If you missed part one of my take on ethical fashion, check it out first before diving into this portion.
The Many Names of Ethical Fashion
Made in the USA.
These are some of the terms you’ll encounter if you dive into a quick Google search for ethical fashion brands. I clearly remember several years ago trying to snag some Black Friday “deals” from some of my favorite ethical brands. I had approximately 57 tabs open on my computer, virtually shopping and sifting through these terms to see which brands I thought fit my definition for “ethical” enough.
My Entry into Ethical Fashion
I mentioned in the last post that I’m an “all or nothing” kinda gal, so I wanted to completely overhaul my closet and replace every last item with something I knew had been made according to the standards I deemed acceptable. I spent lots of hours and used lots of brain power to scour the internet for sales and bargains that were still considered ethical so I could clean my closet out from top to bottom.
I was going about it ALL wrong. First, there’s no reason and really probably no responsible way to completely empty out my entire closet. That’s just wasteful. Second, seeking to consume, consume, consume as many “ethical” products as possible is still feeding into the idea of fast fashion…I just felt better about it because the companies I was purchasing from were seeking to responsibly make and source their products.
Wake up Call
One day I was just scrolling through my Instagram feed, when a cute little graphic from Sseko Designs popped up saying #buybetternotmore. It hit me like a tons of bricks. Okay, so I’m working on buying better, but for the love, I’m still buying more and more and more. Since that one phrase crossed my feed, coupled with my experience of an entire year with no clothes shopping (see first post here) I decided to change my approach in how I buy clothes at all, not just where I’m buying clothes.
My Definition of Ethical Fashion
Here’s a quick recap of how I define ethical fashion. I believe ethical fashion encompasses brands that are working hard to break the cycle of fast fashion through ensuring safe working conditions, offering a living wage, partnering with artisans to support local economies, ensuring sustainable practices and overall focusing on the fact that how a garment is made matters greatly.
How Ethical is my Closet?
Now, once you start actually shopping to fit this definition, things can get a little tricky. Do I buy from brands who hit ALL of the markers in that definition all of the time? Nope. Not at this point in my life. Did I just buy some stuff last week that fits probably NONE of the markers in that definition? Yes, yes, I did.
This is a process for me, and I’m just now starting to really hone in on making my closet as ethical as possible in a reasonable manner instead of burning it all and starting over. I rounded up all of my ethically made clothing items (one of my fave sweatshirts was dirty and didn’t make the pic) and accessories (minus a few necklaces that got tangled and need help) to present to you how much of my closet is actually ethical. It’s about 1/4….maybe?
How I shop Ethically
How in the heck do I actually shop? Well, I pretty much do all of my shopping online unless I’m able to come across some of my favorite brands in stores like Whole Foods or Whole Earth. I’ve essentially stopped all clothing, jewelry and shoe purchases from Target for myself - haven’t made this step for my girls’ clothes yet. I have thrown some PJ pants in my cart in times of “need” - post-autoimmune treatment steroid bloat required some stretchy pants in a hurry. I do occasionally buy from local boutiques and/or Dillard’s. I grew up shopping in Dillard’s, so that’s one that’s been hard to give up.
So, what do I mean I shop online? Well, most of my favorite socially responsible, ethical brands either have one flagship store not in my vicinity or they’re completely online only. Is it a pain to shop online? Sometimes. But sometimes, it’s also very useful in keeping me from filling up my cart with too many things I don’t need. Since I can’t try things on, the immediate need to buy it because it looks cute on me, is gone completely. And sometimes, you get it in the mail, try it on and it doesn’t work for you at all, so you send it back and get your money back.
I think 5 years ago the idea of online shopping only would sound inconvenient and unfamiliar, but now I feel like people do a good chunk of their shopping online. It cuts shopping time out for me in the stores, curbs my purchase amount and allows me to really think through what I’m going to buy versus a gut decision in the store.
Still a Work in Progress
Don’t get me wrong, I still wander the clothing racks of Target and tell myself I’m going to buy things. I spent an absurd amount of time one night digging through the enormous amount of graphic tees. I held them up in the mirror, dug for sizes, contemplated trying them on, looked at the tags to see if maybe, just maybe they’d disclose how they were made…and i ended up walking away with nothing. I had a long internal debate with myself if the $12.99 tee was really worth the purchase. This happens to me a lot in the stores these days. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I hate it.
Some of my Ethical Closet Staples
Let’s get down to some of my favorite staples in my closet, which will point you to some of my favorite brands. These outfits aren’t what some standards would call 100% ethical, but for now, they line up with my vision and definition of ethical fashion.
This Sseko Designs shift dress is one of my favorite closet tricks. It’s the same dress in both photos - worn as a dress in outfit #5 and tied up as a shirt/tunic in outfit #6.
As a dress, I paired it with the Sseko scarf shown earlier, a Sseko crossbody bag and black suede Tom’s booties.
As a shirt/tunic, I completed the look with ABLE jeans, the Sseko convertible leather bag and retired Sseko suede booties.
Versatiity is KEY in my closet when I’m spending a higher dollar amount per item. The shift dress can also be turned backward and worn with a crew neck instead of v-neck. BRILLIANT.
How do I learn more about Ethical Fashion?
If you’re interested in doing some more research about ethical fashion or want some inspiration for brands/labels to check out, I’ve got some great resources for you.
The Garment Life
The first, and one of my very favorite resources, is The Garment Life (@thegarmentlife). Morgan has created an amazing community for shoppers seeking help navigating the world of responsible fashion. In her words, “I started The Garment to connect women interested in fewer, better things to the companies who make them.” She searches for quality pieces around the world and shows us what these pieces look like on her Real Models. I’m looking into her Preferred Membership status currently because she finds amazing and long-lasting pieces.
Fashion Revolution (@fash_rev) is a movement and a community dedicated to ethical fashion because, “We love fashion. But we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet. We demand radical, revolutionary change.” Read their manifesto, and if you feel fired up, sign the petition - I did!
They’ve started the #whomademyclothes campaign on social media and ask us to wear our favorite garments, tag those brands and boldly ask #whomademyclothes. I’m looking at you: Gap, Target and Dillard’s. Who made my clothes?
Their website has some great informational resources, including their 2018 Transparency Index which ranks 150 of the top fashion/apparel brands on how transparent they are in social and environmental practices. It’s a detailed, thorough investigation that I very much appreciate.
Certified B Corporation
If you feel lost and have no clue where to start looking for brands that might fit your idea of ethical fashion, Certified B Corporations are a great place to start. “Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” Well, heck yes!
So, why are not all of my favorite brands considered B Corps? Well, it takes time and money. Some of my favorite brands are smaller, and it may not make financial sense to jump into something like this quite yet. That’s just my guess. A few B Corps you may know are: Noonday Collection, Patagonia, Stasher, Phlur, Dr. Bronner’s, Beautycounter, Klean Kanteen, Athleta, and Allbirds. They’ve got a great directory on their website to help guide you and your purchasing power.
Fair Trade Verified/Certified
Another label to look for is Fair Trade - a label that signifies a company is “taking a stand for a system that treats everyone with respect,” according to Fair Trade Certified website. I’ve recently learned about the difference between Fair Trade Certification and Fair Trade Verification - both working for better standards in business but with varying criteria. If you’d like to read more on this, the Fair Trade Federation breaks it down in a great article.
Nicole’s Favorite Ethical Brands
Finally, I’ve compiled a list of links to some of my all time favorite ethical (in my terms) brands. Take a deep breath and start small. Find an item in your closet you need to replace soon and start researching a more ethical option. Happy shopping, my friends!
31 Bits - accessories, home goods
ABLE - shoes, denim, women’s apparel, accessories, leather bags
Adelisa & Co - leather shoes, handwoven swings
Athleta - women’s apparel, accessories
Better Life Bags - bags, accessories
Bombas - socks
Elegantees - apparel
Everlane - apparel
Faherty - apparel, blankets
Humble Hilo - women’s apparel, bags, shoes
Jessica Rey - swimwear, women’s apparel
Known Supply - apparel
Krochet Kids - apparel, bags, knit hats
Liz Alig - women’s apparel, accessories
Minnetonka - leather shoes
Nellie Taft - women’s apparel
Nisolo - leather shoes, accessories
Noonday Collection - accessories, leather bags
Pact - underwear, apparel, loungewear
Patagonia - apparel, outdoor gear
Pyne & Smith - women’s linen apparel
Raven + Lilly - women’s apparel, accessories, home goods
Salt & Light Trading Co. - women’s apparel, accessories
Satva - activewear
Sseko Designs - shoes, women’s apparel, accessories, leather bags
Sudara - pajamas, accessories
Synergy - apparel, accessories
Tom’s - shoes, accessories
Tribe Alive - women’s apparel, accessories
Trove - women’s apparel
Wells Cooperative - accessories