When you think ethical fashion, you might also think mucho dinero. Since fast fashion has taught us that t-shirts should be $10 or less, slow fashion must cost a lot more, right? Not really.
You needn’t spend your whole paycheck to feel good about the clothes you’re buying. Increasingly, there are a number of affordable brands dedicated to the production of ethical fashion.
Last week, fashion designer Alice Grau shared 12 simple strategies to combat this era of fast fashion by reducing, reusing, and recycling your clothing. This week, I asked her to share some of her favorite brands and resources to help you choose sustainable options when you make clothing purchases.
8 Ethical Fashion Brands You Can Afford + Feel Good About Buying
It’s only fair to begin Alice’s list with her employer, Global Mamas, a fair trade producer based in Ghana. Since 2003, Global Mamas has worked with local artisans to produce men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and housewares made from hand-batiked textiles, recycled glass-bead jewelry, and accessories from recycled plastic. In the interest of full disclosure, I also volunteered with them in 2009.
Maggie’s Organics began with a question: Was it possible to establish a successful, sustainable business while protecting the limited resources of the planet, and respecting and dignifying each worker who makes the business run? Working directly with cotton growers in the Americas and producing over 65% of their products in the U.S.A., Maggie’s is able to minimize its carbon footprint for the organic cotton apparel they create, from socks, tights, and leggings to tops, tees, and skirts. Each product’s farm-to-finish story is shared on their website.
Since 2004, Marigold has been working with a co-op of over 600 women from the slums of Mumbai to create fashionable fair trade clothing. With a product line similar to Global Mamas’, they produce clothing and housewares from hand block printed and organic fabrics.
A design driven, fair trade brand, Mata Traders’ colorful, original designs are made by artisans in India and Nepal and sold across the United States and 12 additional countries. They produce women’s clothing (including a curvy line), jewelry, accessories, and home decor. Personally, I love their earrings.
Designed in New Orleans and made in India, Passion Lilie is a fair trade and eco-friendly apparel brand with a mission to empower artisans across the world by creating dignified employment opportunities. The Passion Lilie collection is vintage and retro inspired, made with 100% Indian cotton and hand block printed or hand woven with eco dyes. They produce women’s apparel, outerwear, and accessories.
UK-based People Tree makes beautiful garments that are a living blueprint for their values that people and the planet are central to everything they do. Their clothing is hand crafted in organic cotton and sustainable materials, using traditional skills that support rural communities. People Tree is one of the only brands on this list to offer a real men’s line and, coming in at around $50 for a knit shirt, it is also a splurge brand.
prAna is a pioneering Fair Trade USA brand partner. In addition to its Fair Trade practices, the company uses sustainable materials that have a reduced environmental impact such as recycled polyester and organic cotton. They carry a full line of men & women’s apparel, swimwear, and accessories.
Raven + Lily is an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand dedicated to empowering women through design. A certified B Corporation, the company was named the Best for the World in Community Impact. Raven + Lily offers jewelry, women’s apparel and accessories, and luxury home goods. With its beautiful clothing, this is definitely another splurge brand!
As I stated at the outset, these are just a few of the ethical fashion brands out there. Here are some resources to discover more:
If you want to learn more about why the clothing you buy matters, check out Lifehack’s 8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion and last week’s post.
In what areas do you want to learn more about being a conscious consumer? Skincare? Cleaning products? Groceries? Please let me know in the comments.
Do you ever wish there was an easier way to be a conscious consumer? We live in an era of fast fashion, where clothes are designed to be bought and discarded seasonally. While I’m concerned about the impact that has on our environment and people, I don’t have the bandwidth to become an expert in sustainable fashion. That’s why I reached out to my friend, clothing designer Alice Grau, for advice and tips on what we can do to be more conscious about our clothing habits. Take it away, Alice.
I remember sitting in my “Psychology of Dress” class way back in 2001 when my professor said, “One day we will have clothes we only wear once and then throw away.” Well, in case you missed the memo—one day is here.
Unfortunately, this is not the exciting global development my professor imagined it would be. Thanks to an array of media covering the topic over the last couple of years, it is quickly becoming common knowledge that “fast fashion” has some dire consequences, both for the environment and for the people making the products.
According to a 2013 study by the Danish Fashion Institute, fast fashion is second only to big oil when it comes to negative impact on the environment. And, we need look no further than the death toll of the Rana Plaza collapse to understand the value the fast fashion industry places on human life.
Aerial view of the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 garment workers in Bangladesh and wounded 2,200 more. Photo by rijans. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Maybe seeing devastation of that magnitude shook you and caused you to start thinking a bit more about your clothing purchases. Or, maybe you have read one of the many articles or books that have come out in recent years on the topic. Or, maybe you just watched The True Cost on Netflix and your head is swimming with a million questions.
As for me, I am just an idealistic fashion designer. I have worked in “slow fashion” for seven years now. The organization I work with, Global Mamas, puts out 1.5 product lines per year. The producers we partner with batik cloth by hand, painstakingly cut out each pattern piece, and some sew with hand-powered machines.
Global Mamas producer Mary Koomson batiking cloth by hand
I don’t have all the answers for how to change this massive industry, but I do know that consumer buying habits have a way of swaying the powerful.
Today I am going to share some examples of things you can do to make changes to your buying habits and become a more thoughtful consumer. Let’s take it back to the basics. Do you remember the 3R’s? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Consider following these practices, in that order.
- Simply buy less clothing.
- Buy higher quality goods that will last longer.
- Invest in timeless, core wardrobe pieces that you can build around.
- Take the time to research what you are buying. Get to know the ethics of the business you are supporting. I highly recommend seeking out businesses that practice the principles of fair trade.
- Wash your garments less frequently and steer clear of garments that require dry cleaning. Line dry your clothes if you can.
- Don’t get rid of something just because it is out of fashion. It will probably come back into style in your lifetime, or pack it away for your kids. They might be like me and LOVE your vintage collection.
- Secondhand stores are your friend! Pay them a visit frequently and enjoy the bounty buried in the racks. You can take in one load and pick up another. If you have really good stuff you can even sell it on consignment through some stores.
- Host a clothing swap with your friends, visit your local mom-to-mom sale, or stop by your neighbor’s yard sale.
- Tattered T-shirts can be used for a kitschy memorabilia quilt and cleaning rags!
- Buddy up with your neighborhood tailor, or embrace the grunge look and shorten your dress, skirt, pants, blouse to mix up an old item.
Alice’s wedding dress was repurposed from the dress both her grandmother and mother wore.
- If your clothes are in good condition and you are just ready to move on, find a local charity to donate them to (research it, first).
- Items that aren’t fit to be resold can literally be recycled! Don’t just throw them away. Some thrift and even large retail stores will collect unwearable clothing and sell items to textile recycling companies where clothes are turned into industrial cleaning cloths or back into fibers to make new fabric.
How do you get started? Pick just one of these suggestions and integrate it into your lifestyle.
Then pick another, and another, and slowly, without even knowing it, you will be making a positive impact on people you have never met, improving our environment, and maybe even saving a buck.
You do vote with your dollar. And, when we collectively start spending less on fast fashion and start investing in a smaller number of high-quality, fair trade, organic goods, the industry will eventually have to respond.
Global Mamas producer Janet Aba Sagoe sewing with her hand-powered machine
As we support artisanal, fair trade brands, they can grow and bring one more employee away from a sweatshop. As we stand in the gap for those who have been silenced, governments will be persuaded to take a stand for their people.
We have the ability to make a change, so I hope you will join me in a new generation of Industrial Revolution!
Do you have any questions for Alice? If so, please leave them in the comments and we’ll see if she’ll come back and answer them for us. Thanks, Kate
Alice Grau is the creative director of Global Mamas, a fair trade brand committed to partnering with Ghanaian artisans to help them achieve prosperity in their lives and communities. Alice has been passionate about social justice, sustainability, and fashion since she was a young girl, and finally found a way to merge these passions by working with Global Mamas. She also loves spending time with her husband and two children, traveling, volunteering at her church, and trying to cook complicated international dishes with veggies from her local CSA.
You can connect with Global Mamas via their Facebook Page or Twitter.
A couple of my friends are facing difficulties at work. The first one gets a migraine whenever she works with a particular client. The second had to start seeing a therapist because she found her work environment unreasonably stressful. My response to both, when they told me about these situations? “Quit!”
I know a little something about hostile work environments. In my 20s, I was hired as a team leader for a Big 4 accounting firm. My boss, a managing partner, decided he wasn’t going to tell the team that I was the new lead; instead, he asserted that “they’ll figure it out over time.”
He couldn’t have been more wrong. And, worse, his attitude made the situation difficult for all of us. One team member started exhibiting paranoia. Whenever we chatted, she told me that she was being watched. Scary, right? A second developed panic attacks. I manifested high blood pressure (just at work), stomach pain, and anxiety. The bottom line: Having significant work stress made all of us sick.
I ended up transferring to another group, as did the woman having panic attacks. The first simply disappeared from work one day and may have been hospitalized for treatment. That wouldn’t have been unusual because another member of that same team entered psychiatric care a year or so later. Yeah, it was that much of a snake pit.
As a result of these experiences, I learned an important lesson: Work situations that make you sick are NEVER worth it.
You can make plenty of excuses for staying in a bad situation, just as my friends did when I first suggested they quit:
- You need the money.
- It might be difficult, if not impossible, to get another job.
- You don’t want to rock the boat.
- It will get better. Probably. Well, maybe.
- You’re overreacting. It’s not really that bad.
- You need to get to the next milestone or promotion and everything will be a-ok.
None of these excuses matter, though, if you don’t have your health. As Michelle Ward shared in her recent post about begrudging life lessons, “Your health is preeeeeeetty much the most important thing.”
Taking care of yourself is one of your primary responsibilities in life. If you don’t ensure your needs are being met, no one else will. If you don’t prioritize your health and sanity, no one else will do that for you, either. Quitting a job that makes you sick is simple self care.
And if that logic doesn’t sway you, ask yourself if the reasons you have for staying at your current job are valid or if they’re excuses:
- Do you really have money concerns? Could you overcome them with a new job or temporary assignment?
- Is it true you’d have difficulty finding a new job? No one likes job hunting, but isn’t your overall health and happiness worth the short-term pain of writing a new resume and interviewing?
- Will the current situation improve? How likely is that to happen, and in what timeframe?
- Are you overreacting? What do you think is contributing to your overreaction?
If your job is making you sick and your excuses don’t withstand critical analysis, here’s your plan:
- Get a new job, sweetie. If you can’t do that…
- Contact a temp agency and get some temporary work. If you’re not comfortable doing that…
- Take a leave of absence. If you don’t think that will fly…
- Transfer to another location or department. If you don’t want to do that…
- Create greater separation between your work and personal lives so you have more downtime and decrease your stress. While you’re at it, also…
- Set boundaries about what you will and won’t accept. And…
- Refuse to allow anyone to speak to you in an inappropriate manner. Talk to HR if you have concerns.
Did I leave anything out? If you’ve done something else to solve the problem of a job making you sick, please share your experience in the comments.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “you teach best what you most need to learn”? I’ve been thinking about this concept recently and I came to a realization about why it’s true.
In 2010, while living in Hawaii, I taught photography to a local woman. Her original goal, she told me, was to learn to shoot in-the-moment photographs like I do but, over time, she preferred to spend our lessons exploring Lightroom rather than honing her shooting skills. That worked well for both of us because it turned out that I struggled to teach her how to capture moments.
You see, photographing moments comes naturally to me. It’s practically inherent, the skillset I use listening, watching, and anticipating a peak moment. I do it in my everyday life, whether or not I have a camera in hand, because I prefer to sit on the sidelines and watch action rather than dropping into the middle of it.
Because my shooting habits are so ingrained, I discovered that I was bad at teaching them. I haven’t gone through the in-depth thought processes and trial and error required to break them down into easy components and explain them effectively. Teaching Lightroom, however, came easily because it was something I had to learn first.
It is for that same reason I feel equipped to write about and teach personal development, from how to change your viewpoints to how to love yourself more. Those were hard-won lessons for me.
I didn’t pop out of the womb confident, open-minded, and zenful. Or maybe I did and I lost those facets of myself along the way. Regardless, these personal-growth learnings were ones I’ve had to work at and cultivate over time. I still work at them.
There’s something so powerful in going through the process of learning something, isn’t there? When you’ve always known it, how can you teach it? It’s just there. You know it unequivocally. Teaching it then becomes an exercise in spouting platitudes, at least from my experience.
“How do you photograph a moment?,” you might ask.
“Well,” I’d reply,”you watch people. You listen to them. You track their actions. You click the shutter at the peak of the action.”
It seems so easy when put that way, doesn’t it? And yet so many people struggle to do it. Just like we struggle with believing in ourselves and putting in the work to bring about what we most desire in life.
And so I write about personal development—because I’ve put in the work and learned these lessons for myself. Now I can share them with you. I’m not an expert or a “professional”; I’m a fellow journeyer.
P.S. If you enjoyed this post or others on my site, I would love to hear from you. Please take a moment to fill out my Reader Survey. You might even win a prize! The drawing will be this Friday, October 9th.
Hello, friend. Now that my course, A Call to Beauty, is live, I’m looking ahead to what’s next for KateWatson.net and I’d love your input.
I’ve been blogging about interesting people and personal development for more than a year now and it’s time to check in with you, my readers, to see how I’m doing. I have a lot of ideas and plans for the future, but first I want to make sure I’m giving you what you want most.
To that end, I created a reader survey to learn what topics interest you and what you’d like me to create next. It’s a short and sweet 10 questions so it shouldn’t take you more than five minutes or so to complete.
As an added perk for completing the survey, I am also hosting a giveaway. There are two prize options for you to choose between:
- A free seat in my course, A Call to Beauty – or –
- A $25 Amazon.com gift card
At the end of the survey, simply provide your email address to enter the giveaway. This is completely optional and your email address will only be used to contact you should you win the prize.
I’ll draw the winner from entries received by Friday, October 9th and alert him or her no later than Monday, October 12th.
Please visit the reader survey here.
Thank you so much for your assistance in making this blog the best experience possible, for both of us. I deeply appreciate you being here and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Update October 12, 2015: And the winner is Mary P! Thank you, Mary; your prize is on its way.
Thanks to everyone who responded to the reader survey. If you haven’t and would still like to, I would love your feedback right here.