In my previous post, I promised a round-up of fashion retailers pursuing ethical and sustainable practices.
I also want to share some surprising mainstream retailers that are making great progress, as well as a few of my favorite resources that I have found.
Get ready: I’m about to toss dozens of links your way!
Ethical fashion is about dignity at every level
So, if we’re trying to avoid fast fashion, then what exactly are we looking for?
Fast fashion earns its name not only because of quickly changing trends that create a throwaway culture, but also because the whole process is fast. For fast fashion retailers like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M, a new garment can go from its infancy in design → production → the retail floor in mere weeks!
In contrast, what we might call “slow fashion” or “ethical fashion” prioritizes and encourages “taking time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and to contemplate the connection to the environment.” Ethical fashion upholds the dignity of its workers at every level -- from the cotton picking, to the manufacture of the raw fabric, to the garment production.
Ethical fashion upholds the dignity of its workers at every level -- from the cotton picking, to the manufacture of the raw fabric, to the garment production.
But which companies embrace these ideals of sustainable, ethical, slow fashion? How in the world would you know?
Luckily, there are organizations and individuals who have already done much of the work for us!
Good On You is the App you need
My overall favorite resource is the website and app Good On You.
They evaluate individual companies on three criteria: their stewardship toward people, toward the environment, and toward animal welfare. For even more details on their rating system, check this out.
Here is an example: How ethical is Adidas? They evaluate Adidas’ progress in each of the above areas, give the company an overall score, then compare it briefly to other mainstream athletic shoe and clothing retailers. Their opinion? Adidas is “miles ahead in terms of sustainability and labour conditions” compared to its competitors, but it still has a “long way to go before they could be considered a truly ethical brand.” At the end of the article, they give recommendations for alternate athletic apparel companies that rate higher on their scale.
Here are a few more Good On You ratings of mainstream companies, with their overall rating in parenthesis: Levi’s (Good), Gap (It’s a Start), Forever 21 (Not Good Enough), American Eagle (Not Good Enough), Birkenstock (Good), Calvin Klein (Not Good Enough), H&M (It’s a Start).
Good On You also has some wonderful round-ups on ethical denim, wedding dresses, professional work wear, and swimwear.
Stylewise puts realistic examples into practice
As I have learned more about ethical fashion and fair trade practices, I have returned again and again to one blog in particular. Leah Wise describes her blog StyleWise as “a place for conscious consumers and social justice advocates from all walks of life to be encouraged and challenged in our journey together.” I appreciate her take because she strikes a balance of unwavering compassion for the marginalized without being an extremist in the demands she places on herself, she is realistic about budgetary constraints, and she weaves her own story as a Christian feminist into her posts in a refreshing and approachable manner.
Here is Leah’s list of criteria she uses to evaluate a company: overall sustainability, Fair Trade labor practices, dedication to environmentally sound practices, made locally or benefits local culture and economy, and messaging with the potential to lead industry change.
I specifically love her series on ethical alternatives for various popular brands. Check them out here: Anthropologie, Old Navy, Free People, Forever 21, ModCloth, Urban Outfitters
Made in USA isn't code for fair trade
There is one more major question I would like to address: What about the “Made in USA” label? Can I make this all less complicated by just sticking to clothes made in the USA or Canada?
I wish it were that simple! Unfortunately, a garment labeled “Made in USA” might be made of cotton picked by forced laborers, even if the fabric itself is manufactured and the garment is sewn in the USA. Many would argue that this is a step in the right direction, and I would agree. But companies can do better!
Companies can do better.
You can check if a company has signed The Cotton Pledge and promised “to not knowingly source Uzbek cotton for the manufacturing of any of our products until the Government of Uzbekistan ends the practice of forced child and adult labor in its cotton sector.”
Before I highlight a few ethical fashion retailers I have discovered, I want to emphasize that our goal here is not perfection, but progress: progress in our shopping habits, to the extent that we can, but ultimately progress in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.
All of these companies are paving the way
Here's a list of fair trade companies worth exploring:
American Giant - Cotton basics (tees, hoodies, bottoms, accessories), all products made entirely in the USA, from USA-grown cotton
Ash & Rose - Online boutique committed to sustainability, fair labor, and empowering women. “It's a shop for women who love all things romantic, whimsical, pretty and practical - and care about the planet and the people who inhabit it.”
Bead And Reel - This online boutique has a really cool feature where it allows you to search by what matters most to you in ethical fashion: made in USA, artisan-made, recycled, fair trade, vegan, etc.
Dwell & Slumber - Modern housedresses for all women, maternity/nursing-friendly!
Encircled - Check out these professional, multiway pieces perfect for building your capsule wardrobe
Fair Trade Winds - Features jewelry, clothing for men and women, bags
Henkaa - These multi-way dresses in several styles and colors are perfect for special events and weddings, made entirely in Canada
Noonday Collection - Features fair trade jewelry and other accessories
Pact Apparel - For all your cotton basics needs (underwear, activewear, loungewear)
Naja - Features lingerie, activewear, swimwear. Naja actively employs single mothers, pays above market wages with health benefits, and offers flexible work policies to balance work and family
Nisolo - Features women and men shoes; exceeds fair trade practices for wages
Patagonia - Features Outdoor and active wear
prAna - “Yoga, travel, and adventure clothes with a conscience”
Raven and Lily - Online boutique selling jewelry, bags, apparel
Rey Swimwear - Swimsuits (one piece, and tankinis w/ bottoms), skirts, dresses, tops
R.Riveter - canvas and leather handbags handmade by U.S. military spouses!)
Sseko - Sandals, handbags, jewelry
Softstar Shoes - Zero drep, flexible-sole shoes made entirely in the USA (from the leather to the final touches)
Ten Thousand Villages - jewelry, home goods, decor, bags
The Root Collective - boots and flats
And finally, I would be extremely remiss if I did not mention Catholic Relief Services’ Fair Trade Shopping Guide. Each of these companies has been vetted by CRS to ensure their business practices not only meet international fair trade standards but also are in line with Catholic Social Teaching.
Whew! If you have stayed with me this long, THANK YOU! Happy [ethical] shopping!