How to be just a little bit more ethical in your fashion choices

My passion for ethical fashion started in 2011. An inspiring speaker had just opened a boutique in my local city and organised a fashion show for my WI. I was bowled over by the clothes and style. Gorgeous textiles and clothes that looked different from the same brands on every UK high street. But it was the idea of buying ethically that appealed to me most. I realised I simply did not want to wear clothes that had been made in ways that exploited people, or that harmed the planet any more. I did not want to look good at the expense of others, or this precious earth. I would far rather have less clothes, love the clothes I have more, and feel great wearing them. I also realised I wanted to be involved with the ethical fashion movement in some way.

Fashion was in my blood. My mother, Irmgard Chapman, owned several boutiques in Kensington. She started in street markets like Portobello Road making ‘Happy Coats’ – a sort of bright kimono style jacket, graduating to Kensington Market and eventually to shops in Gloucester Road and Earls Court where she imported from India, Morocco, Turkey and Peru. Bohemian and beautiful, my mothers style, and the trends she started, were all her own. She never achieved the recognition of contemporaries like Zandra Rhodes. I rebelled against my mum by wearing jeans. I lived in jeans for decades when I wasn’t working or needing to look professional. Learning more about ethical fashion has totally changed the way I dress. I am much more colourful for a start! And now I wake up every morning looking forward to putting an outfit together – a dress, a scarf – an interesting coat or jacket. Colours and fabrics that feel great and styles that don’t date – they are just beautiful clothes and always will be.

My mother, who passed away just before my journey with ethical fashion began, is by my side now, and smiling to herself as I write this blog, of this I am sure…for my dearest mother hated the jeans! Seeing what our appetite for jeans has done to the Aral Sea on Stacey Dooley’s recent brilliant fashion expose for the BBC, should make everyone re-think their fashion choices.

Here is a picture of my mum in Peru – I miss her so much! She always said it like it was and lived life to the full.

Its important to understand that there is not just one way to be ethical when it comes to fashion – there are many – here are some of them – a simplified list list of ethical fashion ‘dos’ and choices. And it really is a case of small steps – just one choice can make a big difference.

  1. Choose fabrics and textiles that are made of sustainable crops. Bamboo is a great ethical choice. It seems like magic to me that you can make such beautiful soft clothing from bamboo. There are other benefits too apart from bamboo feeling lovely to wear – its hardwearing and washes brilliantly – not that you have to wash it as often – as it has natural antimicrobial properties, and stays fresh and cleaner for longer. Another wonderful sustainable fabric that you may have heard of is Tencel, which is made of wood pulp.
  2. Choose environmentally friendly fibres. Hemp, linen and organic cotton are great choices. Tencel is also environmentally friendly. Eucalyptus trees are grown in planted forests that are pesticide free. Natural fibres that are breathable, feel fabulous to wear, and are so much kinder to the planet.
  3. Choose environmentally friendly production processes. This means the manufacturers not using dyes and toxic chemicals that harm and pollute. Look out for azo-free dyes, which do not contain carcinogenic and toxic compounds, and have a low environmental impact.
  4. Choose fair pay and humane work conditions for those making the clothes. Fair trade is great to support but in some cases the smaller companies can’t afford the fair trade certification. There are alternatives however. See what steps the manufacturer is taking to ensure the people who make the clothes are not exploited and do not suffer.
  5. Choose traditional crafts that support communities. Villages and communities will be built around traditional crafts that have been used for centuries. Our voracious appetite for cheap clothes destroys the livelihood of too many, drives people into poverty and their communities are obliterated. Techniques like hand blocking are more time consuming and cost a bit more, but the clothes have an individual quality feel that does not ever come with mass production.
  6. Choose to re-use and recycle  Buying ethical doesn’t mean buying new. The amount of clothes that are being thrown away is vast – apparently, according to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this equates to a truckload wasted every second across the world! Wearing preloved clothes is one of the very best ways to be ethical on a budget.

Thanks for reading this blog and I hope you enjoy being a little more ethical in your fashion choices – even half as much as I do! It is so lovely and one of the joys of life to be able to wear wonderful clothes that are made with love and care for the planet and its people.

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