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What Does Ethical Even Mean?

What Does Ethical Even Mean?

When it comes to sustainability, there are a lot of buzzwords. And there’s nothing we at Birdsong love more than breaking down a buzzword, explaining it so we can cut through the jargon and actually understand what’s going on. 

You might have heard about ethical fashion, but what does that even mean? What makes a brand ethical? What makes a piece of clothing ethically made, or ethically sourced? What actually is ethical? And how is it measured? 

Ethical fashion is a term created in response to the fashion industry’s current problems: underpaying employees in unsafe factories and bad working conditions, environmental damage, the use of hazardous chemicals, waste, and animal cruelty. Fast fashion has created an environment where materials and labour can be purchased for an incredibly low cost, it’s a system that relies on exploiting someone or something, somewhere. That could be someone working in a sweatshop, being paid as little as £3 a day; it could also be industrially grown cotton that’s harvested in an environmentally damaging way. While fast fashion is cheaper, ethical fashion argues that there’s a cost we can’t see on the price tag. 

Ethical fashion aims to reduce the negative impact on people, animals, and the planet. From designing a garment, to production and distribution, it’s an approach that focuses on reducing harm as much as possible. This means a system that benefits those working across the supply chain; from garment workers to warehouse employees. Ethical fashion is concerned with social impact and the ethics behind a brand’s label, ensuring that fashion creates a better future for everyone—not just lining the pockets of those at the top. 

This definition can be quite vague. In practice it can mean paying a fair, generous living wage to the people making your clothes. It can mean using the natural or sustainable processes to produce garments in the most environmentally friendly way possible. It can mean a more sustainable production method, like made-to-order, so clothes don’t go to waste.  

The key thing to watch for is a brand’s willingness to be transparent about where they’re at in overhauling their supply chain, their relationships with makers and internal workings. There’s no such thing as a perfectly ethical brand (no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism). We all need to decide what ethical means to us. There are basic requirements, like fair living wages and safe working conditions for garment workers. But maybe you only want to buy stuff that’s vegan, or only shop secondhand. It’s up to you to decide where your priority is, what you really value, and shop thoughtfully according to those principles. It’s also important to acknowledge that harm reduction means doing the best you can with what you have. We can’t be perfect and make the right decisions all the time, but we can make better decisions on the whole, and take care of the clothes we already have. 


Speaking of ethical fashion, did you know we were voted the Best Ethical Women's Clothing Brand in the UK? Check our 2021 Impact Report to find out why, or learn more about what sustainability and ethics means to us.

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