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Dear Ethical Fashion Industry, Can We Have More Style Please?

5 min


I consider myself stylish.

I consider myself to be a man of good tastes in fashion. This fact is typical of most young Africans and is equaled only by another typical fact: we almost never have enough money to spend on fashion or style. Here, the cost is usually the biggest factor under consideration as well as the main reason we appear content with scrolling and liking stylish pictures on social media. Consequently, consumers like myself can be classified into two consumer groups; the first group comprises of persons who would buy really cheap and affordable clothes or accessories (often unethically-made), going on to manage them for as long as practicable while consumers in the second group are those who buy good quality items (almost always ethically-made) regardless of their high prices so that these items last longer and serve them better. I happen to fall into this latter group along with most upwardly-mobile young people.

Now after financial considerations comes the key priorities of style and fit. These issues are of utmost importance. As a matter of fact, style and fit more often than not trumps the money factor. The more I progress on my eco-journey; the more I condition myself to put a lot more than design and style into consideration when deciding the clothes, bags and footwear to buy. Even though I usually make my own clothes, I have taken steps to buy more eco-friendly items than what is easily available. I have come to greatly consider where the clothes were made, who made them and what they were made of.

Dear Ethical Fashion, Can We Have More Style Please

Thus, I have begun a slow transition into making, marketing and having a fully sustainable wardrobe. Like most things I do, I have tried to carry my friends, family and customers along in this journey. My argument has always been that if we are going to spend money to buy clothes from unknown manufacturers around the globe, why can’t we spend the same sum on materials we are familiar with and products ethically made? Especially if by spending a little, we get to use these items for longer periods of time? This reasoning seems to go down well with most of my friends.

However, when it comes to the issue of style, I’m afraid my arguments fall flat. How do you convince someone to buy clothes that are not only more expensive than the regular ones, but are also ill-fitting and devoid of style? Frankly, I don’t bother with them myself. I am happy to make my own clothes.

Related Post: Men’s Ethical Fashion: Beyond Basics, Do Stylish Ethical Clothing For Men Even Exist?

Eco-friendly clothes seem to be deliberately made lacking in style, almost as if eco-friendly is bland by definition. It appears to be a common understanding amongst ethical fashion brands (and I mean the actual ones, not the greenwashed brands) that if it’s stylish and glossy, then God forbid it be labelled eco-friendly. Hence this ‘conspiracy’ to make them all drab. The designs are often generic and basic, from palazzo pants to jumpsuits and beyond. Now I like to think that I must not have searched critically, but just how many glamourous garments, evening dresses or ball gowns have you seen displayed in ethical fashion marketplaces?

Men, as far as I can tell, have it the worst. Apparently, there is a foregone conclusion that guys are generally the “less fashion conscious” sex. So, what we often see are a range of bleak tee shirts full of grays, and trousers almost always of similar cut. This is not just limited to shirts and articles of clothing. When we see bags, they are generally the formless totes. The best that they seem to have come up with is a screen print of some character on these bags. While I appreciate the concept of minimalism; and understand how less is more, it doesn’t always have to be these totes right? Or have they somehow become the true measure of eco-friendly?

'Eco-friendly clothes seem to be deliberately made lacking in style, almost as if eco-friendly is bland by definition. It appears to be a common understanding… that if it’s stylish and glossy, then God forbid it be labelled eco-friendly.'Click To Tweet

Dear Ethical Fashion Brands, Can We Have More Style Please?

Related Post: I Don’t Want Your Capsule Wardrobe

All in all, it is a sad state of affairs.

According to the Mamoq Sustainability Report 2018, the biggest priority for consumers when deciding which fashion items to buy is fit followed by price and then style. I believe that the priority of ethical brands should be to make clothes that look good in the most ethical ways possible. It should not be enough to merely promote clean and green certifications. If the entire process produces clothes and accessories severely lacking in the style and flair common to clothes produced unethically, wouldn’t it be unfair to judge persons who stick to unethical fashion? I have reached out to a great number of consumers in the process of writing this article and they have all tried to clarify what their priorities are. A majority of them cannot be convinced to adopt ethical fashion brands solely because the items are ethically made. To ask a fashion-conscious consumer to pay a higher price for ethical goods when they’re unlikely to get the maximum style fulfilment as unethical brands is simply asking them to pay too high a price.

Now I know that there are a few brands making really beautiful eco-friendly wears. Sustainable fashion brands like Shroud the Label are designing incredible stuff. However, they are in the minority, the exceptions rather than the rule. The fact that EWP had to write a feature to create awareness around this aspect of the brand speaks volumes about the subject.

'Apparently, there is a foregone conclusion that guys are generally the “less fashion conscious” sex. So, what we often see are a range of bleak tee shirts full of grays, and trousers almost always of similar cut…'Click To Tweet

Dear Ethical Fashion, Can We Have More Style Please?

In my opinion, ethical fashion should not be for an exclusive set of “enlightened” consumers who put “earth over fit”. Commendable as these choices are, the future of the earth’s resources might just be at stake and exclusivity does not cut it. Fashion and consumerism is a game of numbers. I personally believe that the goal of ethical fashion is (or at least, should be) to be mainstream; to encourage all consumers to “buy better”. If this is the end goal, eco-consciously made garments should match unethically made toe-to-toe on all its crucial advantages.

The conscious fashion industry is a long way off from accomplishing this, going by a majority of the current style trends of ethical fashion, or the lack thereof. Like I explored in a recent piece about class, status and sustainability, the green movement has to ride the wave of trends. It doesn’t want to, it’s trying not to, but it has to.

It is high time we got our acts together. Or should I say our stitches?

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