The Importance of Ethical Fashion During a Pandemic

At first, it's hard to see how fashion and the COVID-19 pandemic are possibly connected, but look a little further and it's clear that to combat this disease, the way we produce fashion products must change dramatically. 


fashion revolution image of garment workers holding 'i made your clothes' signs

Via Fashion Revolution and their 'Who Made My Clothes' campaign. 


The lives behind our clothes and bags


Our favourite bag, shoe or dress didn't produce itself out of thin air. It was made by someone, out of a material which was also made by people, from a material which took many people to produce and farm. Maybe that material even cost an animal their life. 

These people, and animals, are who we need to remember in the midst of COVID-19. The supply chains we support when we buy from different fashion labels have huge implications for these individuals, who too often, are treated as commodities by the fashion industry. Profits are too often put before people, and certainly animals.

When people and animals are not valued or respected as they should be, their health and wellbeing is not prioritised but compromised, and this continues to be the case during the global pandemic. The implications of this for public health too, are severe. 


Garment workers wearing face masks, ethical fashion in a pandemic


Garment workers and risky working conditions


As of the end of July, Bangladesh has seen about 229,000 cases of coronavirus. 60% of all garments globally are produced in Bangladesh, and brands such as Zara, Gap, Benetton, H&M are among some of the large labels exporting products out of the country. A frightening recent news article was entitled 'Coronavirus Measures Give Bangladeshi Workers for Global Clothing Chains a Stark Choice: Disease of Starvation'.

Working conditions in many of these factories producing bags, shoes, and clothes have been described as representing 'modern slavery', with very limited worker's rights, and wages so low that basic living expenses cannot be met.

These conditions have only worsened during COVID-19, because workers have either been laid off without any pay or safety net, or have been forced to work in dangerous working conditions. There is no social distancing in a sweatshop, and transmission risks are incredibly steep in these mammoth factories full of hundreds or even thousands of people. There are no temperature checks, no proper hygiene offerings of sanitiser for everyone, no regularly cleaned surfaces.

Further, as large Western brands have cancelled their orders, enormous layoffs of garment workers - who are mostly women - are occurring. The amount of garments being exported from Bangladesh in the first half of April for example, fell by 84%, as $3 billion-worth of orders were pulled. The result is that 1,150 factories have left about 2.8 million garment workers facing even steeper poverty and fears of starvation. 

We must consider the people who make our clothes, and provide them with the safeties and protection we hope for ourselves, especially during this difficult time. We must move to a fair, ethical fashion system.



mink on a cruel fur farm
A decrepit fur farm housing mink together are a 'reservoir' for COVID-19, it's reported
Image: Nicolai Dybdal


Zoonotic diseases and animal materials


We all come into contact with animals very regularly - they fill our supermarkets, our fashion stores, perhaps our own plates and wardrobes. COVID-19 likely originated in a wet market, transmitted from an animal to a human. Wet markets exist all across the world to different extents - a live fish market is a wet market. Diseases transmitted from animals to humans are thought to make up 75% of all emerging infectious diseases.

The avian bird flu came from farmed chickens, swine flu from farmed pigs, and Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, came from farmed cattle - slaughtered for leather, meat and dairy.

When we factory-farm animals, forcing them to live in their own waste, and in awful conditions, diseases spread - it's why 70-80% of antibiotics globally are fed to farmed animals. When we eat and wear these animals, and when we pay (often marginalised and oppressed) people to slaughter and butcher these animals, these diseases can spread. And similarly as in sweatshops, abattoir workers work shoulder to shoulder, and are struggling with frighteningly high rates of COVID-19 infections.

Conservation experts have given warning that the global trade of exotic animal skins, killed to make bags, shoes, and wallets, can contribute to the spread of diseases to humans. In Denmark for example, about 11,000 mink who were being confined to cages on a fur factory-farm were killed and discarded, infected with COVID-19. Similar incidences of mass cullings have occurred across the world, including in Netherlands.

If we don't swiftly transition to an ethical fashion world in which luxury is not synonymous with animal cruelty, these diseases will continue to put us all at risk. Animal-free fashion and materials like faux fur, vegan leather and other innovative materials that mimic skins like that of crocodiles and snakes for bags and other accessories, are a must. 


model wearing ethically made luxury vegan handbag and dress


Ethical vegan fashion alternatives to keep us all safe


Fortunately, there are plenty of garments and accessories we can buy which consider the safety and wellbeing of people and animals alike. In turn, these products are also not perpetuating and worsening the risks of the pandemic we find ourselves in. Take for example this ethically made, vegan crocodile skin bag from Kinds of Grace, paired with this fairly made, plant-material dress from Dominique Healy.

It's time we make kinder fashion choices - for those who make our clothes and accessories, for the animals who deserve better, and for the health and safety of our global community.