Sustainable, Ethical and Fair-Trade Fashion Brands Making a Difference

The latest fashion trend to hit the catwalk isn’t a seasonal colour or a must-have style, it’s the concept of sustainable fashion and ethical clothing and it’s actually not that new either. This has been happening quietly in the background for some time and is only just going mainstream. Many different brands have been focusing on combating various issues in the fashion industry. As I said in my last blog post, this will not happen overnight but as Safia Minney says if we all bought only one piece of ethical clothing, life’s all over the world would be transformed.

Finding fair trade and ethical companies is not always easy, which can sometimes be a deterrent in shifting your buying habits, but companies like Good On You and Buy Me Once are making it easier. The positive impact of spending time researching what you are buying can have on the environment and third world communities is absolutely worth it. There was a time when sustainable clothing would conjure up images of unflattering and suspiciously scratchy styles. Thankfully, there are now a wide number of fashion brands that are changing that perception.

In addition to its implications for the environment and ethical practices surrounding the production of garments, one of the major benefits to purchasing ethical, sustainable, and fair-trade clothing is that it is almost always of a higher quality. This means garments last longer, and when they do show signs of wear, companies encourage you to repair, rather than replacing it. Some businesses even recycle clothing. I send my old cashmere sweaters to a UK company who use the yarn to make new products.

One of the leading lights in ethical clothing is Safia Minney, with her company People Tree. A pioneer in sustainable fair-trade fashion, her story started in 1991. The core mission has stayed the same over the past three decades since award-winning social entrepreneur Safia Minney founded the company. Every product is made to the highest ethical and environmental standards from start to finish, yet the ranges are still contemporary, versatile, affordable and look great while respecting people and the planet. The fashion collections feature organic cotton, Lyocell and responsible wool and are made using traditional artisan skills such as hand weaving, hand knitting, hand embroidery and hand block printing. Employment is created in rural areas where work is often scarce. All clothes are dyed using low impact dyes so are free from harmful azo chemicals which are frequently used in clothing manufacture. Natural materials are used where possible, avoiding plastic and toxic substances.

When Safia ordered a Tradicraft mail-order catalogue herself to buy fair-trade clothing, she realised how much power her money had when you shopped ethically. Like many people she felt that fair-trade shopping at times, conjured up images of macrame potholders and soapstone elephants. Recognising that: most people were happy to buy something that was fair-trade as long as it looked good, they don’t want shoddy goods.  If she was going to offer a lifeline to Third world artisans their products had to be saleable and that meant stylish. Whilst living in Japan, she published an organic directory, which evolved into a catalogue. Sourcing not just from other fair-trade organisations but actually dealing directly with the producers; weavers, dyers, jewellers and other craftspeople. By dealing directly, more money could go back into the community as there were no middle-men, like importers. Their first fashion range in 2006 met the Global Organic Textile Standard certified by the Soil Association and People Tree was also the first fashion company to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organisation product label. These certifications guarantee their dedication and compliance to the principles of fair trade, covering fair wages, good working conditions, transparency, environmental best practices and gender equality. This UK brand sells everything you need for your wardrobe from tops and dresses to underwear, sleepwear and active-wear. 

Now, there is a distinction between ethical and fair-trade clothing. Fair-trade fashion must be certified, and specifically focuses on the compensation for workers and farmers associated with its production, while ethical fashion aims to reduce the negative impact on the environment. But I think that both are about sustainable clothing and about the money we spend been for the greater good.

The Patagonia clothing company is definitely setting the bar very high for other outdoor clothing manufacturers. Patagonia, allow you to re-cycle in store and provide guides for repairing and caring for other items. All of the cotton garments from this brand are certified organic by GOTS, so you know the entire manufacturing process follows organic guidelines. They’re also fair-trade certified. The clothes themselves are mostly comfortable, simple ever-day staples for men, women and children. Their website has a lot of great content and information.

Now, some very well-known names have started to join the movement for ethical and sustainable fashion. One of the biggest names in fashion is Ralph Lauren. This is a great example of a large brand making a simple change, yet it has the ability to make a significant impact on the environment because of its sales volume. The Earth Polo, also available in men’s and children’s variations, is made of recycled water bottles and uses dyes that don’t require water in the application process. Even though it’s just a shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren estimates that it will save the equivalent of 170 million plastic bottles from landfills by 2025.

One of my favourite designer companies is New York-based brand Theory. They have been committed to sustainability since the launch of its Good Initiative in 2017. Theory for Good spotlights the supply chain with the brand’s aim to make us, the customers, aware of where our clothing comes from and whose skills contribute to making our clothing. Originally focusing on wool sourced responsibly in Tasmania and South America and linen consciously crafted in Italy. The brand has now upped its sustainable credentials with Good Cotton, a newly launched capsule collection.

One of the UK’s most successful knitwear companies is Pringle.  For over two centuries this brand has embraced the traditional, the innovative and the unexpected. They have been using recycled fibres to creating limited- edition jumpers. This knitwear shows a commitment to the environment in more than one way as it featuring a graphic earth print and the word Re-Loved. No new raw materials were used in the production of the two jumpers made with 100% recycled fibres even the garment tags are recycled. Whilst not cheap, you can count on the brand’s knits to stay in style and the quality to last for years so consider these sweaters a long-term investment.

Now, these are all high- priced brands, but high-street brands and stores are still making changes. The fashion chain H&M has a Conscious collection, in which each item in the range has an aspect that lessens its environmental impact, like been made of organic cotton or recycled polyester. The prices start quite low so you don’t have to spend a fortune on sustainable fashion. I have bought items myself from this range and was impressed by the quality too. You can also recycle your unwanted clothing at H&M stores for a discount, even if it’s torn up and can’t be re-worn, the brand makes sure the clothes are used for something else and won’t end up in a landfill.

If you prefer to shop by mail-order, British brand- Boden is sustainable. The company, which was founded more than 25 years ago, is renowned for its clothing collections which are both ethical and expansive. Customers locally and abroad can shop for the whole family, as the brand offers expedited worldwide shipping options for its sustainable and affordable clothing for adults, children and babies. The clothes are shipped in recycled and recyclable packaging too.

We can try and make our wardrobes more planet-friendly in non-shopping ways by organising clothes swaps with friends, which could also be a fun way to spend an evening. There are also a number of high street initiatives that allow us to recycle our well-loved clothes when we no longer need them.

If we can direct our conscious spending towards clothing habits that make us feel and look good, without breaking the bank but also can contribute to others then we are all playing our part in the larger scheme of things. Remember as consumers you do have the power to change the way goods are made!

Sustainable and Ethical Fashion- Just Another Trend?

Even before COVID-19, fashion insiders were claiming that the fashion system was broken and had been for some time. The sheer speed of the fashion circle, heavy discounting, ethical problems and environmental issues had bought it to its knees. The fashion industry, causes more pollution than international flights and maritime combined. According to WRAP (waste and resources action programme) every year 350,00 tonnes of used clothing ends up in landfill. High-street fashion, is coming under more and more scrutiny. Shoppers are becoming more considered in their approach, now they know about the far greater costs of cheap labour, poor working conditions and the damage to the environment. More and more consumers want to become sustainable. However, the clothing industry is now the most unsustainable that it has ever been. For the health of the planet does this have to change once and for all?

Sustainable fashion is the movement and process of fostering change to the fashion industry and towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Concerning more than just addressing fashion textiles or garments. It comprises of addressing the whole infrastructure of fashion. While fast fashion describes clothing that is cheaply made and intended for short-term use, sustainable or ethical fashion is the pole opposite and is sometimes referred to as slow fashion. This takes into account the full life-cycle of the product from the design, sourcing and production processes. looking at everyone and everything it affects such as; the environment, the workers, their communities and even the consumer.

The textiles industry is wreaking havoc on the environment between the processes to make clothing and the waste when it gets thrown away. Both brands and consumers have been taking a much-needed interest in improving these issues. And while there’s no such thing as Eco-friendly clothing as all garments have at least some negative impact on the environment, there are brands, some very well- known, working diligently to help make a difference.  It’s a complex issue and there isn’t one brand on the market that’s currently capable of tackling everything on its own. I will write about some of these in my next blog.

There are five main issues being addressed in the fashion industry:

Water usage: The demands for fresh water for drinking and agriculture is far surpassing what’s available. As a result, some brands are now looking at their supply chains to see how they can cut back on how much water they’re using.

Hazardous chemicals: Dyes and finishes from the production processes are dangerous for the workers, and can pollute community water sources. These chemicals may not affect the consumers, but they can be a problem for the workers and the people who live in the same areas as the factories. Fashion brands are now tasked with coming up with new ways to address the damage caused by dyes and finishes.

Short lifecycle: Stores are constantly launching new designs and consumers are regularly updating their wardrobes. The biggest goal in sustainable fashion is to buy less, use things for longer and to make clothes last. Second-hand, used clothing is been promoted. Buying something used is more sustainable than anything new, so it’s automatically going to cost you less. The fashion industry calls it recommence and its totally on-trend.

Waste: On top of having a short lifecycle, there needs to be a way to create less rubbish by re-using and re-making products. One opportunity is using recycled materials in new clothing.

Agriculture: Natural fibres like cotton are often grown using pesticides and treatments that are harmful to the farmers, workers and wildlife in the area. There are now more options available for organic cotton, linen and other fibres which use less water than the conventional growing methods. Brands are looking at being organic throughout the production process not just by using organic fabric.

It requires, both a shift in what you buy and where you buy it from, when you want to be ethical and sustainable. Fast fashion is easy for consumers because it’s inexpensive, lasting for only a season and in some cases clothes that only last a few wears. With ethical fashion, the price tags for quality pieces can be daunting. A survey by the UK magazine Cosmopolitan on Instagram found 70% of their followers asked didn’t buy from sustainable fashion brands because they were too expensive. There is an argument for all or nothing calling for companies to become 100% sustainable. In truth, the only piece of clothing which is a 100% sustainable is the one already in your wardrobe. High street brands that are at least trying to go down a more ethical route have been accused of Green-washing and just trying to be seen as doing the right thing to sell more clothes. Its certainly hard to come up with the best solution and it is too easy to just say companies should do more.

The most sustainable fabric is one that’s been used previously, anything new regardless of the material, has a negative impact on the environment. More companies are looking at fabrics made with recycled material, most commonly you’ll find polyester made from recycled water bottles. The labels should show details like 100% recycled polyester or made with partially recycled materials.

There has been a return to the pre-loved and second-hand market, with many great re-sale apps and websites. Charity shops are a gold-mine for interesting bits and pieces and better still, you may find something that no-one else has and you are helping the charity to raise money.  Well-known celebrities, like Professor Green have been in TV advertisements talking about looking after clothes and having the same jacket for 15 years. Going back to my minimalist blogpost having clothing that you love, look after and wear all the time is a practical, affordable way to follow fashion in your own personal style in 2020.

Is sustainable fashion and ethical clothing the latest fashion trend? Or is the fashion industry talking steps towards doing the right thing or has it been forced into a corner by consumers who are no longer accepting throwaway fashion? When I grew up in the 1970s, I saved up for months, from my weekend job, to buy some jeans, admittedly from a designer brand, then I wore and wore them for ages and I really treasured them. This doesn’t happen much now, perhaps it should!