To Mr. Wallet Mouth’s general relief (if occasional chagrin), I’ve never much gone in for haute couture. That said, I do wish I could teleport to Paris for the Ethical Fashion Show, which starts today. Now in its fourth year, the conference touts itself as a “unifying event” that fosters dialogue between industry players and promotes responsible designers.
And of course, it promises to be quite a spectacle, with exhibitors bringing the latest in catwalk fare from such far-flung locales as Chile, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan.
The 100-odd participating designers were invited only after meeting demanding criteria. They must comply with International Labour Organization rules concerning wages, health care, and the right to unionize. Dyes or other fabric treatments used must not be harmful to the environment. A portion of profits must be reinvested into local communities. Working with local craftspeople and making frequent use recycled materials is encouraged. And so on.
The show also features lectures examining ethical fashion entrepreneurship, responsible fashion in education, and the market for ethical fashion.
The latter topic is the one I find most interesting. As is the case with so many “sustainable” products, ethical clothes often come with a high price tag that puts them out of reach for many consumers. Apparel that doesn’t harm people or the environment shouldn’t be a luxury, but all too often it is.
The flip side is that events like this expose more companies to the idea of ethical threads and generate ever more demand for them. This should lead to economies of scale and to wider availability of nonexploitative fashion.
But in the meantime, many of us slumming at the bottom end of the market can rest easy shopping in an already-ubiquitous low-impact way—at the local secondhand shop.