Despite the rise of ethical clothing brands, like Kitenge, there are unfortunately still many ethical issues in the fashion industry. In this blog we’ll take a look at some of these key issues and also highlight how we can all help to support ethical fashion.
According to Fashion United and Clean Clothes, 80% of the 75 million people who make the world’ s clothing are women, aged between 18 and 24. Many garment workers live in poverty and are often exploited, which negatively impacts their lives.
After the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over a thousand people and injured hundreds of others the world woke up to the fact that change in the industry was so desperately needed.
Since Rana Plaza, many activists joined forces to create change by promoting ethical and sustainable fashion and campaigning to improve garment workers’ rights.
This huge disaster certainly had an impact on our founder, Sian, who was working in the fashion industry in London at the time. After already witnessing several unethical practices whilst working in the industry she decided to quit her job.
Soon after she volunteered for a youth charity in Tanzania, East Africa, which is where she fell in love with the colourful African wax print fabrics. This was where her idea of starting an ethical clothing brand began.
The quick turnaround of fashion trends found in high street shops cause western buyers to place huge amounts of pressure on their suppliers, often based in Eastern Europe or the Far East, to make and deliver goods as fast as possible, at the cheapest price even with last minute changes.
The enforcement of quick lead-times by western buyers puts pressure on factory owners who then take short cuts. This can lead to the unfair treatment of garment workers’ including:
Sub-contracting is when a factory, who has received the original order, asks a different factory to complete the work without the buyer/customer knowing. This happens often and is one of the reasons why most high street retailers cannot be 100% sure where their clothing is made.
Unsafe Working Conditions
There are many health and safety risks that are found in factories such as blocked fire escapes, no access to clean drinking water, poor ventilation and sanitation facilities.
Cotton farmers and garment workers are at great risk of pesticides, dyes and chemicals exposure, which can lead to serious health complications including: sickness, headaches, respiratory problems, memory loss, depression, seizures and death.
Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of cotton farmers in India have committed suicide, which is believed to be due to the failure of GMO crops leading to increased debt and poverty. The high use of pesticides could be another cause.
Pesticides used for modern, cotton farming drain into local rivers, which people use for washing and drinking water. The excess dyes used to colour fabrics and jeans can also pollute nearby rivers and streams.
When the rivers are contaminated local fish stocks die, which affects the amount of food available for people who rely on it to survive. A huge amount of pollution is created by the fashion industry, including shipping goods around the world often by airfreight, which is the quickest method.
Cotton farming consumes huge amounts of water. According to Fashion Revolution, it takes nearly 3,000 litres of water to make just one t-shirt! This is shocking as we usually drink this amount of water over a 3-year period.
Large amounts of fabric are also wasted after clothing production that eventually ends up in landfill. Kitenge is proud to recycle all of its offcuts by picking them up from our tailors’ workshop floors and making them into smaller products such as hair accessories, bags and African beaded jewellery.
A garment worker should earn enough income to support themselves and their family’s basic needs including food, shelter, clothing, education and healthcare. Many factories in developing countries do not pay their employees the minimum or living wage.
Child labour prevents children from getting an education and denies them their childhood. Often they work in very poor conditions with little rights or protection.
Attitudes and working cultures of buyers and management in the west need to change. The same goes to factory managers and owners to better respect garment workers’ rights and provide decent jobs.
Governments should also be more responsible for better protecting garment workers and their human rights. However, the best way to bring about change starts with the consumer.
When we decide to purchase an item of clothing we are voting with our wallets and are helping to drive trends, which encourages ‘fast fashion’. There are several things that you can do as active consumers:
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