‘Eco’ and ‘Ethical’ – What does it all mean??

‘Eco’ and ‘Ethical’ – What does it all mean??

I’ve had alot of students contact me lately because they are doing assignments on this and they are completely confused!
I’d like to make clear what these terms mean to me. If you have any other opinions on what they mean to you, we’d love to hear your comments in the box below.

The word ‘eco’ is short for ecology. Ecology is the study of the interactions between organisms and their environment.
Therefore ‘eco’ friendly (or ‘ecology friendly’) is a term to refer to goods and services considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment.

There is really no such thing as a 100% eco friendly piece of clothing. This is because all clothing takes water (to grow the fibre which makes the fabric) and energy (to make the fabric and the garment).
When we talk about eco friendly clothing, we are talking about those companies which make it a point to minimise this damage by using fibres not grown or produced with damaging chemicals, and fabrics not coloured with harsh dyes and paints.

‘Ethical’ clothing to me refers to something very different. Ethical clothing is about treating to people who made the fabric or the garment with respect. This means fair pay, safe working conditions, a right to choose working hours, and a total ban on child labour.

So ‘Eco’ friendly clothing might mean:
-Clothing made of fibres such as organic cotton and hemp.
-Clothing that has been organically dyed with vegetables.
-Fabrics that use small amounts of precious water to grow, such as hemp and bamboo.

And ‘Ethical’ clothing might mean:
-Clothing that has a fair trade registration (they might show this on their swing tag) which means the people who sewed it have been paid fairly.

-Please remember, PEOPLE sew clothing on sewing machines, not just the sewing machines themselves.
Katie Gannon

After running an ethical fashion label for 5 years, I started this blog in 2007 after learning first hand about the importance of sustainability in fashion design. I am a passionate environmentalist and wish to promote individuals and organisations around the world working on innovative design. I have a BA in Communications / Media as well as a Cert IV in Clothing Production, and run my own graphic design company at www.katiegannon.com

  • Katie
    Posted at 21:17h, 20 June Reply

    Anon1. Good point. Yes it’s very easy to pick up a piece of organic fabric, make a t-shirt in a sweat shop and call it “eco”. It has become a fashionable catch phrase which so many companies are using, just to jump on the “we are helping to stop global warming” bandwagon. Unfortunately it is still all about the bottom dollar to most clothing companies. Get things made as cheap as possible to maximize profits. The unfortunate thing is, we as consumers are in the habit of wanting things cheap, and the fashion industry really is a consumer driven market.

    Anon2. Not sure I understand your question, could you re-phrase?

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 19:40h, 20 June Reply

    what doses fibres mean in sweing and wrap and weft ?

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 10:50h, 12 May Reply

    I agree with your explanation of what these terms refer to.

    apparently not all “eco” is done “ethically”.

    without even taking seriously sweatshoppers like H&M and Co. attempting at organic, how are things in the case of individual designers and emerging labels which are “eco” or “green”? some of these green labels are just “green”, never mentioning “ethical” or referring to labor standards in their supply chain, nor online stores selling them do so.

    to what extent is it the case with non-corporate designers to procure/produce ethically?

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