Ethical Clothing: Sustainable or Luxurious?


 |  The Starfish

Environmentalists everywhere may start with changing their diet to mostly vegetarian and/or vegan, they might subscribe to media that promote sustainable ways of living channels or even try to limit their use of plastic bags and toilet paper by switching to a bidet. They might sign petitions, donate to campaigns and participate in climate change protests. It is only natural that, at some point or another, they will question how their style and clothing affects the environment and sooner or later, they will stumble upon ethical clothing. Unfortunately, the first thing that will catch their eyes after a little research is the less than sustainable prices. It is possible to purchase a top at an H&M store (at a discount) for as little as $10; whereas, a simple top at TenTree starts at $45. Other articles have explained the price difference more thoroughly here and here.

So why are ethical clothes so expensive and what can we do about it?

My green closet lists the requirements for a clothing item to be considered ethical Sustainable Materials

  • Locally made
  • Low Waste Initiatives
  • Vegan
  • Gives back to charities or organizations
  • Plus Sizing or Inclusivity
  • Made to Order
  • Livable pay

Material sourced:

According to this article by Good on You, these are the list of ethical fabrics: recycled cotton, organic hemp, organic linen, tencel, pinatex, econyl and qmonos. 

In order to save the planet, vegan or cruelty free materials are the priority, which means less animals farmed and killed for their meat, eggs, or milk. Most importantly, not using their skin or fur as accessories for our lifestyle. Instead, we can use recycled or recyclable materials such as recycled plastic bottles or compostable/organic materials such as cotton and hemp. We could ensure materials are sourced locally with familiar regulations and, also, shorter transit times mean less pollution.

According to this NY times article: “”Fast” clothing is made with synthetic fibers as opposed to natural fibers. The synthetic fibers are made using the earth’s fossil fuels. Almost sixty percent of our clothes are made this way.”

2- Wage

Most fashion brands manage their manufacturing sites overseas where, according to this article, they pay less than livable wages. Ethical brands have started to challenge this notion, however, fast fashion still has a long way to go. The other issue that ethical brands’ face is that the costs for certification alone, according to this article, range “from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars per year, based on factors such as company size and stage of development.” 

3- Made to Order

Ethical clothing is fighting consumerism by looking into minimalist ideas and trying to adhere to quality over quantity. This way, there is no need for waste management, storage spaces or having to send the overflow to retailers such as Winners. The downside is ordering material for less than bulk ups the prices for manufacturers and the customers.

4- Shopping Apps and outlets

Adding “ethical” or “sustainable” search terms on the Amazon app worsens my search results for a summer dress. It is as if big shopping companies hate ethical clothing with as much passion as they hate paying livable wages to their employees, as observed in this article. There are a few emerging apps that are trying to address the need to just be able to search for and be presented with ethical fashion choices. Good On You is one of  them but it is not a real store, just a repository of the brands for different clothing choices, from swimwear to sunglasses. This is not really a sustainable solution, because the majority of people just love the easy access of online shopping that consists of ordering with one click. They will not go out of their way to learn about the brands and then find the website and log on there in hopes of finding an online store that will deliver as fast as Amazon.

Even though the options for going ethical are various, it does not necessarily mean that the new businesses need to follow all of those recommendations. It is great if they do. But there is more to ethical brands than meets the eye. They give back to the environment. Generally, they are more inclusive and supportive of LGBTQ+, BIPOC and plus size communities.

It is obvious that teaching people about the harms of fast fashion and consumerism is one key factor in turning the tables towards more environmentally conscious choices on their part, but as long as they don’t have affordable and easily accessible ethical options to look forward to, it is a moot point.

In the end, it is absurd to put an unfairly high burden of sustainable living on the shoulders of consumers without letting them have enough information or much of a choice in what they can “afford” to purchase. This is why it is a great start if world governments can keep the competition ethical and the wages livable by offering less expensive certification processes and more prevalent regulations for all brands across the industry and around the world. 

Further reading: 2019 Ethical Fashion Report by Behind the Barcode