Having recently arrived back from the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris and had the time to read through the Fashion and Responsible Consumption Survey found in the catalogue it's interesting to discover some of the statistics relating to the social aspect of ethical clothing.
The creative talents and fashionable designs of such brands still seem to fall on deaf ears. Granted, the importance of ethical fashion has risen in the last two or three years, but there still seems to be a struggle to convince the general public that ethics can be beautiful. In fact, the items of ethical clothing most commonly purchased tend to be organic t-shirts and small items, which don't necessarily fall into the category of high fashion. Clothes are a luxury and, unfortunately, become an exception to our ethical standards. Less than 50% of people believe that ethical clothing can be fashionable. This doesn't seem extensive but is never-the-less an improvement on previous years. The Ethical Fashion Show in Paris, and other such events, give ethical labels the chance to showcase the best of their collections and work to establish a place within the 'fashion' category. In response to the question; Where is ethical fashion going? With the help of shows such as Paris and with the increased use of electronic media, ethical fashion can only move forward and place its stamp on the fashion world. Ethical fashion is breaking into universities, with the development of ethical studies and the key appears to lie with targeting the next generation and, as with any type of fashion - sustainable or otherwise, what's just around the corner is essential.
At least one thing is for certain, the social impact of ethical fashion is gaining momentum as today's suppliers and buyers realise that ethics and sustainability encompasses more than just organic materials. It's an increased awareness of the imprtance of the conditions of the people producing the clothing and the environmental impact of the manufacture of these items that ethical companies can be proud of.
I think it can be a distraction from the need for fast-developing countries to introduce universal healthcare, education and pensions. I don't know the figures, but think that there are far-eastern economies growing at 5-10% a year, with the more industrial parts of China and India growing far faster. When we buy ethical clothes in the west, there is often a picture of smiling workers in a village but the picture doesn't show the Holiday Inn where NGO visitors meet local government officials or the Mercedez parked outside. Most of the activity is very useful but I think there needs to be a general tariff on un-ethical clothes rather than an effort to by just the ethical ones.
Another problem is that UK chain stores often to buy from China where ethical claims can't be substantiated. A claim that the company is using organic cotton or is a member of the Ethical Trade Organisation can be a distraction from the fact that they don't buy in Slovakia or India where there's more transparency (in Slovakia there's even a welfare state).