The ethical clothing brands to add to your wardrobe in 2021

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  • Sustainable and ethical clothing aren’t anything new, but the pandemic has thrust them high up the agenda. Designers such as Alessandro Michele at Gucci have called for a slower pace, to avoid flooding consumers with clothes they won’t wear – or will be bored of come next season.

    But with a lot of greenwashing going on, it can be difficult to know which ethical clothing 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?

    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. 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.’

    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, for example.

    How can consumers be more sustainable?

    Orsola recommends first checking the label of what you buy, as certain fabrics are not recyclable.

    ‘We know that polyester pollutes a lot at its very extraction, 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. 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 clothing?

    There are different ways to produce ethical clothing, 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 clothing 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 – and while you’re here, shop our favourite ethical jewellery brands too.

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