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Canadian Ethical vs. Sustainable vs. Slow Fashion Explained

One of the best things about being a parent is the fact that our children encourage us to make the world a better place than the one we grew up in.

For many of us, parenthood has taught us the virtue of patience or the importance of giving back to our community. Especially now, parents are more inspired than ever to go green, and limit our carbon footprints.

Adopting environmentally-friendly practices is a beautiful journey, but it can also be riddled with somewhat vague and confusing terms: sustainable, organic, fair trade, cruelty-free, biodegradable, slow fashion.

Sometimes, using unclear language can push people away from eco-friendly habits, rather than welcoming them in. For this reason, we have prepared a useful refresher on the difference between three commonly used terms in the world of environmentally-friendly fashion, along with the ways we can embrace these practices in our everyday lives.

Are you ready to give your wardrobe a revamp that will benefit both you and the planet?

The Problem With Fast Fashion

Canadian ethical fashion is a top concern for a lot of shoppers, especially given the fact that there is more media attention than ever before to the harmful impacts of so-called “fast fashion” on both the environment and human workers.

The truth is, most of the clothes we buy each year will end up in landfills, and the microfibers that they release into the oceans are the equivalent of fifty billion plastic water bottles.

Of course, fast fashion is not just a drain for the environment. Between farms that produce the materials, factories that sew garments, and warehouses that handle distribution, a lot of workers are involved in the production of clothing. Ultimately, many garment workers in the Global South are subjected to low wages, poor workplace safety standards and even in some cases, use of child labour.

While major fashion outlets are definitely responsible for a lot of the issues involved with fast fashion, we as consumers should take some accountability as well. Over the past two decades in particular, our shopping habits have changed drastically, given that we buy more clothes and keep them for a lot less time.

Our habits are the reason why fast fashion brands are thriving, and if we are going to break the cycle, it needs to start with us as conscious, compassionate shoppers.

The Solutions

As grim as the issues within the fashion industry are, positive change is possible.

Recently, a number of fashion companies have risen to popularity that promise high-quality clothing without the devastating environmental and human impacts. Depending on their approach to fashion, these companies might brand themselves with one of the following terms: ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, and slow fashion.

If you are still feeling a little confused, here is a breakdown of each term, along with the ways in which they overlap.

Ethical Fashion

Ethical fashion is a bit of an umbrella term that essentially encompasses any fashion that produces and sells clothing in non-harmful ways. However, if you have ever found yourself chatting to a philosophy major at a holiday party or family reunion, you are certainly already aware that there are lots of different views on which practices can be considered “ethical”.

In many cases, ethical fashion is focused on the human impact of the fashion industry. Ethical fashion brands want to embrace fair trade, the idea that all workers should be treated with dignity rather than exploited.

These companies might embrace business practices that ensure fair treatment of workers and communities such as:

● Refusing to work with any suppliers or processing plants that may use child labour

● Partnering with farms that pay employees well and do not use chemicals that could harm workers’ health

● Operating factories themselves or working with partners they know well to ensure every worker is paid fairly, is not overworked, and is offered a safe work environment

● Conducting frequent personal visits or hiring third-party auditors to ensure all processing plants, farms, factories and warehouses are keeping up with fair labour standards

Canadian ethical fashion in particular embraces the idea of producing and manufacturing at the local level. This ensures that businesses are supporting the communities they started in, and helps ensure ethical practices given the fact that Canada enjoys stricter labour standards and higher wages than many areas in the Global South.

That being said, many would argue that environmental issues are also ethical issues. Our children deserve to inherit a healthy planet, and communities are directly impacted by environmentally damaging practices, from harsh chemicals used by non-organic farms to rising tides from climate change.

For this reason, many ethical fashion brands also embrace sustainable practices, and some would go as far to argue you cannot be truly ethical without being sustainable, and vice versa.

Sustainable Fashion

Unlike ethical fashion, sustainable fashion is a little more strict in its definition.

Sustainable fashion seeks to reduce the environmental impacts of the fashion industry, and considers the entire life cycle of a garment.

As a practice, sustainable fashion companies-- and the customers that support them-- ask themselves questions about how clothes are made, where they are going and how they are used, such as:

● What are the impacts of farming certain materials?

● Do pesticides or chemicals need to be used during the farming process?

● Will these materials produce microplastics?

● What will be the environmental impacts of the shipping process for these garments?

● Are the processing plants and factories that made these items doing their part to minimize their ecological footprint?

● Can we avoid using plastic materials when packaging or shipping these items?

Sustainable brands will often use organic and all-natural materials, rather than microplastic-producing synthetic ones, and will use low-impact, water-based dyes.

While vegan clothing is not necessarily sustainable, most eco-friendly brands will already be avoiding animal byproducts such as leather or fur. That being said, there is some controversy about whether animal fibers that do not require killing an animal (such as wool or alpaca) have a place in sustainable fashion. Ultimately, whether you support brands that use animal fibers will depend on where you fall in the debate.

Slow Fashion

Companies adopting better business practices are only part of the battle for a more sustainable fashion industry-- we also have to consider how we treat our clothes once we get them.

Slow fashion is a cultural movement as much as it is a branding term. It is an invitation to rethink how we view our wardrobes.

Ultimately, there was a time before massive shopping malls and overnight shipping, when families often used to order a few staple items that were purchased from department stores or even privately seamstresses. Fashion was not nearly as cheap as it currently is, and the end result was that most individuals had small wardrobes made of durable items that were meant to last years before needing to be replaced.

Slow fashion embraces a similar logic to the days before assembly line production of fashion. Slow fashion brands will focus on using durable materials and stitches to ensure clothes can be worn and repaired for years. They also focus on practical features, such as natural colours and office-friendly designs, to avoid clothing falling “out of style” and being discarded.

Ultimately, slow fashion is about rejecting the trends that tell us we constantly need new, “innovative” styles that will not be popular a year from now. In practice, slow fashion garments are designed to be passed down to loved ones or donated to thrift stores, in order to avoid ending up in a landfill once you no longer need it.

What You Can Do

If you are a parent looking into Canadian ethical fashion for you and your children, understand that finding self-proclaimed eco-friendly brands is just the beginning. Here are some other choices you can make to lower your carbon footprint (and set a good example for your little ones that they will remember for their entire lives):

Buy Local

Supporting Canadian ethical fashion businesses will make you feel good because you know you are supporting your own communities-- but it is also a handy way to lower your carbon emissions.

Shipping can be an environmentally-damaging process, so companies that are based overseas or use international suppliers will ultimately be less ecologically-friendly by default.

Embrace Hand-Me-Downs

The best thing about children is they do not yet have a concept of “cool” and “uncool”. They do not care if their clothes are new, and neither should you.

If you have friends, relatives or neighbours with children older than yours, do not turn down any offers for some good old-fashioned hand-me-downs. You can pay it forward later by passing down any clothing that is still in good condition to other loved ones in need.

Go Thrifting

Slow fashion does not necessarily mean new fashion. In fact, giving an old pair of jeans or a gently used blazer another shot at life is one of the easiest ways to reject fast fashion.

If you love to express yourself through clothing and still want high-quality, designer-label items in your life even after embracing ethical fashion, you can check out vintage stores or online resellers like Depop. You can often find rare and precious items, all in wearable condition, without buying anything new.

Of course, donating clothes when you are done with them is an important way to ensure your garments can avoid a landfill when you are done with them.

Consume Media Wisely

It is not completely our fault that we love fast fashion. After all, we spend every day surrounded by commercials, magazines, billboards, storefronts, celebrities and more that profit from convincing us we need to reject the styles we loved last week, and replace it with a whole new wardrobe.

Being mindful about the media we consume can help us avoid the traps of fast fashion. After all, there are plenty of sustainable fashion communities online who are always welcoming new members-- why not surround yourself with some positive influences who can remind you why your values matter to you.

Do More With Less

Embrace the capsule wardrobe. With just a few staple items for each season and some clever accessories, you can enjoy countless fun and stylish outfits.

Ultimately, slow fashion products are built to be durable which means that they often do require a lot of resources to produce. Buying hordes of these items would ultimately be a drain on the environment. It is the process of buying essentials and keeping them for years to come that helps save the planet.

Learn To Sew

No, we are not suggesting you have to learn to design your entire wardrobe by yourself to go green (although if you can, all the more power to you!)

We are just saying that a lot of rips, tears and damages that might lead us to throw away a clothing item can be easily fixed with some basic knowledge of sewing. Next time you notice a torn seam on your best pair of yoga pants, fight the urge to online shop and instead check out a YouTube tutorial on basic sewing. It can save the planet and save you money.

Can An Item Be Sustainable, Ethical and Slow Fashion?

In many cases, a brand might fit the bill of all three terms, but this is not universally the case.

For example, if an ethical, sustainable item of clothing is cheaply made, and must be replaced, it is not really slow fashion (and remember, buying more clothes than you need simply because the label says it’s eco-friendly will not reduce your carbon footprint as effectively as sticking to a staple wardrobe).

Or, for example, a sustainable slow fashion brand might not be doing their part to ensure garment workers are facing fair conditions, meaning it would not be considered ethical fashion.

Before buying an item, ask yourself: Do I know how it is made? Do I know who made it? Do I know what I will do with it when I buy it?

These simple questions can help guide you towards better, more environmentally-friendly choices for you and your family.

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