What Is Ethical And Sustainable Fashion?


By Nerly Shammah Jul 01, 2023


Ethical fashion, sometimes referred to as sustainable fashion, has to do with the production and distribution of clothing with minimal or zero harmful impact on people, animals or plants. 


Ethical And Sustainable Fashion


Ethical fashion majorly looks to eradicate the irresponsibility and effects of the fast fashion business model and sector by creating a sustainable fashion model and an ethical working environment for the production of versatile and durable garments. 


At Glance


● Ethical fashion as the name implies, aims to kick against unethical fashion practices. 


● Ethical fashion encompasses various aspects, including fair treatment of workers, minimizing environmental impact, and promoting positive social change within the fashion industry.


● Ethical fashion, although often used interchangeably with sustainable fashion, is actually not the same thing. 


● Sustainable fashion primarily has to do with the minimizing environmental impact of clothing production and consumption. It emphasizes practices that reduce resource consumption, pollution, and waste generation while ethical fashion spans through workers' rights along the supply chain. 



Understanding Ethical Fashion


For people new to content surrounding fashion, it may be difficult to grasp what ethical fashion is and how it differs from fast fashion, the slow fashion movement and sustainable fashion. This guide is tailored to break things down as simply as possible. 


Understanding ethical fashion requires the understanding of the previous structures in the fashion industry that begged the need for a change of business ethics, this is primarily targeted at the fast fashion practices which not only endanger lives but rob them while living.


An intro into what fast fashion is lets us down on a little knowledge of what comes with the package of affordability and fast delivery. Typical, fast fashion, as the name implies is a business model within the fashion industry dealing primarily with fast production and delivery of garments designs. 


Fast fashion primarily aims to imitate and produce affordable pieces following trends, movements, seasons, collections and so on. For example, if a popular brand were to create a limited classic fashion collection made of durable high pieces of garments, fast fashion brands would attempt to replicate that design in the shortest time possible for the masses at an affordable rate. 


The downside of this practice is that it leads to low efforts and nondurable clothing being produced in large quantities and distributed to the public. 


You'd figure that most of these garments end up in landfills quickly because they were produced to match the season and are not of high quality, so they are not durable and lack the textures to be remodelled. 


This not only causes environmental damages but also contributes to the increase of exploitative labour as though these practices requiring fast delivery often see these brands out-sourcing production to countries with lower labour costs. 


Ethical fashion aims to eradicate these exploitations of labourers and the environmental damages caused by fast fashion by building a production space that honours workers' rights and a business model that does not contribute to increased environmental damages. 


Ethical fashion uplifts the concepts of sustainable fashion by designing, producing and distributing high-quality garments that are highly durable and can be redesigned or modelled. 


History Of Ethical Fashion 


The history of ethical fashion traces back to the 1970s through 1980s modern ethical fashion movement that emerged in response to growing concerns over labour rights and environmental issues. 


Reportedly, Activists and organizations, such as the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) were among the formally acknowledged names that raised awareness about sweatshop labour and pushed for improved working conditions in the fashion industry. 


In the 1990s, fair trade initiatives kicked in, focusing on providing better wages and working conditions for producers in developing countries. More attention to ethical practices in the fashion supply chain was drawn. 


Organizations like People Tree (an environmentally-friendly garment producer founded in 1991) pioneered fair trade fashion, promoting transparency and empowering workers.


The ethical fashion movement began to hit the screens in the 2000s with the documentary "The True Cost" (2015, precisely) shading lights on harmful social and environmental impacts of fast fashion, reportedly spurring further interest in ethical alternatives.


Moving forward, the fashion industry saw the break of certifications and standards which were developed to validate ethical practices within the sector. 


The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for organic textiles, Fairtrade for ensuring fair wages and labour conditions, and the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) for animal welfare in wool production are all notable examples in the history of ethical fashion standards and certificates. 


The fashion revolution, mainstream awareness, collaborations and industry initiatives, the emergence of sustainable materials, the slow fashion movement, circular economy and closed-loop systems, policy and legislation, and the impact of consumer demand have all had a fair share of influence in the history of ethical fashion, bringing the sector a step closer with each effort to sustainable and ethical practices within the fashion industry. 


9 Differences Between Ethical Fashion, fast Fashion, Slow fashion and Sustainable Fashion



Ethical Fashion

Fast Fashion

Slow Fashion

Sustainable Fashion


Social responsibility

Speed and low cost

Conscious consumption

Environmental impact

Labour practices

Fair wages, safe conditions

Common exploitative labour

focuses on fair treatment

Attention to workers' Satisfaction

Supply chain transparency

Transparent and traceable

Limited transparency

High focus on transparency

Transparent and traceable

Production speed

Slow, more deliberate

Rapid turnover

Slower, mindful

Varies, with a focus on efficiency

Material Sourcing

Emphasis on ethical sourcing

Less focus on sourcing practices

Consideration for Sourcing Practices

Emphasis on sustainable sourcing

Product lifespan

Focus on durability

Short lifespan

Emphasis on longevity

Focus on durability and longevity

Fashion cycles

Less tied to trends

Highly tied to trends and rapidly changing

Emphasis on timeless designs

Less tied to trends, seasonless

Consumer mindset

Mindful consumption

Impulsive consumption

Mindful and intentional

Mindful and intentional

Environmental impact

Consideration for environmental impact

High carbon emissions, waste generation

Emphasis on reducing environmental impact

Focus on reducing environmental footprint

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10 Examples Of Ethical Fashion Brands: 


1. Patagonia


Patagonia is a renowned outdoor clothing brand founded in  1973 by Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia is an ethical fashion brand that has pledged a commitment to upholding environmental and social responsibility via ethical fashion practices. Patagonia prioritises fair labour practices, and the use of recycled and organic materials, and supports environmentally friendly initiatives.


2. People Tree


People Tree is a pioneer in fair trade and sustainable fashion. It was founded in 1991 and works with artisans and farmers in developing countries, ensuring fair wages and empowering communities. Their collections are said to be made of organic and ethically made garments.


3. Eileen Fisher


Eileen Fisher, since being founded in 1984, is known for its dedication to transparency, the use of eco-friendly materials, and the promotion of responsible garment design, production and distribution. Reportedly, Eilseen Fisher is said to have initiatives in place to support workers' rights and environmental conservation.


4. Everlane


Everlane is primarily known as a brand that is focused on transparency and ethical manufacturing whilst operating majorly in the digital space. They provide information about their factories and production processes, ensuring fair working conditions. Founded in 2010 by Michael Preysman, Everlane is an ethical fashion brand that also offers high-quality basics and emphasizes pricing transparency.


5. Reformation


Reformation reportedly started selling vintage garments out of a small Los Angeles storefront in 2009, then quickly expanded into a sustainable fashion brand that combines stylish designs with eco-friendly practices, making their own stuff with a focus on sustainability and the celebration of the feminine figure.


6. Veja


Veja traces back to 2005 as a sneaker brand with ethical sourcing and production. Veja uses sustainably sourced materials and works directly with cooperatives of organic cotton farmers and rubber tappers in Brazil to produce high-quality sneakers mixing social projects, economic justice, and ecological materials.


7. Stella McCartney


Stella McCartney was named after Stella Nina McCartney, an English fashion designer, the daughter of British singer-songwriter Paul McCartney and the late American photographer and animal rights activist Linda McCartney. 


Stella McCartney was founded in 2001 by Stella Nina McCartney as a luxury fashion brand committed to sustainable and ethical practices in garments and accessories design, production and distribution.


8. Thought

"Sustainability Should Be A Joy"


Thought (formerly Braintree Clothing) is a British brand that creates sustainable clothing using natural and eco-friendly materials with a focus on slow and ethical fashion, prioritizing fair trade and ethical garment production processes.


9. Alternative Apparel


Alternative Apparel offers comfortable, casual clothing made with sustainable materials such as organic cotton and recycled polyester.


10. Amour Vert


Amour Vert is a sustainable fashion brand with garments designed by women, focusing on the use of eco-friendly materials and responsible manufacturing practices.


Has Ethical Fashion Been A Success Over The Years? 


Studies show that ethical and sustainable fashion is yet to create the impact it was designed to.


The fashion taste of the public generally swings towards widely unsustainable garments designs. This has limited the interest in ethical fashion brands and what is considered by many to be highly expensive sets of clothing with minimal beauty touch. 





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