With the World Environment Day having been celebrated globally in early June would it not be worthwhile to contemplate on the numerous ethical and environmental dilemmas, including deplorable treatment of workers, unethical sourcing practices, negative environmental consequences and fashion ecocide that the fast fashion industry has been know for. Should the responsibility fall on large brands, individual designers, influencers, or consumers like ourselves — Isn’t each one of us accountable?

An urgent call to rebuild the fashion industry with sustainability, circularity and ethical practices at the forefront of change have led to the evolution of the ethical fashion movement. The global ethical fashion market is envisioned to grow at 8 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), and become $11.12 billion in 2027 from $8.17 billion in 2022 (Reportlinker, 2023). So, what are some of the strategies that build the base for an ethical fashion brand and can be a best practice for others to adopt?

Fair practices

Ethical or slow fashion apparel has gained significant attention since 2007 and is an alternative design strategy in which designers are more cognizant of how their products affect people, communities, and ecosystems. The ethical fashion industry is known for engaging in fair and just labour practices. Safe working conditions, living wages for workers in the supply chain, treating workers with respect and protecting and empowering communities that manufacture the garments are their key characteristics.

The manufacturing practices of slow fashion apparel ensures the preservation of a delicate equilibrium between environmental and ethical considerations while also ensuring economic sustainability. They are well-crafted, have unique and striking designs, are handmade by skilled craftsmen, are season-less, possess superior durability and longevity and are good for the ecosystem and environment.

Incorporating sustainable raw materials like organic cotton and hemp in their production cycle, promoting supply chain transparency, and advocating for localised economic models that provide employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in rural areas, including small towns and villages, as well as implementing smaller batch production, the ethical fashion industry has been able to effectively reduce its environmental and ethical footprint.

A circular model strategy adopted by fashion brands plays a key role in minimising the environmental and ethical concerns of the fashion industry and contributes to utilising less resource inputs and and energy use and minimising waste emissions. Upcycling, recycling, shopping second-hand, renting apparel, mending, sewing and swapping clothes help extend the lifespan of garments and addresses the growing phenomenon of a disposable society.

Brands, be it ‘fast fashion’ or ‘slow fashion’ are taking swift strides towards implementing recycling practices, lowering emissions, and reducing textile waste, all of which can be a key solution to the fashion industry’s woes. Technology implementation has resulted in a notable reduction of 30 per cent in the carbon footprint of fashion firms. Retailers have the ability to generate digital prototypes and substitute tangible apparel items during the design phase and thereby reduce waste.

By carefully reviewing roadmaps and strategies such as ethical sourcing of raw material, improving supply chain energy efficiency, migrating to renewables, ensuring transparency in the supply chain, enhancing and improving working conditions and encouraging consumers to bring back clothes into the bins in-store fashion brands are actively trying to contribute to the well-being of people and the planet.

The writer is Professor in Economics and Area Chair at the Birla Institute of Management Technology, Greater Noida