EPISODE 55: What's the difference between Ethical and Sustainable fashion?




  • Introduction
  • Definitions
  • Examples
  • Conclusion






Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, the planet and product.


Welcome to episode 55 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. I hope everyone's doing okay out there. I'm recording this in Melbourne and by the time you listen to this, it would've just ticked over into spring, which I'm so excited for. We've just got a wintery blast of weather and it seems like winter is never going to end, but today it seems okay. The sun's out, it's shining and things are looking up. Things have been super busy on my end. I've got one project finishing up in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to a little bit of extra time in the week to catch up on some things like my newsletter and social media, things that some of you might have noticed have dropped off a little bit. I wanted to get that sorted out and plan out the next few months, but with one project finishing up, I'll have some availability again.


If you are thinking of working on a new project or need ongoing help with navigating sustainability in your fashion business, now's the time to get in touch. You can send me an email at info@belindahumphrey.com, and we can set up a call to see how I can help.


In today's episode, I wanted to talk about the difference between ethical and sustainable fashion. I think sometimes these get used interchangeably, but I thought it would be good to just get really clear on what each one is as people working in the industry, or even if you're listening to this just as an interest, it's really important to understand both.


Let's start with sustainability. There's a definition I often use for sustainability that I think is one of the better ones. It's from the United Nations Brundtland Commission. And it says that “sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”


In general, sustainability talks more about the environmental aspect and considers things such as the use of materials and energy sources. And while it isn't human-centered, it does consider the threat to human health all along the way. And we often forget that working in a certain way for lengthy periods of time is included in being unsustainable. We are not machines and we need rest and relaxation. And this includes business owners too.


Whereas the term ethical is human-centered. It focuses more on what is morally right in terms of how a business is run and how the people within that business are treated. Generally, it includes things like living wages, working conditions, and safe workplaces. I also want to point out that it isn't only the people manufacturing the garments. It also includes the people picking the cotton, working at the spinners, weavers, dye houses, tanneries even people in your head office and warehouse or DC. It's everyone involved in the whole supply chain.


I've talked about certificates before, way back in Episode 3. But again, the reason why they are essential is because you can verify where things come from. And you've got a better chance of knowing who was involved along the way. Now, I know there's been recent cases of organic cotton fraud and certificates can be falsified (friendly reminder to check your certificates). It isn't always perfect, but until better innovation is rolled out and more accessible. It's the best way to verify things. Now that other innovation is happening at the moment and looks very promising when it comes to being 100% accurate on providence throughout the whole supply chain. But I won't go into that here. I think I'll do an episode on transparency and traceability. Stay tuned for that one.


I also want to point out that these aren't separate, they intersect, which can be why they're sometimes used interchangeably, but essentially if you are harming the environment, chances are you're harming everyone along the way in the creation of those clothes too, both ideologies must be upheld together to create good in both people and planet.


I hope that helped to clarify the difference and might seem basic to some of you, but I try to provide a mix of topics of interest to all business owners, regardless of where they are in their journey. If you have been thinking about getting in touch to know more about how you can work with me, you can send an email to info@belindahumphrey.com. You can also get in touch as well on Instagram @belindahumphrey_ and find the show notes in any links on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time. 


Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey


Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 


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