I’m not going to mince my words here. The problem with ethical menswear – or at least most ethical menswear produced up until relatively recently – is that a lot of it just isn’t very good. In fact, to be totally frank, most if it looks like shit.
Although things are starting to change, it must be acknowledged that those at the bleeding edge of progressive politics and ecological activism have not traditionally been all that concerned with either matters of sartorial excellence nor personal aesthetics.
Never mind personal hygiene.
Indeed, if the average hippy is willing to believe that a quick underarm rub with a crystal and a liberal splashing of patchouli oil makes for a viable alternative to soap and water, we should perhaps not be surprised that many of the same people are apparently also under the impression that the wearing of a medieval serf’s rags adorned with an “urban” hood and a celtic cross or a picture of a marijuana leaf is in some way flattering for the human form.
OK, to be fair, if the need to develop a more ethical and sustainable menswear industry is no longer entirely dismissed by mainstream fashion brands, it’s largely thanks to the foresight and ardent campaigning of those people on the alternative fringes of society who’ve been pushing for greener clothing production for several decades. For this we should be immensely grateful.
But now it’s time they move over.
The Future of Ethical Menswear
If ethical menswear is to become simply menswear – i.e. if all menswear is to become ethically and sustainably produced – it will not happen by offering people clothes that look like old coffee sacks with arm holes punched in them. Even if the average consumer may in theory want to do the right thing and get behind ethical menswear, they will not be persuaded to trade-in their high-performance micropolluting tech-ninja sportswear if the only alternative resembles the contents of an out-of-work clown’s laundry basket.
The time has come to spirit ethical menswear away from the pungent haze of the festival field, bringing it firmly into the fold of mainstream fashion. Of course ethical menswear needs to be ethical, but it also needs to be worn by men.
While it might be nice to imagine that we’re all going to suddenly make significant changes to our lifestyles purely because it’s the right thing to do (and indeed it is the right thing to do), the reality is that humans are selfish and vain. If we want men to dress more ethically, this will only be achieved by providing them with products that are as stylish and contemporary in their designs as they are ethically and sustainably produced. And all this at an accessible price of course.
Things are undoubtedly improving. But click on the website of most ethical menswear brands, and at worst it will simply look like you’ve stumbled into the court-jester’s walk-in closet. A slightly better scenario is that you’ll instead find yourself looking at a series of dreary, unimaginative, and all but identical sweatshirts. All ethically sourced and made from beautiful organic cotton or wool, no doubt. But about as sartorially exciting as Fruit of the Loom. Finally, if you’re really lucky, you might even find some bland “staples” such as parkas or workshirts that could be from Uniqlo or The Gap.
What you almost certainly will not be able to purchase is anything very stylish. Much less actually “on-trend”.
Ethical Menswear is Good Menswear
Guys, I’d love to give you my money, I really would. But buying shit I will never wear – no matter how sustainably produced – is probably a much worse crime than purchasing the evilest of fast fashion but making genuinely good use of it before it falls apart.
I’m assuming that the lack of concern with (or understanding of) style within the ethical menswear sector stems from the fact that most people who are dedicated enough to set up an ethical menswear brand come from an environmental and ethical background rather than a fashion one (let’s face it, the ultra-capatilist fashion industry has never been overpopulated with committedly left-leaning individuals).
But ethical menswear is good menswear, otherwise it’s just more landfill. We know your heart’s in the right place, but if you want to make ethical menswear that people will actually buy, hire a design team for crying out loud!