We’ve all seen the videos. You know the ones—straws up turtle’s noses, islands of plastic in the ocean, and orangutans without homes. You’re determined to play your part: you’ve invested in re-usable straws, you’re diligently separating out the recycling and compost, and you boycott anything with palm-oil. So what’s the next step to protecting your world?

Two words: ethical fashion.

Right up there, holding Big-Oil’s hand on the podium of pollution, is the fast-fashion industry. We consume a whopping 400% more clothing today than we did 20 years ago, and each clothing item only gets worn an average of 7 times before ending up at the dump. You may say, “But wait, I donate those clothes!” But, thanks to the internet and the wonderful age of information, we now know that most of those donations are only transported to dump in a landfill somewhere overseas.

Appalling, I know. So how do we stop it? You’ve already taken the first step—you’re here, educating yourself. So, my green gurus, here’s your crash course in ethical fashion.

What is “fast-fashion” and How Did It Start?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve probably heard the older generations say, “Back in my day, when something broke we fixed it, or did without,” about half a million times. They will gripe happily about it over anything from a bowl to underwear to a car—and it’s probably true. In contrast, if you see your husband walking around with a hole in his underwear, you’re likely to ask him why he hasn’t thrown them out already.

Funnily enough, what usually gets ignored is “back-in-the-day” things were made well, and made to last where these days they are made as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Simply put, things used to be made well enough to be worth fixing and now you’d probably waste your time trying, only to wreck it more.

In fact, in the beginning of the 20th century most clothing was made domestically, either by the people themselves or custom-made by someone they knew. Garments were considered to be items that had to last a long time so they were treasured and valued (I know that I would be a lot more careful with my clothes if I had taken the time to sew them myself), and most people only had enough to fill a small closet.

Of course, in the ‘50s and ‘60s there was suddenly a post-war consumer boom. A rise in wages created a growth in the middle class and people began to buy more clothing. The demand grew for more affordable attire and strip malls became commonplace. This was great for the textile industry in North America because the majority of clothing was being made domestically as mass production took the stage.

By the ‘80s the savvy large corporations had used their marketing efforts to shift the perspective on fashion. They convinced shoppers that they needed to spend, spend, spend, and keep up with their increasingly frequent new lines. Fabric started to be made thinner and less durable so that even if the people didn’t want to buy more, they had to.

Then along came deregulation in the ‘90s, which made the import of cheap apparel from developing countries more advantageous. Thousands of local garment workers lost their jobs when NAFTA encouraged the industry to move operations from North America to overseas. Many garment and textile factories started popping up in developing countries where labour was cheap. Unregulated factories freely polluted our air and waterways. Then these factories started to compete with each other by lowering their prices, meaning little or no protection for their workers: long hours, low pay, even abuse. Fashion production eventually moved almost entirely overseas as desire for lower prices increased.

And thus, fast fashion was born. Fast fashion continued to boom as consumers’ perspectives shifted from quality to quantity. With consumers understanding and accepting the lesser quality of the garments in substitution for lower prices, discarding an item to move on to the next trend became common. Fashion became disposable, and little did we realize what it truly cost us.

I don’t know about you, but the more I look at these statistics, the more shocked I am by them. As consumers we are the decision makers; we hold all of the power. If you want to use that power for good and become an ethical fashionista, it’s time to get you up to date on the lingo.

Understanding The Terms

Ethical fashion is an umbrella term used to cover a range of issues such as the environment, labour conditions and pay, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, animal welfare and human rights. The truth is, there is no universal definitive description, which can be a bit confusing. So let’s dig deeper and uncover some of the most widely used terms:

Sustainable fashion: This typically refers to the effects of production on the environment, and how the production can be sustained long term. For example the use of natural fibers which can break down, the use of recycled fibers which make use of existing plastic or textile waste. The use of water and pesticides used to produce cotton or other natural fibers, the dyeing process and chemicals used. The chemicals used to turn raw materials into fabric. The energy used to produce clothing, and the packaging and transportation as well. Sustainable fashion at its core means producing clothing in a way in which we can sustain those practices long term.

Slow Fashion: The opposite of fast fashion. While fast fashions goal is to mass-produce clothing with a high turnaround rate and low cost, Slow Fashion is about creating clothing with a different intention. Slow fashion puts more importance on the design and quality of a garment, avoiding fluctuating trends, creating pieces that will last for years, rather than be seasonally trendy. Slow fashion values quality over quantity.

Vegan Fashion: Fashion that is created without the use of any animal products.

Cruelty Free: Similar to vegan fashion, though cruelty free fashion could still contain animal products, however it is fashion that is created without any direct harm to any animals. An example of this may be responsibly sourced furs or feathers, or repurposed leather or animal fur products from already existing garments.

Eco Fashion or Green Fashion: Relating to fashions direct impact on the environment. Fashion created with low environmental impact.

So What Do We Consider ‘Ethical Fashion’?

At Catching Dreams, we provide you with a collection of brands that are creating as ethically as possible. Because there are so many issues to consider when it comes to ethical fashion, it’s difficult to address every single one of them. So we have created a checklist that we use; guidelines that a brand must meet before we add them to our shop.

Our Checklist:

♥ Fair labour and pay » Everyone in the production and supply chain must be paid and treated fairly

♥ Sustainable practices »The production of materials and fabrics must be created in a way that is creating as little effect on the environment as possible

♥ Cruelty Free » No animals are ever harmed in the making of our products

♥ Locally Made » Products must be crafted in Canada, and any materials sourced outside of Canada must meet the above standards.

So remember, don’t let that crafty marketing fool you—the number on clothing tags is only part of the price that we pay when it comes to fast fashion. Your crash course is complete, and now it’s time to take control. Watch out, fast-fashion, your time is almost up.

Take The Next Steps

1. Continue your ethical fashion knowledge

Download our easy to read guide with a full list terms associated with ethical fashion.

DOWNLOAD ThE GUIDE!

2. Make your ethical shopping journey easier

Download our comprehensive checklist, so that you can make shopping ethically easy and enjoyable.

DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST!

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