As a result of continued inquiries, we have a running series of posts outlining some ethically-manufactured “alternatives” to fast fashion and other sweat-shop made clothes (because high fashion brands are not always blame-less either). (Find previous lists here).
While in general, ethically made garments and accessories tend to cost a bit more than their fast fashion alternatives, there are increasingly more brands that are aiming to achieve accessible price points - and we are dedicated to doing endless research to include more and more brands on these lists that are truly affordable (because guess what, $150 for a top is expensive!).
It is also worth noting that sustainability is not just about buying! It also includes holding on to the clothes you already have (regardless of their price points) and taking care of them in order to get the most wears/use out of them. Remember, sustainability is about taking small steps to improve your wardrobe and is not meant to happen overnight. This is a marathon.
Having said that, if you are in the market for some ethically-manufactured garments, the brands listed below engage in original design, local production (many of the brands manufacture locally), responsible selection of raw materials (think: the use of Viscose, which comes from man-made fibers made from renewable plant material, and requires approximately half of the energy than a cotton garment to produce). They focus on creating sustainable garments and accessories with a lower environmental impact, including by minimizing waste by repurposing it to make additional garments, reducing carbon emissions and/or shipping using recycled paper products.
Still yet, many of them engage in careful oversight by working with factories that abide by national labor standards, and in many cases, visit their factories on a regular basis and speaking to factory owners even more frequently.
Check out the list below and remember, shopping responsibly does not mean wearing high fashion; that is just a myth, my friends!
ASOS AFRICA | $
We were a bit skeptical about this one at first, but it turns out that British e-commerce giant, ASOS, which has been linked to sweatshop-like conditions for its main collections in the past, may actually be doing right by its suppliers and customers by way of its ASOS Africa collection. Twelve seasons after its initial launch, the ASOS Africa collection, which is produced in conjunction with SOKO, a clothing-manufacturing unit based in Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya, is attracting everyone from young Hollywood to First Lady Michelle Obama. The project observes fair-trade principles, while enabling underprivileged communities to establish sustainable business through their local craftsmanship. Consumers are in luck, too, as these colorful wares are reasonably priced (especially if you can catch them on sale!).
LE MONT ST. MICHEL | $$
The Le Mont St. Michel brand is just one part of the Milan family tradition in textiles and knitwear. A knowledge and appreciation for the craft has been passed down since 1918, and today Alexandre Milan is building on his heritage to create a contemporary company that continues to develop quality, timeless products in true French style. With an archive filled with the extraordinary work of his ancestors, Milan draws endless inspiration from the heritage of knitwear, while adding a contemporary perspective. The result: classic striped sailor tops, beautiful knits and cute pencil skirts.
SUNDRY | $
Sundry founder Mathieu Le Blan is a French-born, California-loving surfer. Born in the South of France in the late 60s, he grew up with fashionable parents lounging around the beach in Saint-Tropez. He moved to California in the 90s, where he quickly adapted to the lifestyle. Sundry team member Joanne tells us, “He’s very active with sports and yoga and nature.” This laid-back sensibility played into Mathieu’s style and his designs, culminating in the creation of Sundry in 2010. Made in Los Angeles, Sundry sources fabrics from an L.A.-based vendor who develops special fabrics to ensure that they get the best quality, the right hand-feel and the perfect drape.
MATT & NAT | $
Known for its vegan “leather” bags, Matt & Nat is a Montreal-based brand founded upon social responsibility, excellence, inclusiveness, integrity, learning, and authenticity. The brand, which launched in 1995, releases a number of men’s and women’s bags each season that embody timeless design and durable styles – and which tend to sell out. If you take a look at the bags on their site, you will see why they; their sleek, minimalist styles are beautiful. Moreover, the brand has been producing its bags, which are based entirely on in-house designs, from different recycled materials such as recycled nylons, cardboard, rubber and cork. Matt & Nat collections can be found in boutiques across Canada, the United States, the UK, Japan, Germany and Australia.
MUZUNGU SISTERS | $$, $$$
Not exactly at the same price point as fast fashion but still completely worthy of a spot on this list: Muzungu Sisters. One of my personal favorite brands for all things gypset, Muzungu Sisters was born in 2009, when founders and friends, Dana Alikhani and Tatiana Santo Domingo combined Alikhani’s human rights Master’s degree and Santo Domingo’s impeccable eye for all things fashion. The result is an online retail portal that promotes fair labor practices by showcasing artisan-crafted goods from around the world. In short: this site is home to utterly swoon-worthy clothing, accessories, and home goods. Whether it is a basket bag handmade by an older generation of artisans in Sicily or a silk maxi dress designed under the Muzungu house collection in connection with artisans in India, this e-commerce site is made up of otherworldly gems curated so that you don’t have to scour international markets for the perfect kaftan or mochila. Now go there. You will be thanking you later, I promise.
CHINTI AND PARKER | $$$
Founded in 2009 by cousins Anna Singh and Rachael Wood, Chinti and Parker is a leading British luxury ready-to-wear label, renowned for simple, wearable garments. The brand flawlessly reconciles classic design and high quality craftsmanship with considerate, fair production. Garments are produced in factories carefully selected for their relevant expertise AND upstanding credentials. Celebrated by publications including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle, and by industry insiders (and stars like Olivia Wilde, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Sienna Miller) alike, Chinti and Parker will absolutely tempt you to save and spend a little bit more in favor of its cozy knits, cute tees, and smart dresses. And good news, guys, they make sweaters, tees and loungewear for you, too.
LANTERN SENSE | $
China has gotten a bad rap as home to subpar manufacturing and counterfeit goods, but brands like Lantern Sense, an independent luxury ready-to-wear label founded by Trevor Ng and Lala Yang, is making a name for quality design coming out of China. Established in Hong Kong in 2014 with the support of highly skilled Chinese tailors, this brand offers minimalist-inspired silhouettes and refined quality, which its designers pair with unusual prints and vibrant hues. Combining luxurious silhouettes and impeccable craftsmanship with local manufacturing, sustainable fabrics, and versatile designs that will transition seamlessly between seasons, Lantern Sense is making a case for ethical fashion in China.
STELLA MCCARTNEY | $$$$
Just because a brand is situated in the realm of high fashion does not necessarily mean its garments and accessories are made ethically or sustainably. So, for those of you who are looking for capital “F” fashion, Stella McCartney is one brand that certainly comes to mind. First, McCartney, a lifelong vegetarian, does not use any leather or fur in her designs. Moreover, McCartney’s brand is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organizations working to improve the lives of workers across the globe, and the first luxury brand to join the National Resources Defense Council’s Clean by Design program. And there’s more: McCartney’s approach to fashion is based on sustainability and wardrobe building, as opposed to season-specific, disposable fashion. She says: “I design clothes that are meant to last. I believe in creating pieces that aren’t going to get burnt, that aren’t going to landfills, that aren’t going to damage the environment.” And then, of course, there is the fact that her garments are beautiful!
EDUN | $$$$
And one more for the high fashion shoppers: Edun. Founded by Ali Hewson and Bono in 2005, New York-based Edun is a global fashion brand focused on sourcing production and encouraging trade in Africa. It is pursuing these objectives and building long-term, sustainable growth opportunities by supporting manufacturers, community-based initiatives and partnering with African artists and artisans. Danielle Sherman, who was named Creative Director in April 2013, after stints at The Row and T by Alexander Wang, often travels to various places in Africa to meet with local artisans and transform the brand from “primarily a jeans and T-shirt business to a fully fledged fashion brand with an emphasis on laid-back luxury,” as the Telegraph put it on the heels of this past September’s show.
Ten years after the brand’s launch, Hewson spoke about her and her husband’s initial motivations, saying: “Everything we’d seen that was 'ethical’ in terms of clothing at that time felt like it was granola. One of my main points was that the clothes needed to be desirable, they had to have an aesthetic, to have great design behind them. It’s not a business unless people want to buy it and wear it and live in it.” And judging by Edun’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection, this is working.
$ = majority of pieces under $150
$$ = majority of pieces between $150-$400
$$$ = majority of pieces between $400-$750
$$$$ = majority of pieces over $750