What Is Ethical Fashion?

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

Sustainable fashion, eco-fashion, slow fashion,… It seems that this is the golden age of these alternatives to conventional and fast fashion. So it seems that each brand and each consumer can have their own personal interpretation of what ethical fashion is.

See, this is the moment for ethical fashion to shine and find its place in the fashion industry.

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 breath 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, so now it’s clear that there’s not only a right way to define ethical fashion. But how can we really even define what is ethically right and wrong to begin with? 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.

But before getting into the nitty-gritty, a little disclaimer:

Each brand has its own idea of ethical. And each person has their own idea of ethical. So the whole thing is finding this match made in heaven between each person and the brand that best represents their values.

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, vacations, health insurances,…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 talk about factory workers, but actually ALL workers must have these conditions: suppliers, designers, the salesperson at your local store,…

The best way to know if a brand takes care of its employees is going on their website and looking for proof. But be careful and VERY critical, or you could be a victim of greenwashing. Some unethical brands will use misleading language to make themselves look better and fool their consumers.

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

Ethical fashion is good for the animals

Ethical fashion can also produce vegan and cruelty-free clothes.

These brands don’t use animal products, and in the case of beauty brands, they have nothing to do with animal testing.

Right now we have tons of alternatives to materials and fabrics that are traditionally made with animal products.

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

Originally, vegan alternatives to animal fabrics were made of synthetic materials (aka plastic). But there’s a big problem with this: plastic is ethical, but highly pollutant for our environment.

But right now, thanks to some very smart and very inventive 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, 100% vegan and cruelty-free.


And what about the environment?

Sure, ethical fashion can be environmentally ethical as well. Why not?

So, in this sense, is ethical the same as eco-friendly? Maybe. Normally we don’t use the term ethical in this case, because we already have eco-friendly.

But sure ethical products can be “accidentally” eco-friendly.

Sustainable jewelry is a great example. Clean gold is extracted ethically and usign environmentally conscious techniques. They basically avoid overexploiting the whole place. Which is good for the people living and working in the area, and for the entire ecosystem – including the animals.

So this is an example of an ethical practice that also turns out to be eco-friendly. Win-win.

So what is the dilemma here?

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

And sometimes you have to choose what REALLY matters to you the most.

Do you want vegan clothing? Then go for brands that are ethical towards animals. Your focus is on the treatment of workers. Then fair trade is for you.

Let’s see some examples. Like the case of faux fur:

  • Materials can be responsibly sourced. Check
  • The end product has no animal-based materials on it, and no animals are hurt in the production process. Check.
  • But sometimes faux fur is made of synthetic materials. This isn’t that eco-friendly unless the materials are something like recycled PET plastic. And even then, they aren’t the most eco-friendly option because they release microplastics.

Another example.

Let’s say that there’s a brand that pays their workers great wages, they give them all the conditions they ask for, and all that,…but it uses animal leather and the production requires toxic materials and substances that end up being thrown as toxic waste in rivers.

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

Then…can we even call it ethical?


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!

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