What is ethical fashion?
Green is the new black, people, because ethical fashion is higher than ever on the agenda for brands across the board from luxury, to high street – though shout out to Stella McCartney for pioneering the movement.
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
Our top three ethical fashion brands
Stella McCartney has always championed ethical fashion, and for that reason she is top of our list, and of course it helps that her collections are always on point.
Big brands are catching up though, and certain high-street heroes have had ethical lines for a few seasons now, namely H&M and ASOS. H&M’s Conscious collection uses recycled products, and is so popular it almost always sells out within a few days.
Other brands worth mentioning are Primark, who has just introduced its first sustainable cotton products – women’s pyjamas – using cotton purchased directly from female farmers participating in its Sustainable Cotton Programme (first launched in 2013), Monsoon and People Tree (Emma Watson has been a fan for years), who are all helping us shop socially responsible and environmentally friendly styles, rather than having to search forever.
The best ethical fashion buys
But if you’re worried going ethical means a wardrobe full lumpy, itchy, hempy pieces, think again. Every brand and designer listed below is on this list because of its eco and fashion credentials – you’ll actually want to wear those pieces.
Scroll on to get to know the best brands that are winning when it comes to sustainability, employee rights, fair trade and great style…
Founded by Victoria Bakir, a former travel writer and journalist, the brand blends traditional Indonesian craftsmanship with the modern aesthetics of a global traveller. She says, ‘Beading, basket and sarongs weaving have been part of traditional craft in Indonesia for long time, and like many other local crafts managed to survive so far despite the fact that so many industries moving to industrialised way of production. I work with small family run workshops and visit my teams regularly. I make sure the craftsmen are paid fairly and work in good conditions.’
Shop now: Maze bag for £135 from madebywave
TOMS, famous for its one for one giving policy and yearly animal initiatives, is supporting Oceana in its advocacy work to protect whales and other marine species from unsustainable and destructive fishing practices.
AS such, it’s launched the Whale collection, a limited-edition vegan footwear inspired by the recovering populations of grey and humpback whales.
Rêve En Vert
Rêve En Vert is a luxury yet sustainable fashion platforms that stocks over 30 brands who all adhere to the motto: organic, remade, local and fair. Everything from the clothing to the packaging is ethically sourced, and even the office environment is a ‘green’ office.
A lifelong vegetarian, Stella doesn’t use any leather or fur in her designs making her a leader in sustainable luxury fashion. Speaking for PETA, Stella has previously said: ‘we address… ethical or ecological… questions in every other part of our lives except fashion. Mind-sets are changing, though, which is encouraging.’
Since 2003, Finisterre’s ethos has been to create stylish clothing that’s built to last. This includes recycled insulation jackets, pioneering waterproofs, their own blend of Merino, the ground breaking Bowmont project (creating Merino wool from Lesley Prior, which has the only pure bred Bowmont flock in the UK), chunky fisherman knits and a leading denim range.
Shop now: Denim jacket for £55 from Finisterre
ASOS Recycled denim
ASOS have just launched a line of jeans made using a mix of recycled cotton and Cotton Made In Africa [CmiA]. The five styles go from slim to mom, and washes and finishes include dark blue, light blue, ripped, busted and raw hems. ASOS have partnered with REMO [the REcycle MOvement] to do this – and will be sharing info about where and how the denim was recycled for each pair of jeans on the product’s QR labels (including the percentage of recycled content amount of water saved etc). ASOS are committed to 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.
What: H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection is a lesson in high street sustainable fashion. With the latest collection featuring clothes made out of organic silk and cotton, this is a sure fire way to look fashionable and support sustainability.
Shop now: Jacket for £59.99 from H&M
ASOS Eco Edit
ASOS has a fantastic ‘green room’ which houses a wide range of ethically conscious brands. From the best of British and hand-crafted jewellery to upcycled vintage, shopping sustainable fashion has never been easier.
I AND ME
Based in Hackney, East London, this denim brand’s ethos is to surpass seasonal trends by creating denim garments that withstand the test of time (think ‘buy less buy better’). I AND ME collaborates with mills from all over the world, most commonly from Japan, on limited runs of unique denim casts and colours.
Shop now: Denim Jacket for £195 from I AND ME
Kings of Indigo
All Kings of Indigo items are designed with durability in mind. The brand is working towards a production process that is completely sustainable, from the raw cotton, to dyeing the yarns, to the finishing process. Thanks to sustainable production techniques, they aim to reduce the waste of water and bring the use of chemicals down to a minimum.
Primark has announced the launch of its first sustainable cotton products – women’s pyjamas – using cotton purchased directly from female farmers participating in its Sustainable Cotton Programme (so far 6,0000 farmers have received training). The long-term goal is that all the cotton used across its supply chain is sustainably sourced.
Fat Face has a company-wide Code of Conduct where all factories that produce their goods must abide by as well as working with suppliers and other organisations to make sure their workers are treated fairly.
Shop now: Dungarees for £55 from Fat face
Taino make all their products in the UK to ensure they have a reduced carbon footprint, and source swimwear fabric from Jersey Lomellina in Italy, not just for their great quality but also due to their sustainability policy. All garments are packaged in recycled tissue paper and in a fair trade, ethically sourced and natural cotton bag which whilst being biodegradable, doubles up perfectly as a beach bag.
Worn by Kate Middleton, Mirabelle makes handmade fairtrade jewellery as well as a British Made collection. Think pretty pendants at good prices.
Committed to ethical trading, Monsoon’s ethical compliance team regularly checks that their factories are abiding by its Code of Conduct which sets out minimum requirements on working conditions, pay and employment rights.
Shop now: Printed skirt for £59 from Monsoon
New Balance strives for zero waste and is working towards a future where it creates products that are completely recoverable, create no waste, do not require the use of toxic substances, and have no adverse impact on the environment.
What: For over 25 years, People Tree has partnered with Fair Trade producers, garment workers, artisans and farmers in the developing world to produce ethical and eco fashion collections.
What: Through its locally made project, Seasalt is increasing the amount of clothes that it manufactures locally in the South West, Guernsey and across the UK so you might just end up wearing something which was made round the corner from you.
Shop now: Sailor Top for £29.95 from Seasalt
Tales of Thread
Sourcing the highest quality materials and repurposing materials including: organic cotton and silk; natural dyes; and Masaai beading, Tales of Thread works with collectives and factories that guarantee above market wages, in safe working conditions and are committed to social impact. Supporting female owned/managed businesses by going beyond financial impact to offer communication and leadership training.
Working with artisans to create hand crafted jewellery, Made has previously collaborated with fashion industry big shots including Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger, Edun, ASOS, Topshop and more. Employing over 60 men and women in a workshop in Kenya, Made teaches locals new skills and provides long-term employment as well as using environmentally sound materials.
Shop now: CAST ANGLE BANGLE for £40 from made
95% of EDUN’s collection is currently manufactured in Africa, with the label looking to foster long-term partnerships with vendors and investing in community building initiatives in the continent. If all that doesn’t sound good enough for you, they also create beautiful clothing, obvs.
Shop now: Bibi tote for around £449 from Edun
What: Able to trace the history of their fabrics, Beaumont Organic make sure that no harmful processes were used in the process of manufacture of its clothing as well as using cut offs and producing a Made in England collection. As well as all this, the Beaumont Organic Foundation pledges to the people of Taveuni by supporting the Loloma Foundation (Hannah, the founder of the label, taught at the Niusawa School in Taveuni, Fiji in 2002).
What: Dedicated to lowering its carbon footprint through sourcing fabrics locally to its factories in Spain, Beyond Skin produces high quality faux leather shoes in a variety of styles.
Shop now: FOXY SLIPPERS for £130 from Beyond Skin
Matt & Nat
What: Using 100% vegan and sustainable materials, Matt & Nat create some of the most stylish ethical accessories known to man. We’re massive fans of their backpacks.
Shop now: Backpack for £120 from MATT & NAT
Chinti & Parker
What: Advocates of a ‘buy better’ philosophy, Chinti & Parker produce their clothing in carefully selected factories and actively offset their carbon emissions through the Carbon Neutral Company guidelines. Olivia Palermo, Poppy Delevingne and Alexa Chung are all fans.
Established in 2004 Parisian sneaker brand Veja works with small producers across Brazil. They focus on respecting the environment and human rights, which is incredibly admirable in our book.
Shop now: WATA LEATHER WHITE for £92 from Veja
Who said ethical fashion couldn’t be stylish, eh?
So relinquish any connotations around ethical fashion and hessian sack dresses, and embrace a new style now.