Ever since I found my fashion independence in middle school, I’ve wanted to be in-style, super chic, and totally on top of the latest trends. My dream job was to be a fashion designer. I poured over the pages of Vogue to find great looks, perused Pinterest, and window shopped with my friends. All those colorful displays seemed impossible to resist.
Thing is, I lived on a budget, so cheap, trendy clothes were on my shopping list. I discovered stores like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara, with cool clothes, an overwhelming number of choices, and the best part –shirts under $10.
Then, I participated in Project Green Challenge, and learned about the dark side of the fashion industry. After watching the documentary, The True Cost, I understood the massive negative impacts of the second most polluting industry on the planet in every aspect of the supply chain.
The fashion industry has evolved into an industry of “fast fashion”, where multi-million dollar companies produce a high volume of low-priced, cheaply made clothes in an effort to set new trends every week, so consumers like you and me feel obligated to shop, to keep up.
But, the story behind all this is not too glamorous. Environmental degradation, sweatshop labor, and terrible health impacts are the norm for the 40 million workers in the least developed countries, who cut, sew and dye more than 1.5 billion garments in 250,000 often unsafe factories each year. In many cases, these workers aren’t provided with basic rights, fair wages and ethical working conditions –all due to greedy multi-million dollar corporations.
Not only that, the world now consumes a staggering 80 billion pieces of clothing each year. 80 billion pieces of clothing! Think about that for a second. More than ten times the number of people on earth, and only a small percentage are doing the buying, while others making three dollars a day are sewing the tags into the shirts. Not to mention, cotton, one of the fashion industry’s most used materials, is among the most pesticide-intensive crops on the planet. Conventional cotton uses about 16% of the world’s insecticides and 7% of its pesticides.Such heavy use of these chemicals degrades soil, and creates runoff, which eventually pollutes our water supply creating algal blooms and, Dead Zones! And, cotton requires more water than most crops. To produce a single pair of jeans takes more than 1,800 gallons of water. And clothing dyes full of toxic chemicals bathe the arms and legs of the people applying them. People and planet are suffering from this unsustainable consumption of fast fashion.
Think about this – We throw on a shirt, zip up a skirt, and don’t even think about the story of that garment. We think about the style, color, or look of the piece of clothing hanging on the rack. But, with consciousness comes change. As I became an informed consumer, my ethics about what I buy completely transformed.
I stopped buying from fast fashion chains. I stopped buying cheap clothes I didn’t need. I began to get to know the thrift stores and reused clothing shops in my community. When I need I a new piece, I look for organic and fair trade.
A good thing to remember is that we the consumer has power over producers.
We can change the system with our choices and our dollars- showing these large fashion corporations that clothing manufactured with fair wages and environmentally sustainable production are much more stylish than fast fashion.
Our Top Picks for Ethical Designers
1. Amour Vert: uses materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester, among others. As their brand name means Green Love in French, it also means American manufacturing, non-toxic dyes, sustainable fabrics, and a philosophy encompassing zero waste ideals.
Their Mission: “A woman should never have to sacrifice style for sustainability. Our choices matter – smart fashion is our future.”
Amour Vert offers: women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories
2. Coclico: uses recycled and renewable material like rubber, and natural woods, as well as sustainably sourced leather. Colico is a family owned company that produces their shoes by hand, and ensures fair wages to the craftsman that make their shoes.
Their Mission: “…to speak to a personal identity that extends beyond style and luxury to our way of living in the world.”
Coclico offers: women’s shoes
3. Earthies: uses water based glues and vegetable tanning processes to reduce toxicity and harmful chemicals in production. By partnering with the organization Trees for the Future, every time a pair of their shoes is purchased, a tree is planted- and with over 250,000 trees have been planted already.
Their Mission: “To truly feel your most comfortable, you must also love the way you look.”
Earthies offers: women’s shoes
4. Eileen Fisher: uses organic certified cotton and linen, sustainable and recycled fibers, and chlorine free wool. They are partnered with Canopy, Social Accountability International, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and Verité to name a few. Much of their clothing is certified to the Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX, to ensure their color dyes used are safe.
Their Mission: “Our purpose is to inspire simplicity, creativity, and delight through connection and great design.”
Eileen Fisher offers: women’s clothing and accessories
5. Everlane: has strong values of ethically producing clothes, by giving employees fair wages and working conditions. Everlane openly shares the actual costs of their materials, labor, transport, etc. in contrast with traditional garment pricing.
Their Mission: “Exceptional quality. Ethical factories. Radical Transparency.”
Everlane offers: men and women’s clothing and shoes
6. Indigenous: uses natural fibers, OEKO-TEO Standard 100 Certified dyes, and Organic and Fair Trade Certified cotton to produce artisan made clothes. Indigenous Clothing is a Certified B Corp, and is partnered with World Fair Trade Association.
Their Mission: “We make clothing that honors both people and the planet.”
Indigenous offers: men and women’s clothing and accessories
7. Industry of all Nations: has created various projects like The Alpaca Project, Clean Jeans, and The Clean Clothes Project, in which IOAN has continued to transform Indian production to 100% organic certified cotton, and natural, nontoxic dyes. IOAN seeks to combine environmental and social awareness while promoting fair trade and open borders for all nations
Their Mission: “To restore the culture to the products and give power to the people. That is what we envision – the industry of the people, the Industry of All Nations.”
Industry of all Nations offers: men and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories
8. Levi’s: using Water less techniques, Levi has saved 2 billion liters of water, and recycled about 200 million liters of water. Levi has a Worker Well-being initiative, and a Better Cotton initiative for utilizing more sustainably grown cotton, and also have become Responsible Down Standard Certified, for the ethical cultivation of animal feathers.
Their Mission: “The Mission of Levi Strauss & Co. is to sustain responsible commercial success as a global marketing company of branded apparel…. Our work environment will be safe and productive and characterized by fair treatment, teamwork, open communications, personal accountability and opportunities for growth and development.”
Levi’s offers: men and women’s jeans, and shoes
9. Mamahuhu: their company helps unemployed artisans to become sustainable business owners and job creators. Mamahuhu believes strongly in fair business, as they allow fair working conditions and fair pay to the artisans.
Their Mission: “Stylish Shoes, Ethically Made.”
Mamahuhu offers: men and women’s shoes
10. Nau: uses Organic Certified cotton, recycled polyester, hemp, Tencel, and sustainably sourced wool in their products. Nau donates a percentage of their sales to their partners, such as The Conservation Alliance, Mercy Corps, and People for Bikes.
Their Mission: “Our mission is to prove that business can be a force for positive change.”
Nau offers: men and women’s clothing
11. Oliberte: uses free-range and hormone-free cows for leather, and natural rubber. Oliberte is a Certified B Corp, is the first Fair Trade Certified factory, and is partnered with the 1% for the Planet, and the African Wildlife Foundation.
Their Mission: “we work to create fair jobs and lead the charge for workers’ rights, supporting this effort. We manufacture in Ethiopia at our factory and partner with suppliers, farmers, and craftsmen to produce a premium product in Africa. Through this, we create a product that makes our global team, and global customers, proud.”
Oliberte offers: men and women’s shoes, bags, accessories, and baby moccasins
12. Patagonia: uses organic certified cotton, recycled cashmere and other recycled material/textiles to produce their clothing, much of which is Fair Trade Certified. Patagonia is partnered with 1% for the Planet, Bluesign, Fair Labor Association, The Conservation Alliance, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition among others. They are a Certified B Corp, and are very keen on environmental and grassroots activism.
Their Mission: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Patagonia offers: men and women’s outerwear, hiking essentials, and clothing
13. Prairie Underground: uses hemp, Organic Certified cotton, recycled post-consumer material Repreve fibers, and plant-based fibers harvested from wood pulp in Forest Stewardship Council-Certified forests in their clothing. Prairie Underground obtains limited production in efforts to reduce waste, and is committed to U.S. domestic production to ensure higher wages, and safe working conditions
Their Mission: “We want to empower our customers to articulate their singularity while nurturing their bodies and the ecosystem.”
Prairie Underground offers: women’s clothing
14. prAna: uses organic certified cotton, hemp, and recycled wool and polyester in their clothing. PrAna also offers many Fair Trade Certified clothes, and has partnered with Bluesign, Fair Labor Association, as well as Canopy to maintain responsible forest materials in fabrics they use.
Their Mission: “To inspire healthy, active, and free spirited living”
prAna offers: men and women’s active and outdoor wear, accessories, and yoga essentials
15. Reformation: uses a “RefScale” to track the carbon and water footprint, as well as waste in their production of clothing, in order to seek ways to lower their environmental impacts. They also give offsets to programs that plant trees and invest in clean water solutions to give back to the environment. Reformation offers a sustainable workplace to employees, as well as they offer the most sustainable packaging possible for online orders.
Their Mission: “It is our mission to lead and inspire a sustainable way to be fashionable.”
Reformation offers: women’s clothing
16. Rothy’s: uses recycled materials such as water bottles and denim, with a carbon neutral rubber sole.They have repurposed over 8,100,000 water bottles, and even offer a recycling facility to give their shoes to continue to reuse material and reduce waste.
Their Mission: “Create an alternative, versatile shoe: one with the ease of a sneaker but with the polish of a feminine flat. And do it with low-waste, low- impact materials, hand-assembled for high quality and durability.”
Rothy offers: women’s shoes
About the Authors:
Cami Provencher is a student at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois. Cami participated in Project Green Challenge (PGC) 2017 and was selected as a Finalist. She currently serves as Vice President on Turning Green’s Student Advisory Board.
Tamsin Stringer is a student at Bloomington High School South in Bloomington, Indiana. Tamsin participated in PGC 2016 and was awarded PGC 2016 Champion. She currently serves as a member of Turning Green’s Student Advisory Board.