The ethical and sustainable fashion brands to know about

‘Sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ have become much more than buzzwords, with the fashion industry waking up to its impact on the planet and communities. But with a lot of greenwashing going on, it can be difficult to know which brands are making a step in the right direction, and which questions to ask them. Scroll down for our  guide, plus fashion brands that are embedding sustainability in their designs.

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion is as much about the process as it is about the result – in fact you could fully sustainable fashion doesn’t exist yet. There are many ways in which the fashion industry impacts the environment and communities, from the sourcing of the fabrics to manufacturing, transport and right down to selling and recycling.

‘I don’t like to use the word sustainable, because I find people are scared of it and don’t understand it,’ says Orsola de Castro, Founder and Creative Director of Fashion Revolution, an organisation which educates brands on how to produce clothes than don’t exploit the planet or people.

‘There is no fully sustainable brand at this point in time. There are certainly brands that are embedding sustainability in the way they design and think,’ Orsola says.

‘We know for a fact that the high street and many so-called ‘fast fashion’ brands are investing in social prosperity and in transparency, but does all that effort offset the fact that they are producing billions worth of garments a year? Although we do have to bear in mind that there is an enormous slice of the population that cannot buy anywhere else but affordable chains, so for that slice of the population, having access to a sustainable t-shirt or ethically made garments is at least a step in the right direction.’

What brands can also do, Orsola points out, is find a balance between setting achievable targets, and others that are too far out. Unfortunately, it will take more than a year or two for them to become fully sustainable, however, no longer using single use plastic should happen now, rather than by 2030, as some brands have pledged.

Cora Hilts, founder of sustainable shopping platform, agrees it is all about balance, ‘Brands need to be looking at a more holistic approach to sustainability – oftentimes designers will focus on a hero fabric like organic cotton but then if everyone starts to use that it becomes a strained resource, takes up a lot of land and a lot of water. I also think looking to blend innovation with time honoured  techniques in fashion and supporting local communities to empower them and keep production super local.’

How can consumers be more sustainable?

Much like you would check the sell-by date on a yoghurt pot, Orsola recommends first checking the label of what you buy, as certain fabrics are not recyclable.

‘We know that polyester sheds microfibres at each wash and we also know that polyester pollutes a lot at its very extraction, at the very start of its life, so we need to make sure that we can buy 100% recycled polyester and learn how to care for it,’ she says.

For example, you could simply sponge outerwear rather than machine wash, and you should also look out for fabric blends, as these aren’t recyclable (‘technology for recycling clothes is limited, so whilst we can recycle 100% cotton and 100% poly, we cannot recycle a blend of cotton and poly’).

What is ethical fashion?

As Meghan Markle put it when she spoke at the British Fashion Awards, 2019 is the year where ‘it’s cool to be kind’, and ethical ethical fashion has never been higher on the agenda. From luxury brands to the high street – shout out to Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney for pioneering the movement – everyone is turning to green as it’s becoming more and more apparent that fast fashion is damaging the planet.

Stella put it beautifully by saying her goal is ‘to portray who we want to be and how we carry ourselves; our attitude and collective path. Our man-made constructed environments are disconnected and unaware of other life and the planet which is why there is waste.’

In short, it’s designing, sourcing and manufacturing clothes in a way that benefits people and communities while minimising impact on the environment, to be precise.

How ethical is ethical?

There are different ways to produce ethical fashion, and according to the Ethical Fashion Forum, they fall into three categories, social, environmental and commercial, specifically tackling these issues:

  • Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption
  • Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights, and supporting sustainable livelihoods
  • Addressing toxic pesticide and chemical use, using and/or developing eco- friendly fabrics and components
  • Minimising water use
  • Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste
  • Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion
  • Providing resources, training and/or awareness raising initiatives
  • Protecting animal rights

The best ethical and sustainable fashion brands

Now if you’re worried going ethical and sustainable means a wardrobe full of lumpy, itchy, hempy pieces, think again. Every brand and designer listed below has made a step in the right direction when it comes to sustainability, and while we have a long way to come, .

Scroll on to get to know the best brands that are winning when it comes to sustainability, employee rights, fair trade and great style…

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