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Myth busting: 6 reasons towards the ‘ethical fashion’ business case (Part 1 of 3)

Note: This is the first of a series of 3 articles aiming at busting 6 of the most common myths brought to the table against sustainability in the fashion industry. Read the second and third instalment.

There exist basic assumptions that are commonly, but wrongly, accepted as universal truths. For example: “Computers have replaced hand-writing”, or “higher price necessarily implies better quality”.
Such myths are widely accepted as being true, although few or no hard facts support their validity. They are the underlying reason for the inertia that inhibits, even countervails, innovative and forward looking change. Unfortunately, myths tend to appear in our conversations as wolves in a sheep’s clothing – or more precisely, as rational arguments, ‘common sense’, or [subjective] long standing experiences. But myths they are.

As is the case for many an industry struggling to come to terms with the sustainability demands of the 21st century, common myths are widely spread among fashion industry professionals and fashion fans alike. Myths, evidently, are a convenient means, right from the start, to opt out of all participation and collaboration, specifically given how complex and demanding it is to try and turn the whole of the fashion business into an industry led and guided not only by profits, but by ethical principles and responsibility for humanity and the planet as a whole.

Note: In this article, I deliberately consider the terms such as “ethical fashion”, “sustainable fashion” or “eco fashion” to be synonimous. The underlying assumption being that what is truly ethical – under consideration of environmental, human-rights, economical and financial aspects – will also be sustainable on the long-run.

To begin, let’s have a look at what Merriam Webster defines as `ethical`:

  1. of or relating to ethics
  2. involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval
  3. conforming to accepted standards of conduct
    The meaning of its synonym 'moral' results in a slightly more concise definition

  1. of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behaviour : ethical
  2. expressing or teaching a conception of right behaviour
  3. conforming to a standard of right behaviour
  4. sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgement
  5. capable of right and wrong action

Given these rather fuzzy definitions it is easily understandable why the term “ethical fashion” immediately raises zillions of often diverse ideas about what it encompasses, and even a larger number of supposedly rational arguments as to why a truly ethical/sustainable fashion industry cannot, and importantly: will not, become reality.

As a matter of fact, ‘just doing’ ethical fashion, never mind the lack of a proper definition, is a bit like doing the Full Monty in front of a fundamentalist religious congregation: It’s against everything that is commonly accepted as ‘how things are being and have been done’. It’s radical, it’s distinct, a transparent declaration of a value system different from that of the main stream. It embodies an ongoing, inherent questioning of the basic, partially unvoiced, general, ‘unchangeable’ truths about the inner workings of the order of St. Textile Apparel (i.e. the fashion industry as a whole, encompassed by all processes and participants from field to pit via the consumer).

For this reason, Shirahime has cherry-picked 6 “universal truths”, or myths, that are often led into the field of discussion against sustainable fashion, and will examine them close up and outside in. Over the course of 3 blog posts we will have a look at these, and hopefully be able to dismantle them.

Myth 1: The main street shops and brand labels are two completely different worlds.

In reality, both are just one aspect of a much larger picture – a picture that increasingly lacks clear delimitation between ‘main street retail’ and ‘designer brand label’.

To start with, over the past 8 years, a number of well-known luxury brand designers have undertaken high profile collaborations with inexpensive retail outlet chains. Hence, the exclusivity of clear cut, distinguishable design is no longer the sole property of the high-price niche:

Second, the average main street shopper actually does own brand label goods. Coco Channel purses, Louis Vuitton bags and Armani jeans have – beyond doubt – become a once-per-season-accessory-purchase, rather than a once-in-a-life-time investment.
Why? True, not everyone can or wants to own a wardrobe full of exaggeratedly priced clothing. But fashion is personalisation, and the occasional treat – read: the emotional satisfaction to ‘own something special and longed for’ – is a repeating feature on the shopping agenda. A survey of Louis Vuitton customers for instance, revealed that “the primary reason customers buy again at Louis Vuitton is not the service. Customers buy again so they can experience the exclusive feeling they get from wearing and owning Louis Vuitton products.”

In short: the emotions of exclusivity and feeling attractive is what we’re after when we shop for clothing, whether it is the Oxfam Charity Shop, or the outlet of a known brand with at least three Zeros in the price tag.

Note: This is the first of a series of 3 articles aiming at busting 6 of the most common myths brought to the table against sustainability in the fashion industry. Read the second and third instalment.

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