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Ethical Fashion: Green Is The New Black

J. Mijin Cha

Example from a line that received a 2010 Innovation Award from the Ethical Fashion ForumOver President’s Day, I wrote about how environmentally destructive something as simple as a pair of jeans can be when taking into consideration all the parts that are needed to create a staple in most wardrobes. Indeed, the fashion industry is second only to the agriculture sector in the amount of water it uses and accounts for 25 percent of pesticide use in the world. Add to this the fact that Americans discard an average of 68 pounds of textiles -- 85 percent of which ends up in landfills -- and it’s clear there is room across the entire industry for more sustainable practices.

At the same time, there is significant risk of “green-washing” within the industry, where small impact, large publicity measures are taken to promote products as being environmentally friendly, even when the overall practices are unsustainable. For instance, the clothing retailer, H&M, has launched the Conscious Initiative that uses more sustainable materials, like organic cotton and recycled polyester. While having an environmentally conscious line is better than no sustainability initiative, at all, H&M's business model relies on “fast-cycle” fashion that produces 50-60 fashion trend cycles per year. Most of its garments are produced in regions with notoriously lax labor and environmental standards. There is a very real question of whether the H&M model can ever be sustainable.

The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) may provide a platform where ethical fashion can flourish. EFF is the industry body for sustainable fashion. The Forum represents 6,000 members in over 100 countries and provides a sourcing and business database, online network, and a sustainability tool kit for the fashion industry. EFF also runs the only international fashion industry trade show dedicated to ethical sourcing, called SOURCE Expo. EFF was founded by industry insiders to promote sustainable practices and provides alternatives to complex, global supply chains that are inherently unsustainable.