Ethical vs Sustainable

I've been thinking a lot about what these two words mean. They crop up all over social media as hashtags in various pairings, #ethicalfashion, #ethicaltrade, #ethicalfood, #sustainableliving, #sustainabledesign. I use them myself to describe Gillian June. But is it just greenwashing? An easy marketing tool? What are we actually doing to increase sustainability in an ethical way??

I think (although I'm sure plenty of people might disagree) that these are 2 separate, but equally important, issues. The ethics of a company relates to how it treats every part of its supply chain from CEOs to tailors to shop assistants. It is about working conditions, fair wages and a general respect and kindness for all involved. Whereas sustainability is about the effect of the processes used, the materials, the dying, the pollution and transportation. 

 

H&M's conscious collection, for example, might be more sustainable than its regular clothes (not difficult) but it is still manufactured in factories with little ventilation and poor health and safety safeguards, by (mostly) women who are expected to work 10-14 hour days with no loo breaks. That doesn't feel terribly conscious to me.

 

On the other side of the industry- anyone who saw Dior and I might think that a Parisian Couturier would be a lovely place to work, the seamstresses and tailors are treated with respect and revered as experts in the trade. But what about the materials used for these expensive collections? The living walls were beautiful but what happened to all those flowers afterwards? 

Low-end high street brands (rightly) get criticised a lot for these issues but there is much less said about the higher end brands. 

 

Between 2007 and 2009 Burberry moved 500 jobs to China in order to save money. It closed factories in Treorchy and Rotherham and streamlined jobs in Yorkshire. And kept it as quiet as possible whilst continuing to fly the flag for Brand Britain and talking about British values. In 2016 when Burberry announced it will be moving 200 of those jobs back to the UK by 2019, Christopher Bailey was quoted as saying "I'm a great believer in British manufacturing and the crafts and skills we have here...In a world that's changing so dramatically, where everything is getting faster and faster, timeless skills, detailed and quality workmanship becomes more and more important and I am proud we can play a role in that." In the same year, Burberry announced for the first time its collections would be available to buy straight from the catwalk show. Call me cynical but that doesn't feel like anything is slowing down. And don't get me started on burning their stock to "protect the exclusivity of the brand".

 

Stella McCartney is the brand to emulate when it comes to sustainability, using recycled cashmere, sustainably sourced wool, no fur or leather, upcycling materials for the linings of her handbags, yet I can't find anything about where or how she manufactures the bulk of her collection. Does it have to be one or the other? Plus she uses a huge amount of Viscose.

 

For 2016's Met Ball, Eco Age teamed up with Calvin Klein to produce 3 fully sustainable red carpet gowns, using materials like recycled plastic. But Greenpeace has claimed they are one of the worst brands for toxic chemical use. So was this a prime example of Greenwashing or a sign that they are trying to improve? It certainly garnered massive amounts of positive press for CK and if they see that response, it may encourage them to make more permanent changes. 

 

What do you think??

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