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5 Ethical Fashion Books to Read Now

5 Ethical Fashion Books to Read Now

In 2014 I was in my last year of university, studying International Fashion Marketing. I had started to notice a trend of high street fashion brands releasing "sustainable" or "ethical" collections, the most well known of which at the time was the H&M Conscious Collection which launched in 2010. At the time I was impressed, but I have since realised it's not impressive at all. I digress - the trend was prevalent and I'm glad it was as it captured my attention and is the reason I am here with my own (actually) sustainable brand today.

So for my dissertation I decided to write about the rise of sustainable and ethical practices in the fashion industry, and how brands can adhere to them today. I read a lot of books in order to put together my dissertation, but since then the reality of fast fashion has been made even more evident, so I have included four books which I used when writing my dissertation and my all time favourite ethical fashion bible which is a more recent publication.

1. Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion & The Future of Clothes - Dana Thomas (2019)

Dana Thomas is a best selling author and journalist who has travelled the world discovering how designers and brands have introduced strategies into their business to create a more positive future for the fashion industry. In the book she covers the history of fashion, how "fast fashion" has grown through the likes of Zara and their production lines to now the fast fashion monsters that are BooHoo et al, the true price of 'furious fashion' and the reality of sweatshops.

It's not all doom and gloom though - Dana covers some wonderful stories about designers and companies who are setting the standards for ethical fashion, her meeting and talking to them about their visions of the future for the industry and how technological advances such as 3D printing could change the entire landscape of how we buy and sell fashion.

"The pitch I've heard more than once is that fashion brands - from Amazon to Chanel - won't sell you actual clothes; you'll buy a link and print the garment yourself. The possibilities are endless, as would be the shake-up to the industry as it is currently constituted. Design, production, labor, waste: it could all change beyond recognition."

2. To Die For - Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? - Lucy Siegle (2011)

This was such a useful book for me when writing my dissertation. Lucy Siegle is a social and environmental journalist, writing pieces for The Times, Maria Claire, Grazia and The Observer covering ethical living and how the future of fashion can have a more sustainable future by replacing the "turbo consumerism" we have all become accustomed to.

The book is so easy to read, and is aimed at both brands and consumers. Covering how to shop in a more ethical way, and how brands can produce garments in a more sustainable way with a focus on both the environmental impact and the workers rights that so many fast fashion brands exploit.

"Despite the industry's keenness to sort our child labour, it is still rife. In the decade from 1997 to 2007, India gained the ignominious title of the world capital of child labour: it contributes and estimated 20 percent of the country's gross national product."

3. Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution - Safia Minney (2012)

You may know Safia Minney as the founder of People Tree, but Safia also has over 20 years experience as a thought leader in sustainable fashion and has been a speaker and teacher about the subject for a very long time. This book is the perfect introduction to ethical fashion for someone who wants to start learning, as it mainly covers the basic issues and is not an in depth explanation of the problems with the fashion industry - more how brands are trying to change and do better.

The book is packed with tips and tricks for designers and brands on how to become a sustainable entrepreneur in the fashion and media world, and features interviews and contributions from celebrities and designers such as Vivienne Westwood. There is also an ethical brand directory which although 10 years old now, is a great reference to find out which brands have been on the sustainable train for a while. If you're looking for a visual book to ease you in to the subject this book is perfect as the photography throughout is stunning.

"In Bangladesh, clothing exports account for 70 percent of GDP and the industry employs over three million workers, mostly women. The clothing industry offers opportunities to low-income countries because of the relatively low cost of setting up factories, and a burgeoning population that provides a constant supply of deft hands as semi-skilled labour."

4. Refashioned: Cutting-edge Clothing from Upcycled Materials - Sass Brown (2013)

This book was a game changer for me, and made me realise that although I have been buying and wearing preloved and vintage clothing for most of my life, there are so many other ways I could use and wear preloved clothing. There are so many garments already in the world, the most sustainable way to produce new items of clothing is to use what is already unwanted. 

The book is basically a resource for designers who were innovating the reworked market when the book was published, and it provided me with so much inspiration and gorgeous imagery throughout.

“Choosing faster and cheaper can equate to unwitting disregard for humanity and the environment. It is often much easier to consume what is convenient without thinking too much about the larger impact or consequences of our choices. Particularly the continuing use of toxic chemicals, haphazard disposal of these wastes, unprotected workers and unsafe practices.”

5. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion - Elizabeth L. Cline (2013)

If you're looking for an easy read with some humour thrown in - this is the book for you. Elizabeth openly admits that she was the kind of consumer that bought excessive amounts of fashion - shopping in lunch breaks and buying a new item of clothing every week. It's interesting reading a book from this perspective - from the "mindless" consumer and their journey through learning more about the ethics behind mass consumption and reading her process.

"Sewing, once a life skill for American women and a pathway from poverty to the middle class for workers, is now a dead-end sweatshop job. The pressures of cheap have forced retailers to drastically reduce detail and craftsmanship, making the clothes we wear more and more uniform, basic, and low quality."

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