I will admit, my brain isn’t all here today.
Behind the scenes over here, I’m learning about the ins and outs of ethical fashion. There’s so much to learn, and I’m pretty new to it, so I feel like I’m in college again.
When I first started learning + diving into the issues behind fashion, I felt like I was on a roller coaster. Hopeful one minute, cynical the next. I needed a touchstone — something to keep me grounded as I navigated all the feels. This quote is that touchstone for me:
“It’s easy to be a naive idealist. It’s easy to be a cynical realist. It’s quite another thing to have no illusions and still hold the inner flame.” — Marie-Louise von Franz
Have no illusions and still hold the inner flame. Yes to that.
I wanted to wait until I felt like I had all this ethical fashion stuff figured out before bringing it up here, but there’s so much to be said for learning together, in community.
So, let’s just start.
I wanted to ask you: What are the obstacles you face when you approach ethical fashion? When you think about building an ethical closet, what resistance do you face?
And real quick, if you’ve got it figured out already, that’s awesome. You are doing so much good and I’m high-fiving you. But right now, in the comments, I want to hold some space specifically for the questions. For curiosity. For grace.
For I don’t have it all figured out and right now that’s okay.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for some guidance on building an ethical closet, Capsules has a wealth of information when you sign up for their capsule builder. I couldn’t be more grateful to call the people of Capsules my friends. They are a team of sensitive + kind humans — and they are hungry for change. We’ve recently joined forces, so if you’re looking for more in-depth guidance with your capsule, we’ve got you covered.
I hope you have the best day today.
And I can’t wait to start this conversation with you. Thanks for sharing it with me.
Denim jacket (old) / similar (made in USA) / similar for less
Crop tee (old) / similar (made in USA) / similar in solids colors (made responsibly)
Bag by Marc Jacobs / similar (made in USA)
Shorts by Everlane (made responsibly)
I think what puts me off of ‘ethical’ fashion is a combination of the prices and the styles that I’ve seen available in the past. I don’t want to look like a hippy because that’s not me – I still need those clothes to work well in my circles of life. Ethical fashion can also be super pricey – i’m not the kinda girl who begrudges paying more for quality (I shop in very few stores now I have my capsule started) but I do kinda resent an extra 0 on the end for ethical…
These are my reasons, too! Ethical fashion seems to all have a certain “look” that isn’t my style. I also hate ordering clothes online. I want to try them on in a store and not have to oder 30 items that *might* work.
Ethical fashion is not about buying new items every season from different retailers or brands. There are ways to participate in ethical fashion without routinely buying new things and contributing to mass consumption. You can shop a new wardrobe every season without consuming anything new by going to consignment shops.
Ethical fashion can cover a variety of practices beyond buying new items. It is about wearing the clothes you already own in your closet instead of buying new pieces. It is about keeping your items in good condition and repairing them so that they last longer and do not contribute to landfills as quickly. It is also about selecting higher quality items, which have a longer life and do not get worn out and discarded as fast. It is also about buying clothes through shopping thrift or at consignment stores which is about using what has already been made. It is also about re purposing, since may of the items donated to charity shops end up in the landfill. Ethical fashion also expands beyond “fair trade” and can have to do with the environmental ethics of a company such as; how polluting they are to rivers and the degradation of the environment. It can also have to do with pesticide use in the farming of cotton, the sustainability of materials or the treatment of animals.
The documentary “True Cost” is very informative and I highly recommend it.
This is what I do- I only buy clothes secondhand. I have a 4 year old and a 4 month old and I stick to secondhand for their clothes, too. I’m glad that companies are trying to produce clothes ethically, but for me, I can’t really see clothing as a long term investment. Sure, a $200 sweater might hold up better, but if my 4 year old sharpies all over it, its going to be just as ruined. I do try to take care of my clothes, but short of wearing a hazmat suit around my children, this just isn’t always possible.
Bonnie Busick says
I agree that there is a lot to learn about ethical fashion. I don’t think that any one company can meet all of the requirements that makes a company “ethical”, but there are some better than others. Right now I’m saying “fudge it” to clothing companies because, now, at the age of 49, I’m learning how to sew. I’m REALLY practicing “slow fashion” now (ha, ha,)! Right now I buy a lot of cheap fabric that I’m sure is not ethically made because I’m learning. When I’ve acquired some more skill, I will be buying better fabrics. Jo-Anne’s has some cotton fabrics made in the USA which are not to pricey.
I wish you well Bonnie. Not sure where you live in the country, but we went into the most amazing fabric store in New Orleans. They purchase left over fabrics from major fashion houses to keep them from going in the garbage. It’s amazing to walk through the store and see the bolts of fabrics and the photos of the clothes that were made from the fabrics. Truly an amazing place to visit.
Ethical fashion for me right now is focused on consuming less. Are we wearing our clothes out? (I purchase 95% of the clothing for my family of four.) Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle applies to clothing too.
What store in New Orleans??
It gets even more complicated when you factor in sustainable and non-toxic fashion :/
Most fabrics in our clothes are heavily treated with chemicals during the dyeing and finishing process (worst culprits are anything “wrinkle-free” or “water-resistant”, although almost all clothing now is sprayed with formaldehyde resins in manufacturing, which is really dangerous to humans and doesn’t come out even with repeated washings). Ack.
I’ve started poking around in some of the most popoular “ethical” clothing companies, and was sad to find all but one of them still uses fabrics heavily treated with toxic finishes, formaldehyde, etc. Even the companies that claimed to be eco-friendly AND ethically made, turned out they were using fabrics with toxic (and I mean, SUPER toxic) crap in the dye. Arggg!!!
Agree with this comment 100%. The only brand I have found that I like and that is priced reasonably is Everlane. I have spent quite a while looking for others with a style I like that aren’t super expensive and haven’t found anything else at all so far…
Trish O says
But Everlane only goes to a size 10. I am a 10/12 and it does not always work for me. JCrew always fits, so I ship there. Makes me sad
I didn’t read through all the comments, I would be interested if you uncovered or discovered plus size ethical clothing. I wear a 22-24 but size up//down depending on brand, cut, etc. i’m 56 have a classic style with a modern edge and would love to share the information or if you could point me in the direction and I can research further.
Chloe Belford says
One thing to remember about “ethical” fashion is that it is priced in a way that means the people making it are actually earning a decent wage. I live in Cambodia, where a WHOLE LOT of big fashion companies (H&M being one of them) have their factories, and the national minimum wage for garment factory workers is $140 (usd) a month. That breaks down to about $5 per day, often for 12 hour days, 6 days per week. When you actually live within driving distance of these factories and can see some of the conditions the workers are in…it makes that $8 shirt a lot less appealing. My friend here started a zero waste fashion company (www.tonledesign.com) here that actually pays their staff much higher than the average wage, and yes, her stuff is more expensive, but that’s because the people making the pieces are paid properly. So that’s what’s done it for me – either try and buy from ethical brands, or if I can’t buy it, then don’t buy anything at all and shop my existing closet :)
Samantha | There She Goes Again says
Have you heard of People Tree? I’m not big on the hippie style either, but People Tree is ethical and has some more professional silhouettes! Plus when they have sales the prices are pretty decent :)
Here’s a great article about the importance of having ethical options. My friend and music colleague, Scott Fitzsimmons owns this vegan shoe store in Harvard Sq.
I’m very new to ethical fashion and haven’t really formed my own definition yet. Honestly I was just getting comfortable with the capsule. Ethical seems like another layer that won’t necessarily be simple for me to incorporate. But I’m open to stretching myself. Looking forward to seeing your journey and not sure when I’ll begin mine.
I find that it leaves me frozen. I can’t bear to buy more ‘cheap but expensive’- non-ethically made pieces but then I have nothing to wear to work. Then I buy just one thing and wear it to death. so, I guess it’s really understanding the big picture: both choosing wisely and fitting what’s available into my work and casual life. So much to consider. Happy for this place to learn.
Hi, I’m not familiar at all with ethical fashion. I’m not opposed to trying any new style. Moving from Austin to Dayton, Ohio 9 years ago, has really set me back and turning 50! I can’t wait to learn from your blog! I’m a busy Mom of 2 boys, 11 & 8 years, and need comfort and casual laid back, like Austin styles. Too, just tried to sign up for the capsule on your site, with no success-is it down??? Thanks for your blog and help. ❤️, Marti.
It’s a combination of needing to know what the good companies are, plus the higher price. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely worth the money to me if I can find an ethical brand that is also high quality and will last. But it just takes longer to build up a wardrobe having to pay more!
Agreed! Pricetag + knowledge are my biggest roadblocks. I’m happy to pay more to an extent if it’s something my style, but finding out whose prices aren’t sky high + are my style + are ethically made is just a huge challenge.
I’d love it if some of you shared what some of your go-to sources are – whether it’s US-made, or organic, or fair-trade-made-by-women, or whatever. The sources are the hardest part for me, too, but with a little [obsessive] research, I’ve found more than I expected. With a smaller closet, there are just a few specific pieces I need each season, and paying more for them is less of an issue – and I’ve been surprised to find that it isn’t all that much more in most cases. It’s also been a gradual change of mindset over time that helps it to feel almost natural to me now.
I’ve had luck with or that I’d like to try, in no particular order:
American Giant – US-made sweatshirts and joggers
United by Blue – some, not all, is made in US, all organic though
American Apparel – source for leggings, inexpensive, but much of what they produce doesn’t suit me
Locally Grown – awesome US-made t-shirts
Bridge and Burn
ModCloth – some made in US
ModBod – okay US-made layering tops
Focus Handbags – has a line of US-made leather totes
I also hit up websites like Amazon, Overstock, Nordstrom, Sierra Trading Post and search for “made in USA jeans” for example – you can find out pretty quickly if a site has anything, and learn about new brands then go direct to that brand’s website if necessary. And you can go hyper-local on Etsy if you can find what your looking for (see Woolen Moss, Silk Oak, to name a few). This might make it sound like I shop a lot, but it’s a lot more looking than buying. My goal is 1-2 pieces per month max once I get my foundation wardrobe a little more established, and I try to pay for them with $ I earn selling things on ebay so that my wardrobe has “zero footprint” on my family budget. Ha! It is a verrry slow process that way!
Alas, t-shirts are easy. Shoes are hard. I need help here. I have Maine-made LL Bean Boots, and some boots US-made boots purchased at Sierra Trading Post for way below retail. I am eyeing some Minnesota-made clogs by Sven for fall. I love the Aurora Shoe Co in upstate NY, but they have limited styles. (For the hubby, I adore Red Wing Shoes in Minnesota but I wish they made womens!) When I can’t find US-made I look for ethically European made – Birkenstocks, El Naturalista, etc., Italian-made sandals (from J.Crew or Everlane for example) or to places like Fortress of Inca (Peru) or Sseko (Africa), which I learned about from recent posts of Caroline’s. All of these choices seem to support a local craftsmanship/artisan ethic and I feel better about factory conditions and environmental stewardship at these types of factories than I do about those in Asia (unless it’s a very transparent company manufacturing things in Asia, like Fair Indigo or maybe Everlane). That being said, I just ordered some Dansko ankle boots made in China this week. I just couldn’t find a better substitute for the style I was looking for. Dang it, I’m trying. Holding the inner flame! It means so much to me to finally be cleaning my wardrobe, that it’s worth the trouble, and I love to spread the word about companies I believe in. They need our support! Anyway, I’ve been blabbing. I hope this helps but I’d love to learn what others do!!
I was just re-reading my comment and I felt self-conscience as silly as that seems – because gosh I forgot to mention, of course I thrift too – esp for my kids and husband. For my own closet, buying as little as I do now, the thrifting almost has to happen on ebay. But I buy all my kids’ clothes at children’s consignment stores or Goodwill. No one probably cares but I just had to add that in. I sew and knit too (with re-purposed fabric/yarn when possible) but I also focus those efforts on my kids’ stuff. I’m not good/patient enough to sew and knit my own things yet! None of this is a perfect system but it’s where I am right now. :)
Sven clogs are my FAVORITE! Cannot recommend them highly enough.
http://www.softstarshoes.com/ I haven’t brought from them, and only found them recently, but thought they might be relevant for you.
Lynn thank you so, so much for posting all of these resources! What a great “starter kit” of places to look into as “go-to” shops. Really appreciate it! :)
Meredith Benesh says
I just purchased a great white t-shirt from Zady.com. I’ve always liked my Gap or J crew t-shirts and thought they were nice but when this zady shirt arrived in the mail and I got my hands on it, oooooh my! It is so lovely and soft and feels so high quality. I hope I get years of wear out of it.
Jen roy says
Yes, I agree 100%. There is only one resource I know of that has a list of ethically made clothing companies on The Art of Simple blog. I also struggle with cost right now. So many ethically made clothing companies are higher prices and while I understand why they are, it makes it difficult for me to be able to purchase from them and not Old Navy who sends me daily emails about sales they are having.
Amanda Fenton says
Such great questions! My challenges with ethical fashion is finding information on the product on if they are made in an ethical and eco-friendly way, and also the materials used. E.g. Everlane has great info about where the item is made, but not as much about the fabric/materials. Are the fabrics eco friendly and how are they so? Something might be cut/sewn in an ethical way (e.g. wages, conditions) but if the fabrics they are using are not eco friendly than I don’t feel as good purchasing. I have been very loyal to Nicole Bridger because of her commitment to these issues – you can read more on her transparency page: http://www.nicolebridger.com/pages/transparency
The other challenge is options! Where to buy from? What websites/stores/lines have ethical/eco friendly options? A curated list would be so so helpful.
I second Amanda, how do I trust that the product is truly ethical?
And the other part as I whittle down to a capsule (or maybe a uniform!) wardrobe – I have spent my career in retail (worked NYFW and as a buyer for a national retailer) so I would like to continue dressing fashion forward. There is a predictable evolution to fashion, and I try to make my few purchases where we are going rather than where we have been. As a question, where do I find help with bringing the ethical, the fashion, without the intensity of advertisements that I used to use magazine for?
Nadia Kao says
Ecocult has a great list of sustainable and ethical brands under their “Shopping Guide”! It’s been very helpful for me. Here’s their website: http://ecocult.com/
Becky bondy says
I’m starting out in ethical fashion too! And I’m with you, I don’t have it figured out perfectly either. But I’m glad you want to start talking about it. I love your blog btw :) I have found a couple online sites, threads for thought, pact are both great options that my husband and I like. I’ve bought a few things and have liked them! Also price wise, those sites aren’t bad, especially clearance. But my main problem is they are online, so it’s hard to not get to try it on beforehand. So that’s been my obstacle. And my question. What are stores, that have a physical store to shop at, are ethical? I’ve done some thrift shopping or platos, but they aren’t always successful. So I wish there were more actual stores to go to that are ethical. And I’m sure there are some out there, but I’m not totally sure how to find that out!
For me, it takes so long to build an ethical wardrobe, due to costs, that I can’t build it fast enough. My clothes get worn out quicker than I can replace them. For example, bought a new pair of jeans in September, they’re already nearly worn through in several places.
Oh goodness. I’m working a new job researching the past and present of agriculture, and that quote rings true to me. Thanks for sharing, it’s definitely making its way into the desk drawer.
I don’t mind shopping online but I really like to be able to try on clothes, especially if it’s a brand that’s new to me. It’s so hard to tell how something will fit just by seeing it on the model on the website. I’ve been shopping at Everlane for years, and I know what size I am and how things will fit (despite not ordering my size according to their size chart). But there’s soooo many more options out there, and I’d love to support smaller independent designers. I’d love to see tips for how to shop locally. Or how get over my fear of returns and exchanges :)
Three things, really:
1) sizing. I’m solidly plus size, and most ethical fashion comes in sizes 6-10, 12 at most. All the goodwill in the world won’t get me into clothes that are way too small for me. If I’m going to wear it, it must come in my size. This should be a no-brainer, but in reality it’s anything but.
2) styles. A lot of ethical fashion is either hippy or…shall we say artistic. Meaning that it really doesn’t cater for people who mostly need smart casual or just simple mainstream clothes. A petrol linen tunic is really no substitute for a classic white shirt, a tie-dyed broomstick skirt isn’t suitable for events that call for an LBD. I know basic clothes are kind of boring, but they are called basic for a good reason. The fact that one can’t or doesn’t want to express her ethical convictions via her dress style doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t be happy to buy her wardrobe basics in ethical versions.
3)quality. It’s really great if materials are sustainable and the product wasn’t produced in sweatshop. It truly is. And being plus size, I’m well used to paying premium prices for quality products. But still, I see way too many “ethical” items that are crappy quality yet expensive because- hey, they are ethical. I fail to see what is really ethical in an item that is so poorly made that it falls apart in a few months or in a material that has a heartwarming background but is really poor quality.
Yes, yes, yes! I agree!
That is exactly where I am. Even with the perfect ethical pedigree, price and style- they don’t make it in my size. So I currently don’t bother since clothes that fit trumps all the other considerations at the moment.
lottie @ yellow bliss photography says
I agree. I’m an easy-to-find size and I was born in a hippie town (santa cruz) so it’s all pretty cool with me – but those are definitely real issues that make it that much harder to shop more ethically.
If you’re looking for dresses, Eshakti is the best about sizing and quality. their summer collections are my favorite, right now their stuff is pretty funky, but if you wait a few months they get some nice pieces and some super stylish, timeless LBDs. What I like best is that you can get it tailored to your size (up to 36) and all of the clothes I’ve got (two dresses for me, one for my sister, and another sister bought a dress and skirt) have been great fits.
hope that helps,
I agree, too! Even though I am on the other side of the size-scale – many brands are just waaay to big for me, even the smallest size they offer.
Exactly! I LOVE the styles that the newer ethical places offer- places like Everlane, Kit and Ace etc… They do not offer clothing sized for anyone size 12 or up (or if they do the sizing is on the small end). I do not expect them to offer everything to all but for now I wait and buy less, buy better and at some point I will be able to get an ethically made t-shirt made in North America in my size.
Hi Ana, I’m curious that you mention Kit and Ace – where have you found info on their manufacturing/ethics? I would be interested to know more. I know many people who work for lululemon and the consensus has always been that the overseas manufacturing has been appropriate in terms of working conditions (fibres and dying would be another matter that I can’t speak to). I’d like to assume Kit and Ace would also follow good practices, but honestly, I can’t find much info, and they didn’t seem to handle the fur origins issue terribly well, which suggests a lack of transparency in the supply chain.
This! As a plus size I could not agree more. Id pay the prices I do now for ethical WELL MADE products in my size, if there were any to be found. Alas…..
Kaitlyn S says
Yes! This! Absolutely the sizing issue – I’m on the edge of plus sized – in some places I’m still a regular and in some the plus is better. And I have a super long torso, which is compounded by my not so small waist and chest.
But all ethical fashion I can find are for teeny-tiny women – how do I find things that fit me that are still ethically sourced?!
Biggest pet peeve, by far. I can stomach the cost, I get it, but I hate that I can’t find my size.
The US made/sustainable brands I have experience with have all been top quality, so I guess it depends on where you shop. Plus sizes – I don’t wear a plus size but I can imagine that being a big issue – I haven’t noticed that size range being an option at most sites. I did notice ModCloth has some US-made items in plus sizes, though they don’t go into specifics on fabric sources or supply chain. I have had good luck when I communicate directly with these companies – many of them are small and take customer feedback directly into account when designing their next season’s line. Maybe write to some of your favorites and ask? If everyone asked….
And I guess the companies I purchase from don’t strike me as hippy whatsoever. A few are more outdoorsy, maybe, but not hippy. When I finally sat down and designated a few hours to research, I was surprised at what I found. But it wasn’t easy to find it at first. Good luck!!!
Love love this simple chic look!
Personally I think the fast fashion model we’re currently on is unsustainable. The race to the bottom rarely results in anything good, and unfortunately all we can really do is wait for the cycle to break, which is probably not anytime soon. As a consumer I pick and choose very carefully what I buy from fast fashion chains, and I take care of those garments to ensure they last. I keep those purchases infrequent and prefer to invest in more quality pieces, even if that means a smaller closet! ;D
xo, alice / T Y P E N U
I’ve thankfully been introduced to ethical fashion by a few bloggers now (you being one!) and have found a few lists they have put out detailing some good ethical brands to check out. That made it super helpful. But now that I have the knowledge, it’s hard to even think about purchasing from Targer or Old Navy or similar because I feel like I should be voting better with my dollars. I recently ordered from ThredUp and have been thrifting recently to add to my next capsule so that makes me feel good. I think it’s a balance of having the knowledge and also not feeling guilty for not being able to just go all in all at once for ethical brand purchases. It’s a mind shift that is achieved over time I think…
I think the most ethical thing I’m capable of right now is to buy re-sale items. It makes me feel good that nothing new had to be produced & I’m giving something previously loved &/or vintage a new life. I admire clothing made of sustainable materials like bamboo, I just haven’t purchased much yet – just a sundress once while on vacation. When thinking about fair trade & items manufactured humanely, I kind of become paralyzed by my lack of knowledge, so for me, right now, resale & vintage are the way to go.
I am in the same situation as you. I donate a lot, and get discounts on the same store when shopping, so shopping for clothing is cheaper that way. I have resolved to buy nothing new this year, so am relying on thrift stores or making my own clothes from funky fabrics I find in those thrift stores. Pretty telling that I started my capsule closet by tossing out probably 40 percent of my clothing, and still had more than enough to work with in choosing my 3 month periods……
This rings true to me; my budget is very limited at the moment and I don’t feel guilty if I buy something resale/vintage, because hopefully that’s keeping the stuff out of landfills and I am not part of the primary market for production. Sometimes I honestly forget, see something on clearance and buy it… but I can’t feel good about it later. I appreciate this thread and the more information that is shared and attention brought to the problem, hopefully it will become easier to make good decisions and more demand should create more (and more affordable!) supply. I’ve also noticed fairindigo.com; pretty moderate prices but I haven’t bought yet… wonder if anyone knows the quality?
I fully agree… Buying second hand seems to be the best option really. We need to break that terrible circle of producing too much, buying too much and throwing away… Buying pre-loved items seem to be ideal to solve so many issues (the environment, cheap labor in harsh/hazardous conditions…).
Agree too on second-hand. Since I buy so few clothes now, I find thrifting for myself rather difficult unless I am buying a specific item on ebay. (I do even buy US-made boots and clothing second hand on ebay, even though once it’s purchased and used, it probably doesn’t make much difference to the earth whether it’s from Los Angeles or China). :) But I do buy ALL my kids’ clothing second-hand (except athletic shoes), and much of my home/kitchen items as well. So I’d just add, that if thrifting is a challenge for yourself, don’t give up on it – it’s much easier for husbands and kids! :)
Being totally new to this, I think knowing certain stores/companies/brands we could buy with confidence would be a huge first step. And, as most everyone else has said, price. i think we all realize the prices will be higher, but paying many times as much (or, as one commenter said, “having a 0 added to the end”) just isn’t the world I live in. And I suspect I’m not alone. So perhaps adding a discussion of how buying used fits into this. Buying from a thrift store/garage sale/eBay would certainly be my solution when faced with the $278 USA-made denim jacket you linked to. And it might be more palatable than buying one for $30 at Old Navy or Target.
I agree! Rather than spend a fortune on something new, I’d much rather thrift! :)
My biggest issue with buying second hand is that it in and of itself drives up the cost of the new items. From what I can recall via college economics, the second hand market for an item plays a hand in driving the wheel for the newly manufactured product. I’ve always tied that over into it driving up the demand for newer products, too, but that could just be an assumption. Still better than buying new, I guess, but… Thoughts? Anyone else thought about this, or am I crazy?
Hi Jennie, I only know from personal experience and from reading a lot about the slow fashion movement over the past few years, but I’ve seen second hand prices go up due to the rise in popularity of thrifting and prices of new items remain the same. For example, it’s not uncommon to see Forever 21 pieces in the thrift store for the same price they probably sold new on clearance. Where the second hand market creates issues is in countries like Africa where literal tons of US second hand clothing overflow from thrift shops is shipped over and undermining any potential growth of their own textile industry.
Allison Metcalfe says
I’ve started to dive into this subject in my own blog efforts and have been reading Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change by Kate Fletcher & Lynda Grose. It’s basically a textbook so definitely some college flashbacks there. But it breaks down every step in the garment making process down to different types of fibers and what’s considered eco-friendly and what’s not. There is so much that goes into this subject that I never even knew existed and while reading all of the technical details can be overwhelming, it gives you a great deal of perspective on what goes into making a garment ethically. I’ve found that I appreciate sustainable designers even more as I read this book.
Sidenote: thank you for being my inspiration in changing my shopping habits and being more content and creative with what I have :)
I’m so glad you’re opening up this space to have this conversation. Honestly, there have been times when I’ve bought clothes just because they were ethically made but I felt uncomfortable with the fit or the style. So now I’m just focusing on buying clothes that I love, fit great, and work well with my lifestyle. When I’m really intentional with what I buy, then I buy less which I think is just as important.
I’ve been trying to buy clothes more ethically in the past year or so, and I’ve found that there are so many angles to consider when determining what is ethical and what isn’t. I think most people think of ethical clothing only as clothing made in the US, or otherwise in factories with high transparency.
But then there are the ethics of environmental issues — sustainable fabrics, dyes, etc. And there’s whether the materials are made from animal product or not (for instance, I can’t consider any products using leather as ethical). Add to that the overall ethics of the company selling the clothing — for instance, I try to buy a lot of my clothing second-hand, but can’t in good conscious buy from Salvation Army because of their beliefs on social issues.
There’s just so much to consider! Caroline, I’m curious as to what specifically you mean when you deem a piece ethical or made responsibly? I think that would make a great post!
I agree there are so many levels to ethical that your head can pop just thinking about it. I started by trying to only buy fair trade (putting the people first ) then discovered that non organic cotton causes major issues for the cotton harvesters because of all the pesticides. I have been numb to the point of not buying anything and patching up and making do but things eventually get beyond repair. I live in the UK and have found people tree and Eternal Creation to be great quality and have good sales. Eternal Creation is especially good as they are Australian so have opposite seasons to us so thier sales are at the beginning of our seasons. Thier garments are also beautifully constructed and stood up to my children being really tough on thier clothes.
I agree about the head-popping thing, but eventually I just got over it. I feel like if I can cover two or even three “categories” of sustainabilty/ethically-made, I feel it’s better than nothing. I started by setting my limits on what I would NOT do. No more shopping at Gap brands, Kohls, Target, and many other “cheap” mainstream retailers. I have to start somewhere, and it’s going to be messy and imperfect, but I do the best I can with the information I have right now. American Giant is top-quality with US made fabric and manufacturing and the products last a long time, but it’s not organic. I’m okay with that for now. United by Blue uses organic cotton and they have an environmental clean-up mandate, but some of their items are made in Asia. I can live with both of these over the Gap any day. Love the dialogue here! xo
I would love to get into ethical fashion, but the cost is far too high to reasonably invest in a wardrobe! As a young teacher, I can’t pay $150 or even really $80 for a pair of great pants. I want to buy responsibly, so the closest I get is thrifted clothing, which often are recycled a few times and bring something so unique to your closet! Plus it’s so cheap usually. Hopefully I’ll work my way up to a more ethical closet.
Also a concern: finding clothing made with natural organic fabrics (best for your own health & the people who make the clothing) & not loaded with chemicals (not good for your own health & the people who make the clothing).
I’ve been slowly easing into ethical/sustainable fashion as well. I talk about it a bit on my blog and love reading Seasons & Salt for more info and resources. I started doing a capsule last year, and a big part of that was building up a wardrobe, mostly from scratch. Really defining my style and finding good quality pieces that I’ll love forever. But sometimes, it’s hit or miss and it’s hard to spend that extra cash on something that doesn’t quite work out in the end. The price is really prohibitive, thought I TOTALLY understand why these items are priced the way they are. I get it, but my wallet doesn’t fit into the picture. Right now I’m giving myself the grace to purchase 50/50. I try to find an ethical piece, but if I truly can’t find what I need (and since my closet is bare minimum right now, and I work in an office, they truly are needs) then I allow myself to go to a more traditional retailer.
So far, my biggest win is cutting off shopping at places like Forever 21 and H&M. By quitting those cold turkey, I already feel better. Also, buying less overall is huge. I feel okay buying something at Madewell knowing it will last a long time, and I’m not buying 15 items there. It’s all a little give and take. I’m so excited to be reading about your journey – you inspired me to capsule, and it’s amazing to be going through the same adventure with ethical fashion together now!
When it comes to obstacles or resistance, for me it is the cost of things. To buy a new shirt or pants or dress… I usually can’t afford to get something handmade or local. That bums me out because I would love to support more ethical people/ places, but I just can’t afford it and don’t know if I ever will be able to with a growing family. I try to get items here and there when I see sales or something. I buy used when I find the perfect pieces. Shoes are a really tough area for me to find ethical and affordable.
I work in a sustainability field so while ethical is so important to me, it’s really hard for me to ignore the environmental effects. It takes A LOT more research and a lot more patience. Sometimes it is more expensive, but knowing that I’m supporting ethical work practices and/or not degrading the environment helps. It’s a natural way to buy less too. But as in construction (my industry) the greenest thing tends to be the one that already exists – so thrifting/consignment is great. Even if the brand you buy secondhand isn’t the greatest, you’re preventing that item from entering the landfill and decreasing demand for more new “stuff”. I’ve been loving ThredUp (their closet clean out kit is so easy to make a little store credit too!), also The Real Real and Tradesy for some higher quality items.
Thrifter all the way. Buying second hand is the most sustainable thing you can do.
Love your blog + so glad you are back!
My contribution to your question : it´s difficult to buy ethical clothes because you can only order them on internet. In France, I do not find any ethical clothes shop where I can try clothes on. I like trying on my clothes in shops, I like going shopping as well. I find it difficult to order, pay for the post, go to the postoffice, try the clothes at home, and then, il it does not suit me, i have to post it back. It´s a bit of a struggle… But I’m definitely changing my shopping habbits, buying clothes which are made in France, by little brands. And by buying only what I need (You’ve been one of my muse with your blog to that less consumering path… ). Sorry for my mistakes in english, I’m french ;-)
Lillian chang says
I totally get what you mean – the whole world of ethical fashion seems so overwhelming, it could be hard to know if I’m doing it right at all.
Buying ethically made clothes is certainly one thing. Supporting those brands that care about the environment and the people making the clothes. And then there’s buying secondhand, which is a wonderful way of recycling clothes and not creating new pieces to throw into the waste stream. And the other thing is also buying less, as you’ve explored so much with the capsules. It’s just about consuming less, not feeding into the fast fashion craze. I think doing any of these three things is helpful to the ethical fashion system as a whole.
The part I struggle with is, sometimes I really like the pieces from the fast fashion retailers more than the pieces I can find in the ethically made brands. I struggle because it feels so frivolous to simply say, “Well, I like it, so I’m going to buy it and feed into the system.”
But what I’ve come to is…I’m trying my best, and I am certainly not perfect. But I keep an open mind and an open heart to learning more about having an ethical closet and let myself evolve. Rather than beating myself up for not being perfect, I remind myself that I’ve already come much further than I used to be, when I wasn’t at all aware of the choices I was making.
For now, that means that I am much, much more careful and conscious about every piece I purchase (and I buy much less in general). It doesn’t mean it always works out, but I put much more thought and consideration into everything I buy.
I’m so excited about this new direction with your blog, Caroline. I think we can all learn to navigate these confusing waters together and create a lifestyle that works for us and that’s good for us, the environment, and the makers. Thanks for all that you do!
kim domingue says
Ethical fashion. Man, that’s like going down the rabbit hole with Alice ………only you don’t end up in Wonderland, you end up in I’msofrustratedIcouldpullmyhairoutland.
I’ve visited some nice sites that talk about ethical fashion and the people there were friendly and informative. I’ve visited quite a few where I didn’t dare leave a comment lest the rabid, pitchfork carrying hordes show up at my door to stake me through the heart and burn my house down! (An exaggeration but not by much.)
The idea of save the planet is one I’m already on board with. Reduce the use of new resources and reuse, recycle and upcycle existing goods…..yep, behind that one too. Save the children. Um-humm. What horrible person doesn’t want to save the children? BUT…..I read an article by a learned individual and it twisted my brain into a knot. He said that that 12 year old girl that’s working in the garment factory in China for peanuts, the one that you think should be in school and going out with friends for an ice cream cone, the girl whose place of employment you’re going to boycott, the girl who will no longer have a job because you did the right thing and “saved” the child? She’s going to have to go home and tell her family that they can no longer buy food. Why? Because the 12 year old girl was the only one that had an income producing job. Sigh. There are so many layers to the onion that is ethical fashion.
Ethical fashion is also pretty pricey and styles are kind of limited. Even if you don’t buy much or buy often it can be hard to afford to have a totally ethical closet. My solution has been to purchase the majority of my clothes from thrift stores. Renew, reuse, recycle.
I look forward to seeing what ideas you and the rest of this community come up with to solve the ethical fashion conundrum!
Yes, I’ve seen some of the same things overseas. In some of the places I’ve been, learning th skill of sewing was a way out of sex trafficking. Neither situation for these women is ideal and that’s where I struggle to know how best to help. Maybe there are other ways that hurt the industry without hurting their jobs at the same time?? At the end of the day at least we all desire their dignity and fair treatment and are doing want we can to try to make a difference! Wish there was just a shortcut to the best way to achieve this.
We can still employ overseas workers without exploiting them! There are overseas factories that treat workers with dignity, provide safe working conditions and provide a fair wage. Those I can get behind. I still don’t really know how to identify those labels (as they often use many subcontractors too) but I think a store that publishes addresses of their factories is a good indicator.
I like to think I’m leaning toward ethical by using eBay to get quality used items for less, since I can’t afford to buy new in the caliber of responsibility I hope for. I am still honing in on my style and discovering brands and companies that I want to support. I can afford organic clothes for my daughter at a fraction of the price because of the quality! Of course, I’m still very new to the concept, too. My biggest impact has been in shoes – quality shoes last me many more years than a quick fix for a season. Excited to learn with you!
I’d say the challenges are time, costs and styles. I’m not sure where to start shopping when looking for ethical clothes, and I’m not sure what to look for in a company, so it takes much longer to find pieces. And I’ve had a hard time findings styles that I like — even for something as simple as a basic striped shirt. I know the issue is important, but sometimes it’s hard to justify the extra cost when there are several competing priorities, like trying to build up my savings account.
The main problem for me is price. Ethical companies that sell reasonably priced, attractive, good quality clothing are few and far between. I’m willing to spend a little extra in some instances (a good pair of shoes, or something that I know for sure I will wear often and that will not fall apart with regular wear) but i’m not willing to pay THAT much more. Even many of the things you show from your closet that you probably think are reasonably priced are more than I would spend. I like the company Toms – their shoes are great and they fit well and hold up pretty well. I have about 7 pairs of shoes from them (many different styles) and love them all but they were all on the “high” end of what I would spend on shoes. I’ve heard amazing things about Tieks but I simply cannot spend $195 on ballet flats, no matter how comfortable they are. I recently discovered a company called Grana that, from what I can tell, I think is pretty ethical. Not American made, but I do not think that’s a requirement for ethical clothing. They have a really simple business model so they don’t have to mark up their clothes nearly as much and they’re a bit more reasonably priced. Not a lot of options, though.
Tieks were not that comfortable for me. Especially not for $195.
1) I am so excited about that partnership! Part of the reason I was first drawn to your blog was because it framed many things in a creative toolkit manner – I felt like I had resources. As I’ve been reading, I felt like I needed something more specific and detailed, and I think the Capsules resource fits that need really well. So thank you for the partnership!
2) There are two main hindrances to shopping ethically that I run into:
– Not knowing what brands are made ethically. There are some websites that have helpful lists, but they often seem to lead me to…
– not finding ethical brands that fit my style. Part of the reason that fast fashion is appealing is because there is *so*much*variety*. That can be overwhelming, but the reverse of that (brands like https://www.everlane.com/, for example) seem to plain for my taste.
Additionally, finding out if something is assembled ethically is one thing (is the person who’s sewing the garment getting paid fairly and in a safe environment), but finding out if its components (cotton, silk, etc.) were created ethically is another. If something is made in the USA but the fabric was purchased from essentially slave labor in another country, how do you know?
I’ve limited my shopping a *lot* recently, so that’s a good step, but I do feel like I’m falling behind on the information/research front. Really excited to see you explore this topic and looking forward to learning more!
Ugh, too*** – I hate typos.
I’m also rather new to this, but with two children ethically sourced products are important to me, it’s their future. That being said, my main concern is quality, style, and price. Like others here I won’t buy something that is not high quality, my style and within my budget just because it is ethical.
There are places I will absolutely not shop from because of horrible business practices. I try to opt for companies I feel good about, quality that will last, second hand when I can, no fur, but no I don’t do vegan shoes necessarily (though not opposed to it), items with animal components (leather or down) I try to use little and, within reason, to humanely produced products.
I allow myself to do what I can within my budget and to constantly learn more, make better choices, but not stress too much.
I really appreciate how thoughtful your posts are, not only that you are looking at a complex and important subject, but that you have approached it with such care! I really love that quote and am going to stow that away for myself, for many aspects of life.
I recently moved to the SF bay area and found a couple great companies working towards sustainable clothing/goods and business model for fashion. One is http://www.tripty.org
So excited to follow your journey & hear your thoughts on ethical & sustainable fashion! It’s such a huge, complex, and sometimes overwhelming topic.
As someone who makes a lot of clothing, sewn & knit, etc. – I’m trying to bring consciousness and attention to the clothing I buy, but also the materials I use in what I make.
Trying to ask questions around, and keep in mind that before a shirt is a shirt, it was fabric, and before it was thread, and before that it was an animal or plant.
Like many, I agree that the biggest challenge is the cost. I have found that eventually your perception of what is a “reasonable” cost adapts, especially with the positive reinforcement that comes with the value you place on a piece once you do pinch your pennies and invest, and the you reach for it time and time again. I think a lot about the ‘cost per wear’ and also how that piece makes me feel, both on the outside (duh) and the inside (feeling proud of the choices I am making, how my choices affect our environment, the people crafting my clothing, and the designers I am supporting). The choice to make the switch to ethically made clothing over the past couple years has also done wonders for my more minimalist closet as well. Much of what I have purchased has been funded by selling those older clothes, so I end up getting rid of many items and replacing them with fewer, higher quality pieces and being able to afford them with minimal strain to my wallet, so it’s a win-win. Style-wise, I’ve done lots (and lots) of research and feel like I finally found what works for me where I am not sacrificing my sense of style just to wear ethically made threads (Ace & Jig is my go-to!). It can definitely be a challenge to find what works for you since many of these brands are only carried online, but as ethical fashion becomes more popular, more brick and mortars are popping up/carrying these brands and I only see this sector continuing to grow as demand increases.
Samantha deubel says
I have a hard time shopping “ethically” for a few reasons:
1. Finding a brand that produces ethically made clothing! There are so many factors to consider. Are the workers who stitch/make the clothing being treated fairly? What about the workers who grow and/or weave the fabric? What about environmental impact? Are these items made to last? Or are they just higher-end “fancy” fast fashion? (Will my shirt have holes in it by the end of the month?)
2. Then there is fit. I have a hard time finding clothes that fit my large bust and small hips/butt. It seems that all “ethical” clothing companies cater to thin or small-chested women
3. Cost. If I want high quality and ethically made clothing, I can rarely afford it. Even when I save up.
4. Mom life. My body keeps fluctuating and needing different things. I need maternity pants. Then nursing tops. Then normal clothes. Then maternity pants again lol. It’s hard to buy ONE expensive ethical wardrobe, let alone three within a span of a couple of years!
I mostly just wear my clothes into the ground, and don’t buy very many clothes (which works out since I’m so picky), but I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and journey! The more we talk about and demand ethical fashion, the more options we will get!
Mom life! When I went through that stage (only a couple years ago – three babies and nursing them all) – I managed by thrifting. Luckily, there are such great options for thrifted maternity and nursing wear, because we all get rid of them as soon as the baby season of our life is over. And the styles tend to stay more current, even in the second-hand maternity wear. Children’s consignment stores that carried maternity/nursing wear were my go-to. When I started reading Caroline’s blog, I laughed at myself that my first capsule wardrobe (though I didn’t know it at the time) was my maternity wardrobe years ago – a few curated pieces, everything had to coordinate, and everything was new (to me) and fashionable. The time will come when this stage of life is behind you (sadly!) and don’t rush it – just enjoy where you are! Only now am I coming off that season of life and paying more attention to my style (and oh how it’s changed since before my first baby!) and I’ve found out that I pretty much needed to start from scratch with my wardrobe (once my size stabilized). Good luck! :)
Nanci-jean franks says
I would have to say that price is the biggest for buying ethical fashion brand new…but isn’t thrift store recycled fashion ethical too as it is reusing an item and keeping it out of the landfill?
Casey Cogburn says
Can I just say…I feel refreshed. I’ve read all the chiming in and I just feel so buoyed by the thought provoking responses and and share. Like many of you, to buy and wear ethical can be a daily desire but not always accessible or doable. I am very fortunate as a runner all my life that my weight and my job (coach and injury prevention) does not fluctuate — I know. I am a lucky one. I thank the Lord everyday for this…I’ve raised 4 children and if you asked them what did your mother passed on to you, I am quite sure they would chime in…”use it up, wear it out, make it do, and do without.” There is freedom in being “a capsule and mindful” consumer. So, yes, I am refreshed too. If you wonder how to continue down the ethical path of consuming (we are so blessed in the USA) maybe the path can be broaden a bit by using less water when we shower or wash, buy local food and goods from small business, or maybe volunteer for Special Olympic event or write a letter of encouragement and kind thoughts to an elderly neighbor or someone who serves your daily needs…I guess what I am saying from my refreshed point of view…lets take our ethical conversation and apply it to even more areas that touch our daily lives. Thanks for listening (;-/ hope it did not sound preachy but refreshed ;-}
I really enjoyed this post! Such great pictures, and also very thoughtful writing :)
carlyn greer says
I found this post interesting and helpful http://www.stylebee.ca/2016/03/04/shopping-smart-small/ , especially the section of definitions. I think the confusing part is there seem to be a few different roads you can take (i.e. strain on the environment/humans/society, transparency of a company). I think just starting the conversation is a step in the best direction.
I’m aware of many gorgeous brands who claim to be ethical/ responsible however it is becoming a bit of a marketing buzz and hurts my brain to think about, “well how do they source their textiles/ hardware” etc. There’s a whole chain to think about aside from end product. So I mostly try to just keep my consumption low and shop second hang when I can.
I don’t have it figured out just yet still – and i have an ethical fashion blog.. Say what! I still get tempted, and I look at all the other girls I go to fashion school with, and wish I could “shop just like them”
And the price thing is truly a thing – even though I know it’s not the price that’s the problem, it is my attitude to clothing prices, I still have a hard time coming around.
It’s overwhelming. I don’t know where to start! Is the labor ethical and the material not? Is the material ethically made and then sent to a sweat shop? Can I buy ethical material to make my own clothes? It feels like there are few options and when I do find them they are super expensive. I like Everlane a lot but they don’t have the largest selection. I just wish there was a big list somewhere that gave me all my options at different price points. Ugh.
The youtube channel My green closet has a lot of resources about sustainable fashion, I recommend taking a look there for great and accesable info.
8 months ago I started eating a plant-based diet. I now want to ’veganise’ my wardrobe, makeup and grooming products but don’t really know where to start (I really need to up my game re work clothes so I try to avoid anything that makes me look like a dippy hippy). I live in NZ where things like silk, wool and leather are the signs of quality. I absolutely DETEST shopping both in person and online, I find it really boring and the vegan thing makes it even harder, especially if I want to purchase a complete (ethical) wardrobe, not just shoes, bag or t-shirt.
As a few commenters said before me, the main obstacles for me are price, choice and availability. My budget is small and yes I try to thrift from time to time, but where I live the second hand stores are nowhere near as good as in the US.
I also have two mental obstacles: I can’t bare dropping all of my budget on one item and I can’t seem to quit h&m. I know, it’s bad.
Have you heard Mango just made their production even faster (2 weeks to produce apparently, which trupms Zara’s 3) and dropped prices on their #newprices range. Who’s paying for this? ‘Cause it sure ain’t the customer and it sure ain’t the company.
In this age and with this growing ethical movement, it just makes me wonder: Why would a brand do that? And how is this an answer to the sales stagnation due to the oversaturated market?
Where I’m from, it’s really hard to buy anything totally ethical. Even if the item itself is sewn in Poland (which automatically doubles or even triples the price, and clothing here is too expensive even without it), the textile usually comes from China. So if you were really desperate to build an ethical wardrobe, you’d have to hand-pick the textile (but, as far as I know, the shopkeepers rarely even know the origin of their products) and then have it sewn individually. So it’d drive you crazy before you even had anything to wear.
Tammy Dvir says
I think my greatest struggle with ethical fashion is where do you stop? When I first started looking into it (and I have focused on ethical shopping this spring capsule), my main focus was on ensuring that sweat shops weren’t used. My ethics was focused on people. But, a couple of the sources I found to help find ethical stores asked you to pick which topic was important to you (people, animals, environment, etc.) and that’s when I started struggling. My recommendation to anyone delving into this is to pick what’s most important to you.
I thought the last line of your post is a good simplification: on sale. It’s so easy to be drawn to the easily accessible and/or less expensively purchased that it takes real effort to seek out the ethical option and commit to the financial burden. On the surface, I want to do this, but I’m still working on the real want (like fire in the belly, willing to put forth the effort want) to do it. I appreciate your continued conversation on the topic because the more it’s raised, the more thought I put into it.
Sizes! I’m pretty small — I need xs and/or petite sizing. Right now, I’m on the hunt for a boxy/structured white shirt for spring from an ethical label, and I’m having trouble finding xs. Tailoring would add $$. Also knowledge! I don’t know a lot of sources, and it could be I just haven’t found the xs options yet.
My biggest obstacle to ethical fashion=$$$$$
I almost exclusively buy second hand clothes for my children and I (with the exception of a few quirky tees from Etsy) and call it good enough.
I’ve thought about it a lot, and even though I want to buy tons of clothes from several sustainable websites, I always go to the resale shops first.
There are so many to choose from, too. You can go to Goodwill for anything fast and cheap (but still sustainable!), or to a high-end secondhand shop that sells designer items. I’ve purchased some of my favorite items from both such places.
Can I recommend the best sustainable/ethical blog ever? Paris To Go. Expat American, married and living in Paris to German born Frenchman. She studied sustainability and is now a consultant over there. She thrifts but also accepts the conveniences and realities of certain materials and unsustainable practices. She’s a realist, doesn’t beat herself up, and has given herself excellent but simple boundaries that most people could adopt and not feel scared about abiding by. Hers is a multi topic blog, but any posts on her apartment and wardrobe are just fascinating reads. I couldn’t recommend her more and if you don’t know about her, please please please give her a read. It will definitely help you and educate so much on material and consumption.
I second Paris to Go! I thrift all my clothing (except gifts….working on how to tell Mom I don’t need another scarf from Kohl’s and have the message stick) to get around a lot of manufacturing/sourcing issues, but Ariana at Paris to Go blew my mind talking about the microplastics our non-natural-fiber clothing sheds into the water stream with every wash.
I agree with commenter above re: boycotting alone not being the best tool. As we scale back our fast fashion addiction (which can’t happen fast enough in my opinion), we have to think about creating sustainable, ethical jobs for the people currently employed to produce massive amounts of clothes.
Leah from http://www.thriftshopchic.com
Thank you Caroline for the very interesting topic. There are so many factors to consider when thinking about ethical clothing. The first of which I’m not 100% sure what that entirely entails? Organic fabrics, no harming of animals, no slave labor, or indigenously resourced? Or, all of the above?
I agree that the hippie dippy fabrics ands styling and the odd plastic materials passing as vegan, are truly impossible! If, like some of your readers, one purchases one great leather bag and wears it forever perhaps than too can be considered ethical? I simply want some 100% cottonwear which is hard to find nowadays, as are great pajamas. Don’t mind price if a garment or item earns its money. I’m always on the hunt for ethical linens. The issue for me is although I have the money to buy, they stop sizing at a 10. It’s like being punished as a size 12/14 I’m just outside the norm. It’s an issue of great complexity and I appreciate you opening the dialog. Best wishes Tara
Carrie Lewman says
I would love to be a part of the ethical movement, know where the material for my clothes was coming from, that no one was harmed in the making, etc…but I have no idea of even where to begin. And the pop-up shops that are on the internet, how do I even know they are legit? What am I even looking for to know it’s ethical? Are there any clothes that still look cute that are made with the environment, humans and earth in mind? I get cold all the time and like to wear garments that have a little bit of polyester in them because it locks in the heat and I also like a little spandex in my clothes for stretch. I suppose both are unethical? What’s the substitute? So many questions… :)
Thank you for bringing this topic up. I hope you can help all of us out in understanding better.
Can I recommend 100% silk as an excellent and surprisingly effective insulator layered under proper woolen jumpers (merino wool, British wool, alpaca, cashmere etc). Affordable long sleeve silk tops, tanks, tshirts etc are brilliant at a place called Grana, available worldwide. They’re sort of a funkier version of Everlane.
Cindy, do you (or anyone else) know more about Grana’s ethics than what’s on their website? What they write sounds nice but it doesn’t explain the content of their “responsibility standards” and I’m a little underwhelmed that they ensure manufacturers follow their in-country laws…aren’t substandard local labor laws part of the problem?
Ps meant to start with–the way they do things seems like a good model to follow and I like the look of their pieces which is why I’m interested! Sorry, jumped right to the critique :)
Cindy bryan says
Hi Leah (be prepared for a wordy reply below!)
From what I have read (and corresponded with their people), Grana seek out their factories on an individual basis and ensure that the practices are ethical, thereby establishing a rapport with the people who run them. I think, based on their philosophy, it is a given that the factories they engage are small, independent, and similarly seek to reduce their impact environmentally while providing a product that is as guilt free as commercially possible. I understand each batch of material is produced in small amounts (quality control as opposed to quantity), which explains why certain popular items are consistently out of stock, because they are literally waiting for the next batch of material to be woven and shipped to them before assembly. Reading past the marketing speak (which as you say can be a bit superfluous and abstract), I like to believe that the people Grana seek at the individual factories share the same values as them. The team is tiny – show me a picture of them and I could name almost everyone in their photo and their role, so there is a very shallow hierarchy, which means that employees are immediately accountable. Luke Grana, the head and namesake of the company, is an ex-pat Australian and a rocket of an entrepreneur, but I implicitly believe in his ethics and his drive to provide affordable items that are of excellent quality and of high ethical value. He has given quite a few interviews in the past that address his motivations. The company is actually very open and if you wanted more specific information, you can easily write directly to them. I have never had an email go unanswered when I had a query. For my personal sustainable and ethical values, they certainly tick my boxes currently.
Unsure if any of this really answered your initial query on their responsibility standards! I would definitely encourage you to write direct to them to find out more, if this is a place that you think you would like to invest in the future :)
I’m so glad you’re diving into this and bringing in an attitude of non-judgement. My family of three is undergoing this transition with clothing to purchase more ethically and tread more lightly on our planet. The biggest things I’m learning are 1. To love and work with what you have and 2. To buy secondhand whenever possible. I think buying new should be the last option — and it’s the most challenging to figure out what is “ethical.” I highly recommend people watch The True Cost on Netflix. There are some great brands but it’s worth thinking about organic (and if not the chemical exposure of the workers), US or foreign made, and the treatment of the garment workers. Much to learn! Hopefully we can continue to keep our eyes and hearts open as we learn to shop in a way that shows compassion.
Tara O. says
I’ve thought about this a lot in the past few weeks so I am very glad you posted about your own uncertainty on the subject. Based on what I’ve read so far, there is a huge spectrum of what is considered ethical fashion. I’ve seen perspectives from very strict definitionists who also hold sustainability in high priority, and in the strictest sense, will also consider raw materials and notions when choosing products. But I’ve also seen many consumers who, given the time and attention they can devote to the subject, are simply willing to just have someone point out an ethical brand and they will simply shop there. I’m not judging or condoning either of these perspectives, but I think we need to develop a better way to communicate and identify ethical fashion. Is it ethical in that the raw materials are sustainably sourced? How do we define sustainably sourced? Is it ethical because the garment making process is sustainable? Again, how do we define sustainable processes for garment making? Is it ethical because the workers who are making the garment are treated fairly and earn a fair wage? How do we verify that? I could go on with the questions here.
I also get frustrated with the idea and buzz phrase of “ethical fashion.” Fashion, in and of itself, is an industry, which is why it is difficult and slow to change. But being dressed is simply necessity and style is a means of expressing oneself outwardly via one’s appearance. How do we, as a large body of consumers in America, shift our focus from sheer consumption to contentment and creativity? How can we still get dressed and exhibit style while minimizing our participation in the less desirable facets of the fashion industry? These are rhetorical questions at the moment, but I would love to discuss with others who have such concerns.
I feel like there if there was a Venn-diagram of all of the clothing in the world, with circles that represented my taste, specific items I need (jeans, a winter coat, work out wear, etc), ethics of production, convenience, and price, there is just too little space where they all overlap. Used only seems to work if you don’t have something specific in mind, which I usually do. Or, it takes a lot of time to find something, which I don’t have.
For now I buy ethical when I can, and when I can’t I buy the best quality I can afford so it will last a long time. Also, generally I keep my closet small to minimize my consumption. I’m not totally happy with this, but its the compromise I’ve got for now. I’m always on the look-out for ethical references though, like lists of ethical venders and brands (one I’ve found useful below).
I’m excited about this new direction for the blog, and look forward to learning more with you!
Link to a list of Vendors and Brands with Sustainable, Conscious, or Worker-Focused Practices (by Sally McGraw): http://www.alreadypretty.com/2015/10/ethical-shopping.html
Ellen Pearce-Mathews says
I appreciate your move toward ethical fashion. If you haven’t read Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline, do so. This oopened my eyes to fast fashion and what it has done to the fashion industry and to our environment. Cline has a great list from which to start your ethical fashion path. Buy less is formost! Check labels for where garment is manufactured and then try to buy the most quality, expensive piece so that it lasts. We know how attractive fast fashion is but it doesn’t hold up to wear and tear or even basic laundering. Thus buying at the top of one’s price range will reduce waste of discarded garments to landfills. Less purchases means less manufacturing which translates to less environmental and labor force destruction/exploitation. Finally, Cline says learn to sew and or find a tailor to alter garments to keep them current and wearable.
All said, I worked hard to stop buying at Target and other low cost retailers once I had read her book. I have backslid admittedly as time has gone by. For me I have blamed it on my limited budget but truthfully I know the illusion of the cheap thrill garment doesn’t pay! Saving for the better, ethically made one has always worked for me as I keep clothes for years (uh decades even). It’s a willpower and delay of gratification thing once I boil it down, really. So you have inspired me to once again take my time and find the right garment instead of the quickie, cheap purchase.
I’ve been navigating ethical fashion too. It’s tricky! The hard bit for me? So much of it is online! You can’t try it on, and it’s usually rather expensive. To convince myself to get out of this mentality that “more is more” and actually spend all that money on a piece is even harder if I’m not able to try it on first and know it will fit/look right. So for now I watch for sales and have a stack of returns at my front door..
Freetowork.com has helped me look into brands I know and love, though.
Looking forward to hearing about more of your navigation and advice in this field!
My biggest frustration with trying to shop ethically is usually cost. I want all the things at Zady, but even though they are one of the more “affordable” sources out there for ethically-made products, they’re still out of what I’d consider my range.
Second, it is hard to find production information sometimes. The group of retailers that are really transparent is pretty small. I’ve made peace with the fact that “ethical” is different for everyone, and I usually weigh a lot of factors and land on do-I-love-it and will-I-wear-it-to-death above all.
Also, sneakers! I have found only a few good “ethical” sources for athletic sneakers that are actually cute, and the selection is pretty low in my size.
I’m still losing weight after having a baby. I’m not back into my pre-baby clothes, but I’m tired of wearing maternity pants, so…what do I wear? With a young baby, I don’t have time to spend hours rummaging through thrift stores and I also can’t justify spending more money on clothes that I won’t wear for very long. Other than that, I am all about investing in pieces that are sustainably made and will live in my wardrobe for years.
In my opinion your situation is a special case. Why not just get a pair or two of pants/jeans that you wear right now?
With the way our body changes through pregnancy and nursing I think we’re going through enough to beat ourself up over the ethical aspect :-)
You just gave birth! Cut yourself some slack and we can both plan to buy ethical (for the kids too!) when our bodies are done changing every week :-)
I was quite surprised to read a quote from Marie Louise von Franz on a fashion site. Not that I should be surprised as Unfancy is a very special blog. Von Franz was a student of Carl Jung and became a brilliant analytical psychologist in her own right. I can’t thank you enough for showing me that her ideas are still striking a chord.
Once the inner flame is lit it is hard to go back to the darkness. Congratulations on moving forward with ethical fashion.
I’m long-winded. Stick with me! I have trouble with the term “ethical fashion” because fashion, by definition, has to do with what is popular or trendy, and that’s a fleeting thing. I hope that when we say “fashion”, we really mean “clothing”. As long as I’m looking for what is fashionable now, I’m building an expiration date into my wardrobe. Buying and discarding, buying and discarding based on trends is not in line with my ethics. This means that what I really need is a paradigm shift, and I haven’t gotten there yet. If only I could see clothes merely as a protective covering for my body, rather than a means of expression or enjoyment, I might make some real progress. I feel that the key lies more in consuming less than anything else.
What makes the clothing “officially” ethical, as ethics are individual? When a company says that their products are “ethically sourced/produced”, but doesn’t do much to explain their ethics, the designation is meaningless. How do I know that their ethics match my ethics? How do I know that workers are really making a “fair” wage, when I don’t know what they actually earn? If I do know what they earn, do I know what that wage buys in the locality where they live? Do I know if it’s a fair share of what the company brings in? That’s only one aspect. As others have stated, there are so many factors to consider, and they rarely converge. Buying a leather belt means that an animal loses its life, but that belt will typically last longer than a faux leather belt and will biodegrade at some point. Whether it’s been brain/urine/etc. tanned and non-toxically dyed or was made with tons of terrible stuff varies. Buying a faux leather belt means that an animal is not killed to be used as materials for the belt, but the production of that synthetic material poisons the earth, water, and air, and that “pleather” often breaks quickly and then haunts the landfill for ages. Have you ever read about the synthetic microfibers that have been found permeating the planet, even in the remotest places on Earth? Yikes. Have you read about the things that happen on Saipan? Also yikes. Because Saipan is a U.S. territory, that clothing gets a “Made in the USA” label that makes us feel good, but there are still many terrible, exploitative practices involved in the industries on Saipan. I have no doubt that the “ethical” label is not always applied ethically. We are lied to quite a lot, to the point where it’s difficult to determine what information is even true and not just spin from one interest or another. Having been present for many national newsworthy events in my lifetime and knowing for a fact what I observed and experienced, I have seen how information outlets have portrayed something completely different. How do I know whom I can trust, particularly when I have no personal expertise in a particular area? Then I read pieces by people working for aid organizations who say that many of the things we think we do to help actually hurt people in developing countries. I used to think it was great when a company donated a product overseas for every product sold, but then read about how the massive donations of goods ruin local small businesses and economies. The potential negatives are endless. It’s dizzying! Which should I choose? There are plenty of problems to find with thrift shops and consignment shops, too. I thought one particular online secondhand shop was cool until I had a really bad experience with them that included me catching them in multiple lies. I had pooh-poohed others’ bad reviews on their business practices as “the people you just can’t please” until it happened to me. Truthfully, I have never met anyone who was 100% happy and sure about their choices who hasn’t simply decided to ignore something, lie to themselves, or be lied to. This is where the quote you used comes in. I feel in my heart of hearts that there is no 100% harm free way to live, but I try to carry the light as much as I can. For me, it’s about avoiding the things that obviously conflict with my ethics and supporting things I think are good until I find out that they aren’t (and I need to check up on that from time to time). Someone can dig deeply and tell me something bad about every company, every time. I can’t feasibly avoid that. I can definitely avoid some of it, possibly the worst of it. I try to maintain curiosity, humility, and reasonable diligence. I try (not always successfully) not to beat myself up for things I didn’t know in the past, as long as I am thinking and learning. Concerns from a more practical standpoint for me include:
– I live in the boonies. If I buy online, it takes a lot of fuel to get me the clothes. It’s worse if I need to return them. I worry about that.
– My “local” shopping area, 2.5 hours away, doesn’t have much selection either in secondhand stores or in clothing that is not “fast fashion”. It’s difficult to find the right thing in my size in the thrift shops on the one day I do go to town in a month or more, and I do still care about finding something I like to wear. I haven’t gotten to pure utility yet. That means I rarely find anything I like. It’s also pretty typical now to find that ephemeral, low quality, fast fashion filling the secondhand shops too. That’s a problem when I need quality construction. Housewares? Heck yeah! I find a ton of great stuff at the thrift shop. Clothes are hard. I try to buy stuff when I travel instead.
– Most of the “ethical” clothing I find online is for someone else’s predominately urban or suburban lifestyle. While I do get out and travel as much as possible, I have other needs as well. When I need stuff for all the rural things I do, the “ethical” options are much less plentiful.
– My child is growing like a weed and gets outside a lot. I haven’t yet come to the point where I can make myself buy her all $35 tee shirts that get outgrown so fast. I’m working on it.
That’s a lot! Thanks for sticking with me!
Anna Kay says
I thought your move towards more local, ethical fashion was a “good for you, not for me” thing until I learned that fashion is the second biggest pollutant industry in the world! It’s definitely a slow, laborious task – suddenly having to find new brands to replace all of the go-tos – but we have to give ourselves a grace period to learn and adapt. I’m not always going to find just the right thing at an affordable price; but as long as we are steadily moving in that direction, we’re contributing less to the bad and more to the good. And that’s pretty great.
I’m new to ethical clothing as well, and one of my biggest hindrances with it is just the fact that it can be so expensive and we just don’t have the budget for it right now. But I have been making strides towards not purchasing from fast fashion stores and instead I get most of my clothes from thrift stores. It’s not quite totally ethical fashion, but I pay attention to the values and mission statements of the thrift stores I do shop at so I’m at least only shopping at ones that have the same values I hold. It’s a pretty good start! It just makes it difficult when I’m trying to find something specific like rubber boots.
The other thing is, with the Canadian dollar being as terrible as it is right now, I’m really trying to shop locally. Whether that’s just confined to my city, or staying within Canada, I’m liking to put my dollars back into my own country’s economy. Though in the grand scheme I’d rather buy something made in Canada, the USA and Mexico than anywhere else in the world, just because we have that lovely free trade agreement ;)
I love how you embrace these questions open heartedly. High five to you! I’m also on a journey towards exploring slow fashion and creating a more thoughtful, ethical wardrobe. But I hardly know what ethical or slow or sustainable means in this context. Such a huge topic. So complex.
I do really believe change starts with asking all those difficult questions. But I sometimes find it hard to balance all the criticism and doom with hope. I need to keep reminding myself that all the small choices each of us make, together has a huge impact.
Thanks for your positive voice! Good luck onwards and keep up the hard work. It is worth it!
I don’t know how to find ethically-made products besides Everlane and maybe the beauty department of Whole Foods. I wish there was an un-biased website that listed all these stores, shops, boutiques, etc. When I type in “Made in USA” into Google I get some random websites for products but not necessarily clothing.
I’m also not a fan of the return policies for many smaller shops or online stores. I do 95% of my shopping online and really need to be able to return things easily and not having to deal with store credit, etc.
Hey Lauren, I found this cool directory, might be worth checking out: http://www.thesenativegoods.com/
I second the sentiments above, i.e. style (too plain, too hippy, too sack-like, too everything-looks-identical…) and price, even though I would happily pay a LOT if it was for an item that would look amazing on me and which will be of amazing quality! Sadly, ethical doesn’t eliminate the problem that some things just don’t fit.
Which brings me to my biggest problem with ethical fashion: I can’t just walk into a store and try things on. Nope. I would have to order things online, sometimes from far away enough to be REALLY bad for the environment—hello, overseas shipping… Not to mention the double risk of shopping online: when it doesn’t fit I either return it (shipping again, i.e. carbon heavy = not good) or don’t want to go into the hassle of returning it and am stuck with something that I don’t like, if not simply hate.
Oh, and also? I was so happy when I bought a locally sourced tee, beautifully cut, with a flattering fit. Guess what? RUINED after first wash. I know it’s always trial and error, but after several such errors you begin to wonder if it’s not less wasteful to buy that trusty H&M T-shirt that you know from previous experience doesn’t become a rag after one wash…
For me the struggle with pursuing an ethical lifestyle has always been with the lack of transparency throughout the entire production process. Not using sweat shop labour is insufficient practice to claim to be an ethical clothing company. The textile manufacturing all the way back to the cotton farmer through to distribution, including the retail assistant earning a living wage needs to be fair & ethical practice. I’ve always struggled with trying to find information covering the entire processes of the fashion & beauty industry but it hasn’t deterred me from trying my hardest to pursue an ethical way of living.
Marie @ The Business of Blooming says
I am so grateful that you’re talking about ethical fashion…I would love to have only clothing made ethically, fairly and responsibly. For me, the problem is the money. I feel like I just don’t have the funds for it yet. Someday!!
I just had this conversation with a friend last night. I am still working on perfecting my wardrobe – getting high-quality, staple pieces I love. Add in the fact that I am trying to also make them ethically produced is a nightmare, especially for someone who doesn’t really enjoy shopping. It all becomes too much and I end up stuck with the current wardrobe I have – paired down to the pieces I tolerate the most that are in desperate need of replacement.
Obviously, the main resistance is cost. In looking for some standard ethically-produced work trousers, the only “regular” pants I could find are in excess of $300 – not worth it, especially when I wear them to a manufacturing plant!
The other resistance I face is that the style of clothing seems to be very specific in ethical clothing and doesn’t jive with the style of clothes I wear/feel I can pull off/am drawn to.
I am so excited to find a source to direct me to ethical brands! Can’t wait to take this journey with you!
I believe in buying secondhand before ethical! The clothing already exist and you’re not using any additional resources. At this point, everything in my closet is either secondhand or very old :) It can be difficult to find specific items in secondhand stores, but then there’s eBay and Poshmark and ThredUp!
P.S. I love this blog so so much–I”m constantly inspired and your style is excellent :)
I recently signed up for Capsules. Is the Unfancy collaboration different from the regular subscription? Or is it all included?
Thank you for starting a conversation about this topic. I think discussing the issues and articulating the challenges regarding ethical fashion in an influential public forum like your blog is a huge step towards moving the industry forward in a direction that will allow more people to incorporate ethical fashion choices into their wardrobes. I have watched “The True Cost” and would like to support ethical companies in the future but I have experienced many of the same frustrations as the other commenters. I am very petite and the majority of clothes I’ve seen would look like garbage bags on me. I also have a classic style and part of my commitment to making sustainable choices involves selecting garments that transcend trends and I can wear for years to come. I infrequently buy clothes, updating my wardrobe only to fill a need, and I am unwilling to purchase items that are too informal in style to work in my professional life. I’ve noticed many garments are marked “Dry Clean Only,” which absolutely will not work for me with a beloved dog that covers me in fur and mud on a daily basis. Furthermore, how is a garment ethical and sustainable if it is designed with an accompanying long-term commitment to dry-cleaning maintenance? I would like to know more about the fabrics as well. Are they organic? Have they been treated with any chemicals? Many ethical fashion companies exclusively sell online and only offer returns only for store credit, not a refund, and that would be a huge financial risk for me to order what is often a $200 garment online on the slim chance their fit would suit my diminutive frame. Also, if I’m going to spend $200 for a dress with no tailoring that hangs like a garbage bag on me, I’d really rather buy some yardage of organic fabric (for a lot less than $200) and make my own dress myself on my sewing machine. I’m not an expert sewer but I can certainly make a garment that looks like a garbage bag, and I’d have the satisfaction of knowing the source of my fabric. I’d be willing to spend more money for expert tailoring that is far beyond where my sewing skill set will ever be, but I haven’t encountered that thus far in the ethical fashion marketplace. Thank you so much for starting this conversation. Hopefully this feedback will help ethical fashion companies better meet the needs of a consumer base that would love to make ethical purchases.
I’m a newcomer to ethical/eco friendly/sustainable (whatever we want to call it!) fashion and slower living in general. While I have been totally enjoying the transition to a greater awareness, I still find myself tempted by the lower prices of fast fashion retailers like ASOS. I’m stuck in a weird “it’s not Forever 21, so ASOS isn’t the WORST option, even though it’s far from the best” phase. I think the reason I struggle with this is also that I don’t find the selections or type of clothing I want from the ethical companies I’ve found so far. I love Capsules, ecocult and Into Mind for great eco friendly fashion retailers though, and have been moving in the right direction. Most of all, though, I find that the MOST difficult part about moving toward purchasing sustainable and ethical clothing is being plus sized. I can’t tell you how many times I go to an ethical clothing site to find 0-10 sizing (US), “One Size Fits All,” “Fits SM/MED,” or even S, M, L sizing and the L is the equivalent to a US 8. It’s so discouraging. I’m typically a 12-14 US and it’s been difficult to find many options. But I’m not giving up! One little step at a time. Love that you’re collaborating with Capsules, I’ve been using their platform since December, and it has really helped me in so many ways. Looking forward to more about this!
Josephine Bac says
Same here! If you like bright colors, loose fits and funky patterns, you might like the swedish designer Gudrun Sjödén (www.gudrunsjoden.com) she has an entire category which makes note of how ‘green’ her clothes are (http://www.gudrunsjoden.com/us/gudruns-world/miljo_var-egen-miljomarkning), usually her ‘basic’ items all are. Everything is made in ethical European factories, as far as I can tell.
1. Price (especially for when my kid grows and I have to buy more than just one item).
3. Actually liking the clothes….
I know of a few companies for adults that are ethical but does anybody know any for kids? I know Patagonia makes kids clothes and then small businesses are more likely to be ethical, and thrifting, but besides that I have no idea. (I know this not a kid fashion blog. Just curious if anyone had some info).
Check out WildlyCo.com! A friend of a friend of mine started it… I’ve purchased a few items for my kiddos (ages 1, 2, & 3) and love them all. Places like Once Upon A Child are my BFF, too!
I don’t have it figured out either. I do know that it’s an important issue. Otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten so many replies to your post! For me cost is not the major consideration, I would rather buy less, better quality and ethically produced. So that means fair trade, organic or natural materials, made in the USA. I am a larger size so that can be an issue as ethical brands always seem to produce smaller sizes. Also buying online is not ideal. I’d love to see more on this topic! Possibly sharing resources and links would be great!
Rachel Smith says
I want clothes that I look + feel good in. And I don’t want to cry when something gets ruined. Around here we sweat, we sit down in the dirt, we paint, and sometimes pens go through the wash. That’s my biggest hang-up with “investing” in ethical fashion.
How do you feel about second hand clothes, shoes, and accessories (bags/wallets/etc)?
I gotta be honest, ethical, organic, sustainable fashion is still really new for me. I’ve looked into online sites like Rodales for clothing. Some things are really nice, but WAY out of my price range.
I am focusing my efforts on the Zero Waste Lifestyle right now and part of that is reuse and recycle- so aside from Organic underware, I buy everything from thrift stores- I find great deals on Eileen Fisher clothing there and real leather shoes and bags. Having the capsule wardrobe mentality while shopping helps me avoid just buying because it’s SUCH A GOOD DEAL! Saving money on clothing helps me put more of my budget toward healthy, organic real food for my family and myself.
Agreed! Thrifting is the most ethical option out there…of course fast fashion has significantly contributed to the boom in thrifting options, still thinking through the fact that I’m benefitting (if indirectly) from that system. Hoping there will be a lot more ethical retail options when the glut of donated clothing slows and I need to buy “new” clothes again!
Leah from http://www.thriftshopchic.com
The two biggest obstacles for me regarding ethical fashion is 1) cost of items and 2) finding clothes that fit my style.
It’s really hard to buy the ethically made tee shirt for the same price as 3 shirts and a pair of sandals from Target! And I’ve been hard pressed to find some comfy, cute ethically made clothes that aren’t black + white and boxy.
Looking forward to gleaning some wisdom as you share what you’re learning!
One of the struggles I face is being unable to find quality pieces and affordable prices. Sometimes those two things are separate, like I’ll find something affordable, but I can see it isn’t very good quality. Other times they do go hand-in-hand, I can see the piece is high-quality and the price is also high.
As a maker of things, I understand very well the art, craft, and time it takes to produce a quality, hand made (or machine made) garment or accessory. That has prompted me to learn how to sew garments and accessories for myself so I have a lot more control over the quality and the price. Of course, I cannot make everything due to time, money, and sourcing constraints, but I do feel good making what I can.
I look forward to learning alongside you. I do know of quite a few brands, so if you inquire about them a future post, I’ll be sure to chime in! <3
Jan marie says
My biggest obstacle is definitely price. I don’t have an extra $180 for anything, never mind a t shirt. I spend my biggest cash on shoes, because I use them daily and they last forever and are timeless so I make sure those are quality and ethically made.
There’s a great app I just found last night called “Buycott” where you can choose the causes that are important to you (sweatshop child workers, etc) and it will give you a whole database of what to avoid. You can also look up products and see their company’s allegiances to each of the causes.
I’m trying to embrace the capsule idea. I took a 3 month break from shopping (woo hooo!), and now I’m putting together my spring capsule. I ordered things online from a couple of different stores, and now I’m waiting for them to arrive. I need different sizes in some things, the shoes I ordered online arrived all scratches so now I have to send them back and ask for replacements…. anyways. Online shopping takes time, and I’m starting to get all stressed out from thinking about shopping all the time. I’m ready to be done. I’ve heard of everlane and want to try their stuff, but being restricted to ordering online is logistically difficult. (And even more so because I have to have things delivered to my work address, but I digress).
Thank you for the wonderful quote!
I try to by ethically jade things, but in Australia even buying from more expensive brands often doesn’t mean that they are more ethically or sustainably made.
I try to be consious in my buying, and try to ensure that if I do buy ‘fast fashion’ that it is something that is classic and o will wear for an extended period, rather than a really trendy piece.
I find it difficult to buy for my son-he literally grows by the minute, and wears clothes hard, that I find it hard to justify spending a larger amount of money on clothes he will grow out of in a few months. And that are covered in dirt and sand and food (despite my best efforts!)
I am so glad you’re addressing this. It has been on my mind for years, and even more so after my friend made a documentary about it (The True Cost). I think there are two aspects to this conversation, ethically made clothes and eco-friendly clothes, which may mutually exist but don’t necessarily. I’d love to support brands that are committed to both, but they are so very hard to find and are often out of my price range or not my style.
As far as ethically made clothes are concerned, here are my questions:
1. Some brands have clauses and statements to say they are ethical and visit their factories abroad, but their retail practices indicate fast fashion. For example, I like some styles from Gap and some shoes from Banana Republic (and I even worked for BR for 4.5 years in the early 2000s), but when you look at their sale prices and their sister brand Old Navy, all you see is fast fashion.
2. Even if a product is made in the USA, how do you know supply chains aren’t tainted? Where did the textile come from and was it ethically made?
3. To echo many comments – I am happy to pay a higher price for ethically made clothes, but I don’t have enough disposable income to pay $200-$300 at least per piece, even if I buy very slowly. I love very transparent brands like Eileen Fisher (even though not all of it is exactly my style), but I can’t afford it.
4. Also agree with many other comments here that style is an issue. For years I have felt some guilt about buying fast fashion work clothing when I was required to buy a suit but could not afford Stella McCartney. It is impossible to find ethically made work clothes at a reasonable price for a business dress code.
5. Should I support brands like J Crew who have some products (like great shoes) made in Italy but others made in countries like China where it is almost impossible to run a factory that would run with the ethical standards I’d like to see for workers?
6. I also agree with the struggle that many products that have totally ethical supply chains are not my style or come from Europe where shipping, returns and sizing is a big issue.
7. I do buy some thrifted or consigned clothes and have found Thred Up to be a good option. I am a very petite person and almost never find my size in Goodwill, etc.
1. How do I educate myself enough to know when a product is truly made sustainably? (What does “sustainable” even mean, and how can we define it clearly enough to know if a brand meets the standard?)
2. I am not opposed to buying leather products, but how can I know if an animal was honored and lived a happy life before their hide was used for my shoes? I am very particular about the meat that I buy, and rarely buy meat at all, but when I do I only buy certain types of meat, and I buy at a farmers market that sells humanely raised and slaughtered products. How do I do this with clothing?
3. I wish there was a way to dispose of old clothes that are beyond thrifting or consigning that was more earth friendly. Most clothes that go to Goodwill end up at the dump or being sold in markets in Africa, Haiti, etc. When clothes are beyond rewearing and I need to get rid of them, is there a way to do it where they can be recycled or composted?
Thanks for reading this novel, and thanks for tackling this issue. I am really looking forward to closely following this conversation and learning all that I can.
It’s great that you’re starting this discussion and inviting us all to learn and evolve with you.
For me, building an ethical wardrobe is as much about avoiding unnecessary shopping and buying pieces that will last me several years, as it is about buying from ethical brands. Evaluating a brand is so difficult and in my country there are no brands you can be really sure about, like Everlane in the US (ethical shopping was SO much easier when I lived in the LA).
But I do agree that no shopping is also not a solution! So I try to be smart about it. For instance, now that I’m pregnant I’ve invested in 1 dress, 1 pair of pants and 1 jumpsuit. I’ve gotten some used maternity clothes from my sister but I know I will have to buy a little more as summer approaches. My plan is to buy clothes that are nursing friendly. Right now, that is the ethical standard I’m able to abide by and it’s good enough for the moment.
When more of the ethical brands spread to Scandinavia and their style becomes more diverse, I’ll be shopping more from them.
I’ve been making the shift to more ethical everything in the last few years. Even when I thrift I’m looking for items made in the USA or other developed countries. I have a hard time finding clothes that fit me in general because I’m oddly proportioned and a size 14 to 16. I’m also super fussy about what things are made of. I have some really cute dresses from Eileen Fisher and Athleta that haven’t held up beyond a season because they are made with some slinky soft fabric like modal or rayon and they pill quickly and look horrible and feel horrible to wear. So I won’t buy blends or synthetics. I look for cotton, silk, linen, hemp and wool. One company I’ve been buying a lot of dresses from is CP Shades out of California. Their styles are classic and timeless and made in USA. They also make things in a variety of sizes so I can almost always find things that fit.
What kind of floor do you have? Is it real hardwood? You seem to have a nice house.
My biggest challenge is not maxing out my credit card to have an ethical closet now! But that isn’t very ethical. I have thought about manufacturing a lot over the past 7 years and devaluation of brands. Brands like Lucky or Coach used to be proudly well-made in the U.S. Now are lower quality made in China or third-world countries for the same price or higher. I look at the label for everything I buy and evaluate my need for it, options, etc. This does not mean I will not pass on a BR top on mega-sale if I need it, and I am not going to (and shouldn’t) feel guilty about it.I have in past couple of years have been seeking out more ethical brands, so I am grateful for bloggers like you and Style Bee for making my quest a little easier.
I love your style, so perfect !
I am interested in capsules and tried to sign up on the website and just get an error message and theres no way to contact them.
Chelsea Huckins says
Thank you for starting the discussion. “Fast fashion” is a silent destroyer to our world. Not just the fact it’s cheap and poorly made by woman and children in sweatshops but also most of it ends up in landfills. Whenever I make a purchase it’s on the back of my mind, any help finding the more conscientious brands or tips for navigating a market that cares so little about people and the environment at the bottom would be appreciated.
Karin Rambo says
The hardest thing for me has been to change my mindset. In the past I’ve wanted my wardrobe to be what I want it to be NOW. With the price of ethical fashion and the search that’s involved in finding the item that I want it takes a much longer time to fill my wardrobe with items that are me. And that’s a sacrifice. I might not always look as trendy as I want to, or I might have to save up for a bit longer. It’s hard to make the switch in my mind when I’ve been so ingrained with the idea that fashion should be affordable and that I should have access to anything I want.
Karin | truncationblog.com
I think it is good to remember that a capsule wardrobe is much more ethical that consuming multiple clothing items so that in itself is a great start to ethical fashion! Thrift shopping is also ethical due to less consumption and reducing landfill. Since learning about capsule wardrobes I have learnt a lot more about my style so have a little more confidence to spend more money on ethical items for myself. I’m new to this so I’ve still to do my research. I think my biggest barrier to ethical fashion are my children- baby and a 2 year old. I try to buy second hand for them, though they grow fast. Although I could buy new for myself spending money more on growing children is likely to go beyond my budget. I’ll keep thrifting for them though sometimes I get caught it with quick change of season or holidays etc.
Andrea H says
For me the first obstacle was getting past the idea that I needed to buy new clothing all the time. When clothing is viewed as disposable (constantly being replaced) we are constantly shopping. When I slowed that down, and stopped expecting items every weekend for $20, I realized if I saved, instead I could buy one or two really nice or handmade items every once in awhile. These nicer items I take good care of, many I can/have been wearing for years. The next obstacle was where to buy. I always felt clueless. But now they are so many resources, blogs and lists, a quick google search goes a long way. (Have you used ProjectJUST.com yet?) The third obstacle I still struggle with is the price point. But that goes back to obstacle number one, it’s a daily reminder to stick to the ‘fewer, better’ mantra.
Thanks for keeping this conversation going!
What stops me is that I know to make the biggest impact on this issue I simply need to stop buying shit, period. Honestly I have enough clothing to last me years, if not the next decade. So I put myself on a shopping ban… Next thing I know I’m picking out a new top at Forever21…
I’ve had this same problem! I agree that ethical fashion involves a certain ‘look’…..well, I would’ve last year. I found Everlane. They are gaining a lot of ground in the fashion industry, but they are maintaining their ‘radical transparency’ about prices and factories. I get dressed in peace knowing that my clothes are coming from factories where the workers are paid and treated well. I love that this is a focus of fashion now, because it has always been important to me.
Your blog has inspired me so much! I’ve been wanting to start a capsule wardrobe but was so nervous on where to start! Today I took the leap and cleaned out my entire closet! I am tried of fast fashion and looking to transition to a more sustainable wardrobe. As some have mentioned, I tried the link you posted to sign up for Capsules, but it will not allow me to register! Hopefully this gets figured out!
I would love to have ethical fashion in my closet but it costs an arm and a leg, along with looking frumpy and ill sized. If only they had styles the masses of people would actually want to wear, instead of the more creative or hippy style people (not to be stereo-typing but it’s true).
Even outside of the stated topic, that quote was what I needed to hear this week. I’ve been slipping into the cynical, and need to find a way to fan that inner flame. Thanks for the reminder!
These issues are so complex and layered and I love that the tone has been set to leave room for grace and questions…there’s no one way to be “right” and the fact that we’re all here to learn and improve is exciting!
I’m just chiming in to echo the concerns about animal-derived clothes, bags and shoes in the ethics conversation. As a vegan of 20 years, I know there are pros and cons (depending on individual priorities) of leather vs. pleather for example, but I’d love to see non-leather alternatives linked along with the other “similar” options for the pictured shoes and bags.
I wish more vegan options were based on textiles rather than pleather! Plastic is so harmful to the planet and the animals we’re trying to take care of!
The desire to switch to ethical fashion was instantaneous for me, but the process itself has been a lot slower than I’d like to admit. After a lot of research, I’ve found a lot of brands that I like (The Good Trade provides a lot of resources), and I’ve also taken better advantage of thrift shopping and preventing clothing from ending up in landfills or taking away from local economies in other countries. Sticker shock is definitely an issue for a lot of people, and that’s why so many people I know feel like they can’t shop ethically. I’ve learned that it’s not just about where you shop though – it’s really how you shop. Do you just do it to have fun or because you can? Do you spend your money without thinking about where its going? The fast fashion industry makes us poor by making us feel like we’re rich. Instead, we have to learn to feel rich with less. The biggest transition for me is getting rid of the “I want it so I should have it” feeling. I’ve learned that there are other ways to keep up with trends if I want to, and I’ve also learned to love a more minimalist and classic look.
They say that it only takes a few weeks to form a habit, but it takes significantly longer to break it. I definitely have seen that with my shopping habits. Even though stopping shopping at fast fashion stores was easy, the desire to spend money on clothes has been a lot harder to overcome. It takes more effort to find things that I feel are worthy of my money, but I think the reward has been so much greater in the long run.
Being ethical with your fashion choices isn’t just about brands that you shop. Some don’t have a lot of sizes and many don’t have the sort of style that a lot of people have. Learn to make good investments. A simple step is to only buy something if you’ll wear it at least 30 times, or you can do the $1/wear idea – only buy something if you’ll wear it enough to equal out to it having cost $1 per wear. Shop at thrift stores, or on apps like Poshmark where you can get great deals for used clothes and feel good about your purchase. The most important thing is to be informed and to be making conscious choices with your money. “Every time you spend money, you are voting for what kind of world you want to live in.”
Jenna L. says
I love that you are getting involved in the ethical clothing conversation! I’ve been a reader of yours since your first post, and I think I started considering choices about ethics, quality, and consumption w/clothing about a year ago.
As many people have already commented, price is my biggest difficulty right now. I have no problem paying more for the values I believe in, but it just takes me a lot of time to build up the funds (what with paying off student debt, car, rent, etc.). Currently when I buy clothing & accessories, I do so at about a 60/40 ratio of secondhand to new. As an example, I love the fit of Paige Denim and that it’s made in the U.S. (the fabric is often imported though), but I can’t afford it new at $170. But I’ve bought two pairs secondhand from eBay and Poshmark for a small fraction of that cost, still in great condition. I can almost always find the item I’m looking for secondhand, and for more unique pieces from small designers like Elizabeth Suzann, I save up and wait. This works for my lifestyle right now and aligns with my values, letting me hold my “inner flame.”
Thanks for opening up a discussion here, Caroline!
ethical fashion to me extends beyond the dollar. I’m struggling with it… but it is putting a stop to overseas child labor… sweatshops where mothers are paid penny’s an hour… treated poorly while their children play at their feet. all the while so that we may pay $5.00 for a cool looking top at main retailers (that almost cost someone maybe their dignity)… this is wrong. I’m struggling with it. but it’s real.
Carreen raynor says
I think one problem I struggle with is finding the balance between doing no harm and doing some good. For my budget, I can’t afford to buy all ethical clothing new, but I am more than happy to thrift and second-hand almost everything, and in theory, save enough to invest in a few high-quality pieces that are ethically-made…or, if that isn’t possible (for example, there aren’t a lot of ethical sportswear options, and I need workout clothes most days), in pieces that will last a long time without needing to be replaced. The problem is that I get to a point at which, if I just have enough patience, I’ll be able to find most anything I need second-hand: even high-quality sportswear, jeans, shoes, etc. For example, I recently bought a pair of $80 Athleta running shorts for $2.60 at my local thrift store. Why even bother looking for an ethically-made alternative if I can get quality clothes so much less expensively secondhand? But what I’ve been pondering lately is whether I’ve been taking a ‘do no harm’ approach (buying secondhand and therefore not putting my money toward fast fashion industry) but not doing any positive good (buying from women supporting themselves, etc) because I’ve been made too stingy having gotten used to thrifted prices. I don’t think the fast fashion problem will be solved by just deciding to buy everything secondhand. So that’s my current conundrum. =P
I know that this is a bit outside of the discussion you may be trying to have, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about children’s clothing. How does slow fashion work for a child who grows so quickly that there is no possibility of wearing a pair of shoes for years, or who in the course of play gets dirty and needs more than just a few t-shirts? There are ethical brands, of course; but the majority of parents can’t afford to clothe their children in higher-priced brands. Secondhand seems to be the obvious answer, but I do wonder if there are any other creative solutions to be made…
Caroline, way to go for immersing yourself in ethical fashion. It kinda leaves your brain swirlling to even think about all the different aspects of it. I think you pretty much nailed it with the quote you posted though. In order to tackle it or anything for that matter you really have to maintain balance. Like so many people have already said, they do the best they can to fit their lifestyle needs etc. I too am losing baby weight and buying clothes for our little family on a budget. I used to be able to spend time going to thrift stores or buy second hand but now time is the most valuable commodity I have. If I spend time searching for clothes then that’s time I’m not able to go grocery shopping. If I spend a few hours researching ethical fashion then I’m not spending time with my son or making dinner. I’m sure there are lots of balanced avid supporters of ethical fashion but in my life I’ve noticed when I get too focused on one thing its difficult to maintain balance with all the other aspects of my life. I think in being balanced you’re able to reach more people. It’s easier to relate to someone who isn’t “perfect” right? And I think it’s more reasonable to take baby steps towards rearching a goal like ethical fashion. High five and first pump to all those who are able to or choose to make it a high priority but I think most people have a harder time with their everyday life problems and may find it daunting to take on world problems. I still have concern and compassion for those who are not being treated fairly and will do all in my power to help but I don’t think we realize the impact we have of simply trying to be good and live the life we were meant to live. I may never move mountains in the ethical fashion world or go to a forgien country to serve but the people in my sphere of influence may be impacted by the good I have in me and go do some of those things. Who better to influence for good than our families and closest friends? This has been much longer than I was planning but this is the last of it. For the last 7 months I’ve suffered from PTSD. I doubt anyone would have said “Go find a fashion blog that will help” but amazingly enough unfancy has been something for me that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. It sounds crazy (especially to me!) but it’s true! That is just my own personal example of how you have impacted my life for good all before becoming ethically aware. For some it may not seem like enough but to the person impacted by it (me or someone else out there in the world) it’s not only enough but made all the difference. We just never know how the good in us will impact people, no matter how small it may seem.
Thanks for reading
Wow, so many interesting comments already … I would like to add something because I’ve been exploring ethical fashion for almost two years now (though obviously as a side note in my day to day life) and I still face many challenges. In a way, it’s like jumping down the rabbit hole … one moment you’re proud to have bought your first ‘eco’ jeans (at 2x the price of your regular brand), the next you’re pondering whether the most ethical option is to buy a new leather handbag and use it until it falls apart (which is long, with leather), buy definitely no leather (animal unfriendly plus harsh chemicals), buy second-hand leather, not buy a new bag at all because let’s face it, your current one is still kind of functioning … I now wonder sometimes when this past century it became nearly impossible to make informed and ethical choices for nearly anything …
Anyhow, apart from keeping the inner flame burning, I still face many practical challenges boiling down to:
– availibility: not many physical stores specialize in ethical fashion, some great brands are badly available if you don’t like to shop online
– range: I’m happy that I currently have some ‘go to’ brands for daily wear, but try finding ethical underwear, sportswear, even just shoes … a lot harder (and I can imagine this also holding true for people with non-standard sizes)
– pants: I know this is weirdly specific, but like many women finding well-fitting pants is trying for me; if I have to stick to second-hand stores and ethical brands I would have to stop wearing pants in favor of skirts and dresses and maybe some denim
– social aspect of shopping: just going shopping with friends is kind of hard when you only have one ethical clothing store in any (big) city around and you don’t want to preach the hell out of your friends; ditto with talking fashion
All in all I find I can only keep my efforts up because my whole lookout on shopping an clothes has changed these past years. I still purchase non-ethical options and still have a hard time sometimes resisting the urge to buy something unnecessary. But buying clothes is no longer something I just do mindlessly, and I do take responsibility for the impact of my choices on the planet or at least I try.
I love that you’re looking into ethical fashion. I want to be more ethical when making clothing/lifestyle decisions. Right now, I can afford that. But I do know once I start a family, that maybe those ethical choices will be out of reach financially. BUUT, I’ve really loved reading some of the comments- people suggesting that rather than buy the brand new h&m (etc) shirt, to find the clothing second hand, and not contribute to the new purchasing of those shirts. Its encouraging that it will be possible to make a better choice at a budget that can be affordable.
I don’t like to focus on limitations, but rather on the things I CAN do. My introduction to ethical and eco fashion has been a journey, too. My conclusion has been “do what I can because every little bit helps” and “just keep building it up slowly until I’m happy with my contribution”.
So if I can’t afford to buy everything ethically or with the environment in mind, that’s okay. And if I learn something new and find out that my jeans are probably filling an entire river outlet with nasty blue dyes, I can forgive myself for not knowing. I just can’t stand having all of those negative stories on my body and in my home, so I want to add as much good as I can with my tiny amount of available money and time.
At this point, I buy clothes and other things based on incorporating as many factors as possible at that time:
– fair trade or North-American-made (or at least avoiding places known for atrocities, such as Bangladesh – make yourself a mental list of place to avoid)
– environmental impact (dyes, shipping, bleaching, minimal packaging, pesticides, clear-cutting) (new for me)
– transparency of ethical treatment of workers (I put no store in company policy unless it’s substantiated because often brands contract out the manufacture of their clothing and can’t check working conditions at all.) (Everlane is beautiful for this one.)
– durability (if all else fails, at least do this one!)
– ability to be repaired (this is also new for me)
– the absolute perfection of the piece (so I wear it more and love it for longer)
Here are some recent discoveries that made me renew my efforts:
– the blue jeans dye thing (yikes!)
– the fact that less than 10% of plastic put in my recycling bin is retrieved in the end, and all that stuff has to be shipped MILES away just to be processed and create more pollution (I wanted to cry)
– the fact that food waste has a heavy environmental cost because it can’t decompose properly in landfills (I’ll start being more mindful of how much goes into my fridge.)
– the fact that BILLIONS of dollars are now being diverted from less ethical sources to more ethical ones (we’re making a difference!)
It can be hard, but each effort helps! The best part for you is that you only buy a few items of clothing per season, so you can focus your efforts. So keep it up!
Any Australians out there… Check out http://www.ethical.org.au for a wonderful guide to fashion and other household products. Each company/brand gets a rating and shows related reports, praises and concerns. There are some major international companies listed. I only shop from brands with a rating of B or higher.
Due to the price point of ethical fashion companies I mostly stick to thrifting good quality clothing and, for comfort, I purchase mainly non-synthetic fabrics.
I live in a small city so don’t have much in the way of fast fashion retailers (or I might have a problem!) But when I see a gap in my wardrobe or need a new outfit for an occasion it can be difficult to find what I need by thrifting alone. However, I also resist shopping online because 1) ethical fashion is beyond my budget (and as others have mentioned, my recent hunt for sustainable yoga pants led me to sites that didn’t quite carry the styles which appeal to me) 2) I like to try before I buy and 3) the shipping increases the carbon footprint of the outfit.
One way around this I have found is to use the seamstress skills of my close friend and have her make custom dresses for me when needed. This works out quite affordably and may be doable even for someone who doesn’t personally know a seamstress.
Another option is Etsy. Last summer I purchased a gorgeous leather tote from Vermut Atelier. I picked it up from her personally during my trip to Barcelona (saved the shipping!) and knew I was supporting a wonderful woman creating quality goods. Of course, leather is arguably unethical but cows are not killed solely for their skin. I like the idea of making use of the whole animal so as not to waste its life force. Unfortunately, leather is just too durable to ever go out of style but I do agree we should be decreasing the demand for it. I may not eat cows, but I carry my tote and wear my Birkenstocks, so how ethical am I really?
I’m interested in this as well but as a grad student am struggling to make the financial investment. I know that’s not a great excuse, but it’s stopping me from investing more in something I believe in. Can you say a little bit more about Capsules? I tried to get more info but need to give my credit card information before learning more. I’m weary to give them this without knowing what I’m committing to. Thanks!
I have the same problem with but less with style and more with fit. I’m pretty tall and slender. I find that some of the ethical fashion is coming from precious sweet people in other countries where the average women might be 5″2. I have the same problem with non ethical brands too. Example. J Crew won’t even try and wear it. Just won’t fit me. Banana Republic I can wear it all (minus their petites) So I try to buy from them and remind myself that I’m going to buy a piece that I will wear a lot, like all the time a lot. If we all got together and did this wouldn’t we force ethical fashion??
This is a very interesting topic to me – mainly because clothing retail is my career path & I do work at a typical American mall. As you said, I most definitely don’t have it all figured out either… It’s a learning process.
Also, because I seek out information, it’s of genuine interest to me & I’m so consumed in the clothing field – I assume that everyone is aware, thinking about it etc. However, I can’t find a parking spot at the mall (& I work there!) and have an endless line of customers at the cash wrap.
Fact: Consumers with never stop consuming.
I believe it’s a dangerous assumption to believe that a product is ethically made simply because it’s “Made in America.” Cotton farmers are compromising their values to keep up with demand by using hazardous chemicals to keep up with production. “Ethics” is also a very broad term – how many of you have worked for a company in America & been in a situation where you didn’t agree with something that was going on? Been treated poorly by a boss? I’ve personally worked in some awesome work environments & a few I absolutely couldn’t believe business was being conducted in the way that it was. There is more than one way to be unethical.
I also believe that if we closed each and every clothing factory around the world tomorrow – these countries economies would collapse, the workers would be destitute and at a loss. They aren’t arguing for the jobs to be taken from them – they’re arguing to better working conditions. A safe building & workspace, a lunch break, a break room, time off, benefits, training, promotions, raises… The things we take for granted.
I agree with the few commenters regarding current ethical clothing not being their style. The minimalist / hipsters are having big movement right now. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m either one. I do love a good t-shirt & jeans. I am also conscious of the amount of pieces in my closet & frequently rotate pieces in and out. But a little feminine flair never hurt anyone :) Where’s the ethically made clothing company for consumers who don’t decorate with succulents?
At the end of the day, each entity on the supply chain is operating out of fear – especially in today’s world. Nobody wants to lose business, miss a sale, lose an account etc. I actually think its scary. How / Why did it have to come to this? Are we in too deep?
I commented before, but last night I read this article that seemed worth sharing:
If you don’t get too hung up on the title, it has some enlightening information, particularly near the end. This convinces me even more that buying less is important. It’s just crazy how deep all of this might go.
I definitely don’t mind paying more for well made items, but let me tell you, finding shoes that fit my 10.5 wide foot before was hard enough, finding cute shoes now is even more of a pain! I needed one pair of black sandals that were my style and my fit, and I finally had to settle on something less than ideal because they met my ethical standards. Sometimes the search for the right ethical item is just so plain exhausting. I’m already vegan who tries to eat ethically, so sometimes I wonder why I must make things MORE difficult for myself. That said, I do derive significant pleasure from knowing that I’m helping others, so I just try to keep that in mind.
I agree with lots of the sentiment above.
For me it’s also an issue of sizes (and ability to try things on). I’m always a petite size which is already difficult to come by for a 26 year old.
Brigitta Danae says
The challenge I face when it comes to buying ethically is the time that it takes to do so. It takes time to save enough money to invest in ethical fashion – and because it’s all so expensive, it is an investment! Shopping, which has always been a leisurely activity, suddenly becomes a homework assignment when you have to consider commendable clothing companies. I have to research where things are sourced from, ensure that workers are paid fair wages, check to make sure that the materials from which our clothes are made are neither harmful to those who make them nor to the wearers… and the list goes on. There is so much information out there, so many factors to consider when buying ethically, it is just easier not to. This has been my experience, but since working for Patagonia, my attitude toward shopping has shifted again. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a big challenge to only buy ethically-made clothes. I have a friends’ wedding coming up next week and I want to stop looking around at things and just figure out my outfit already! But I am challenging myself to find something that is timeless, that I can wear for multiple occasions, that I will wear long into the future, and that is sourced well. Anthropologie is my biggest undoing – all of their dresses are gorgeous, and owning several already doesn’t stop me from wanting more. To be honest, I don’t buy ethically sourced clothing. Aside from what I have accumulated from Patagonia, most of my clothes come from conventional retailers (or thrift stores! I absolutely love thrift shopping and have just rediscovered how much!). I have long been eyeing pieces from Everlane and Nisolo, but the time it takes to save the money to invest in the pieces I want is what gets me. I’m trying to see “investments” as a more exciting thing, but I keep getting distracted. Getting there. . .
I first want to say that I love the turn your blog has taken lately. Before I liked to read it because I like the idea of minimalism as a life style I think that was responsible and humane of you. Now it seems like your implementing ethical only fashion too!
I have to be honest. I have only recently been finding out about how fast fashion impacts the environment. My current read is “Overdressed” and I agree all the information is overwhelming. It’s hard not to get cynical that society as a whole will not change or to live in denile that our consumer choices don’t hurt anyone or thing.
Human want is getting harder to tame today due to the availability of everything in the US. I just want to say I’m really happy to see someone with such influence on people taking such a stance and making an impact. The throw away fashion culture is creating so much waste.
Personally my fashion choices are worlds away from minimalism. I enjoy floral print and cats more than the average grandma. Haha. So I try to look for vintage and ethical shops. The ones you mentioned here are a good start! And everlane is also one I have seen before too.
There are also web apps like Poshmark that work like a used clothing trade between people. I’ve sold some things there and now I can get rid of some unused items that way!
Lately I have been trying to find quality made vintage and ethical clothing (or try to sew or alter my own) instead of buying fast fashion. Trends no longer appeal to me since I know my style. It’s worth it in the long run. I am 26 and I still have a vintage dress my Tia gave me in JR High.
I’ve been trying very hard to limit my purchases of new clothing, and making up the difference by sewing my own new clothes, buying secondhand, and mending. I recently fell in love with japanese boro textiles, and use the technique to mend all of the shredded denim in my house. I appreciate the beauty of the visible mending, proof that something was too good to waste.
I’m coming back to this post again, now with an answer to your question in my mind.
What keeps me from buying ethical brands are the following issues:
1. Fit / sizes. I’m a size EU 36/S and I learned the brands I favour the most cut so big I can’t achieve the desired fit with their range of sizes. I would have to go down at least 1-2 sizes, which just don’t exist in their size range.
2. Style. They simply don’t carry clothes I really fall in love with. I’m a style chameleon, but these clothes are very often very basic, too basic for me. I prefer more “special” pieces for everyday wear, as I love to cherish every day and celebrate it by dressing like I actually was to celebrate. (Same with my work clothes – I’m so happy and grateful for my day-to-day work I like to say “thank you” to the day and the workplace and everyone around by dressing pretty. Needless to say this leads so occasional overdressing compared to my workmates, but it doesn’t bother us).
3. Unreasonable Price. I’m willing to pay quite a bit for it (another way of celebrating it and noticing its WORTH), but I often stumble over pieces I feel the price is just not justifieable, it doesn’t reflect the costs but only sets a status. Like, let’s say, 50€ for a belt consisting only of a corded string of organic cotton and two tassles on the ends.
4. Accessability. (This goes hand in hand with size) I want to Buy the things in Brick-And-Mortar-Shops. Like my mom puts it, “People can’t work “in” the internet. That’s no real place like Vienna. They can only work IN a warehouse/storage facility, or a brick-and-mortar shop.” I want to literally “get in touch” with the garments and fabrics and see how they resonate with me. Why this goes hand in hand with size? I need to see the fit on my frame, to check how generous they measure the amout of fabric for my size. Size charts don’t work, I’ve tried over the last 10-12 years, but one size chart is never applied to all the garments.
Plus, it’s Old school and analogue (both I love), fast(er) and less fuss than picking up the parcel from the post office, dragging it home, Re-Packing the things and dragging it to the post office again (often paying ridiculous amount of money for returns, e.g. 15€ to return it to great britain.)
I am also guilty of falling for trends, but this pings back to point 2, too basic style.
I haven’t read all the comments, so what I will say propably will not sound new… but still…
The main reason that stops me from use ethical fashion are the prices, I live on a tiny budget, and I really can’t affort spending 60 euros (I live in Italy) for a shirt and more than 100 for a pair of jeans. I could make an effort and buy less but good quality, ethical cloth for myself, right… but I can’t afford doing that for my ten years old son, like every kids he grows up really fast and one pair of jeans may lasts no more than one ore two seasons, same thing for shoes and the rest, so I can’t re-buy “pricey” items every six months (+ I haven’t seen many ethical shops seeling clothes for kids).
Yes, I could buy second hand, but I don’t really like the idea of it + all the second hand shops I visited aroud here are very “hippy” places(and this is not really my style or a kind of style that I can use to go to work), and a lot of cloths are really old and worn out (I don’t know how it is like in the U.S.).
What I am trying to do at the moment is to buy cloths just when it’s necessary (for example i really to buy a new pair of sandals for summer because my old ones are falling apart) and trying to buy Italian whenever is possible, but I still buy at places like H&M or Zara for my son.
Be Marie korea says
Love how you ask these questions openly! I’m trying very hard not to buy too many clothes and to re-purpose older stuff.
Love to read your blog :D