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 fashion brands
Now 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…
Creative director and founder Caroline says, ‘At SKIIM we place such an importance on consciously sourcing every material and component that goes into our product, helping us minimise the impact on the environment and its precious resources where possible. We are committed to sourcing our leather from sustainable suppliers who adhere to globally recognised social and environmental standards. We look for leathers that are a bi-product of the organic meat industry and we work with tanneries whose dyeing process is not damaging or contaminating our earth’s natural resources, where possible opting for natural, vegetable tanning processes.’
As part of Madewell and J.Crew’s mission for a more sustainable product, supply chain and production operation, as well as its mission to empower workers, J.Crew Group is now working with Fair Trade USA to certify significant portions of apparel manufacturing.
To mark this partnership J.Crew is launching a denim collection for men and women. With a focus on empowering factory, farm, and store workers, J.Crew Group will also foster an environment, in partnership with Fair Trade, where people are empowered to generate and sustain lasting impact at work, at home and in their communities.
Scandi brand Swedish Hasbeens have been using sustainable materials since they started in 2006 (their tagline is ‘Better shoes for a better world’). Their clogs and accessories are made from ecologically prepared natural grain leather since it’s the most beautiful and the highest quality at the same time as it’s environmentally friendly. Every shoe uses naturally tanned vegetable leather, entirely hand-made but traditional artisan craftsmen making every shoe unique. Swedish Hasbeens are now a global phenomenon selling in 20 countries.
Operating from their London Atelier, BITE make and produce everything on-site in their east London factory space, using only natural, certified organic fabrics with a record of social and environmental responsibility. The collection consists of a maximum of 20 fixed and updated styles each season, an evolutionary archive which is now stocked at over 10 global retailers.
Dame Vivienne needs no introduction. She has used the runway as her voice to address climate change, and isn’t afraid to protest off the runway too.
The Swedish fashion brand works hard on being innovative and sustainable in all aspects of the business. This includes the launch of its Re:Design collection, made of up cycled garments from pas seasons, which means using fewer resources and extending the products’ lifeline. In 2017, it also launched WE Women by Lindex, to take action for gender equality in the supply chain, and work to create more equal opportunities.
The ‘Loop’ shoe which launched in Autumn 18 totally and reflects the brands commitment to sustainability and a circular economy. Rather than using typical shoe making methods, the ‘Loop’ uses technically designed hooks and special stitching that replaces conventional gluing methods to hold the shoe together, off record I personally call it the Lego technique which makes it a little easier to visualise! At the end of the loop’s life span, some of the components are recyclable. The shoe took over 18 months to design, making sure only the tiniest bit of animal friendly, water based glue was used to hold one part of the shoe together because we found that traditional shoe glues are solvent-based and they have an adverse effect on the ecosystem and human health, plus they are not easily biodegradable.
This East London handbag brand, founded by Nika Diamond-Krendel, supports the area’s declining leather goods industry. The collections hand-crafted in East London, uses thick, vegetable-tanned leather, chosen to allow the bags to retain their shape and improve with age, while the gold fittings are a focal point, conveying the stories and ideas behind each collection. The trademark designs draw inspiration from and celebrate different aspects of society, psychology, culture and the arts.
Shop now: LOVE bag for £395 from Paradise Row
Founder Victoria Bakir 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, helps provide shoes, sight, water and safer birth services to people in need.
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.
ASOS Eco edit
ASOS now has a whole section of its website dedicated to ethical and fair trade clothing. This includes the ASOS Design recycled underwear range, made from old plastic bottles and fishing nets. Plus, it’s in the past committed to producing 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: Smocked blouse for £19.99 from H&M
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.
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.
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: Shirt dress for £65 from Monsoon
Since 1991, People Tree has partnered with Fair Trade producers, garment workers, artisans and farmers in the developing world to produce ethical and eco fashion collections.
Shop now: Jumpsuit for £89 from People Tree
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.
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.