Wednesday 16 November 2011


Change is a funny thing. When you're not expecting it, it can be on you like an express train. When you're looking for it, it's more like the slow stopping service, grinding towards you at a snail's pace, stopping at every third lamp-post.
For those of us that want to see a more responsible, ethical fashion industry, the pace of change can be frustratingly slow. The Ethical Consumer notes in their latest shopping guide that the average UK female buys half her bodyweight in clothes this year, and owns four times as many garments as she did in 1980. Meanwhile, despite campaigns and increased public awareness, sweated and forced labour around the world seems to be growing to meet that voracious demand. It can look like the train is stuck a long way down the line.
But there's always hope. That average UK female also says that she's more likely than ever to buy clothes that last, making investment choices rather than cheap impulse buys. Market research from Mintel shows that:
“the disposable fashion trend could have peaked and 2011 may see shoppers reassessing value for money and putting more emphasis on sustainability, integrity and durability.”
Meanwhile, recent revelations about the use of forced child labour in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan has led to big UK brands like Asda and global names like Adidas and H&M declaring an outright ban on the use of fabric from the region. Add to this big results like the action taken to safeguard Chinese rivers following Greenpeace's exposure of pollution by textile plants, and the future starts to look a bit more rosy.
But we need to keep an eye on the manufacturers, who have a spotty history of responsible behaviour. Use of PVC by clothing brands had died off following a spate of publicity about its toxicity. Now, bizarrely, companies like H&M have started using it again.
It's down to us, really. Katy Brown of Ethical Consumer says:
"We know from experience that clothing companies will respond to consumer feedback which is why it's vital that shoppers keep up the pressure on companies to improve their ethical standards."
We are more powerful than we think, and until manufacturers and retailers have ethical standards baked into their best working practices, it's our job as informed consumers to keep them on track, and the pace of change on schedule.
Read more about the 2011 Ethical Consumer's report on their website.

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