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What’s the Difference Between Ethical and Sustainable Fashion?

By January 31, 2018 Ethical

This blog post is extremely overdue. I understand that for those who are new to the concept of ethics and sustainability, understanding the differences between the two terms can be difficult – there’s even the question as to whether there even is a difference. Although this dilemma can be subjective, here’s how I define the two…

Difference Between Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

Difference Between Ethical and Sustainable Fashion


ETHICAL FASHION
Related Terms: Fairtrade, Fair Fashion, Cruelty-Free


Ethical
adjective
1. relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these.
Synonyms: moral

Ethics
noun
1. moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity.
Synonyms: moral code, morals, morality, moral stand, moral principles, moral values, rights and wrongs, principles, ideals

 

Ethical fashion is fashion that takes into account the morals of manufacturing. Ethical fashion is generally fashion and clothing produced with the whole production line and supply chain in mind, from cotton pickers to those who seal up, package and deliver. The belief that all workers and those affected by the production of garments should be treated equally and fairly, is the common mindset behind most ethical fashion brands.

The providing of a safe working condition, a living wage and a kind and non-abusive work environment are the usual priorities of those producing ethical alternatives to the likes of fast-fashion.

Ethical fashion avoids the use of forced, slave and child labour throughout the manufacturing process and organisations like Fairtrade International are able to help brands and companies to label and guarantee that safe and ethical practices are being put into place. Often brands don’t just ensure ethical practices but they also support and improve the livelihood of the workers they employ, especially those of which are in developing countries.

Ethical fashion can also be a term to cover cruelty-free and vegan practices, meaning that no animals are harmed or used as part of the production of clothing. An example of a vegan fabric is Peace Silk; Peace Silk is produced from moth cocoons after the moths have emerged and flown away, therefore it does not disturb or kill the moths in order to be woven into fabric.

Difference Between Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

Difference Between Ethical and Sustainable Fashion


SUSTAINABLE FASHION
Related Terms: Slow Fashion, Eco Fashion, Eco-friendly, Green Fashion, Organic, Recycled, Upcycled, Second-hand, Vintage


Sustainable
adjective
1. able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
2. able to be upheld or defended.
Synonyms: viable, unceasing, imperishable, renewable, unending

Sustainability
noun
1. the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
2. avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
Synonyms:

 

Sustainable fashion is fashion and clothing produced to last and with the environmental costs of production, in mind. Seeing as fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, sustainable fashion aims to cut down on pollution and the negative consequences fashion production has on the earth.

Not only does sustainable fashion recognise things like pollution (whether that be into the water systems, the atmosphere or the ecosystem), it also recognises the dangers of the fast-fashion business model. Sustainable fashion brands often provide less choice, choosing to focus on quality rather than quantity, making the supply chain as eco-friendly as possible. This is also known as ‘slow fashion’.

Sustainable fashion brands often use organic fabrics, avoiding the use of pesticides and synthetic materials which have a damaging effect on the environment (as well as those who live nearby to farms and factories). Organic and natural fabrics (like cotton or bamboo) are biodegradable, which means they won’t cause as much as an issue when it comes to disposing of them.

Second-hand and vintage clothing is also considered to be a part of sustainable fashion as it is a form of recycling, meaning the consumer isn’t supporting the production of new clothing.

Difference Between Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

Often both terms get combined – ethical and sustainable fashion – simply because both go hand and hand. Although certain brands often focus on one or the other more prominently, most of the time you will find that those who believe in ethics also believe in sustainability and vice versa. 

There are certain things to be aware of though, like greenwashing, for example. These terms shouldn’t be thrown around lightly for the sake of it. I wrote all about greenwashing here, so for a more in-depth look at the issue, go and take a read. However, the main takeaway is that with ethical and sustainable brands, for the most part, they will fly the ethical or sustainable flag proudly.

One way I differentiate a brand from being ethically or sustainably focused as to not, is by taking note of how openly they discuss the issues at hand. If for the most part, ethics or sustainability doesn’t seem to be their main priority, you can use that to make your decision as to whether to support them or not.


Clothing featured: Mayamiko (ethical), People Tree (ethical/sustainable), vintage Skirt (sustainable) and upcycled DIY jacket (sustainable).


Has cleared things up for you? Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below…

  Lots of Love… Tolly Dolly Posh xx

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6 Comments

  • Reply Liyana Aris February 6, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to write down this post, Tolly! I definitely have a clearer understanding of the distinction between the two of them now. I’m also glad you linked to your older greenwashing post, as I needed a refresher on that. Will be sharing those two posts with my husband as we are both keen to learn more.

    xo, Liyana | Affordorable

    • Tolly Dolly Posh
      Reply Tolly Dolly Posh February 6, 2018 at 3:11 pm

      Thanks so much Liyana! Glad you caught up 🙂 It’s really great to hear your husband is interested in it all too 🙂

  • Reply Annika February 6, 2018 at 7:35 am

    This post has definitely clarified ethical vs sustainable fashion for me. I must admit to using these terms quite interchangeably as I try to support brands which respect both the planet and it’s people, but as you said, the distinction ultimately comes down to our own personal definitions. I will definitely refer to this post in the future, especially for the handy list of synonyms that you’ve included, and it is a great starting point to direct those beginning on their fair fashion journey who might be confused by all the terminology- I know I was!

    • Tolly Dolly Posh
      Reply Tolly Dolly Posh February 6, 2018 at 9:55 am

      Aw! This is so great to hear; thank you, Annika! If there’s anything else you ever want clarifying, send it over and I might make a similar post 🙂

  • Reply Elena January 31, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    I would agree with you, this very similar to how I also define ethical and sustainable fashion for myself. But you are also right that other people have their own personal definitions as well – which just means transparency is the most important thing to get from a brand! Thanks for writing this!

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