huge impact.

So I'm not saying that we have it right yet. I think that the high street has a long way to go but I do believe that there are some incredibly passionate people out there, behind the scenes, that are battling to make sure that the small changes have a bigger impact in an industry that is notoriously complicated and constantly challenging.


  1. You are so right. We should never underestimate what a massive impact a small change can do in such big businesses, and we should always give credit where credit is due. Great post.

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  4. I like the forgiving underpinnings of this blog post, because change is harder to embrace when it is confronted with opposition. Change needs to be supported and encouraged in all directions. And change at the grass roots level is just as important as with big high street fashion retailers.

    The growing interest in DIY is exciting and encouraging, because supporting Slow Fashion, 'one dress at a time,' can be just as important as big fashion retailers changing policy. If just one small policy change can impact hundreds of thousands of worker's lives, think of how hundreds of thousands of DIY designers who are willing to make one or two t-shirt at a time, or up cycle 6 used t-shirts instead of buying them, can make the same difference at the grass roots level.

    Fast Fashion needs to be confronted at all levels, from the inside looking out, and from Slow Fashion efforts on the outside pushing in. If I had three wishes to bestow on the world at large, they would be to 1) teach young fashion consumers to use sewing machines, 2) make a dent in the sewing community to re-purpose existing garments rather than buying new fabric, and 3) help the world understand less is more when it comes to consumption.

    Darcy Fowkes

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