Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

Considered the second largest polluter in the world and an example of exploitation, the fast fashion industry is hurting the planet while taking advantage of impoverished women around the world. Appealing to mass consumerism, fast fashion brands rely on low costs and quick turnaround to provide new styles weekly (and sometimes daily). As it becomes easier and more affordable to purchase new clothes, consumers invest less time and energy in preserving and mending clothing, which fuels disposable fashion. Pollution caused by fast fashion often starts at the beginning of the production process. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water. In a similar vein, cotton growing generally requires the use of harmful pesticides and large amounts of water. Exploitation by fast fashion companies generally occurs in privately owned factories, unaffiliated with the brands. By outsourcing labor to suppliers in developing countries (known as Tier 1 companies), fast fashion brands have no knowledge of or legal obligation to ensure safe working conditions in the factories that produce their clothing. Consequently, women who work in these factories are often exploited.low wages and long hours to keep up with the fast pace of the fashion industry. Upon investigating factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, Global Labor Justice discovered that due to “aggressively high production targets,” women working in these factories are often denied lunch and bathroom breaks to instead complete “urgent pieces” and “may experience physical, verbal, and sexual violence as punishments” for not reaching these targets ( Because management positions in these factories are generally male-dominated while women work as machine operators, sexual abuse for failing to reach targets is not uncommon, which women fail to report in fear of being “blacklisted” or not taken seriously.

While I have always been a fan of fast fashion brands (I am obsessed with Zara), the fast fashion industry clearly needs to redesign its production processes and provide transparency, as Tier 1 companies eliminate communication between brands and their factories. I have included some ethical and sustainable fashion brands below so you can “clean up” your wardrobe and know what you are supporting.


Reformation → Reformation boasts its own sustainability standards, known as Ref Standards, that range from A–Allstars (Natural fibers that are rapidly renewable, plant-based and have a potential for circularity) to E–Eww, never (E fibers are too environmentally or socially intensive, and don’t meet our sustainability criteria). With each purchase, Reformation also informs you of how many gallons of water and CO2 waste you saved by purchasing clothing made with sustainable fabric. Incredibly transparent, Reformation built their own ethical, sustainable factory in Los Angeles and offers monthly factory tours and interviews with employees.

(image taken from Reformation)


Everlane → Everlane commits to “Radical Transparency” through their ethical factories. Emphasized by their hashtag #KnowYourFactories and detailed descriptions of their ethical factories around the world, Everlane knows and controls practices in their factories, and even complete compliance audits before employing each factory. In addition, Everlane reveals all the costs put into each item so the customers know what they’re paying for.

(image taken from Everlane)


Patagonia →  Known as “The Activist Company,” Patagonia participates in the Corporate Responsibility movement: taking “responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, employees, communities and the environment” and committing to “safe, fair, legal and humane working conditions throughout the supply chain.” Specifically, the company protects migrant workers and produces more Fair Trade clothing than any other apparel brand, offering living wages and childcare to their employees. In addition, Patagonia offers a Worn Wear service in which you can send your clothing/gear for repairs, recycle your old clothing, or purchase recycled and repaired clothing. Patagonia also offers an Action Works Program to support grassroots environmental movements.

(image taken from Patagonia)


Veja → Popular on the Brown campus, Veja sneakers are made from sustainably harvested organic cotton and wild rubber in an effort to protect the Amazon Forest. Veja offers transparency by connecting directly with farmers and establishing fair, unwavering prices. If you want to learn more, Veja has an entire sustainability story/video series on the site!

(image taken from Veja)


Amour Vert → Amour Vert works directly with mills to develop sustainable fabrics (beechwood fibers and organic cotton, among others), and produces pieces in limited quantities in an effort to prevent waste 97% of their fabrics  are produced in California, where the company has many offices, so Amour Vert can keep a close eye on production and make sure their green standards are being met. In addition, for each t-shirt that you purchase, Amour Vert plants a tree in North America. They have planted an impressive 220,000 trees so far.

(image taken from Amour Vert)


Encircled → Encircled promises sustainable and ethical fashion through versatile designs (that serve the same purpose as several pieces of clothing) made from fabrics developed through environmentally-conscious processes , such asno chemical dyes, in Toronto, Canada where the company is based.. In addition, they use fabric waste to create headbands, leg warmers and hair ties.

(image taken from Encircled)


Pact Clothing → To create their beautiful basics, Pact utilizes 100% organic cotton and no pesticides. Pact is  Fair Trade Factory certified, which means it complies with fair trade labor and sustainability standards.

(image taken from Pact Clothing)


Thought Clothing → Proud supporters of “slow fashion,” Thought Clothing uses naturally grown materials from responsible sources for their fabrics and established a Code of Conduct for their employees and partners.

(image taken from Thought Clothing)


Shop for vintage/used clothing! → Used clothing is a great way to change your wardrobe without hurting the planet! You can visit your local Goodwill (or Savers) and vintage boutiques for basics or fun costume items or shop online at TheRealReal for luxury consignment or ThredUp and Etsy for unique vintage finds. You can also reach out to friends or participate in one of Brown’s clothing swaps to trade clothes for free!

(image taken from ThredUp)


I hope that this article has inspired you be more thoughtful about your shopping. If you are interested in learning more about the harmful consequences of the fashion industry, I recommend that you watch the documentary “The True Cost” on Netflix that further discusses the environmental and ethical costs of the industry.