What Does Ethical Fashion Even Mean?


What the hell does 'ethical fashion', the industry's latest buzzword, and the main focus of my blog and career, even mean? I decided, after getting asked asked this question by friends, family, readers, colleagues and customers multiple times, to explore and explain the subject a little more. I am by no means an expert nor a perfect example of an ethical fashion blogger or eco-friendly shopper  (I'm a shopping addict on a student budget!), but sustainable apparel is a subject I'm becoming more and more interested in as time goes by. 

These joyful images are from the fair-trade and sustainable Peter Jensen x People Tree Collection (available here). I hope this post helps to shed a little more light on the somewhat overwhelming category of ethical fashion.

What is the definition of ethical?

The word ethical to me means morally sound. Whether that is socially, culturally, economically, environmentally, politically or any which way, it means investing in what's right. When it comes to fashion, this means thinking about the factors that weigh into the design, manufacturing, packaging, retailing and disposing of the garments you buy and wear, in a way that is in line with your own personal values. 

For example, if you are a proud vegetarian in terms of your diet, like me, why not make a more conscious effort to ensure there has been no animal exploitation in the life cycle of your clothing too? Or if you treat the baristas who make your morning coffee with respect and tip your waiting staff at restaurants, why not think about the livelihood of the people who make your clothing too?

What must a fashion brand do to be ethical?

Ethical fashion as we know is a wide area that can cover so many subjects and has no strict guidelines or definition. 

In my opinion, any of these factors can be considered when judging for yourself whether or not a brand is ethical, and of course there are so many more I haven't listed... 

  • Organic natural fibres (eg. organic cotton or linen)

  • Natural or eco-friendly dyeing and finishing processes

  • Fairtrade policies with farmers and factory workers

  • Support of artisan craft in local communities and cultures

  • Supporting women to get into work and education

  • Zero-waste pattern cutting and sewing

  • Recycled and regenerated textiles and clothing

  • Renewable, sustainable fibres (eg. Lyocell, pineapple leather)

  • Investing profits back to good causes and community

  • Pay a living wage to all workers at every stage

  • Supporting independent business people and creatives

  • Support of local suppliers, designers and manufacturers

  • Ethically bred animal fibres or animal fibre alternatives

  • No testing on, cruelty or exploitation of animals

  • Workers rights like unions, fair dismissal, benefits, stable salary, health and safety

  • Active support of feminism, self-love, body confidence, racial diversity, mental wellbeing, equality on all grounds.

  • Sharing economy, circular economy and social enterprise

How do I find out if a fashion brand is ethical?

I touched on the ways and whys of ethical fashion brands in an article I wrote for Fashion Fix Daily called

How to Shop Ethically on a Budget

The Fashion Transparency Index by NGO Fashion Revolution shows how ethical or unethical, affordable, high street fashion brands are. 

A quick google can help you decide if you really want to part with your hard-earned cash for a poor quality dress made in a shambles sweatshop that you’ll probably only wear once. 

The main point here is to do your research before you buy.

Whether it's an easy search through the internet, or a string of emails to brand headquarters, always demand to know 'Who Made My Clothes'. For me, transparency throughout the supply chain is the only way we will achieve a more ethical fashion industry. 

Is ethical fashion just hippy clothes?

Hell no! Kill this stereotype! Ethical fashion is not just hemp ponchos and jesus sandles, although hemp is a wonderfully sustainable natural fibre by the way. Contemporary apparel at every end of the market from high street to haute couture can be made more ethical when the brands behind the products consolidate their efforts to be more sustainable.

What are the best affordable ethical fashion brands?

In my humble opinion, these fabulous clothing and accessory brands are my ultimate favourites when shopping for affordable  ethical fashion that doesn't compromise on aesthetic:

Nu Blvck


Nu Blvck is a women's accessories brand based in Glasgow that supports local skilled artisans and independent designers to create quality products that last, each one with a story.

People Tree


A 'fast fashion' brand that actively encourages you to buy less but wear more following the 'slow fashion' model, People Tree clothing is environmentally sustainable, using fair-trade and organic fabrics.



A US based online-only fashion label providing complete transparency in the supply chain from farm to factory to finished product. Everlane also cuts out the middle man so it won't break the bank.

Rachel McMillan


Rachel is a Scottish fashion designer creating classic contemporary womenswear, focussing on sustainably sourced materials (including gorgeous bamboo silk) and local, high quality production.

In terms of diffusion lines from more mainstream brands, I also really love ASOS Africa and the H&M Conscious Collection

What are your favourite ethical fashion brands and stores?