Abstract: In Search of the "Ethics" of Ethical Fashion

Efrat Tseëon


The discourse of ethical fashion argues that ethical fashion can be achieved unproblematically by adopting certain practices of doing things differently (like sourcing organic cotton and supporting fair trade). The emerging ethical fashion orthodoxy tends to define the scope of the "ethical" around issues of supply chain and sustainability of production, and to marginalize other equally important concerns (e.g., sustainability of use and disposal, animal welfare, use of toxins in beauty products, and the influence of fashion images on beauty ideals and role models offered young people). By what it advocates and what it represses, ethical fashion narrative appears to ignore the dilemmatic nature of ethical questions. Further, it offers oversimplified solutions of different consumption that fail to challenge the paradigm of excessive consumption. And it is this paradigm that generates the ethical questions privileged by the ethical industry in the first place. It is also the paradigm that sustains fashion, as fashion is premised on obsolescence. Hence, to embrace an inclusive ethical agenda would create a conflict of interests for the fashion industry. Is this why the industry displaces its concerns onto exotic and remote people, places, and practices? While no easy solutions exist, the paper argues for more complex models of response to wider ethical issues.