Despite the controversial supply chain issues plaguing the apparel industry, clothes aren’t a commodity we can boycott completely – like a vegetarian giving up meat. But we, as consumers, can make a statement with our wardrobes by ditching the bad brands and supporting those with a transparent and responsible supply chain.
From farms to factories the production of apparel has significant global impacts. The fashion industry accounts for 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions and is the second most polluting industry after oil. It employs nearly 60 million people, 85 percent of whom are women.
The race for cheaper production combined with a lack of transparency and accountability has created a toxic industry plagued by social, ethical and environmental supply chain issues. Although many consumers don’t know or don’t care how their clothes are made, a growing set of conscious consumers are left to worry whether their clothes contributed to child labor, unsafe working conditions or serious environmental pollution.
Enter the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). Founded in 2009, the SAC focuses on improving standards through transparency. Modeled on nutrition labels giving us the skinny on what’s in our food, the SAC’s Higg index will provide social, environmental, and ethical standards attached to an item of clothing. In theory. Unfortunately, due to the scale and complexity of this initiative it remains to be seen if it will have a successful industry-wide uptake. And if it does, it will still be a matter of years before it’s consumer-ready.
So while we await the perfect label, what can we (conscious consumers of fashion) do to wear our values? One of the best ways to minimize our contribution to the negative impacts in the apparel industry is through not buying new clothes. Thrift stores are in, just ask Macklemore.
However, if you choose to buy new, there are brands that openly communicate their production practices such as Everlane, Patagonia, Levi Strauss, Eileen Fisher, Zady and more. By no means are these companies perfect – often times they focus on one impact of their supply chain like the environmental footprint of their operations or improving factory working conditions. But I admire their openness about these issues and their efforts to raise standards.
If you truly want to ‘look good, feel good,’ then renounce fast fashion and make a statement with your outfit, reducing the consumption of new pieces and choosing the most conscious brands you can find.
 Rehman, H. (2016, August 19). Shocking Environmental Implications of Fashion. Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/heidy-rehman/shocking-environmental-fast-fashion_b_8009850.html
 Fashion United. Global Fashion Industry Statistics. https://fashionunited.com/global-fashion-industry-statistics
 Top issues include (but are not limited to): Animal welfare, safe working conditions and excessive working hours in factories, child labor, need for sustainable agriculture, water pollution, and creation of massive waste streams. The documentary The True Cost covers many of the apparel industry’s supply chain issues if you want to learn more.