A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ETHICAL FASHION

It is often only in theory that consumers discuss sustainable or ethical fashion. In theory, we all want to do what we can to minimise our environmental impact but in reality we have so little access to information about how the fashion industry works. Countless designers, high and low, are now taking greater strides towards minimising their carbon footprint by utilising resources in a way that does not so greatly impoverish our planet. Below we outline the terms and conditions of sustainable and ethical fashion, as well as the brands that are striving to meet our environmental standards. No longer does the devil wear Prada…unless it’s sustainable, of course.

Fairtrade

Fairtrade encompasses a two part process of fashion production; the assemblage of textile crops and the mass-production of a garment or accessory. It not only helps to create better working conditions but also to create fairer compensation for workers around the world.

BEHNO

This modern and minimalistic brand encompasses what it means to be a fairtrade business. After the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, which killed over 1100 garment workers in Bangladesh, the brands Behno and “The Behno Standard” were born. Behno’s focus is on high quality, luxury designs as well as top working conditions in their revolutionary garment factories.

EVERLANE

Best thing about Everlane aside from their amazing basics? Their honesty. This San Francisco-based company breaks down every step of production under each garment on their site so customers can see exactly what they are paying for. They are also completely transparent about their factories; this includes photos and descriptions of each factory and their personal connection to them.

EDUN

Since 2005, when it was founded by Ali Hewson and her favorite frontman/husband, Bono, Edun has grown into a global name in fashion. Operating out of New York, the brand’s mission is to source production and encourage trade in Africa. Through their support of African manufacturers, artists and artisans, Edun aims to build sustainable growth opportunities across this ever-developing continent.

MAIYET

Accessory and clothing line Maiyet hopes to help build the next generation of master craftsmen from around the world. In addition to sourcing global artisans from countries such as India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mongolia and Peru, Maiyet trains members of the respective communities to rebuild and strengthen crafts that might otherwise have been lost. The brand is helping to rebuild ancient crafts and generate stability and prosperity within communities worldwide.

TITANIA INGLIS

A born and bred New Yorker, Titania Inglis has set up shop in a Brooklyn studio where she develops her dark and devastatingly beautiful collections. The designer’s pieces are assembled in New York’s garment district by a small, family-owned factory; a rarity in today’s industry. She works with sustainable fabrics including organic Japanese cotton, Italian vegetable-tanned leather and dead stock wool, all of which she obtains from the local garment community.

UK-Made

Purchasing items made in your country of residence is good both for the economy as well as your carbon footprint (and conscience). Eliminating the middleman between the production line and the shelves is just one of the many ways that the fashion industry can begin to curb its ever-growing environmental impact.

LOWE-HOLDER

Not only are these accessories produced in the UK but they are also zero-waste and upcycled by using ends of lines and scraps from previous collections. Michelle Lowe-Holder’s statement bracelets and necklaces are the perfect addition to any outfit in need of a pick-me-up or a bit of edge.

DEBORAH CAMPBELL

While you aren’t offered options on options of clothes and styles to choose from, you are presented with the necessary staples to build your wardrobe. Deborah Campbell chooses quality over quantity with her UK-based brand that emphasises colourful prints and sophisticated silhouettes.

Organic

Unfortunately cotton is one of the most damaging crops grown on the planet. From soil erosion to water usage (it takes 20,000 litres of water to create 1 kg of cotton) this crop takes up only 2.4 per cent of the world’s cropland  yet it accounts for 24 per cent and 11 per cent of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides, respectively. While the environmental impact of growing cotton increases, some farmers are taking the high road by using natural pesticides and other environmentally friendly methods to generate organic cotton.

KOWTOW

This brand will completely eliminate any negative associations you may have had with sustainable clothing. Their silhouettes are draped to perfection and each piece can be layered with the next to make for an ultra cool, somewhat androgynous look. And the best part? Kowtow only uses 100 per cent fairtrade certified cotton and offer their employees in their factory in Kolkata great benefits for them and their families.

SVILU

Through their use of organic cotton, various sustainable fabrics and digital fabric printing, SVILU is a socially sensitive and aware brand that offers consumers a smarter staple. Their designs remain young and casual despite the sophisticated cut of the garments, enabling women to stay on trend sans guilt.

Recycled

Big fan of vintage? This might be your best way forward. Recycled clothing can be anything from your favorite 1960s Rolling Stones tee to a tote bag made of old plastic bottles. Recycling garments and materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill can seriously help to improve the fashion industry’s less than impressive environmental resume.

CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN

British designer Christopher Raeburn gives four instructions on his web site: reduce, reuse, recycle and Raeburn. This Royal College of Art graduate is best known for his use of recycled military fabrics, specifically his outerwear created from parachutes. This aesthetic still continues to influence his current designs and his ethical ethos remains a major component of his work.

REFORMATION

This LA-based brand embodies all aspects of an ethical clothing company. The large selection of designs are made entirely out of sustainable fabrics, repurposed vintage clothing and over-stock from other fashion houses. From their recycled packaging and hangers to their sustainable sewing factory, Reformation offers clothes women can feel both good about, and in.

THE COBRA SHOP

The Cobra Shop is one seriously hip hub for vintage lovers. This website, which now has a retail location in Hollywood, has rows of retro items for you to sift or click through. While some hesitate over buying vintage or recycled clothing, it remains an ethical and trendy way to satisfy consumer cravings.

LADOUBLEJ

Chanel, Céline and Balmain are just a handful of the big names that LaDoubleJ carries. But it’s not what you think… we’re not talking their latest collections – many of the pieces are from the latter half of the 20th century. This website carries endless expertly curated vintage pieces, and though you’ll still pay a pretty penny you’ll definitely get it back in style points. Founded by fashion aficionado and journalist J.J. Martin, this Milan based e-commerce site is an embodiment of her love for all things vintage.

EKOCYCLE

Our favorite Black Eyed Pea is going green with EKOCYCLE, a brand launched by new power couple, Will.I.Am and Coca-Cola. EKOCYCLE has teamed up with numerous labels to help promote sustainability through lifestyle products made in part from recycled materials. Adidas, MCM and Globe-Trotter are just a few of the big names getting on board with sustainable style.

Sustainable

There is still ample debate surrounding sustainable fabrics. However, it is undeniable that they have much less of an environmental impact than cotton. Fabrics such as hemp, bamboo, linen and wools require far fewer chemicals in their cultivation. No, this does not limit you to wearing a burlap sack.

AMOUR VERT

Every time you buy an Amour Vert t-shirt, this brainy brand plants a tree… A tee for tree, not a bad deal, right? Based in San Francisco, each collection is developed in the US using non-toxic dyes and sustainable fabrics. You could buy a tee and call it a day but we highly recommend checking out the rest of their collection for a little summer wardrobe pick-me-up.

STUDY

This brand is the epitome of cool with its muted hues and boyish charm. STUDY produces all of their clothing locally, constructing and cutting each garment in NYC. The brand explores the variety of sustainable fabrics available and has entirely converted their supply chain to exclusively environmentally friendly fabrics.

PEOPLE TREE

Look good, feel good has taken on a whole new meaning at People Tree, a Fair Trade and environmentally sustainable fashion house. They provide their employees with the same amount of quality and care they want for their customers through economic independence and control over their working environments.

WE ARE ISLANDERS

Though not quite the UK, Dublin-based design label We Are Islanders produces all of their items locally, using only sustainable materials. Their hand-painted garments are the perfect bridge between art and fashion, creating completely unique trans-seasonal collections with each brush stroke.

Animal-Friendly

While we aren’t necessarily telling you to throw away your leather jacket, a little love for our furry friends will work wonders to minimise our environmental impact and, well, our guilt. Eighty-five per cent of the fur industry’s skins come from fur factory farms; farms that house thousands of animals with the sole intention of maximising profits. The wool, fur and leather industry have devastating effects on climate change, land devastation, pollution and water contamination, not to mention animal well-being.

FREEDOM OF ANIMALS

Any brand that names their cruelty-free handbags after orphaned baby elephants holds a very special place in our hearts. And that’s exactly what sustainable luxury handbag line Freedom of Animals does. Not only are their bags completely affordable but they are also entirely eco-friendly. The makeup of each bag is entirely organic, sustainable AND recycled.

MATT & NATT

Montreal mavericks Matt & Nat have developed what is now a global brand devoted to the preservation of material and nature (hence where they got their name…) This innovative design duo have spent years experimenting with various recycled materials to develop their designs. They have stayed true to their early commitment of not using leather or any other animal-based materials in their designs, which still remain a classic staple to any outfit.

STELLA MCCARTNEY

One of the biggest names in fashion also happens to be a total animal lover. Not using any leather, skins or fur in her collections is one of the many ways that Stella McCartney is helping to minimise the fashion industry’s massive environmental impact. The designer is also using wind energy to power her UK offices and studios, and wherever possible outside of the UK. McCartney remains one of the leading voices in sustainable fashion.

Ethical

RÊVE EN VERT

The Rêve en Vert website is a platform for brands committed to all methods of ethical and sustainable design. They are one of few sites fighting for cleaner and safer fashion, promoting designers such as Christopher Raeburn and jewellery designer Pamela Love. The Rêve en Vert team chooses to support designers with the similar goal of improving the industry’s immense environmental impact.

THE ACEY

The Acey provides women with an outlet for consciously created clothing. The founder, Holly Allenby, found herself frequently being asked where to find responsibly made clothes while maintaining good style, and so she developed a site that offers consumers just that. This website stresses innovation and integrity – two qualities they expect of all their featured designers.

Nora MaloneyComment