Green is the New Black: How to Source Ethical Fashion

The growing amount of attention and scrutiny being afforded to the negative consequences of fast fashion in recent years has prompted a concentrated interest in ethical clothing.

Brands are becoming increasingly aware of the rising demand for ethical fashion and the importance many shoppers are beginning to place on sustainable style, meaning it is now easier to shop in more socially and environmentally responsible ways than ever before. While ethical fashion can be difficult to define - its meaning can vary for each individual, as what may be considered ethical for one person may not go far enough for another - broadly speaking, it can be understood as fashion that seeks to limit the negative consequences of the industry on both its workers and the planet.

The problems of fast fashion are clear. The industry sees large amounts of water being wasted, vast amounts of air and water pollution, and the exploitation and harm of workers; in 2013 the collapse of Rana Plaza, a Bangladeshi complex of garment factories whose customers included Primark and Matalan, led to the deaths of over a thousand people and generated widespread scrutiny of labour conditions. While compensation was paid and dangerous buildings were certified, fast fashion still has a long way to go to show that it can produce innovative style on a wide scale while limiting its perverse impact on people and the planet. Recently though, ethical fashion has become increasingly popular and is becoming accessible to more and more shoppers.

“Fast fashion still has a long way to go to show that it can produce innovative style on a wide scale while limiting its perverse impact on people and the planet.”

Since there are many different issues concerning ethical fashion it is difficult to cover all bases, so it is often more manageable to start by focusing on specific areas. For instance, some brands including Matt and Nat commit to vegan production, whilst others such as Nico Nico seek to limit environmental harm by reducing the amount of pesticides in their production. This shift to ethical fashion was also supported by both Stella McCartney, whose high-end designs helped make the concept appear more glamorous, and Livia Giuggioli’s ‘Green Carpet Challenge’, which has helped raise awareness of the importance of sustainable fashion. In recent years, more affordable online and high street brands have been starting to catch on, making it easier for us to shop more sustainably. For instance, ASOS’s Eco Edit features a variety of eco-friendly brands that fit their criteria for sustainability, and Monsoon frequently checks that their factories abide by specific standards for employment rights and labour conditions. H&M’s Conscious Exclusive features clothes made from hemp and organic linen and leather, and in 2013 they started a movement to guarantee all their factory and supply chain employees received a suitable wage.

Ethical fashion does, however, generally tend to range from mid- to high-end, meaning the best option for those shopping on a budget is to seek out second-hand items at charity shops and vintage fairs. Apart from being considerably cheaper, this option significantly reduces both the demand for new clothes and the amount being sent to landfill, whilst also supporting another great cause in that of the charity shop itself. Clothes swapping events are another cheap and fun alternative, as is upcycling.

Ethical fashion is not only about what items you buy and how they are made, but also being thoughtful of how often you buy certain garments and of what you discard. Fast fashion has normalised the behaviour of buying in excess; purchasing fewer items of a better quality would not only enable wear for a longer period, but also create a demand for brands to produce more sustainable clothing. While ethical fashion is subjective and not currently a perfect solution - it may appear pointless to buy an organic product made in a factory that does not pay its workers adequately, for example - for the most part it is a positive step forward and a movement worth supporting.

Our top 5 ethical fashion brands

1. ASOS Eco Edit

ASOS works with eco-friendly brands to put together an edit that contains clothing, accessories and beauty products which fit under the company's criteria for sustainability, including making items under fair-trade principles, using recycled or up cycled materials and organic ingredients.

2. Monsoon

Monsoon ensure that all their suppliers commit to their 'Monsoon Accessorize Code of Conduct' which specifies minimum requirements for pay, working conditions and employee rights. They also have zero tolerance for animal cruelty in their supply chain, and support groups such as SEWA (India's Self-Employed Women's Association) to establish embroidery centres and community programmes.

3. Fat Face

Since its launch in 1988, Fat Face has worked closely with their suppliers to ensure that their products are made in an ethical way and that their factory workers are treated fairly. All factories myst abide by their 'Code of Conduct', covering child labour, discrimination, health and safety and working hours.

4. People Tree

People Tree produce ethical and environmentally sustainable clothing by working with Fair Trade producers, garment workers and farmers. They also aim to fight against exploitation, family separation and pollution, and use sustainable materials and organic cotton.

5. H&M Conscious Exclusive

Another high street favourite, H&M launched their Conscious Exclusive range in 2012, featuring items made from materials including organic linen and leather and recycled wool. The following year they campaigned to ensure all workers in their supply chain received a suitable wage, while also aiming to reduce the amount of waste caused by their packaging and shopping bags.