Hey there friends! This wasn’t part of my scheduled article line-up, so forgive me for the randomness of it all. But sometimes you have a meaningful conversation, and you just have to write the thing THEN AND THERE.
The content in this post can also be found in brief on this image on my Instagram page.
Last night, I was talking with one of my favorite conscious fashion bloggers, Sara over at Petra Alexandra. Sara is a lovely and thoughtful writer, with a to-die-for home and beautiful, minimal style. We became acquainted because we both write for The Minimalist Wardrobe, and I love chatting with her and hearing her perspective on fashion.
So, Sara and I were talking about the growing conversation around using the phrase “ethical fashion” for items that aren’t vegan. And it was really interesting to reflect upon, because I think it encourages all of us in the space to think about how language is incredibly important when it comes to any social movement.
In my experience, there are very few articles of clothing out there that are truly ethical on all dimensions – people, planet and animals – and accessibility to them can be a challenge. That’s why assigning the blanket term “ethical” to what we wear can be a bit lazy at best, and downright misinformed at worst, even if we are well-intentioned. And I’ve long been guilty of this, but I think it is high time that we listen to what our vegan friends in the space are saying, because they are so instrumental in creating a thoughtful and fair fashion industry.
Part of the problem has to do with a misunderstanding between how (many) fashion writers and bloggers think of the word “ethical” and the way the vegan movement thinks of it. I have a fair amount of understanding of both dimensions (as a plant-based, on-the-road-to-veganism person). We need to clear this up, find the common ground, and move forward with more intentional descriptions of our clothing.
“Ethics” means quite a lot in veganism. Philosopher Jeremy Bentham (the founder of Utilitarianism) is also considered to be one of the earliest proponents of animal rights. Veganism is steeped in ethics as a discipline. You may be familiar with this famous quote from him:
The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
Bentham argued that the ability to suffer is what determines which beings have inalienable rights. Under this ethical belief system, animals must have the same rights and you and me because they can feel pain, and they can suffer.
Image via Pexels
When we apply the word “ethical” to a fashion item that doesn’t take animals into account, it oversimplifies the issue and disregards the fundamental role that ethics and philosophy play in veganism. And, that sort of isn’t fair – because the way ethics relates to veganism is much deeper than the way we often frivolously apply it to fairly made clothing. This isn’t meant to be accusatory, because I am totally guilty of this, and it is time to make it right.
Sara and I have decided we want to go #BeyondEthical in our wardrobe descriptions moving forward, both to give our followers more context on our outfits and to show more respect to our vegan audiences and their perspective.
Below is a list of the terms I’ll be using moving forward and what they mean, in an attempt to more accurately describe the garments I choose to wear. I hope you find it useful, enlightening and welcoming for vegans and non-vegans alike.
Ethical: An item that fully takes into consideration its human and animal impact and seeks to reduce that impact as much as reasonably possible.
Sustainable: An item that is made with earth-friendly materials, whose impact on the environment is considered at each stage of production and sale, and whose company considers the end-of-life implications of the item. Edit to add: Someone kindly pointed out to me that sustainable also includes the human and economic impact, which I was like…duh. I inherently know this (I work in the recycling industry!) but it shows how pervasive the common usage of a word can become, even if it isn’t fully accurate. More reason to keep working at this.
Fairly, consciously or responsibly made: An item that is made by workers who are treated kindly, compensated fairly for their work, given the freedom to unionize and offered other benefits.
Cruelty-free: No animals were harmed in the creation of this item, but it may contain animal-derived ingredients. Usually applies to beauty products.
Vegan: An item that does not contain any animal-derived products and by which no animals were harmed.
There is obviously a degree of coexistence between some of these, and in that case I’ll aim to use as many descriptors as possible to give you a complete understanding of the garment or item at hand. But I will no longer just tell you something is ethical without additional context. This also applies more to my Instagram where space is limited, as I do think I’ve done a good job at explaining the impact of various items here. But it is well-worth the space in my Instagram caption to be more accurate in my language.
Just a quick one for today – all for now.