Sustainable Fashion The Shipping Industry and Ethical Fashion

Published on December 19th, 2013 | by Becky Striepe

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Ethical Fashion: Why Shipping Matters

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The Shipping Industry and Ethical Fashion

You might not consider the shipping industry when you’re shopping for ethical fashion, and this talk by Rose George sheds some light on why this aspect of retail is so important.

When you’re shopping for ethical fashion, what do you look for? Animal-friendly products? No-sweat clothing and accessories? Sustainable fabrics? What about domestically- or locally-produced products? It turns out that this last criterium might just be an important human rights issue.

Shipping: The Human Impact

Sweatshops were the reason I’ve always favored locally- and domestically-made goods, and sweatshop labor is definitely an important human rights issue. The shipping industry has a secret that might make it just as big a player when it comes to human rights and ethical fashion.

This TED Talk my Rose George isn’t about upcycled jewelry or organic clothing, but it gives you a window onto the industry that moves all consumer goods – including clothing and accessories – across the globe. I found it incredibly eye-opening, and I hope you’ll take 12 minutes to hear her out.

George speaks from first-hand experience. She wanted to see how the shipping industry works, so she booked passage on a shipping boat and documented her experiences. Check out the talk, where she shines some light onto the hidden world of international shipping:

Can you believe that 90 percent of the goods on store shelves traveled by ship? That is staggering, as are the number of shipping workers who have been kidnapped.

Shipping workers work long hours at a fast pace. Because of automation, these huge container ships have fewer than two dozen crew-members. These workers are at sea for months at a time, spending only a few hours on land at most when they pull into port. It’s grueling, and it’s scary.

There are also serious environmental impacts in the shipping industry, and you can get a feel for those by watching George’s talk.

Ethical Fashion: Opting Out of Shipping

It would be almost impossible to completely opt out of the shipping industry, but there are some things that you can do. How can you avoid at least some of this?

  • Buy local
  • Buy handmade
  • Shop second hand

What did you think about this TED Talk? Did you know anything about how the shipping industry works?


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About the Author

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .



  • https://facebook.com/planB4fashion planB4fashion – John Robertson

    I’ve never understood whether containers go back to China empty. Apparently some US states export rubbish for processing, so I guess the US to China rate or Europe to China rate is pretty cheap. If containers do go empty, how does that effect the calculation of shipping miles? I guess this.

    A completely empty return voyage would double shipping miles, at an average cost per mile.

    A half empty return voyage would add a third: there are three half cargos sharing twice the single journey. Can anyone comment on my maths?

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