Innovative Ethical Fashion: What it is & Why it’s Needed

3rd Sep 2021
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It’s all too easy to buy new clothes these days, isn’t it? In a couple of clicks, you can have a whole new wardrobe for less than £60.

But the impact that this “fast fashion” trend is having on the environment and the people that are making these fashion items is, quite frankly, shocking.

For instance, did you know that over the last 15 years, 250,000 cotton farmers have killed themselves because of low wages and poor working conditions? Or that over 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry, which is more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined?

This explains why thousands of fashion brands are moving away from cheap labour and mass-production methods, towards innovative, ethical and sustainable manufacturing practices.

Let’s find out more…

What is ethical fashion?

Ethical fashion is garment design, production, and distribution that focuses on reducing harm to people and the planet.” – The Good Trade

Ethical fashion is difficult to define: After all, we all have different ethics, morals and standards. However, the general concept of ethical fashion is simply about fashion brands giving back to the community, supporting charities, or going out of their way to do environmental or social good.

It’s companies within the fashion industry that, rather than solely focusing on making a profit, try to find ways to produce clothes or materials that have little or no negative impact on the environment or the people that made them. Ethical fashion answers questions like; “Who made this garment?” or “Is that person earning a fair living wage?”, or “What impact is this manufacturing process having on the environment?”

In 2020 consumers spent over seven billion hours online searching for items that were “sustainable,” “ethical,” “fair trade,” and “eco-friendly”. This indicates that ethical fashion, sustainable clothing and eco-garments are becoming more and more mainstream.

Why is that?

Why is the fashion industry becoming ethical?

Fast fashion is the mass production of clothing. Fast fashion is cheap and easy to buy because the companies that make these mass-produced, throw-away items pay their workers less than the living wage, force them to work in appalling (and sometimes unsafe) conditions with no breaks or access to food and water, and don’t invest time, money and resources into making sure that their manufacturing processes are environmentally friendly.   

Fast fashion has become a detrimental environmental and social issue, and ethical fashion is a solution.” – Ethical Made Easy

Remember the Rana Plaza clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013?  Factory owner, Mr Rana, ignored warnings that his factory was unsafe to work in because it was on the brink of collapse. As a result, 1,134 garment workers were killed and 2,500 injured when the factory did inevitably collapse.

This horrific incident prompted a global movement towards a more ethical approach to the manufacture of clothing and it brought to light other, unethical practices that companies within the fashion industry were following.

Practices such as dumping clothing dye and chemical waste into the Citarum river in Indonesia, for example. This river is used by over 28 million people, but because it now contains dangerous levels of mercury, iron, and lead, the communities along the riverbank are suffering from skin diseases, cancer, and other health issues. 

This move towards ethical fashion is being driven forwards by consumers, especially the younger generation: For instance, 54%  of Generation Z’ers would spend 10% or more on sustainable products, with 50% of Millennials saying the same. 

This means that the focus on people and the environment over profits and the bottom line is becoming more and more prevalent amongst fashion companies. However, good as this is, it does mean that the ethical fashion market is becoming crowded.

So, how do fashion brands ensure they stay ahead of their competitors?

The role of innovation in ethical fashion

Clothing manufacturers that use processes that harm the environment are now becoming shunned in favour of companies that employ a cleaner and greener approach. And fashion factories that treat their workers unfairly are being spurned in favour of ones that demonstrate safe working conditions and a focus on employee wellbeing.

And it’s the most innovative clothing companies that are winning this ethical fashion game. Those that are deploying new technologies and bringing innovative ideas into their business practices, manufacturing methods, and waste management processes, to make sure they are ethically sound, are streets ahead of those that aren’t.

These companies are working hard to meet ethical clothing demands by inventing, designing, and testing new ways of producing and selling clothes that don’t harm the people that make them or the environment we live in.

Innovation in the 21st century is one of the biggest factors that separate the notable brands, the brands that make you want to come back for more.” – Global Business School

How are fashion brands using innovation to become more ethical? 

But innovation is risky. There are no guarantees, after pouring time, money and resources into the development of a new ethical idea, product or service, that it will work.  So, smart fashion brands are utilising government-funded R&D tax credit schemes or R&D grants to support their innovations.

Innovative solutions such as the development of Augmented Reality (AR) products to help customers buy the right product in the right size so that the amount of waste is reduced, for instance. Or, introducing digital currencies such as blockchain so that consumers know exactly where a garment was made, what materials were used, who made it, the conditions they worked in and how much they were paid. Or, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions to help forecast and predict supply and demand so that they’re not wasting products or making unnecessary deliveries that damage the environment. 

The top 3 ethical innovations in fashion

Below are my top three favourite ethical fashion innovations: 

Algiknit has developed a way to make textiles and fabric from seaweed fibres. Their innovative solution minimises waste, uses natural products and the end result is a fully biodegradable material.

Following a similar vein, Frumat has created a way of using apple skins to make leather. Frumat is using new technology to turn apple pectin, a waste product that’s often discarded at the end of a manufacturing process, into vegan-friendly leather that can be dyed or tanned without toxic chemicals.

And finally, Good on You has built a mobile app that provides ethical ratings for over 1,000 fashion brands. Each company has been rated by the impact they’re having on people, the planet and animals. It’s been designed to promote transparency across the fashion industry and allow customers to make ethically conscious decisions before they buy clothing items.

But these are just three. There are plenty more fashion companies that are paving the way for a more ethical approach to fashion.

After all, as Gandhi says: “there is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.”

This article was brought to you by Myriad Associates

Myriad Associates are R&D tax credit experts. Having been in the industry for over a decade and with a 100% success rate with their R&D claims, they’ve helped thousands of clients claim the maximum amount of R&D tax relief possible. With a right-first-time approach, they’ve built a strong relationship with HMRC which means that all their R&D tax claims are dealt with quickly, with no delays. As specialists in R&D tax credits, they pose no threat to you and your accountancy business. They like to work with you and your clients to get the maximum amount of relief for everyone.

Call them on 0207 118 6045 or drop them a message here to find out how they can help you and your clients with their R&D claims.