Socially Responsible Clothing Design

by Sarah Clark
Fashion School Review Columnist

February 25, 2008

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Does social responsibility factor into a career in fashion? Many experts say yes, noting growing consumer awareness over the unethical treatment of animals, labor rights abuses in overseas factories, and global climate change.

When Fur and Fashion Don't Mix
Where do social responsibility and careers in fashion intersect? The most highly controversial ethical issues in fashion probably center on the industry's use of fur. Organizations like PETA (Peope for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) wage high profile campaigns against stars like Jennifer Lopez and fashion icons like Anna Wintour, both of whom have embraced the use of animal fur in fashion design. Some fashion designers have responded; Stella McCartney, for example, long ago swore off the use of any animal products in all of her fashion designs.

Green Is the New Black
One of the hottest corporate responsibility issues today is the environment. And everyone knows that all large manufacturing processes--including those in clothing design--consume vast amounts of water and electricity. And don't get us started about the CO2 emissions released in the transport of clothes from factories to retail stores across the globe. More and more fashion designers are looking at ways to reduce their operation's environmental footprint.

Where Cheap Labor Isn't Such a Good Deal
Workers' rights were first brought to the fore during the Kathy Lee Gifford controversy in the mid 1990s, where instances of child labor were uncovered in clothing factories in Central America. Big brand companies know that such practices, if exposed in the media, can wreak havoc on a corporate reputation. Today, many big clothing brands are taking steps to ensure their suppliers treat workers fairly.

Progressive Careers in Fashion
Those seeking a career in fashion can benefit from learning about corporate responsibility. It's a good way to learn how to be a successful clothing designer and build a company that respects people and the environment.

About the Author
Sarah Clark is a freelance writer specializing in career development and postsecondary education.

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