What Is Ethical Fashion?

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Let’s start by saying that there’s not just ONE definition of ethical fashion.

Just as there’s not only one definition of sustainable fashion. We can be talking about clothes that don’t harm the environment, or about introducing minimalism into our closets – and in some way we’ll still be talking about sustainable fashion.

The same happens with ethical fashion

And I think this is great that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition of ethical fashion. We want some wiggle room, some space to let the concept breathe and evolve.

ethical fashion outfit

If you want to learn more about sustainable fashion, check out the series Sustainable Fashion 101 or download your free Sustainable Fashion Beginner’s Guide here:

Ok, now it’s clear that there’s not just one way to define ethical fashion. But how can we really even define what is ethically right and wrong to begin with? What can we base our answer upon? Let’s stop here because we’re getting metaphysical and that’s not what we’re here for, but it’s some food for thought.

So now let’s talk about what ethical fashion kind of means. And stick until the end to talk about a moral dilemma I have.

What makes fashion ethical?

Ethical fashion is good for the people

Have you heard about the terrible terrible things the fast fashion industry does to its workers?

So ethical fashion in this sense takes care of the worker’s conditions. Their wages, health insurance,…all that good stuff.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the factory is in Berlin or Bangkok. Employees have the great conditions they deserve.

And ALL workers must have these conditions: factory workers, suppliers, designers, the salesperson at your local store,…

I wrote this post with some of my favorite documentaries on fashion and sustainability, many of which talk about the dirty and unethical side of fashion. So if you wanna learn more about how the industry has to improve in this sense, definitely go check them.

On the consumer’s side, it can be quite hard knowing for sure if a piece of clothing is ethical without doing a ton of research.

One of the easiest ways to know if a brand takes care of its employees is going on their website and looking for proof. But be very careful and VERY critical, or you could be a victim of greenwashing. You see, some unethical brands will use misleading language to make themselves look better.

An example of a super complete and trustworthy mission statement is the one that you can find at People Tree. On their site, you can find all the info on their ethics you need as a consumer and more.

If you want to learn how to know if a brand is ethical and eco-friendly, don’t forget to check these 8 tips. 

People Tree

Ethical fashion is good for the animals

When we talk about ethical fashion we can also be refering to vegan and cruelty-free clothes.

These brands don’t use animal products at all, and no animals are negatively affected by the productions of the garments. In the case of beauty brands, this also means a big no-no to animal testing.

Right now we have tons of alternatives to materials that are traditionally made with animal products. We love this for two reasons:

  • zero animal cruelty
  • buh-bye to leather production and treatment, which are highly pollutant

Faux fur and faux leather are becoming more and more common, and more and more affordable.

Originally, these vegan options were made of synthetic materials. But at some point, companies using these materials as a more sustainable option to animal leather had to address the elephant in the room: their alternative was made of PVC – a highly toxic and polluting plastic.

But right now, thanks to some very smart and very creative people in the fashion industry, we can find products such as faux leather made of pineapple. Like, how do they even come up with these things?

This is obviously the perfect sustainable alternative to clothes made with animal products: 100% eco-friendly, and 100% vegan and cruelty-free.

And what about the environment?

Not all ethical products are eco-friendly, and not all eco-friendly products are ethical – just look at the example of PVC faux fur.

But sometimes, ethical fashion happens to be “accidentally” eco-frienldy.

Sustainable jewelry is a great example. Clean gold is extracted using ethical and environmentally conscious techniques. Sustainable jewelry brands basically avoid overexploiting mining communities, which is good for the people living and working in the area, and for the entire ecosystem.


So what is the dilemma here?

Sometimes a brand cannot be good for all three – people, animals, and the planet.

Let’s say that there’s a brand that pays their employees fair wages, it guarantees the best working conditions, and all that,… But it uses animal leather and toxic substances to treat it – toxic substances that end up as toxic waste in rivers.

Hmmm…ok. Then this company is ethical in the sense that its people are treated right. But they use animal products. And they have zero eco-consciousness.

In cases like these, you have to choose what REALLY matters to you the most.

Do you put animal rights over everything else? Then go for vegan clothing.

Your focus is on how workers are treated? Then fair trade is for you.

Is the environment your priority? look for eco-friendly materials and practices.


So tell me. What does ethical mean for you?

What is your priority when you buy ethical clothing?

And do you think a brand can be ethical at the same time for the people, the environment and the animals?

Tell me in the comments!

What do you think?