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Five ways to build an ethical wardrobe

A decade ago, I became obsessed with fashion. But rather than trend predictions or whether a Kardashian favours a Gladiator shoe/boot, it’s always been about the supply chain for me. Fashion is a full-spectrum industry, running from cotton bolls to catwalks and employing millions in a chain that runs through the lowest-waged economies on Earth, leaving a hulking eco footprint. I found so many skeletons in fashion’s closet that I wrote a book to get it off my chest – To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? Incredibly, the story got darker. On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers producing clothes for a number of western brands. US documentary maker Andrew Morgan became hellbent on finding out how such work had become such a deadly activity. His film, True Cost (out 29 May), navigates the terrible cost of fashion today with help from Stella McCartney, myself and activist Vandana Shiva and Rana Plaza survivors. Here are five ways to avoid being part of the problem.

Director Andrew Morgan on his film True Cost.

1. Only buy if you can commit to wearing the item at least 30 times
Fast fashion means clothes have become disposable. This and lower clothing prices have put the supply chain under unprecedented pressure, leading to outrages such as Rana Plaza and Tazreen (the 2012 Dhaka factory fire that killed more than 100).

2. Invest in trans-seasonal clothes
The traditional spring/summer autumn/winter of international fashion weeks is just for show. Up to 100 new micro-seasons a year is the new normal. So slow down your fashion cycle.

3. Spread your fashion pound around
The global fashion industry is worth $2.5tn. Shouldn’t this be shared? Look for producer-centric brands such as People Tree, which is run to rigorous Fairtrade standards with producers who get a fair share of the profits.

4. Detox your wardrobe
Fashion is reportedly the world’s second most polluting industry after oil. Notably, azo dyes are still the most used synthetic dyes, despite many of them being toxic. Ten percent of the world’s biggest brands have committed to phase out toxic substances through Greenpeace’s detox programme.

5. Join the fashion revolution
Be the change you want to see in your wardrobe (to paraphrase Gandhi). Fashionrevolution.org represents millions of consumers who want change.

The first UK preview of True Cost (and a panel discussion with blogger Susie Bubble, designer Wayne Hemingway, Lucy Siegle and director Andrew Morgan) will be at Clapham Picture House, London SW4 on 26 May. Click here for details

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