Ethical Fashion Brands
Behind its glamorous surface, the story of fashion hasn’t always been pretty. Consider the environmental impact: In terms of water alone, reports Waterfootprint.org, 2,700 liters are needed to make a single T-shirt; a pair of jeans require 7,000 liters. The human toll has often been tragic. Beyond disasters like the 2013 Rana Plaza garment-factory collapse in Bangladesh, fashion—particularly fast fashion—has a reputation for mistreating and underpaying workers, obfuscating the supply chain and promoting wastefulness with a never-ending cycle of trends.
Yet many in the industry believe fashion can be a force for good. Forward-thinking brands are actively adopting ethical practices, including promoting transparency, giving back to the communities in which goods are produced and promoting various types of positive change. Here are some ethical fashion brands to seek out:
Cause: Various, from humanitarian and outdoors to military service and children’s causes.
Big Idea: Founded on the idea that people matter, Sevenly creates seven-day cause campaigns, in which you can choose to purchase from a collection that benefits such causes as autism, cancer, global causes, social justice and education. They commission “cause art” that celebrates the work of their causes, with each item sold donating 7 percent to The Sevenly Foundation, which gives 100 percent of that total to its partners.
Products: T-shirts, tanks and bags.
Don’t miss: The stories in Sevenly’s blog section that inspire their campaigns.
Cause: Using fashion to empower and educate women in Uganda.
Big Idea: This fashion brand, based in Uganda and Portland, Oregon, began as a way to help employ and educate Ugandan women. According to the company, every woman who has graduated from the Sseko program is currently pursuing a college degree or has already graduated. In addition to employing women working their way toward college, Sseko also partners with a local non-profit in Uganda to help employ women coming out of the commercial sex industry. Half of workers’ salaries each month go into a savings account that will pay their tuition, protecting women from the social pressure they can feel from their families to give away their money.
Products: Sandals, leather goods, accessories.
Don’t miss: The interchangeable ribbon sandals that can be tied in hundreds of ways.
Cause: “Orphans for orphans”—two young brothers who traveled the world volunteering with their parents were orphaned themselves in the 2005 tsunami in Sri Lanka.
Big Idea: Two sons of an exceptionally charity-minded family became orphaned; the brothers started a company that donates 10 percent of its profits to underprivileged children affected by the tsunami. Their effort has been so successful, they were invited back to England for the launch of the Queen’s Young Leaders program and later saved enough to open an Orphans for Orphans facility in Sri Lanka on the decade anniversary of the tsunami. It provides academic support and youth development as well as resources for parents.
Products: Men’s and women’s apparel, accessories and adventure gear.
Don’t miss: The stylish Brothers’ Blog, proving that giving back can also look hot.
Brand: Beza Threads
Cause: Job training and rehabilitation to slaves in Ethiopia.
Big Idea: In 2008, a group of Iowa college students on a summer trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were horrified to discover a prostitution district whose workers were trapped in prostitution—many of whom were between the ages of 10 and 17. They developed a concept by which they sold 40 scarves made by freed slaves at a single event on campus, returning two years later with $1,000 to purchase more scarves, turning those first rounds of profits into seed money for Beza Threads, which in four years raised $190,000 to free slave children, and has released more than 100.
Don’t miss: The opportunity to become a “Beza Protector” (by donating $5 per month to help pay for schooling for children) or a “Beza Rescuer,” whose funds go toward rescuing young women from forced brothel labor and enrolling them in a yearlong program of recovery and education.
Brand: Warby Parker
Cause: One pair for you, another pair for someone in need.
Big Idea: The seriously fashionable eyewear company, whose easy-to-order frames even include the ability to try five pairs for free via mail order, is also a socially conscious giant. For every pair of glasses you purchase, they give a pair to someone in need. Plus, Warby Parker goes further with the model by working with local communities to train them to do eye tests. So far, Warby Parker has distributed 2 million pairs of glasses to those in need.
Products: Eyeglasses and sunglasses.
Don’t miss: Fun frames that change seasonally and come with prescription included; the charitable element notwithstanding, this is one of the best deals in frames around.