World Book Day 2018

Research student Xin Zhang reviews “Fashion Ethics” by Sue Thomas

On World Book Day (Thursday 1st March 2018), research student at the University of Edinburgh Xin Zhang reviews Sue Thomas’ Fashion Ethics (Routledge, 13 Sep 2017, ISBN: 9780415531054)

Alison Gwilt of Sheffield Hallam University suggests Fashion Ethics has to be a must read for all burgeoning fashion students and consumers.  

Dr Sue Thomas, Assistant Professor of Fashion at Heriot Watt University is an untiring advocate of ethics and sustainability within the fashion industry.  She contributed a chapter to the Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion in 2014, before launching a new MSc Ethics in Fashion course in Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University the following year. This was the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in which 1,134 people were killed when a five-story commercial building outside Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed.  She is a highly respected and influential voice in the industry. 


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Fashion Ethics guides the reader through the usual controversial issues such as environmental impact, consumerism and human rights, and explores themes that have been largely "invisible" to the fashion system – from ageism, sizeism, and racism, to concerns for intellectual copyright. Thomas challenges designers, retailers and consumers to consider what it is to be ethical, and how this should/could be demonstrated in the way that we make, sell and use clothes .

Thomas takes the readers on a journey through the Design, Production, Pre-Purchase, Post-Purchase and Consumption Phases and presents a holistic overview of ethical conundrum in every stage of the garment lifecycle. She analyzes the Design Phase, one of several phases within the supply chain where key ethical decisions are located, and ethical behaviours begin. (p.20) The way people dress is no longer decided by the weather but as a technique to create an individual identity or image. Design and marketing both have the advantage of scrutinising consumers’ interests and demands, helping them to decide who they would like to be, and how should they dress to fit in their social group(s). 

Consumers’ responsibility has also been investigated in the subsequent chapters, such as upcycling, recycling, eco laundry, labelling and more importantly, education. Thomas also argues ethics on their own will not sell a range or collection. Rather, they serve to consolidate and build, as the customers see the label as being part of the positive change in the industry. (p.171) Nevertheless, price and availability are still the key barriers to shopping more sustainably – retailers and manufacturers need to think about how they can get more ethical options onto shelves at the right price. 

Overall, Fashion Ethics is a well-written contribution that will be a valuable resource to fashion students, industry professionals and consumers. Thomas believes the future is determined by every time we (as consumer, industry professionals or both), make a personal or professional choice. (p.1, 160) Perhaps it will also be determined by how fashion is understood by consumers. 

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Xin(Jane) Zhang is a MSc by Research in Sociology student at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests are raising awareness of sustainable fashion in Scotland and to identify its future trends.

You can follow her on 
Twitter: @JZ61682227

Find out more on Dr Sue Thomas: