What is Ethical Fashion? Your Sustainable Fashion Shopping Guide

What is Ethical Fashion? Your Sustainable Fashion Shopping Guide

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While browsing through your favorite brands in an online shopping spree, you might have come across terms like ethical and sustainable brands.

That begs a thought – What exactly is ethical fashion? And, how does it apply to the fashion industry?

Let me decode this for you..

Honestly, there’s no single definition of ethical fashion. However, conceptually all the definitions have the same underlying logic.

Ethical fashion is an approach that ensures fair treatment to the people, animals, and the environmental resources involved in the fashion sector at every stage – right from conceptualization to design, production, purchase, till the finished product reaches the end customer.

Ethical fashion encompasses a variety of practices – fair wages to the workers, good working conditions, transparency and fair price to the growers and merchants.

For a vegan product, animal cruelty – use of animal parts, and testing on animals are also included.

From a sustainability viewpoint, ethical fashion brands also try to address critical issues related to environmental impact like pollution, wastage, and natural resources utilization while producing garments and other fashion products.

Is Ethical fashion different from sustainable fashion?

happy best asian friends choosing fabric bags in street shophappy best asian friends choosing fabric bags in street shop

Ethics refer majorly to the human side of things, whereas sustainability covers environmental aspects. Although these two terms differ technically, in the fashion world, they go hand in hand most of the times.

Let me give you an example to clear the concepts.

A company X works aggressively to provide fair wages, routinely holds health checkups and gives them regular time-offs to all its workers in its factory. However, this company manufactures garments from artificial fibers. They also uses chemical dyes that may cause allergies to the people who are exposed to it.

In this case, the company may be termed ethical, but not sustainable.

On the contrary, Company Y produces clothes from pesticide free cotton, use non-toxic natural dyes, rely on solar energy in the production cycle and has processes to reduce water consumption extensively. However, they severely underpay the workers, and exploit them further by making them work for long hours. Moreover, they follow non-transparent trade practices including unfair prices to cotton growers.

Here, company Y is sustainable to a certain extent, but completely unethical.

In summary…

Sustainable fashion refers to environmentally friendly ways of sourcing, producing and distributing the clothing products.


Ethical fashion refers to fair treatment to the people and animals involved at every stage in the fashion ecosystem.

Makes sense?

But let me ask you this…

Would you like a company that takes care of its employees but destroys the environment?


Would you like to shop at a company that sells only organic and recycled products made by slave labor?

Hence, it is critical for brands to adapt both ethics and sustainability.

A brand can be ethical only if it is sustainable.

…and vice vera.

Which is why we’d like to call it – Sustainable Ethical Fashion.

Slow Fashion Vs. Fast Fashion

stack of blue jeans on chairstack of blue jeans on chair

When we combine the principles of ethics and sustainability in fashion, we essentially get what we call as Slow Fashion.

Slow Fashion is a mindset that revolves around reducing the rate at which you need new clothes and garments.

In stark contrast, Fast Fashion industry aims to roll out new fashion regularly to encourage more spending. They do so by producing low quality products that wears out soon and by advertising new trends that lures people into refreshing their wardrobe frequently.

Why is Ethical Sustainable Fashion Important

Reduces Natural Resource Usage – Ethical labels employ efficient sustainable practices to reduce dependence of conventional sources of energy and lean more towards renewable sources.

You’ll find practices like reduced water consumption, use of organic raw materials, zero-waste processes, use of solar energy, etc. quite commonly employed.

Long Lasting Environmentally friendly products – Sustainably produced clothes do not pollute the environment during its manufacturing. Due to meticulous processes, they also tend to last long. Most products are easily compostable.

Supports Worker Rights – Ethically conscious companies ensure every person involved in the production and distribution cycle gets a fair share of the value addition, apart from good working conditions.

Ethical brands also encourages local communities and their upliftment. Some brands choose to work towards a cause that is in the best interest of the planet.

Ethical Treatment to Animals – No animals are harmed during the production or testing processes. You might have heard of the term “cruelty-free”.

Vegan products further ensure that no animal parts or products are ever used.

Encourages Slow Fashion – Ethical fashion urges you to use your clothes for longer. It also motivates you to buy used clothes instead of buying new ones.

Feels Amazing – In the end, it’s all about how you feel wearing that cloth from an ethical brand. Imagine the feeling when you know that you’re not only helping the environment, but also the workers, the communities and even animals by choosing ethical fashion over fast fashion.

How to shop ethically and contribute to slow fashion

Keeping some important points in mind, you can always ensure that you are a conscious shopper.

Let’s see what they are.

Do not buy clothes unless absolutely essential

You can start with simplest thing first. Don’t overhaul your wardrobe so soon. Keep using that jacket that you bought last Christmas.

But what if you think that the fashion has faded and that jacket looks dated?

Explore possibilities such as altering your clothing so that it matches the latest trend. You can choose to approach your neighborhood tailoring store or even trying doing it yourself. There’s a lot of DIY groups online that can help you with that. Bonus? Tailoring skills!

Start Thrift Shopping

Thrift shopping is a blessing in the world of ethical fashion. Thrift shopping basically means buying used fashion.

There’s a ton of thrift shopping stores, both online and offline where you can buy used and vintage clothing. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the collection and the hidden gems you might find in your next thrifting spree.

Make a list of ethical fashion brands

Choose to shop only from certified ethical brands. Such brands are audited either internally, or by third party agencies for their eco-friendly and worker-friendly processes. Their websites transparently showcase their sustainability efforts, which can help you decide whether to shop with them or not.

5 Best Ethical fashion brands to Get Started

People Tree

People Tree proudly promotes fair trade, environmentally and ethically sustainable fashion. They take keen interest in providing livelihoods of people in rural areas by providing fair wages and procuring materials by paying in advance.

People Tree sells handmade garments made with certified organic cotton. Moreover, they use sustainable natural dyes, biodegradable and recycled products in their manufacturing process

Shop at People Tree

Girlfriend Collective

Girlfriend Collective is a US based activewear brand for women. They encourage women who are conscious about how the clothes are made and also about making an impact with their purchase.

With its activewear range, Girlfriend Collective is on a mission “to help people lead more sustainable lives and rethink the active wear industries role in saving the earth.”

Shop at Girlfriend Collective

Sanctuary Clothing

Sanctuary Clothing is a US based fashion brand incepted in 1997, that is on a mission to be inclusive and sustainable. They have an impressive number of sustainability initiatives at every step – product, factory, socially and internally.

They also support non-profits that work towards women empowerment.

Shop at Sanctuary Clothing

Christy Dawn

Christy Dawn is a US based clothing brand that commits itself to honor the earth and the people. It firmly believes in living and working in harmony with nature in such a way that everyone in the ecosystem benefits.

Shop at Christy Dawn

Saint + Sofia (US)

Saint + Sofia is a London based fashion brand with operations in USA, UK and Europe. They create fairtrade and sustainable fashion clothing and accessories. Their raw material includes organic cotton and regenerated nylon made from ocean plastic.

Shop at Saint + Sofia (US)


Sustainable ethical shopping has its long term advantages for people, animals, environment and the planet itself. With all the basics in place, you are now ready to dive deeper into the world of conscious shopping.

Do not forget to share your research and knowledge with everyone to improve the awareness and help expand the sustainable living community.

Which are your favorite ethical brands and what do you like most about them?