How to Make Ethical and Sustainable Fashion Choices

Posted on August 25th, 2019

How to Make Ethical and Sustainable Fashion Choices

How to Make Ethical and Sustainable Fashion Choices

If asked whether they prefer to be “ethical” and “sustainable” in their everyday choices, almost everyone will answer with a “yes.” But what do those words really mean? And, more specifically, what do they mean in terms of fashion––the stuff we wear and buy every day––right now? Enter definitions.

Ethical: of, or relating to, ethics (the discipline dealing with what is good and bad, and with moral duty and obligation)

Sustainable: of, or relating to, or being a method of, harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged

As an everyday customer, making an ethical and/or sustainable purchase is not always simple. So, we have put together a quick primer for you in the hopes that you decide to make your way toward a personal slow-fashion revolution.

First things first: as a consumer, you can actively support a responsible company by purchasing their products––unsurprisingly––but, you can also support their broader mission by not purchasing from others whose items don't meet the same standards. Before you make those noble choices, though, you might need to know a little bit more about how to screen for responsible business models. Second things second: there are a lot of buzz words and certifications in slow fashion but these tips are just a starting point. And, remember, small steps make a big difference; you do not have to be perfect from day 1.


  • First of all, sometimes it's written as “fair trade,” “Fairtrade,” or “Fair Trade.” Using the term “Fair Trade” to talk about these standards is probably best because it actually refers to a specific, essentially universally accepted, set of standards adopted by the World Fair Trade Organization. The WFTO is a membership/certification system for companies whose products are 100% Fair Trade, like People Tree.
  • A Definition of Fair Trade: trade in which fair prices are paid to the producers of a good or service in developing countries––both to protect the rights and well-being of workers and, to offer a systematic method for poverty alleviation.
  • There are literally thousands of Fair Trade Certified companies for you to purchase from. You can look for these helpful logos as you shop. And Fashion can certainly be fair trade certified, too!
  • In North America, the Fair Trade Federation supports organizations that are fully committed to Fair Trade.


  • The U.K.-based Ethical Consumer provides tools and resources to make ethical choices as a customer. They even have a handy list of labels to highlight some of the organizations that score highest through their rankings and metrics.
  • The Ethical Trading Initiative influences businesses to act responsibly while tackling complex challenges in global supply chains.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility is a broad term that generally means that companies should be self-regulating in order to ensure that their practices are responsible to society as a whole. Essentially, the best business practices should benefit both the company and the consumer.
  • The Fashion Transparency Index came out after the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, to help ensure that human rights are respected and that manufacturing practices are safe. Companies opt into this index by releasing their records for public consumption.


  • Remember, the definition of sustainability (above) dictates that resources are neither wholly depleted nor permanently damaged. In some scenarios the resources are people. Can workers continue at this speed, in this building, and this frequently, without suffering consequences? Other times, the resources are plants, water, or other natural resources found underground. Sustainability issues raise questions about living wages for workers worldwide, the hazards of textile waste, and whether or not there is a future in renewable energy.

It is probably impossible to “be” perfectly ethical in all of your day-to-day purchases, if for no other reason than the sheer scope and pervasiveness of Fast Fashion out there. But it can't be denied that now is the time to start thinking about how to take steps towards being a Fair Trade phenom, consumer ethics advocate, and sustainability superstar. Opportunities to do better for people and the planet––and to learn more about what our often unthinking role as buyers means for our future––are popping up all around us.

We should make sure that learning and advocating become the norm, and that we have the vocabulary to explain why that new normal is a must.

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