What Is Ethical Fashion? Sustainable Fashion 101

Let’s start by saying that there’s not just ONE definition of ethical fashion.

Each brand and each consumer have their own personal interpretation of what ethical fashion is.

So when you ask what is ethical fashion, don’t expect a one size fits all. Nono. We want some wiggle room, some space to let the concept breath and evolve.

See, ethical fashion is a fairly new idea – just like sustainable fashion and eco-friendly fashion. It has never been a real-life topic outside the hippie circles until now.

ethical fashion outfit

Do you want to read more about sustainable fashion?

Something that makes this whole thing more complicated is this: how can we even define what is ethically right and wrong? But let’s stop here, we’re getting metaphysical and that’s not what we’re here for.

So now let’s talk about what ethical fashion kind of means. And stick until the end to talk about a moral dilemma I have.

But before getting to the nitty-gritty, a little disclaimer:

Each brand has its own idea of ethical. And each person has their own idea of ethical. So the magical thing is matching the person to the brand (or the brand to the person?). Ah, a match made in heaven. 

What makes fashion ethical?

Ethical fashion is good for people

Have you heard about the terrible terrible things the fast fashion industry does to its workers?

So ethical fashion in this sense ‘takes care’ of the worker’s conditions. Their wages, vacations, heath insurances,…all that good stuff.

So at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the factory is in Berlin or Bangkok. The workers will have GREAT conditions.

And I’m talking about factory workers, but actually ALL workers must have these conditions: suppliers, designers, the salesperson at your local store,…

Good for the animals

Ethical fashion can also produce cruelty-free clothes.

These brands don’t use animal products to make clothes. And in the case of, let’s say, makeup and creams, they are not animal tested.


This would be vegan clothing. Faux fur, faux leather, all that jazz.

So, what are faux alternatives made of? The cheaper and most common options, out of plastic – sometimes recycled, sometimes not.

And lately, we have these other products like faux leather made of pineapple fibers. Like, who would’ve thought?

And what about the environment?

Sure, ethical fashion can be environmentally ethical as well. Why not?

So, in this sense, is ethical the same as eco-friendly? Maybe. traditionally we don’t use the term ‘ethical’ in this case, because we already have ‘eco-friendly’.

But sure ethical products can be ‘accidentally’ eco-friendly.

A good example of this is sustainable jewelry. Clean gold is extracted ethically, taking care of the environment and the communities around the mines, right? Not overexploiting the whole place, basically. Which is good for the people living and working around there, and the entire ecosystem – including the animals.

So this is an example of an ethical practice that also turns out to be eco-friendly. Win-win.

So what is the dilemma here?

Sometimes a brand cannot be good for all three: people, animals, and the planet.

And sometimes you have to choose what REALLY matters to you the most.

Do you want vegan clothing? Then go for brands that are ethical towards animals. Your focus is on the nice treatment of workers. Then fair trade is for you.

Let’s see some examples. Like the case of faux fur:

  • It can be sourced from socially responsible places. Check
  • It doesn’t hurt animals in the process. Check.
  • But many times it’s made of synthetic materials, which isn’t all that eco-friendly unless they are recycled plastic. And even if so, they aren’t the most eco-friendly option.

Other example.

Let’s say that there’s a brand that pays their workers great wages, they give them all the conditions they ask for, and all that,…but it uses animal leather and throws toxic waste into rivers.

Hmmm…ok. Then it’s ethical in the sense that their people are treated right. But they use animal products. And they have zero eco-consciousness.

Then…can we even call these brands ethical?

So tell me. What does ethical mean for you?

What is your priority when you buy ethical clothing?

And do you think a brand can be ethical at the same time for the people, the environment and the animals?

Enlighten me.

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