When most people think of fashion, they usually don't imagine it as ethical. Between using fur, sweatshop labor, and non-sustainable materials, high fashion comes at a high price for the planet.
Rachel Kibbe is trying to change all that. She's founded HELPSY, a website featuring top designers in the world of ethical fashion.
On her website, Kibbe defines ethical fashion as a product that is non-disposable, made of eco-conscious materials, up-cycled or recycled, fair trade, vintage, sold to profit philanthropic causes, locally produced in small quantities, cruelty-free or handcrafted in a way that preserves artisanal traditions. If a company commits to fulfilling three or more of these qualifications, Kibbe invites them to become a partner at HELPSY.
Kibbe first entered the fashion world as a designer, and, eager to learn, she started doing internships with fashion houses. She didn't like what she found in some of the fashion houses, though, describing how they would threaten her with being fired if she didn't do the work she considered "belittling and grueling."
"I was interning three full days a week and taking nine classes, but they wanted me to start coming in on weekends," Kibbe told Truthout. "And now they're doing quite well, that house, and it's really sad to me that it's born on the backs of threatening people."
Through her experiences in the fashion world, Kibbe decided that she wanted more than where fashion was heading.
"I think that the pace of fashion has gotten out of hand, and I think there has not been enough transparency. So there's a system where the consumer is addicted to getting whatever is most trendy, right off the runway, at a really cheap price. Social and environmental factors have really been abused to give the consumer what they want - and now, what they expect."
In an article on the environmental impact of the clothing industry, Luz Claudio writes that manufacturing synthetic fabrics like polyester "is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease. Solvents, and other by-products of polyester production are emitted in the wastewater from polyester manufacturing plants."
Not only is fashion contributing to the pollution of our planet, but the industry has been decried for its labor practices. In 2010, the International Labor Rights Forum featured familiar brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, Hanes, Kohl’s, LL Bean and Walmart in its "Sweatshop Hall of Shame" for refusing to address workers' rights violations by their suppliers.
The Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in April 2013, considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, illustrates that unsafe labor practices still exist within the fashion industry.
Kibbe concedes that ethical fashion may not be as cheap as the "Forever 21 or H&M on every corner" but that you have to pay for quality.
"You know, good, organic food costs more than cheap, less-nutritious food," she said. "I think there's a misconception that fashion is frivolous, and so sometimes even if people love fashion, they want to get the style that's in copy from the cheaper chain because they feel overindulgent in spending too much. But I would say buy less, buy better, buy from the person who designed it for real."
Kibbe hopes the fashion industry can learn from mistakes and from tragedies like the Rana Plaza collapse.
"Sadly it took the death of over 1,000 people for us to wake up. But the fact that questions are finally being asked reinforces my belief that consumers and the fashion industry alike are ready for changes which respect human, material and spiritual resources," Kibbe said.
What Kibbe hopes will aid in the forward progression of sustainable fashion is that it has caught up in design aesthetic to mainstream fashion.
"I think part of the reason it's taken so long for people to get on board with ethical fashion is the fact that a lot of what's offered looks different than other fashion, like it's a little crunchy or hippy, and so people think there's two camps: there's either green fashion or there's regular fashion. It's kind of my mission that going forward ethical fashion won't be separate from the fashion world that already exists - all fashion can become more ethical, and the more we focus on it, the cheaper it will become."
HELPSY's mission is to do the research for the consumer. You can go to the website and select the categories you want to shop in, be it cruelty-free, recycled, handcrafted and more, and all the designers who fit the bill are right at your fingertips.
Kibbe said "design-forward, cutting-edge fashion can have a social impact 100 percent of the time, [and] HELPSY can provide a unique platform for this change."
"I am proud to be a part of this movement," Kibbe said. "And will do all I can to increase its momentum."