01/30/2012 11:43 EST | Updated 03/31/2012 05:12 EDT

How Ethical Fashion Can Actually Be Good for You

Courtesy of Ecouterre

When I started working on my fashion line last fall, apart from designing "nice" clothes, I knew that I wanted to build a company that was involved in the bigger picture. So I asked myself: What is the world I want to live in? And how can I create something that progresses towards that?

That answer, as many like-minded fashion designers have found, lies in sustainability.

But most people don't care enough about doing good to change their "fast fashion" habits. Sure, the environment is important. And yes, so is the economy. And yes, so is being ethical. But these things are not enough to persuade people away from our number one obsession: ourselves.

Fast fashion presents us with choice at prices we can afford. We like the accessibility, the option of being who we choose to be any given day. Fast fashion allows us the power to share different sides of ourselves through style, something that we might not be able to do as easily buying local, sustainable or ethical clothes.

Most people in my age group flock to fast fashion retailers, but not because they're against sustainability. There's just no reason to abandon shopping habits that fulfill their desire to constantly consume and express their ever-changing style habits. These habits are fueled by our society, by culture, and fast fashion is only the symptom. So what's the cure? I think it lies in reframing ethical fashion beyond doing good for the earth, but for ourselves as well.

Here are ways that I believe the pursuit of ethical fashion can be good for us.

First, the pursuit of ethical fashion exercises our awareness. As a designer, I make it my responsibility to know about clothes, and this goes beyond how to make them, how they look and what my industry is up to. There are other things we should know more about -- things like how production impacts the environment and economy. Getting to know the actual facts is eye-opening and opens us up to make more informed, responsible choices in our lives -- clothing and otherwise.

It also demonstrates fairness. Buying ethical (whether local, sustainable, fair trade, etc.) is often always more expensive than fast fashion and that reason alone can be a deterrent for people. We look at similar garments and assume that the more expensive version is a "rip-off." But, price is based on cost and likely isn't an arbitrary number plucked out of nowhere to give the illusion of luxury. (And if they are, well, let's just not count them as "ethical.") As an example, fast fashion has devalued the worth in paying our own skilled workers because we've gotten used to $19.99 tops. A $19.99 top isn't feasible to make locally, but because we've gotten to a point where we expect it, we think that anything above that isn't worth it. We cannot afford to pay our own skilled workers and thus we've devalued clothing's true worth. The consumption of goods is a transaction in value and choosing to spend more on ethical fashion is a demonstration that we recognize the fair value of what people create.

Buying ethical fashion allows us to put empathy into action. Making a difference can feel like an uphill battle, but supporting ethical design is a way to do something different and better. We must exercise our ability to act as a way to support change in the world through design. Because behind each company trying to do good in the world is a person who started it because he or she thought it was possible. To change today's circumstances, we must act. And this, in turn, cultivates a sense of personal responsibility.

It demonstrates faith in community. While we may not all be so closely aligned to environmental advocacy, by supporting sustainable we are taking our awareness and our ability to take action to show that we believe in a better world. This kind of attitude is integral to our sense of self worth, that we are part of something larger. Humanity has always been centred around community and especially in the world we live in, we feel more fulfilled, more connected, more powerful when we commune around a bigger purpose.

It also forces us to be stronger in our convictions -- something that can easily percolate beyond style. Sustainability isn't just about using the right fabrics or producing local or fair trade goods. The green movement is about more than saving the environment -- it's also a move away from a culture of disposability. And to be comfortable with spending more on less -- in other words, to be more concise in the consumption of ethically-produced fashion -- we need to be self-assured. This confidence is what allows us the clarity in knowing who we are and how our personal style reflects that. I discovered, after years of not knowing, that I had a closet that showed it. Only when I had the confidence of embracing who I was and allowing my true sense of style to shine through did I gain the power of using clothing as a true reflection of self. Knowing who we really are, what we stand for, what our tastes are and being comfortable with those things, they're all a part of developing a sustainable mindset and positive sense of self -- things that cultivate strength in conviction in who we are, as we are right now.

Lastly, the pursuit of ethical fashion cultivates artistic and cultural sensitivity. I won't go too deep into the practices of the fashion industry, but we know that at the rate they pump out things, commerce often overrules art. Artistic and cultural sensitivity doesn't necessarily mean that we all have to be artists, but that we appreciate both the rational and intuitive processes that go into creating something, including a piece of clothing -- things that need to be processed and thought out. Art and culture and the consumption of it add depth and value to our lives. Fashion can do the same if we let it be more than a disposable habit and really start to value the worth in art and design.

Having these traits might not necessarily mean we'll be better dressed, but they are signs that we are headed in the right direction. So, as self-obsessed as we are in the world of fast fashion we live in, the pursuit of ethical fashion can be more meaningful than simply a way to serve your conscience -- it can be a path to a better self.