What is Sustainable and Ethical Fashion? Have you heard these terms? Bought clothes identified as such? Are sustainable and ethical different things? I’m exploring these concepts for myself and decided to take you along with me as I go rather than wait until I had it all figured out. I’m working on being more intentional in a variety of aspects of my life this year and this is something I want to be more informed about in my clothing purchasing decisions.
Here is what I’ve found so far. There is no single agreed upon standard for what qualifies as sustainable or ethical. There are a lot of factors included in each concept. And, no, they are not the same thing. Different brands focus on different elements and each has a different bar that they have set for themselves.
If I were to summarize my perspective at this point based on what I’ve read, here is what I would say:
Sustainable fashion seems to be most directly related to issues of product sourcing and production processes—environmental issues.
Ethical fashion is most highly associated with factors like fair working conditions and wages—social issues.
Some people lump these two concepts together, others just use the terms interchangeably, but everyone seems to agree that at the core, they are both about being more responsible in our practices in the fashion industry. Clearly, these are complex issues. I’m not going to dive in further in this post, but I will certainly be coming back to both of these in future posts and explaining in more depth the various factors that brands might take into consideration in trying to implement more sustainable and ethical practices.
In my early exploration I came across frequent complaints that sustainable/ethical fashion options are too expensive and people can’t justify spending that much more money on their clothes. But I think part of what is misunderstood (or willingly ignored) is that much like other industries, if you want better quality you will have to pay more money in some cases. If I want workers to earn a livable wage, I’m going to have to be willing to be part of the solution and pay more for my products. Turning a blind eye and buying a shirt at Old Navy for $7 certainly isn’t going to accomplish my goal of improving working conditions around the world. Also, part of this process for me is going to be finding brands that offer a range of price points. I’ve already identified some great companies that have totally reasonable prices for their items. The other piece to this complaint, at least the way I see it, is that so many of us are over-consumers when it comes to clothes. I’m trying to change that personal habit. So while I may be paying a little more in some cases for an individual item, I’m not buying as many items so it will balance out much better for me financially.
In addition to learning more about these issues as concepts, I’ve started exploring brands that prioritize sustainable and ethical practices. My first two purchases came from Amour Vert and Everlane.
I purchased two long-sleeved t-shirts for my first foray into this brand. The quality seems great. I love the feel of the fabric. It is soft and has a nice stretch and drape to it. Both shirts are primarily made with their Modal fabric. Modal is made from beechwood that requires less land for cultivation and less water than regular cotton (this is an example of a more sustainable practice for product sourcing). The sizing is on par with what I would get elsewhere for a similar style and aligns with their size guide. For you long torso ladies, this is a great length, too. I’ll have to see how they hold up over time and washing, but I’m definitely going to be checking out some regular tees for the summer in the next few months. A bonus is that all their t-shirts are machine washable and can go in the dryer.
Their focus is on “…American manufacturing, non-toxic dyes, sustainable fabrics, a zero-waste philosophy, and enduring style. Sustainable to us means simply being smart about the decisions made in our design and manufacturing process…We strive to have the lowest impact on our environment and other people we possibly can.”
Another great thing about this purchase is that Amour Vert plants a tree for every tee they sell. So essentially, I bought two shirts and planted two trees! That makes me feel really great about my purchase. This program has helped to plant 159,000 trees in North America so far.
I really went out on a limb with my first purchase from Everlane. I bought a pair of mid-rise boyfriend jeans. That may not sound risky to you, but for a super shortie like me with minimal waistline, this could have gone very wrong. The length is obviously longer on me than the model, but I knew that would be the case. I am continually shocked at how limited petite-length jean/pant options are across most brands. The mid-rise is really more of a mid/high rise for me (hits just at the belly button)- again, what I expected. And exactly what I was worried about. I don’t have a cute tapered waist like all of the images of high-waisted jeans being modeled. I just don’t have that traditional tapered hourglass shape, so I was worried the higher waist would either feel uncomfortable or look horrible, but most likely, I was afraid it would do both. While I would probably like the look more if I did have a more narrowed waist, they are not uncomfortable (I did have to get used to it for a couple of wears though) and my body is what it is….it is best to accept it, love it, and move on. (According to my husband, my butt looks good in them, so that’s a win.) The jean has a nice thickness and is 98% cotton. I’ll keep you posted on whether they stretch just right or too much after more wears.
I’m pretty happy with my first purchases and I will certainly be purchasing from both brands again. I’m looking forward to the challenge of being more mindful in my fashion purchasing and opening my eyes to the reality of all the harm many aspects of the fashion world have created and supported for so many years.
Have you explored the ideas of sustainable and ethical fashion? Is there something specific you’d like to understand better that I can tackle for you in my next blog on this topic? Even better, have you been practicing either or both of these as a fashion consumer and have a brand to share with me that you love?