April 8, 2009

Ethical Fashion (Part II)

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Ethical Fashion (Part II) there.

Part II of Ethical Fashion article published at wwww.newconsumer.org (following from Part I: http://gisforghana.blogspot.com/2009/03/fair-trade-series.html)

"There is some concern, however, that headline-grabbing high fashion – style-led but which happens to be ethical – will cloud the complexities of the global issues. “There is a danger that publicity for the glamorous, fleeting designer fashion labels does not give consumers a fully balanced understanding of the issues,” said Tamsin Lejeune of the Ethical Fashion Forum. “Dedication and knowledge is not enough,” cautions Abigail Garner, co-founder of Gossypium. She says that real change only occurs if an ‘alternative fashion company’ cares deeply about three things: the final product, those who made it, and the raw materials used. “As soon as [fair trade] is fashion, it’ll disappear,” said one insider who preferred anonymity. “It’ll be replaced by the next fashion and god knows what that will do.”

Clothing is a risky business; it might be worse to raise expectations. Another said cautiously: “I hope they can sustain what they’re doing so it’s not a fad.” Fashion is notoriously fickle and cut-throat; and even for classic clothing the supply – including growers, dyers, weavers, designers and sewers – is far more complex than for tea or coffee. Fair trade fashion also has an extremely long lead time, because of the size of producers and the process. People Tree, signs three or five year contracts, says the company’s Helen Osgerby, which is highly unusual in the clothing industry.

The company is thus predicting fashion trends well in advance. “We don’t have the luxury that French Connection or the other high street shops have [of a fast turn-around], as we’re hand-making the whole collection,” she says. “We aim to be fashionable, but we don’t aim to be just trend-led and disposable. There is a human cost to speed.” Fair trade goes further than ethical trade – which focuses on decent working conditions and environmental standards – fair trade builds sustainable and long-term relationships with producers, builds on traditional skills and by definition invests in communities.

Fashion is overdue to be ripped apart at the seams. “If clothes had to list their real ingredients, bad labour standards and toxic chemicals they would need their own symbols”, say the organisers of RE:Fashion. Clothes are becoming ever cheaper and more disposable; factories move from country to country for the cheapest labour and loosest regulations; and more textiles are made of pesticide-drenched or genetically modified cotton or increasingly sophisticated man-made fibres. In the UK, we spend £30 billion yearly on clothes, or about £500 a person. Yet most of the millions who produce our increasingly cheap clothes live in dire poverty, according to Tearfund’s Lift the Label campaign.

Some 40 million people work in clothing and textiles worldwide, or about 14 per cent of jobs; and many are young women in developing countries who work in sub-standard conditions.

Wages in China may be as low as 17 pence an hour, according to the National Labour Committee. Indeed China, notorious for appalling human rights, is increasingly dominating the industry.

Guaranteed quotas – under the so-called Multi-Fibre Agreement – for less-powerful countries such as Bangladesh expired at the start of 2005.

Mass-produced cotton is especially egregious, although the main alternative is polyester, made from oil and which is now in more than 80 per cent of clothing.

Global cotton prices are half of what they were in 1960, in part because of the huge subsidies given to US cotton producers. In fact, America’s cotton subsidies were worth almost £2 billion in 2002, says Oxfam, nearly twice the US’s foreign aid to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet an estimated 100 million rural households depend upon cotton worldwide. The World Health Organisation estimates that 20,000 people die from pesticide poisoning yearly; and cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop. “What’s happening in cotton is completely scandalous,” says Harriet Lamb of the Fairtrade Foundation.

The shift towards ethical fashion is long-term, trend analysist Roger Tredre told the Financial Times. Spending on ethical fashion rose by 17 per cent to £273 million in 2003, according to the Co-op Bank. In another sign of the times, the second Ethical Fashion Show will be held in Paris in October during fashion week.

As many as 40 designers are expected, compared with 25 last year from Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Madagascar, South Africa, Philippines, Brazil, the UK and France. And early in 2005, the RE:Fashion event in London, featuring fair trade, organic and recycled clothing, was not only hosted by hip broadcaster Miranda Sawyer. It sold out."

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