Sustainable Living

16 Ethical Fashion Brands To Make You Feel Better

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Ethical Fashion Laundry Line

Ethical Fashion is a concept that is exploding all over the internet.  It is based on simplistic principles but has many layers that run deep in our global society.  Despite its complexity, it is a moral virtue that needs to be addressed one shopper at a time.  (Of course, a fashion industry re-haul would be nice, but that will obviously take decades.)  I realize that one shopper isn’t many and that this is quite the endeavor, but I want to do my part.

As I began my quest to transform mine and my family’s shopping habits into something more ethical, something we can be more proud of,  I realized I had a lot to learn.  First, I needed to try to understand what I really wanted.  Is this little mission of mine one to simply teach myself and my children a lesson on social and environmental responsibility? Or, am I maybe feeling the need for a spiritual reset?  Either way, it seems like a good journey to embark on.

My eyes and heart have been opened up with a simple documentary and I’m continually inspired by the voice of my recently passed humanitarian earth loving sister.  I thank Alyssa every day for her quiet lessons on integrity and respect for our mother earth.  (I think I’m finally getting it when she was so thrilled about finding organic cotton pants!)  I hope to honor her as I search to better understand this often confusing world of ethical and environmentally friendly fashion.

When I first started this research, I discovered that it helps to better define what ethical and eco conscious fashion actually means.  These terms encompass several different concepts and mean different things to different people.  When shopping more mindfully, it is important to consider what values are the most meaningful to you.   Most companies will not meet all of the possible ethical standards, and compromise on your part is necessary. Eco-conscious fashion designer and stylist, Verena Erin, described it well in one of her youtube videos on ethical and eco fashion shopping tips.

Here is her list of of a few things to think about.

Ethical Manufacturing:  Fair trade, No sweatshops or Child Labor, Healthy working conditions

Eco Conscious:  Sustainable Materials, Minimal Waste, Non-toxic Dyes and Chemicals, Energy Efficient

Local:  Small Business, Locally Sourced Materials, Handmade/Artisan

Vegan/Cruelty-Free:  No Animal Products, Faux Leather and Fur, No Animal Testing (cosmetics)

My Research on Ethical Fashion

I honestly started my research by asking my mindful 13 year old daughter which ethical brands she liked best.  (She has been compassionate about this topic since the 6th grade when she had to create an informative website on child labor.) She was able to list several companies to get me started.  I simply went to each company’s website and read their “about” pages. I discovered some inspiring stories and also recognized the trend that this has become.  It was apparent that some brands were created with this concept in mind while others seem to be attempting change.  As a mother of two growing tween girls, I quickly learned that many of these companies may not be suitable for them.  The majority seem to be geared towards women and many are quite pricey.  I expected these items to be more expensive, and have shifted my thinking to simply purchase less of a good thing.  However, when it comes to kids who outgrow things fast, I felt the need to find out what familiar brands are doing to jump on this ethical bandwagon.  The following is 16 amazing brands that appear to do business in an ethical kind way.

1. Everlane

What They Offer:  Basic clothing essentials for men and women

Starting Retail Cost: T-shirt $15  Shoes $69  Bags $32

What Makes Them Kind:  They are transparent about their factories and mark ups.  You can see images and info on the factory each item was made in.  They also have an option to “Choose what you pay” on a select number of items that were overproduced.

2. People Tree

What They Offer:  A variety of men and women’s clothing & accessories from casual essentials to dressy wear.

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $35.10

What Makes Them Kind:  They are the world’s first clothing company to be World Fair Trade Organization Certified (WFTO).  They use only organic cotton, all clothes are dyed using safe dyes and they choose natural/recycled products over synthetic and non-biodegradable materials.  They are featured in “The True Cost” film.

3.  Eileen Fisher

What They Offer:  Comfortable classic daily wear for women.

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $58  Shoes $185  Bags $78

What Makes Them Kind:  They currently use sustainable and organic fibers and 20% of their products are made in the USA. They have an amazing recycling program called Green Eileen in which you get paid $5 for every Eileen Fisher item you donate back to them.  They then resell or remake them into new designs.  All of these profits support programs for women, girls and the environment.  They also have an impressive mission called Vision 2020 in which they’ve set goals to attain even higher standards for human rights and sustainability.

4.  Krochet Kids

What They Offer:  Men, women and children’s clothing, hats, bags and accessories

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $20  Bags $65

What Makes Them Kind:  Company started by 3 guy  friends from Spokane WA who knew how to crochet.  They taught women to crochet in Peru and Uganda and then built a company off of this simple trade.  They now provide education, employment and mentorship to women in impoverished areas. Incredibly inspiring personal videos throughout their website. Each woman signs the pieces they created and  you can read about them on their website. You can even thank the woman who made your purchased item online. They own and operate their own apparel factories.

5.  Patagonia

What They Offer:  Men, women and children’s active clothing and gear

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $29  Bags $19

What Makes Them Kind:  30 product categories are fair trade certified.  Their mission:  “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”. They use recycled polyester in many of their clothes and only organic, rather than pesticide-intensive, cotton.  They donate time, service and at least 1% of their sales to international environmental groups.

6.  Prana

What They Offer:  Men and women’s active clothing and accessories

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $29  Bags $7.50

What Makes Them Kind:  Small collection of fair trade certified products.  They use sustainable materials including organic cotton, recycled wool, hemp, recycled polyester and responsible down.  They are members of the fair labor association.   One of the first major clothing companies to offer fair trade certified products. They utilize several other sustainable practices including Bluesign certification which  ensures their fabrics meet the highest environmental and human safety standards, reduction in use of plastic packaging, and have eliminated any wood fibers they use from endangered forests. I love that you can sort products by fabric type, fair trade certification and country where the product was made.  I also happen to LOVE the style of clothing.

7.  Athleta

What They Offer:  Women & Children’s active clothing, shoes & Accessories

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $44  Shoes $26  Bags $28

What Makes Them Kind:  Small line of Fair Trade Certified products.  They are using more sustainable fibers such as recycled polyester and organic cotton.  They have partnered with Fair Trade USA and have launched their first Fair trade certified factory apparel in 2017.  As of February 2017, they have 31 fair trade items. They use a waterless dyeing process to dye their fabrics which saves 4.5 gallons of water per garment. (Has been my favorite store for years. I am thrilled that they have stepped up their game!)

8.  Accompany

What They Offer:  Men, Women & Children’s Clothing, Shoes, Accessories & Home Goods

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $48.95 Shoes $45  Bags $25

What Makes Them Kind:  I like their own description of themselves.  “Handmade pieces and ethically sourced items, that bring human impact and fashion impact together to create feel-good goods through a look-good lens.”

9.  Asos “Eco Edit”

What They Offer:  Men & Women’s Clothing, Shoes & Accessories & Beauty Products. Described as the “twenty-something fashion lovers website”

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $15.50  Shoes $30.50  Bags $23

What Makes Them Kind:  Over 500 items in their “eco edit” line. ASOS is committed to reducing their impact on the planet. All items sold in Eco Edit line have at least one component of sustainable fashion. They also have ASOS Africa brands that is designed, cut and manufactured in Africa in an “eco-factory.  Click HERE for more details.

 

10.  Matt & Nat

What They Offer:  Bags, Wallets, & Shoes for Men & Women

Starting Retail Cost:  Shoes $51  Bags $28

What Makes Them Kind:  They are a vegan company. They use recycled & sustainably sourced materials (ex. cork & rubber). One of their factories is SA8000 Standard certified (sa-intl.org).

11.  Sseko Designs

What They Offer:  Handbags, Accessories & Shoes for Women

Starting Retail Cost: Shoes $49.99  Bags $19.99

What Makes Them Kind:  Based in Uganda, Africa.  Started as a way to generate income for women to go to college.  They also employ women from all walks of life in attempt to end the cycle of poverty and create a more equitable society. “Uses fashion to provide employment and scholarship opportunities to women pursuing their dreams and overcoming poverty.”

12. Oliberte

What They Offer:  Men, Women and Baby Footwear, Bags & Accessories

Starting Retail Cost: Shoes $70  Bags $30

What Makes Them Kind:  World’s only fair trade certified footwear factory.  Located in sub-saharan Africa (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).

13. Nisolo

What They Offer:  Men & Women’s Shoes & Accessories

Starting Retail Cost:  Shoes $108  Bags $28

What Makes Them Kind:  Their vision:  “To return fashion to what it once was: about people, art and valuing the producer and the planet as much as the customer”. They own their own factory in Trujillo, Peru.  They partner with other factories who match the same ethics and core values.  100% are over 18 years of age, and receive wages beyond fair trade requirements.  The employees have the option to pay into a pension fund and are offered advanced pay to buy a house.  They use vegetable oil to tan their leather which completely eliminates the possibility of contaminating the environment.

(Warning:  Made in the USA guidelines are complicated and does NOT guarantee ethical factory standards.)

I listed just 3 brands.  We are familiar with and have purchased from the first two. I came across the last one online and just had to list it.  It is based out of Chicago, a city close to home where much of my family lives.  Check out this blog post for more amazing brands made in the USA.

14.  Lulus

What They Offer:  Women’s Clothing, Shoes & Accessories

Starting Retail Cost: T-shirt $19  Shoes $17  Bags $20

What Makes Them Kind:  Has a large “Made in the USA” section.  They offer a large variety of fun, stylish casual to dressy apparel.

15.  Nordstrom

What They Offer:  Men, Women & Children’s Clothing, Shoes, Accessories & More

Starting Retail Cost:  T-shirt $17  Shoes $15  Bags $21.95

What Makes Them Kind:  They have a large section of American made products (over 11,000 when searched online).

16.  Fibre Athletics

What They Offer:  Men & Women’s Athletic Wear

Starting Retail Cost: T-shirt $70

What Makes Them Kind: They are a new company (2016) from Chicago.  They use sustainable materials, low impact dyes and ethical standards for their US factories.  They donate 1% of their sales to environmental restoration & poverty alleviation projects.

My Family’s Favorites (BEFORE this ethical endeavor)

Doing this research on ethical fashion has made me more curious about a few of mine and my family’s favorite stores.  It’s pretty easy to find ethical standards on just about every company. However, I’m learning that it is very easy to “Polish a Pig”, as my husband would say.  In other words, any company can say lovely things and throw out environmentally friendly verbiage but not be very meaningful or actually ethical. Fair trade certification makes this easier to trust. However, it is expensive and just because someone doesn’t have that certification doesn’t mean they aren’t using ethical fair trade standards.  Either way, I’m definitely one large step ahead as to where I was even one month ago.  That counts as more mindful and ethical then I’ve ever been when it comes to shopping & fashion.  This is what I’ve found on a few of my family’s favorite brands.

American Eagle

Description:  Men & Women’s Trendy Clothing, Shoes & Accessories. Geared towards teens and twenty-somethings.

Starting Retail Prices:  T-shirt ($24.95), Shoes ($9.95), Bags ($19.95)

Ethical Practices:  They do NOT airbrush their models!  (Finally!)  They participated in a blue to green denim recycling program that donated over 132,000 items to insulate 265 Habitat for Humanity homes.  They have recycling centers in several US & Canadian stores for their employees and customers clothes which are donated or repurposed as bags or insulation.  They have multiple practices and partnerships in place to ensure transparency with their suppliers and overall ethical standards for the factory workers.  They have a TON of information on their AEO Better World page. Quite frankly, I thought it was too wordy and too much information to sift through.  It felt somewhat vague and sounded to me like they are in the process of improving their standards.  They still have multiple factories sourced from all over the world which they probably have very little control over that country’s laws and regulations when it comes to the worker’s.

My take:  I appreciate their efforts to promote natural beauty and young people’s self esteem by not airbrushing their models.  I also applaud their environmental efforts. However, despite their lengthy description of factory standards, I couldn’t help but think they are another big company that is not able to truly control the overseas factories that they do not own.  I may continue to purchase a few items for my children as they grow but plan to limit the extent of this for fear of promoting the fast fashion industry.

Free People/Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie

Description:  Men & Women’s Bohemian Trendy Style Clothing, Shoes & Accessories.  All 3 of these brands are owned by a larger company, URBN.

Starting Retail Prices:  T-shirt (FP $38, UO $20, A $34.50) , Shoes (FP $30, UO $12, A $48), Bags (FP $28, UO $6, A $18)

Ethical Practices: Urban Outfitters partners with vendors who sustainably source their products while supporting local communities.   Some examples are the line “Della” which is made in Hohoe and Ghana and Dr. Bronner’s products that are fair trade certified.  They demonstrate sustainable design in the buildings they choose to house their stores. They focus on historic restoration and reuse of old buildings (such as the Rialto Theater in LA).  Urban Outfitters have STATE bags. Every STATE backpack sold at Urban Outfitters provides a hand delivered backpack filled with essential tools to a child in need.  Urban Outfitters and Free People use reusable fabric bags. Free People has a “New Romantics” line that is handcrafted in India. It is hand loomed and blocked with organic dyes.  Anthropologie sells Baggu which is an environmentally conscious bag design company and “Votary” which is a natural and sustainable skincare line.

URBN’s statement:  “URBN takes sustainability efforts seriously. We’re committed to continually challenging ourselves to make a positive difference in our communities and local neighborhoods. Whether it’s our recyclable shopping bags, partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters to run a donation drive or using a reusable design and restoration strategy in our offices and stores, we make decisions with our environment and our community in mind.”

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned that slow fashion is a very important ethical lesson to teach myself and my kids.  My family and I need to stop impulse buying and only purchase what we truly need.  I’ve also realized that although there are a few options for ethical and sustainable fashion for my young teenage girls, there do not seem to be very many.  I’ll need to do some more searching. In the meantime, we plan to get used to less, look for sales at ethical stores and buy second hand at thrift shops.  Maybe, I’ll dig deep for my sewing skills and try some upcycling?  Lastly, I learned that Verena Erin is a wealth of knowledge on this topic and has already done a TON of research.  She has a great blog and you tube channel.  Check out this video on how to research.

Do you have experience with ethical fashion?  If so, please comment below!  I’m excited to learn more and hope to inspire one shopper at a time 🙂

Sources

https://groundswell.org/6-quality-clothing-stores-that-dont-use-foreign-sweatshops/

http://fashionista.com/2015/06/made-in-the-usa-meaning

fairtradeusa.org

verenaerin.ca

“My Green Closet” (Verena Erin’s you tube channel)

About Us pages on every brands website