Ethical and Sustainable Luxury: The Paradox of Consumerism and Caring

in Engaging with Fashion
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Abstract

The exposure of the dark underbelly of fashion sheds light on the ethical dilemma of manufacturing and consuming apparel. Tragedy caused by deplorable working conditions and human exploitation is as much a part of the fashion landscape as textiles and garments. What lessons were learned after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire killed 145 workers in New York City?1 Not many, based on the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse where 1,134 factory workers died.2 Over 100 years after the Triangle fire and the fashion industry’s failure to provide measures ensuring safety and the ethical treatment of workers continues. The environment also suffers from the absence of sustainable and renewable resources in the production of fashion. Twenty per cent of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles.3 Water usage, the destruction of the rain forests, bulging landfills, and toxic chemicals are incalculably detrimental to the environment, yet the fashion industry lags woefully behind in creating sustainable solutions. The root of the fashion industry’s ethical problems is consumer demand for more goods at every price point, including the luxury sector. Yet, many consumers believe they purchase fashion responsibly. In The Ethical Consumer Report (2015), 70 per cent of consumers said their purchasing decisions are influenced by ethics. However, a mere 23 per cent are ‘often or always’ influenced by ethics.4 ‘It is well known consumers saying they want ethical products does not necessarily translate into greater sales’.5 Therein lies the rub, consumers say they care, but they do not purchase like they care. The paradox of consumerism and caring is real.

Engaging with Fashion

Perspectives on Communication, Education and Business

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