Ultimate Ethical Fashion Guide

This ethical fashion guide has everything you need without the fluff! This guide is great for ethical living beginners who want to know more about fast fashion, ethical fashion vs sustainable fashion, and tips on shopping for affordable ethical fashion brands. There’s also a list of ethical fashion bloggers and youtubers! #sustainableliving #fairtrade #sustainableclothes

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“The solutions are not black and white, it’s more like a balancing act of trade-offs.”

Amarjit Sahota, president of Organic Monitor

Ethical Fashion FAQ

What Does “Ethical Fashion” Mean?

Ethical fashion describes fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing that addresses a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, environmental damage, hazardous chemicals, and animal welfare.

Why Is Fast Fashion Bad?

Ethical fashion is the opposite of fast fashion.

Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Affordable clothes comes at a huge environmental and ethical cost.

The Cost of Human Rights In Fast Fashion

  • In order to keep prices low and access high, fast fashion stores oftentimes subcontract manufacturers in countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar. The manufacturers within these countries may consist of poor and inhumane working conditions, which can be why they’re often referred to as “sweatshops.”
  • The level of poor working conditions are sometimes so extreme that they are essentially modern slavery environments.

Environmental Costs In Fast Fashion

  • The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world (right under the oil industry).
  • Fast fashion styles change very quickly and encourage brands and consumers to throw away clothing to the landfills. (the average American will throw out 81 pounds of clothing in a year!)
  • Clothing made in the fast fashion industry is made to NOT LAST. This encourages brands and consumers to throw away clothing to the landfills.

Why Is Ethical Fashion Important?

In very general terms, the majority of stores where we buy clothing and other fashion products are trading human rights, animal rights, and environmental health for money. The fashion industry does this because globalization means that materials and labour can be purchased in different parts of the world where costs are very low.

The thing is, most people know this but don’t feel like they can do anything about it.

…but we CAN change things.

How?

It’s simple supply-and-demand…

The more ethical fashion products we buy, the more companies will invest in ethical materials and labor.

You have the freedom and power of putting your money where you believe it will make the most impact.

Not everyone needs to live ethically, but we need millions of people living ethically to generate the change that we all deserve.

Why is ethical fashion so expensive?

There are many factors that go into the production of one item.

In general, the better the materials and labor that are used…the higher the cost of the final product.

For example, sustainable materials tend to cost more. Since sustainable materials are often natural materials, that means they are farmed in a way that is certified organic…which has cost associated with it.

Sustainable materials are also often farmed in a way that pays the workers fairly for their work and their products.

On the other hand, cheaper materials like polyester are synthetic. Synthetic materials are made from petrochemicals. There are a lot of environmental issues around making and disposing of them…but they’re very cheap to make.

My favorite visual breakdown of ethical product costs is this polo shirt that was made in Bangladesh:

This ethical fashion guide has everything you need without the fluff! This guide is great for ethical living beginners who want to know more about fast fashion, ethical fashion vs sustainable fashion, and tips on shopping for affordable ethical fashion brands. There's also a list of ethical fashion bloggers and youtubers! #sustainableliving #fairtrade #sustainableclothes

And as you can see, the labor only costs about 12 cents.

When you think about everything that goes into making a shirt from growing the cotton to harvesting it, spinning it, dying it, turning it into fabric, cutting the fabric, sewing it, transporting it back and forth to multiple countries, and then getting the shirt into the store, it just seems wild that the entire process can be done so cheaply.

And then you start to think about WHO is actually paying those costs…

It’s usually you – the consumer paying for it!

But no worries! Here are some ways that you can build a conscious wardrobe with a tight budget.

What is ethical and sustainable fashion?

Ultimately, you want to buy less and waste less so that you lower your consumption.

Before you shop, learn How To Find and Research Ethical Brands for the most up-to-date practices of each brand. It takes as little as 5 minutes!

Here are the 4 basics to ethical fashion:

  1. Wear It – Make sure you’ll actually wear and get a lots of use from new clothes, commit to at least 30 wears! I get a lot of wear from my clothes by keeping it minimal with a capsule wardrobe.
  2. Quality – Buy clothes that will last, and definitely avoid anything that looks like it will fall apart or wear out after a few washes. How to identify good quality clothes
  3. Care – Care for your clothes so they last and have a lower impact. How to properly care for your clothes
  4. Next Life – What happens to your clothes when they can’t be worn anymore or you’re done with them? Don’t throw them away! Here’s a list of marketplaces and networks where you can sell or swap your clothes. (under Tip #2)

Finish reading this ultimate ethical fashion guide to get a more well-rounded view on how to execute these basics.

Here are the 7 forms of sustainable fashion:

  1. On-Demand and Custom Made
  2. Green and Clean
  3. High Quality and Timeless Design
  4. Fair and Ethical
  5. Repair, Redesign, and Upcycle
  6. Rent, Lease, and Swap
  7. Secondhand and Vintage

What fashion brands are ethical and sustainable?

Check out our huge ethical living brand directory. There is a keyword search guide so that you can find everything including women, men, plus-size, kids clothing, wedding items, and more!

Also check out this map by My Green Closet with stores that carry conscious brands.

Both of these are regularly updated so also check back.

Is it possible to shop consciously on a budget?

Yes, definitely!

Some basic tips:

  1. Buy secondhand (locally or online)
  2. Swap your clothes (locally or online)
  3. Adopt a capsule wardrobe
  4. Buy ethical apparel during big online sales
  5. Change your shopping habits to invest in quality over quantity
  6. Take care of your clothes to save money and the environment

 Find out how and where to do all of that in this post about affordable ethical fashion tips.

Is it ethical to buy fast fashion secondhand?

Yes, because you’re not supporting the fast fashion company. Instead, your money goes to the thrift store or the charity shop. As a result, your money skips past those fast fashion brands and you avoid supporting their unsustainable and unethical practices.

But there are a few do’s and don’ts around buying fast fashion and secondhand…

What to do:

  • If you have many thrift store options and charity shops, it’s great to support ones that align with your values.
  • When buying clothing from online marketplaces like eBay and Mercari, try to buy pre-owned items and not the new fast fashion items that are discounted.

What to avoid:

  • Avoid purchasing clothing with noticeable or large logos or branding, because even though you haven’t supported that company with your money by buying pieces like that second hand, you’re basically advertising for them
  • If a thrift store has multiples of the same item, it could mean that the thrift store purchased those items from the fast fashion brand at a discount and is reselling them. Avoid these thrift stores! You can also email the store and explain that you shop second hand because you don’t want to support fast fashion companies, and as a result you don’t want to support a thrift store that supports those fast fashion companies.
  • Avoid eBay shops and sellers on similar sites like Mercari that could be selling new fast fashion items at discounted prices.
  • When posting about your outfits and products on social media, avoid tagging the fast fashion brands. Or, at least mention that you purchased the items pre-owned.

What’s the best way to research if brands are sustainable/ethical?

Here is my guide on How To Find and Research Ethical Brands (with pictures!)

What are sustainable and “vegan” materials?

Below is a list of the common fibers materials that you will find on your shopping trips:

NATURAL FIBERS

These materials will naturally biodegrade. However, when processed or dyed with chemicals, some of them can still cause environmental damage.

(PRO TIP – look for “certified organic” to ensure minimal environmental damage)

Cotton: a soft, breathable fiber from the cotton plant, it is perhaps one of the most common vegan fabrics

Hemp: a tough, coarse fiber from the cannabis plant that can be softened through chemical processing

Linen: a breathable, absorbent (though easily wrinkled) fiber from the flax plant

SEMI-SYNTHETIC FIBERS

These materials are better than fully synthetic materials. However, when processed or dyed with chemicals, some of them can still cause environmental damage.

(PRO TIP – only use these materials if you cannot find certified organic natural materials)

Viscose (also called Rayon): made from natural fibers which are chemically converted into a silky fabric

Bamboo: a type of viscose made from the bamboo plant

Soy: a type of viscose made from soy by-products

Modal: a type of viscose made from beech trees

Lyocell (also called by the brand name Tencel): a type of viscose made from eucalyptus in a closed loop process

SYNTHETIC FIBERS

These materials DO NOT naturally biodegrade. Try your best to avoid them.

Spandex (also called Lycra or elastane): a stretchy material made from a polyurethane polymer

Nylon: a versatile and common synthetic fiber made from plastic polymer (new or recycled)

Polyester: a mixture of coal, petroleum, air and water (or recycled polyester)

COMMON VEGAN LEATHERS

PVC (Polyvinylchloride): also commonly referred to as vinyl, it is a flexible and popular plastic used in vegan fashion

PU (Polyurethane): considered the “greener” alternative to PVC since it requires less chemical plasticizers and will eventually degrade over time. While more expensive, it also tends to be more realistic and more breathable

Pineapple Leather (also called Piñatex®): a semi-synthetic leather alternative made from pineapple leaves and resin

Cork: soft to the touch and visually unique, this material is created with bark removed from the cork oak tree

OTHER VEGAN ALTERNATIVES

Vegan down: usually made from synthetic materials

Vegan fur: usually made from synthetic materials

Vegan silk: can be made from a variety of synthetic and semi-synthetic materials

SHOPPING TIPS

Buy clothing that is sourced from ethical materials. This includes:

  • Natural materials – like ethical wool or alpaca – that will naturally biodegrade
  • Certified organic – like organic cotton, hemp, or linen – that doesn’t pollute the environment
  • Certified created sustainably in a closed-loop system – like Tencel (this means that instead of dumping the toxic waste, the company is actually keeping it inside the factory, treating and reusing it)
  • Materials like bamboo and modal are better than full synthetics but aren’t the best materials on the market, so choose them only if there are no better alternatives.

What should I do with my old clothes?

Don’t throw them away! Instead, you can sell them OR swap them.

Here is a list of marketplaces where you can sell or swap your clothing. (under Tip #2)

What are the benefits of a capsule wardrobe?

There are so many benefits that everyone can get from a capsule wardrobe!

And YES, it is definitely possible to have a colorful capsule wardrobe that accentuates your personality and style.

In this post, I share the 5 easy steps to start your stunning capsule wardrobe and how it can change your life!

Simple Guide To Ethical Fashion

If you have 10 MINUTES

  • Join the fashion revolution movement
  • Bookmark this Big List Of Ethical Labels & Certifications so that you can always check if what you’re going to buy aligns with your values.
  • Before you shop, learn How To Find and Research Ethical Brands for the most up-to-date practices of each brand. It takes as little as 5 minutes!
  • Shop ethically and sustainably with Good On You. They are in partnership and cooperation with the United Nations and even Emma Watson (wow!). Good On You is an established directory that makes it as easy as possible to buy products that meet your needs, from brands that live up to your expectations in relation to their environmental and social performance and how they impact on animals.
  • Avoid any non-essential apparel from brands that do not make their sourcing and ethics public

If you have a FEW HOURS

  • Avoid normal dry cleaners so that you reduce the use of toxic chemicals and inefficient energy
  • Buy secondhand clothes or swap clothes with people in order to prolong the life of the items you already have
  • Buy hair and wigs from transparent and ethical sources like Remy NY
  • Buy clothing that is sourced from ethical labor
    • Ethical labor means that workers are paid a fair wage by a factory that’s externally accredited by a credible organization.
    • Think “people before profits”
    • Look for the Fair Trade Certified labels which look like this:
    • Get the full list of ethical and eco-friendly certifications & labels here
  • Buy clothing that is sourced from ethical materials. This includes:
    • Natural materials – like ethical wool or alpaca – that will naturally biodegrade
    • Certified organic – like organic cotton, hemp, or linen – that doesn’t pollute the environment
    • Certified created sustainably in a closed-loop system – like tencel (this means that instead of dumping the toxic waste, the company is actually keeping it inside the factory, treating and reusing it)
    • Materials like bamboo and modal are better than full synthetics but aren’t the best materials on the market, so choose them only if there’s no better alternatives.
  • Buy clothing that is sourced from ethical dyes. This includes:
    • Non-toxic dyes
    • Water-based dyes
    • Natural dyes made from plants
    • Dyes with no toxic chemicals released into waterways during production
  • Buy jewelry/accessories made from recycled or sustainable materials instead of plastic. (Artisan-made pieces from smaller businesses are plentiful and beautiful!)

If you have 1 MONTH

  • Take care of your clothes properly so that they last longer
  • Use a capsule wardrobe in order to buy & consume less clothing
  • Make your own clothes! Here’s a 30-second “how-to”…
    • Invest in a sewing machine. There are plenty of decent ones on the market for less than $200
    • Learn how to sew online with Craftsy or by taking an in-person course at your local community center.
    • Perks of making your own clothes
      • It can be very satisfying!
      • It is a productive hobby
      • You tend to keep things you’ve made yourself rather than dumping them after a couple of wears.
      • It’s easier to source organic cotton, linen, Tencel, as sustainably produced fabrics than to find clothing in styles that I like and that I can afford
      • It cuts out the worry about where and how it was made

If you have A YEAR OR MORE

  • Always donate your clothing or give it away when you are ready to let it go

Ethical Fashion Blogs, Organizations, & Resources

Ethical Fashion Brands

Check out our ultimate ethical living directory for an updated list of ethical fashion brands.

You can search for marketplaces and brands by narrowing searching for keywords like: men, women, kids, plus-sized, and maternity.

Ethical Fashion Blogs

Ecocult

Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman.

Sustainably Chic

An online destination for sustainable fashion, green beauty & eco lifestyle. It’s a place where fashion can exist responsibly, so we can enjoy the art and love behind the things we wear & use everyday.

Honest Lifestyle

Helping activists and do-good people live an honest lifestyle.

Seasons + Salt

This website is all about ethical fashion and simple style that’s both beautiful and practical (even for moms).

Be More With Less

Minimalist fashion for overwhelmed ethical fashionistas.

Eco Warrior Princess

Ethical fashion but also more topics that matter — environmental issues, conservation, sustainable fashion, conscious business, social justice, politics, feminism, eco beauty, wellness, and green technology.

Ethical Unicorn

One of my favorites! Sustainable living and social justice with a holistic, fact-based approach.

heylilahey

A bilingual blog in English and German on ethical fashion.

Life+Style+Justice

Great resource for stylish, sustainable living with an emphasis on social justice.

Melanin & Sustainable Style

Melanin And Sustainable Style (MelaninASS) is an evolutionary platform that discusses the issues and celebrates the success of communities of color in Sustainable Fashion and Beauty spaces.

Restitchstance

Sustainable and ethical lifestyle blog – with an emphasis on the “style”.

StyleWise

An impressive blog run by a grad student who explores an integrated approach to ethics that honors all people in the supply chain, from farmer to factory employee to consumer.

Ethical Fashion YouTube Channels

My Green Closet

Kristen Leo

Use Less

Ethical Fashion Resources

Good On You

In partnership and cooperation with the United Nations and even Emma Watson (wow!), Good On You is an established directory that makes it as easy as possible to buy products that meet your needs, from brands that live up to your expectations in relation to their environmental and social performance and how they impact on animals.

Compare Ethics

An online marketplace of brands verified in ethical categories that include fair-trade, profits to charity, environmental sustainability, and animal cruelty-free.

PIN IT: Save for later!

If you found this post useful, you might want to save THIS PIN below to your Ethical Fashion board on Pinterest to check the post later when new updates are announced.

This ethical fashion guide has everything you need without the fluff! This guide is great for ethical living beginners who want to know more about fast fashion, ethical fashion vs sustainable fashion, and tips on shopping for affordable ethical fashion brands. There's also a list of ethical fashion bloggers and youtubers! #sustainableliving #fairtrade #sustainableclothes

SOURCES:

My Green ClosetMake It LastHuffpostMacleansEthical UnicornBead and Reel

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