By Natalie Dowd
In the spirit of encouraging fashion retailers to be transparent this holiday season, Oxfam released its annual “naughty or nice” list of clothing companies that have or have not lived up to an ethical initiative. Oxfam’s choice to focus on fashion retailers is important, as the 2015 report by the National Retail Federation noted fashion takes up more than 40 million dollars of holiday retail sales with the industry coming in second place as the largest polluter behind oil. The “naughty” list consists of fashion retailers with a lack of factory transparency, with Zara, ASOS and Topshop at the top. The “nice” list includes brands that have become more transparent with their manufacturing in the past year includes brands such as Target, GAP and H&M. H&M is a surprising pick for this “nice” list, as it has faced recent scrutiny for its treatment of workers and fast fashion practices.
The growth of the “nice” list is accompanied by continuous new installations in ethical, sustainable fashion, such as the emergence of California-based retailer, Reformation, and the so-called Net-a-Porter of sustainable shopping, Rêve en Vert. The standard is constantly being raised for “naughty” retailers to make socially impactful changes. The expansion of the “nice” list also gives consumers less of an excuse as to why they cannot make ethical shopping choices, as accessibility to these brands is ubiquitous with online shopping and growth in variety.
Ethical fashion consumption has been declared an upcoming trend, as fashion powerhouse, Vogue, recently made approving commentary of sustainable fashion in a November article that featured quotations from Cora Filts, cofounder of Rêve en Vert, as she compared the ethical fashion movement to the organic food movement. “The organic food movement was a little stigmatized, but then people started caring more about [what they ate] and food options became available to them,” said Filts. “I think fashion is the same way. More and more designers have been talking about it, and consumers are open to the conversation.”
With rising prices of sustainable products because of the expenses of fair trade, Fordham students have differing opinions on how to shop ethically this holiday season. Truman Stephens, FCRH ’20, exerts a great effort to shop ethically, but admitted that it is hard to ignore cheaper products made by larger corporations. “I care about shopping ethically and generally try to support companies that make an effort to stand for something more than just making money,” said Stephens. “But it is hard because most large, unethical companies do not have a social cause and that makes some of their products cheaper and easier to buy for college students like me.”
Other students expressed their eagerness to shop ethically, and think that there is more work to be done on the side of large corporations. “I do not particularly look for companies’ ethics,” Lucille Tomforde, FCRH ’20, said. “If their ethics happen to be in bad standing, it is not going to make me not buy the product. Yet if they are, I definitely have more incentive to buy the product.”
In addition to the Students for Fair Trade Club raising awareness about the realities of poverty, hunger and other social problems throughout the world that may be alleviated through a more equitable free market system, they also sell fair trade goods. Dana Nelson FCRH ’18, president of Students for Fair Trade explained that the club runs an on-campus fair trade business called Amani. “We sell products such as sweaters made in Bolivia, jewelry and handbags from India and soapstone carvings and decor from Kenya. “Our goal is to help our network of artisans in these countries escape the poverty trap by providing them with a sustainable method of reaching developed markets,” Nelson said. “We want to educate Fordham students of the impact of their consumer choices and show them how they can actively support international economic growth and development through shopping fair trade.”
With the presence of Amani accessibly selling goods on campus, Fordham students do not have to travel far to shop ethically for their gifts this holiday season. There is power in the dollar, as consumers have the ability to make a statement with their shopping choices. So this holiday season will you, as both a giver and receiver, be naughty or nice?