Is fashion ever ethical?


Furs are making a comeback. It seems like models on every catwalk in Milan and New York are wearing fur. Major fashion magazines like Vogue, Elle and Glamour feature models draped with animal pelts. Yet just a few seasons ago these models would have been splattered with red paint and the magazines condemned. What has changed to make people OK with fur?

After all the pressure from organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the fur industry had to revamp its image. To throw off the stigma of animal cruelty, the industry marketed itself as going “green” and becoming “environmentally conscious”. The Fur Council of Canada has even claimed that the fur trade is advantageous to animals because it prevents over-population, thereby providing a better quality of life. The fur harvest, the council notes, also provides jobs for native peoples in the Arctic North, who would otherwise be unemployed.

With furs gaining popularity again, what should the customer do? This is where it gets complicated. One alternative is to buy used fur goods. The look is still great and the garments are still warm, but used fur does not encourage the killing of animals. Faux furs are another attractive alternative; they are made from synthetic materials rather than living creatures.

Furs are not the only ethical issue in the fashion world. There is the much more pervasive problem of sweatshops. Every year a new scandal reveals yet another popular brand exploiting its workers. University students often unknowingly buy from stores with long histories of exploitation, such as Gap, TopShop, and H&M.

Students are starting to notice. Many universities in America are now taking part in United Students Against Sweatshops, an organization committed to exposing labels using unjust labour. The guilty stores usually plead ignorance, saying the sweatshops are operated by sub-contractors and suppliers. Nonsense, reply student groups. Name stores should be more vigilant about how their clothing is produced.

And what about St Andrews? Our university is one of the most fashionable in the UK. How do the fashion leaders on our campus remain well dressed and keep a clean conscience? Diane Cooke, director of the Sitara* fashion show, says “This year one of the major ways Sitara* will be addressing this risk is by increasing our focus on showcasing student and local designers, with whom we can have a close working relationship, and therefore be privy to the process and creation of their fashion designs.”

While they may not be quite as cheap as H&M, many of the boutiques in St Andrews and Edinburgh offer ethical and locally sourced fashion. In addition, for the consumer with a conscience these clothes bring the advantage of not having to worry about wearing the same clothes as everyone else!


Sophya Gordon

Photography – Sophya Gordon
Model – Irina Earnshaw
Faux Fur Coat – Armstrongs, Edinburgh