Clothing Brands That Are Ethical – Are They Worth the Expense?
As the world becomes more environmentally-conscious, the topic of ethical clothing has become more and more commonplace. Ethical clothing can be beneficial to the environment and our world as a whole in several ways. However, in a world that produces plenty of fast fashion, how does one find ethical fashion brands? Here’s your guide to why ethical clothing is important and how to find brands that fit your tastes and budget.
What makes clothing ethical?
The term “ethical clothing” may seem kind of vague. The truth is, there are many things that make a clothing brand ethical. This can include everything from using deadstock fabric to eliminating the use of pesticides on cotton farms. Understanding the benefits of purchasing from ethical brands can make the slightly higher price tag more than worth it.
Fair trade is a global movement that prioritizes both people and the planet. This means that if you purchase a product with the Fair Trade Certified seal, you can do so with confidence that the product was made using ethical practices.
For the people
Companies that produce fair trade products do so by creating safe and empowering environments for their employees. This is especially important in underserved communities such as those in developing countries, and even those within the United States. The Fair Trade Movement supports job benefits that may seem like no-brainers if you’re a middle-class employee in the United States, but they make a world of difference in these communities. Some of these job benefits include:
- Fair wages
- Safe working conditions
- Protection from prejudice, discrimination, and abuse
- Access to healthcare and time off
- Further education and job training opportunities
For the environment
When you purchase fair trade clothing, you’ll also be supporting companies that are held to certain regulations when it comes to how their means of production affect the environment. Unfortunately, some farmers and producers that create the items that are used for clothing cut corners and may use regenerated materials for financial reasons, which can cause long-term damage to land, soil, and air. Fair trade initiatives instead promote the importance of sustainable practices to reduce the damage that is done to the environment. Some of the sustainable practices that are expected of fair trade producers include:
- Water conservation efforts
- Restrictions on chemicals
- Proper disposal of all waste
- Encouraging biodiversity
Ethical clothing brands
The products: Patagonia is probably the most well-known for its active gear and outerwear. This brand makes clothing for men, women, and children. Products include shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, fleece, jackets, vests, pants, jeans, shorts, jumpsuits, and workwear. You can also purchase swimwear, fishing gear, base layers, hats, and accessories. If you’re an active person, you can view Patagonia’s products by sport, including surfing, skiing and snowboarding, climbing, trail running, and mountain biking. Additionally, you can purchase gear such as duffel bags, sleeping bags, backpacks, water bottles, and more from Patagonia. On top of all of that, Patagonia offers used clothing and used gear as a secondhand purchasing option.
The impact: Patagonia is popular among ethical clothing brands for its brand standards, quality, and activism. These ethical benefits start with Patagonia only using organic cotton for all of its clothing as well as using recycled materials in over 50% of its products. While it doesn’t own any of the factories that make the products, Patagonia partners with companies across the globe that are held to high environmental and social standards. This includes participating in programs such as Fair Trade, Fair Labor Association, and Living Wage.
The products: Eileen Fisher offers women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories. The products are pretty standard — you can find everything from tanks and camis to sweaters, cardigans, jackets, dresses, and pantsuits. Eileen Fisher also offers petite and plus sizes. As far as accessories go, you can get scarves, hats, gloves, bags, belts, socks, and shoes. Eileen Fisher’s collections include the Waste No More collection, which includes one-of-a-kind gifts such as pillows, crossbody bags, and totes.
The impact: Eileen Fisher’s products are made from organic cotton that is grown in New Mexico. Its wool is also certified to the Responsible Wool Standard, meaning the company knows exactly how the animals and land are managed on the farms that produce its wool. Eileen Fisher garments also use recycled cashmere, nylon, and polyester. To remain true to fair trade practices, the company uses independent third-party auditors to monitor and improve conditions at its factories worldwide.
The products: Girlfriend Collective offers neutral-colored clothing for all genders. Its products include sweatshirts, sweatpants, leggings, t-shirts, unitards, shorts, skorts, and vests. You can also purchase a variety of sports bra styles in addition to bralettes, socks, and underwear. Girlfriend Collective makes clothing for all body shapes, and you can even purchase maternity bike shorts and leggings from this company.
The impact: Girlfriend Collective uses recycled and repurposed materials wherever possible. One of the things that this company is known for is using 100% post-consumer plastic bottles to create its activewear. It also uses BPA-free recycled polyester and low-impact dyes. Girlfriend Collective’s packaging is even 100% recycled and recyclable!
The products: People Tree offers comfortable essentials, including leggings, jumpsuits, bodysuits, trousers, skirts, and tops. You can also purchase organic cotton undergarments, including camisoles, slips, bras, and underwear from People Tree. Additionally, this sustainable brand offers socks and a variety of styles of dresses.
The impact: People Tree’s products are made using traditional artisanal skills such as hand weaving, hand knitting, hand embroidery, and hand block printing. Its collections feature organic cotton, responsible wool, and TENCEL™ Lyocell. This company is dedicated to complying with the principles of fair trade, including good working conditions, gender equality, covering fair wages, and environmental best practice.
The products: Reformation offers a wide range of products, from basics to wedding wear. Items include jeans, jumpsuits, outerwear, pants, shorts, skirts, sweaters, tops, bodysuits, sweats, and swimwear. The company offers a small collection of bralettes, underwear, and pajama sets. For wedding wear, you can find sustainable dresses whether you’re a bride, member of the wedding party, or even a wedding guest. Reformation’s sizes include petite and plus sizes. You can also find accessories such as tights, nail polish, lotion, earrings, face masks, and candles on the Reformation website.
The impact: Reformation has offered carbon, water, and waste neutral products since 2015. The company is constantly investing in solutions that will reduce its carbon footprint and remove greenhouse gases. This plan includes investing in renewable energy directly in its supply chain and using regenerative fibers such as cotton and wool.
The products: Amour Vert sells tops (including t-shirts and tanks), dresses, jumpsuits, sweaters, outerwear, pants, denim, and loungewear. You can also purchase sustainable shoes and accessories from the company, including handbags, jewelry and face masks.
The impact: 97% of Amour Vert’s products are made in limited quantities in California to ensure that all of the products adhere to the highest production standards. The products are made using sustainable materials and fibers, including its signature beechwood blend modal fabric. All of the garments are stored and shipped in packaging that is made from recycled materials and with soy-based inks. The company also plants a tree for every t-shirt purchased.
The products: Fair Indigo offers t-shirts and other tops, dresses, sweaters, jackets, pants, and skirts to its customers. The clothing is made from organic fabrics, including blend jersey, all-cotton jersey, all-cotton interlock, and blend French terry.
The impact: Fair Indigo uses organic cotton that is grown on two family farms in Peru. The company’s fair trade practices include treating its artisans and operators in Peru like family and providing them with the wage and resources they need to live a happy and healthy life. To further transform communities, The Fair Indigo Foundation funds teachers’ salaries, books, building improvements, and computer labs. To support this foundation, customers can opt into a $5 donation when making their online purchase.
The products: Kotn offers clothing as well as sustainable home decor. You can find everything from loungewear to jackets, dresses, and accessories within Kotn’s collections. Its home decor items include sheet and duvet cover sets as well as tea towels.
The impact: Kotn works with family-run farms in Portugal and Egypt to get the best fibers while ensuring fair pay and safe working conditions. This company participates in direct trade, meaning that it sources ingredients straight from the farmers. Kotn also works with a local non-profit organization to provide every child within its farming communities with safe, convenient, and quality education.
The products: Tonlé offers apparel, accessories, and home items. You can find tops, dresses, jumpsuits, bottoms, and outwear from this brand, as well as face masks, jewelry, and scarves. Its home items include ceramic bowls and mugs, wall hangings, candles, rugs, and placemats.
The impact: Tonlé is a maker-led community that embraces a sustainable zero-waste process. This process has the design team gathering items from remnant markets, which are then brought back to the sewing workshop. Makers and designers then create designs from the pieces of reclaimed fabric and use the scraps to make yarn, which can be used in other pieces.
The products: Everlane offers a wide variety of apparel, including a range of denim. You can purchase closet staples such as t-shirts, sweaters, intimates, outwear, and activewear from this fashion brand. You’ll also find shoes, bags, face masks, and other accessories on its website.
The impact: Everlane offers total transparency about its factories and practices on its website. This brand minimizes waste by using alternative energy sources, recycling its water, and repurposing byproducts to create its clothing.
Costs of sustainable fashion
When it comes to sustainable clothing brands, you might be wondering if it’s worth paying a higher price for slow fashion. The truth is that yes, you might pay more money to purchase from a brand that uses an ethical manufacturing process and tries to reduce its environmental impact. This is due to many reasons, including the higher cost of sourcing natural materials and a more time-consuming production process.
However, when you think about it, sustainable fashion might cost you less in the long-run. The fashion industry relies on people making fast fashion purchases to keep up with current trends. Most ethical clothing brands create timeless pieces using sustainable fabrics that can be used to build a more minimalist wardrobe. Instead of focusing on buying a lot of fast fashion pieces, you can save money by building a collection of high-quality clothing.
Pros and cons
- By supporting a B Corp that uses environmentally friendly materials, you’re keeping materials out of the landfill and supporting a business that is working toward reducing harmful emissions.
- By supporting cruelty-free retailers, you are supporting animal welfare.
- You’ll be getting high-quality pieces that in some cases are totally unique and one-of-a-kind
- There is an upfront investment that is necessary when you purchase clothing from ethical brands.
- If you’re loyal to brands like Levi’s, it may take some time and adjustment to get used to wearing and enjoying other brands.
The bottom line
How does fashion fit into the goal of sustainability? One of the best things you can do is support ethical clothing brands that are working to improve both working conditions and the environment. By supporting these brands, you’re not only getting high-quality pieces but holding the fashion industry to a higher standard as well.
Does ethical clothing cost more money? If you’re used to buying fast fashion pieces from inexpensive brands, then it may seem like a stark contrast. However, you can save money in the long-run by investing in an ethical wardrobe.