Top photograph: Amanda Vick/Unsplash
Our garments speak volumes of our values and set the stage for the image we want to build of ourselves. We wear red to portray power. Black is our surefire way to exude sophistication. Silk is luxurious while denim is urban and rebellious. The clothes we put on every morning tell a story—but they also build our intricate relationship with the world.
What might feel good on your skin might not lie so comfortably on your conscience. With sweatshops, underaged workers, toxic dyes, and seasonal collections rushing to the shelves, the restless beat of fast fashion has stirred many to take a different approach. We now have access to a wide selection of brands that are paving the road toward a better, cleaner, safer future.
Ethical stamps and labels
Fortunately for us, fashion aficionados, it’s relatively easy to come across labels that can be trusted today. However, you can also go beyond what you find online and research what your locally present brands are all about. Perhaps they can offer ethical certification to show just how committed they are to the cause, and what they are doing to make a difference.
Local shops for a greater impact
Large-scale fashion brands often lack the transparency we need to know if they don’t have any sweatshops handling the manufacturing, or similarly unethical processes behind their public image. Small, local businesses are the ones that offer all that information openly—you can easily find their manufacturing facilities or design shops around the corner and talk to their employees.
In eco-conscious regions like Australia, everything from casualwear to formalwear can be purchased in the same spirit. The selection of ethical women’s workwear in Australia is also on the rise, and many professional women are choosing the kind of attire that lasts for years on end. This philosophy combines the idea of timelessness and the spirit of local brands to support the development of ethical fashion.
Long-lasting, not seasonal
As alluring as it is to switch our wardrobes at the turn of every season, that is precisely what keeps the wheels of fast fashion turning. We can do better. Opting for timeless instead of trendy, and choosing durable pieces made of materials that can last for more than a couple of months should be one of the pillars of ethical shopping.
Go for garments made of sustainable and durable fabrics like linen, hemp, and bamboo. Look for other alternatives that will keep your items wearable for a good, long while.
Brand transparency and reports
Brands that turn to vague terminology and zero access to real data are the ones we should steer clear of. Fashion labels that are transparent in the kind of efforts they are making are the ones we can turn to for truly ethical dressing. Be it accessories the likes of Elvis & Kresse, or athleisure, you can easily find brands that share their impact with the public.
The fabrics and dyes in use
Sustainable processing and manufacturing are two major aspects of ethical brands. Microplastics in synthetic fibres tend to cause irreparable damage to the marine world and the entire planet. As for the toxic dyes so frequently used, they also cause immense damage to water even in urban areas where that same water should be safe for drink and the local ecosystems.
Some brands are looking for ways to recycle and repurpose for the sake of ethics. Like Coco Veve from Britain and Horizon Athletic from Australia, many are making way for smarter choices in fabric selection, for us to make better choices in how we dress.
Ethical brands don’t hide behind vague terminology such as ‘responsible’ or ‘clean’. They showcase the impact of their work in data, reports, and employee reviews, and they make sure you can access it all in a matter of clicks.
The idea that ethical clothing is costly should be dismantled right away—it all depends on the price you’re willing to pay for the health of your family, yourself, the people participating in the making of your clothing, and the natural world. Is the extra couple of dollars really going to offset your budget as much as toxic dyes and unfair labour can devastate our economies and the planet for the long haul? The choice is, ultimately, yours to make.—Peter Minkoff