My search for fashion that ticks my multiple boxes has been difficult, insightful, sad, and inspiring. Difficult, as there’s a big gap in the fashion world – and ethical fashion is severely under promoted. Insightful, as I’ve learnt a lot about where my clothing comes from (and goes). Sad, as in my research there are multiple brands that are super successful in the ‘fast fashion’ industry and are simply feeding the issue. And inspiring! Inspiring as in this search I’ve come across some incredible designers and ateliers, online stores and fashionistas who are making waves in this huge industry.
Note: This blog is not sponsored or paid for in any way by any of the below brands or businesses. I’ve tried a number of products of my own volition.
This is far from a complete listing – there are new brands emerging everyday, and chances are, that by the time you’ve read this blog, there will be many more out there. I’ll add to this post as I find them. Some brands I simply may not have heard of, some may not have thrilled me, and some didn’t meet my standards. But that’s not to say I don’t welcome you sharing your finds – pop them below so others may see them too!
The world of fashion is a fast one. Today, the industry is worth almost $1 trillion, with billions of garments consumed each year. It is unsustainable, bad for the earth, and bad for the millions of workers who make as low as $68 a month in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia.
We have an obsession with wearing things a few times and have gotten used to poor quality; so that after those few wears they’re no longer ‘fashionable’ and in some cases, wearable.
We are also society that’s filled with fast food – yet people are switching to the slow food movement in droves, making things from scratch, buying and supporting local and growing their own. While we’ve come along way in the food movement, understanding where fashion is from, how it’s made, and the impacts it has, is still sadly behind the times.
Fair trade fashion aims to change this, and make choosing where your fashion is from not only empowering, but fun.
Fair Trade Fashion
When you shop fair trade, you know that every care was taken to make sure artisans are treated with dignity and respect. With any garment you purchase, try to think about the hands that held it, about the person who worked to create it. More than 40 million people work in the fashion industry – that’s a whole lot of people. When you buy fair trade clothing, you know exactly who made your clothes, and you know they were treated the way you’d want to be treated, so they can build better futures for themselves and their families.*
What is Ethical Clothing?
“Ethical Fashion is an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.”*
This very simply sums it up.
As per The Ethical Fashion Forum**
“For the EFF, ethical fashion represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximises benefits to people and communities while minimising impact on the environment.
“If you describe something as ethical, you mean that it is morally right or morally acceptable.” Collins English Dictionary
For the EFF, the meaning of ethical goes beyond doing no harm, representing an approach which strives to take an active role in poverty reduction, sustainable livelihood creation, minimising and counteracting environmental concerns.”
What Boxes Must be Ticked?
For me it doesn’t differ much from these guidelines – some of them I’d never even considered before researching this topic.
The Ethical Fashion Forum has drawn up a set of 10 criteria for ethical fashion, to inform the fashion industry’s official ethical fashion awards, the RE:Fashion awards:
- Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption
- Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
- 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
- Resources, training and/ or awareness raising initiatives
- Animal rights
For me, the top issues would have to be animal rights (no leather, fur, silk etc), women’s and workers rights, and the environmental impacts of our choices – but in saying that, I really don’t think that focusing on one will alleviate the issue. We need to be focussing on all of the issue equally, and working together to make a difference.
Kind of obvious isn’t it? Cows are grown for their meat and their milk, and their skin is an obvious by-product of that industry. Raising them requires exorbitant amounts of land, water, food and fossil fuels.
Although some leathermakers deceptively tout their products as “eco-friendly,” turning skin into leather also requires massive amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based. Most leather produced in the U.S. is chrome-tanned; all wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the EPA.^
There are other types of ‘leathers’ – snake skin, alligator skin, pig, goat and sheep…most of the leathers in the world coming from India and China, where animals have no rights, and there are lax laws protecting them (if any).
Much like all factory farming, they’re kept in cruel conditions, treated poorly, and suffer from fear, abuse and pain.
Every pair of shoes, every bag, every wallet, every jacket, even the trim in your car (which is often unavoidable) contributes to this horrific industry.
Wool seems to be a fibre that is painfree- right? I see things pop up on my Facebook feed occasionally of people mocking vegans who claim that wool is cruel. They share images of sheep with overgrown fleece and say that’s why they’re shorn. However sheep are often genetically modified and grown to produce more wool than they actually require. The wool is meant for warmth, protection from the elements, and to keep them cool- but with the wool industry growing, so does the demand for it; and the cruelty that comes along with it.
Sheep are tagged at birth, baby lambs have parts of their ears and tails removed and males are castrated. Needle and thread are often used to sew up any injuries…and all of this is done with no pain relief.^
Undercover investigations have shown them kicked, beaten, stomped on, and prodded with electric rods, and hit with hammers.
Sheep from Australia are shipped all over the world in horrendous conditions – on boat rides that last weeks, in the heat, with no food or water, and standing in their own excrement. How we treat animals says a lot about us as a race.
Where do I start? Possibly the cruelest fashion statement, designers are finally saying NO to fur and are standing up against it. Each year well in excess of 50 million animals still suffer and die as victims of the international fur trade – animals such as minks, foxes, possums, squirrels, badgers, racoons, dogs, cats, chinchillas, seals, and so many more are all raised in battery cages, starved, beaten, their necks are broken, they’re electrocuted, burned in boiled water and often skinned while still conscious. It’s unimaginable.
Fur is not only used in clothing, but also on furniture, and in makeup brushes.
Ducks, Geese and Ostriches are all used for their beautiful down and feathers. They’re raised in appalling conditions, are starved, scalded in boiling water, and the feathers are plucked while they’re alive.
Down and feathers are meant to help keep waterfowl warm and dry, but they’ve both been marketed as an “all natural” stuffing material to help keep us warm – which we’ve got plenty of alternatives for. It takes approximately 75 or more birds to create enough feathers to stuff just one comforter – and despite all of the ‘ethical’ and ‘traceable’ feathers out there, there’s actually no cruelty free option. It’s cruel full stop.
I’m going to come at cotton from a different angle. Here’s some stats that may surprise you.
- It can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans.#
- Unsustainable cotton farming, with massive inputs of water and pesticides, has already been responsible for the destruction of large-scale ecosystems such as the Aral Sea in central Asia and the deteriorating health and livelihoods of people living there.#
- 43 million tons of pesticide-laden dust is blown into the air every year. The Aral Sea region suffers from the highest rates of throat cancer in the world – representing 80 percent of the cases of cancer.^^
- Rain water in a Brazilian cotton region contained 19 different pesticides – 12 of which were used in cotton production.^^
- Cotton cultivation severely degrades soil quality. Despite the global area devoted to cotton cultivation remaining constant for the past 70 years, cotton production has depleted and degraded the soil in many areas.
- Production and processing of cotton uses a large amount of water. Some experts contend that cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities.
Concerned? You should be. Cotton clearly has detrimental environmental affects that won’t just cause issues now- but will be a concern for future generations.
There are some companies that are committed to sustainable organic cotton, that doesn’t use the pesticides that conventional cotton does. Organic cotton and alternative fibres are going to be the way of the future – think bamboo and hemp for everything.
1: Invest in timeless, high quality pieces
Spend a little bit more now, trust me. Present you will be pissed, but future you will say ‘Thank You!”. Pieces that go from season to season with no wear and tear. I have the same black pants that I’ve had for 8 years, and they’re still wearable and en vouge. A crisp white shirt, a good pair of jeans, a nice blazer and a vegan leather jacket – boom.
2: Buy basics, and dress them up with different jewellery, scarves, and belts
I have a stunning black bamboo dress – it’s long sleeved, sits just below my knees, and it’s five years old. I’ve worn it with and without tights, in heels, flats and boots, with a kimono, a jacket, a vest, a scarf, long necklaces, short necklaces…it’s the best dress ever! As we say, there’s more than one way to cut a carrot ;).
3: Fix it up!
Take things to a tailor before turfing them. Especially for zippers on jackets, and holes in the crotch. Or even better- learn to sew (or handball to your mum, like I do)!
4: Shop local, shop ethical, shop op!
Making smarter choices will not only make YOU feel great, but it’ll have a ripple effect on the world around you. You’ll be a walking, talking advertisement, and you’ll want to TELL people where you got that amazing vegan leather jacket or those boots made of cork from! I love going to op shops as well – I’ve found some incredible one-of-a-kind pieces that I still have to this day.
5: Clothes Swaps
Now this is fun. I simply get a bunch of girlfriends together, and we dump everything we don’t want in a huge pile. Then we rummage. It’s hilarious and you’re bound to find something you love.
6: Downsize mindfully
On my huge downsizing journey, I soon found that I was getting rid of things I didn’t like or wear anymore. I gave them away to a charity who supports cancer patients and gifts them photoshoots, I donated some to my local op shop and I gave the rest to friends.
Should we Support Brands that aren’t 100% Vegan/Sustainable/Ethical?
Well – yes and no. I will support brands that have vegan lines, as I’m really voting with my money, and saying YES I love this, and please make more of it. I think if more of us choose vegan/ethical/sustainable lines within those big brands, they’ll soon see where their future lies.
I won’t support brands that don’t have a specific vegan line in it however.
Some of the below brands and stores aren’t 100% vegan, however have rad choices that make shopping fun!
Some of my favourite brands and stores
One of the most beautiful online spaces for all things ethical and sustainable. You’ll spend hours browsing, trust me. Kira has curated some of the most stunning pieces from all over Australia and the World- and with her background in science, she’s researched the very best to bring to the forefront of sustainable fashion. My picks?
I’ve worn this jacket, designed by Rachel Lee, every day since I got it. It fits like a dream, has cool functional zippers everywhere, feels fantastic (not plastic!) and breathes. Everyone who’s seen it has commented on it.
Grab yours here:
I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY by this brand. It’s literally ZERO waste. Everything is used. Watch this video and be inspired. I love everything about it.
I’ve been wearing Melko brands, and in particular, Totem, for years. The jackets, kaftans, pants, skirts and dresses are incredible – they last, the fabric is divine, and you’ll ALWAYS stand out in a crowd. All of the below is Totem from Melko – which supports Brazilian designers and families. Also check out their incredible Acai Necklaces!
I’ve had an ongoing crush with this brand for a long time. They cut, shape, sew and dye each piece individually, AFTER it’s ordered by you – so no waste, made to order, using high quality organic cloth, and plant dyes!
Check out the Beach Bum dress – with a hood!
Not particularly my style, but there’s plenty on here for the printed t-shirt fans out there!
Shoes and Accessories
Not exclusively vegan, but with an ethos of ‘One for One’ that I stand behind. I’ve worn TOMS shoes and sunnies for years – not only are they super comfy, but they look good too. My faves? Pink Canvas Chevrons – so sweet!
Cork leather! What?! This stuff is insanely good- check out these riding boots! They’re waterproof too!
Hand selected vegan leather shoes, boots, flats and heels, that’s sustainable, fair trade and fashionable?! Yes. My pick? These Salta Marron Heels.
Created by Fabienne, a self taught jewellery designer and maker, YCL has been a favourite of mine for many years. It’s completely vegan, has a small carbon footprint and is handmade by Fabienne herself and her team in India, under fair trade conditions.
Based locally in Melbourne, Vegan Style is one of the original vegan shoe emporiums I’d ever heard of. Women’s and Mens, belts, accessories and bags, there’s a style here for everyone. Check them out here
Not an exclusive vegan shoe store, but has plenty of vegan options!
Gorgeous sheets, towels, robes, and undies. Created by Vinita, who has a background in Health and a Masters in International Public Health, saw first hand the detrimental impacts that traditional cotton growing had on the environment and the community- everything from pesticides, to child labour.
Loads of fast growing bamboo products, recycled timber, natural linen and hemp, artisan rugs and throws made in Morocco and more, State of Green aims to bring together a range of products that are not only good for the environment- but are also amazing looking.
My pick? This incredible Zaishu Stool.
A curated collection of high end homewares, that’ll seriously give you envy. My pick? These stunning Cancun Bar Stools!
It wasn’t until I did some research and questioning that I started to realise what was in our mattresses and soft furnishings. Latex is a common product found – and I’d never really thought about how it was ‘made’ or where it came from. Latex is made from ‘rubber trees’ that are tapped – similar to maple- and then go through a rigorous process to create latex. Latex allergies are very common, and there’s little to no regulation about it’s processing and what pesticides are sprayed. I found these brilliant all organic cotton mattresses – check out the reviews! Raved about!
I hope that this blog has inspired you, and has given you an insight into sustainable and ethical fashion.
I would LOVE to see what brands you suggest- so make sure you pop them below… and check out this incredible competition!
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