Colour, beauty, Carrie Bradshaw, runway shows, Anna Wintour, your mum’s vintage collection, your cat’s beret selection, self-expression, boldness, experimentation, fun. 

The world of fashion is indeed a fun one, giving a pop of colour to a world that sometimes feels a little grey. There are so many positive things about fashion. For one, being clothed is pretty cool. But there’s also the opportunity to express yourself and appreciate good design and quality craftsmanship. 

However, too much of a good thing can be problematic, and in this case, the saying stands. The global apparel retail market is currently worth $2 trillion NZD in retail sales per year. Add footwear and jewellery in the mix, and that value rises to around $3 trillion NZD. (1) Getting a little more personal, the annual consumer expenditure on clothing and footwear in New Zealand is 5.3 billion NZD. (2) A stat out of Australia estimated that the average Australian consumer spends $2,495 NZD on clothing and footwear per year, a sum which Kiwis won’t be far off. (2) The fashion industry has also made millions of dollars of profit from the exploitation of workers while failing to pay the price of its human and environmental impact.  

Did you know that 24.9 million people are living in modern slavery today? This is more than three times the figure during the transatlantic slave trade. (2) Many of these people are working in the garment industry, sewing t-shirts and jeans for people like you and me. 

To put it bluntly, we’re consuming way more than we need to, at the cost of human lives, and most of the time, we’re not even buying quality goods. Before you try and wriggle away, excusing yourself from this conversation because you “don’t even care about fashion”, give me a moment to explain why we all need to care about ethical fashion.

Is ethical fashion a niche cause designed to give materialism a little more meaning? Or a powerful vehicle to bring about true change? I believe it’s the latter. I also believe that ethical fashion is not something just for the fashionable. Ethical fashion is for me, it’s for you, it’s for your 80-year-old grandma and your five-year-old son. Why? Because we all wear clothes, we all buy clothes and therefore we all cast a vote with our credit cards for the standards and treatment of workers that we deem to be acceptable. 

Ethical fashion is an extremely real and tangible way to stand up for and support vulnerable communities who often work for very little, under quite awful circumstances. Supporting brands who strive to make sure the workers in their supply chain are well looked after and valued is something that we can all do.  

It can be daunting to realise that, as consumers, our actions matter. But it’s also empowering, as we can change the lives of workers for the better. 


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