Essential Ethical & Sustainable Fashion Guide

Whether you call it sustainable fashion, ethical fashion or eco-friendly, green fashion there’s no denying the explosion in public interest in fast fashion alternatives.

It can be very confusing to get into sustainable fashion because there are so many terms thrown around that you might not be able to work out what is what, so we’ve put together a basic guide to help you.

If you want to jump right in and start shopping for sustainable and ethical fashion then check out our guide to the very best sustainable clothing brands.

What is Sustainable Fashion?

We’ve addressed the “What Does Sustainable Mean?” question in the past.

Now we’re focused solely on fashion and the various ways that the industry is addressing demands for transparency and ethical production standards.

If you are committed to activating change in the fashion industry then you can join the Fashion Revolution.

sustainable fashion revolution

Sustainable And Ethical Fashion Basics

You can’t get perfectly sustainable and ethical fashion. When you wash clothes there’s an environmental toll to be paid, for example, and that can’t be avoided.

However, we can try to get as close to sustainable as possible!

That means as consumers we can examine what we buy, decide on what the guiding principles of our sustainable ethos are and how to make choices based on them and finally, just by asking whether we’re really going to use what we’re about to buy.

sustainable fashion basics

For fashion brands, they can ask how they can be most kind to the environment and to people. They want to try and eliminate their overall environmental footprint by making different tradeoffs in manufacturing, distribution, etc. Fashion consumption doesn’t have to mean fast fashion.

A sustainable wardrobe and an ethical wardrobe mean changes in clothing production, adopting natural materials and sustainable practices, etc.

For a deeper dive on sustainable and ethical fashion we recommend you get a copy of The Sustainable Fashion Handbook.

Sustainable And Ethical Fashion Terms

Now, let’s look at some sustainable fashion industry terms in a simple fashion to make them relevant to you:

  • Clothes swapping. There’s nothing more sustainable than trading unwanted clothes for others with friends or family. You can run a swap meet if you have plenty of friends or check out Facebook and other local forums to find one in your area. Fashion consumption can be slowed by making old clothes into new clothes within communities.
  • Buy secondhand. This is also a good way of avoiding creating any new environmental footprint but there is a downside, in that secondhand markets can encourage poor consumption habits in those that try to shift their clothes regularly via selling them secondhand. Check out one of the online thrift shops to find affordable vintage clothing. This is slow fashion to the max.
  • Slow fashion. This is where you buy items that are built to last. No fast fashion rubbish manufactured in third world sweatshops but handmade and beautiful work. Unfortunately, this does mean develop and sticking with a particular style. You can’t reinvent yourself annually, but this, in turn, means you are reducing the amount of new stuff that gets created each year. Slow fashion is a key driving force for fashion brands in the ethical fashion world.
  • Fair trade fashion. The idea that if we buy fair trade fashion is that workers will get paid a living wage and this will have other environmental benefits in turn. We like this but it’s annoyingly expensive to get certified for fair trade and that means small brands may be fair trade but can’t offer a certificate to prove it. So not all ethical fashion brands are certified. Check out the Fashion Revolution for further research.
  • Vegan fashion. As you might expect this means clothes that have no animal products in them. You reduce cruelty to animals and reduce the environmental impact of raising animals (e.g. their carbon footprint). On the other hand, many vegan brands use plastics or fibers that don’t degrade easily and they will, eventually, end up as pollutants in a landfill – these are hallmarks of fast fashion not slow fashion. Try to find vegan brands that use innovative materials and recycled materials that do biodegrade where possible. Check out our ethical fashion guide to vegan shoes and put our best foot forward!
  • Locally produced. Much of the worst environmental damage done by fast fashion brands is when products are in transit from one destination to another. Sadly, a tag that says “made in XYZ country” doesn’t always mean that the whole garment was locally produced (sometimes the manufacturing process is overseas and labelling or packaging is done locally) – don’t be scared to ask questions of your fashion vendor and insist on answers.
  • Be minimalist. That is, own only what you need. You might find this boring if you like have a big wardrobe but it’s a great way to save money and save the planet.
  • Organic cotton. This isn’t as environmentally friendly as it sounds – it uses a lot of water to produce. Organic cotton is a better than regular cotton, though. Sustainable textiles are often a hallmark of sustainable brands.
  • Recycled materials. These reduce waste and fuel consumption. However, recycled PET is not that eco-friendly as it’s a very wasteful recycling process.Fashion brands need to balance the needs of fashion lovers with the fair treatment of the planet.
  • 100% materials. These are materials which can be completely recycled, nothing left behind. Zero waste is the goal. Zero waste is the opposite of fast fashion and many of our favorite brands are making huge strides towards this objective.

So, there you have it. Everything you need to know about sustainable fashion, in a nutshell. And if you’ve found this useful, you should also take a look at our slow fashion guide.