Why Ethical Fashion is Important and 7 Brands That Are Doing It Better
Those of you who know me (however fortunate or unfortunate you think you may be due to that fact) know that I have worked in the fashion industry for the bulk of my career. Those of you who don’t know me — I have worked in the fashion industry for the bulk of my career. So, it is only fitting that my first “official” blog post covers that exact subject.
I love fashion. Spring’s newest flatform trend aside, I find it beautiful, creative, inspiring, and the artistry and originality that we see come down the runway every season absolutely splendid. And the ability of clothing to let a person express themselves and their individuality equally as splendid.
Unfortunately, the fashion industry also has some pretty serious issues that we all might want to start paying attention to. Textile production uses 25% of the world’s chemicals, is responsible for around 10% of global carbon emissions and uses more water than any industry apart from agriculture. “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world,” American designer and fashion insider, Eileen Fisher famously said. “Second only to the oil industry.”
And, in the race to produce more, more, more for less, less, less, the industry’s need for cheap labor has led to the exploitation of garment workers in the form of unfair wages or forced labor, exposure to toxic chemicals and less than safe working conditions among other things.
But, enough with the bad news. The good news is that help is on the way. Change is coming. More companies are emerging every day that are providing sustainable and socially responsible options. And a lot of existing companies have recognized the problems are already making changes. The even better news? These companies are evolving in a way that you won’t have to spend a fortune or go out of your way to get these better products.
In the words of one of these companies, Amour Vert, “Great fashion and social responsibility can coexist.”
Obviously, there will be more to come on this in the near future, but for now here are just a few of my favorite companies leading the charge:
Everlane is blazing the trail around radical transparency. They focus on finding the best factories, visiting often and working very closely with them in order to ensure integrity. They also share the cost and markup of every single item with the customer, standing by the belief that customers have the right to know what their products cost to make.
Newer to the scene is Twizel. Started by a couple of apparel industry veterans who, knowing the majority of our clothes were made “fast, cheap and dirty,” set out to change the industry. In the spirit of transparency, I will say that I did do some freelance work for them so I may be a little biased, but I think what they are doing is top notch. Every Twizel good is carefully curated — the products are made from high-quality, sustainable or recycled fibers, they are made with socially and environmentally-responsible business practices and they’re actually fashionable.
Not at all new to the scene is outdoor retailer, Patagonia. From their infamous “Don’t Buy This Jacket” Campaign for Black Friday in 2011, to donating $10 million of its sales from Black Friday to grassroots environmental groups in 2016, to countless documentaries, films and books about sustainability and fair business practices, Patagonia has been playing the activism game for years now. Patagonia’s mission is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” When Patagonia uses cotton it’s only organic cotton, they use recycled polyester in many of their clothes, they donate at least 1% of all their sales to environmental groups and they are constantly looking for other ways to reduce their environmental impact.
DSTLD is a great place to find luxury grade denim and essentials without the luxury grade price tag. The team at DSTLD cuts out the middle man so that the customer can get a high quality product without paying out the wazoo. They also have hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to their labor practices and use sustainable materials, natural dyes and eco-friendly techniques whenever possible.
This one’s for the fellas. Started by surf legend, Kelly Slater, and acclaimed designer, John Moore, Outerknown was born out of a love for style, sustainability and travel. Similar to Twizel, the company seeks to change the way clothes are made. Outerknown is committed to minimize their impact on the environment by using organic, recycled and regenerated materials where ever possible and they’re also all about safe working environments, fair compensation and improved education opportunities for their factory workers.
A little more on the upmarket side (they have caught the attention of Gwyneth Paltrow and the celebrity elite) is Amour Vert. Amour Vert was founded on the belief that great fashion didn’t have to be sacrificed for social responsibility. Amen. All of their products are American made and use non-toxic dyes and sustainable fabrics. They also have a zero-waste philosophy and have committed to planting a tree for every purchase of an Amour Vert T-shirt (currently at 100,000 and counting).
Last but not least, and maybe a little unexpected, is Levi’s. Levi’s has given themselves the lofty goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable apparel company by transforming the way they do business. They have been working to minimize their environmental impact by using quality cotton, less energy, less water and less chemicals. The proof is in the pudding, so they say — check out their Water<Less, Waste<Less and Wellthread collections, as well as their partnership with Evrnu in which they worked to create the first pair of jeans from post-consumer cotton waste last May. They’re also pretty committed to bettering their community and the lives of their factory workers.