Let’s talk fast fashion.
But what is behind the lace, pleats and floral-print skirts?
We know LearnVesters like to buy brands with good values whenever possible (which is why we've shown you how to buy non-toxic makeup and green cleaners). After all, when you spend a portion of your hard-earned paycheck on a trendy dress, you want to give it to a business that not only sells the latest fashions, but that also has labor and environmental practices you can get behind.
But that doesn't mean you need to spend even more of your budget on clothing. There are fashionable and affordable brands out there that also incorporate eco-friendly and responsible practices into the production of silk blouses and boxy cross-body purses. Good for your wallet, good for the planet and good for a first date ... check!
How to Find Conscious Fast Fashion
One place to go for good fashion is Fashioning Change, which lets you search for consciously made and affordable items. Their Wear This, Not That tool is a trove of affordable fashion with impressive backstories of fair-trade labor and eco-friendly fabrics.
We've also looked at some of the most popular affordable brands and dug deeper into their practices on two issues:
- Sustainability: Do they have eco-friendly items that adhere to sustainable fashion standards and have they implemented sustainable practices? For example, American Apparel uses fabric scraps to make accessories and lends bikes to its employees, and many brands are reducing energy use.
- Labor: Do they have a code of conduct for factories fabricating their wares and do they verify that code is being followed? Have they ever been implicated in bad labor practices?
Using these factors, you can educate yourself on what brands are making an effort to cater to both your values and your fashion sense, and who you might want to avoid. We've color coded the chart so you can easily skim for especially impressive initiatives or alarming practices. Green means they've gone above and beyond basic measures; gray means you can assume the brand is keeping up with industry practices, and orange means it's a mixed bag. Red means they have taken no steps or have been in the news for bad practices.
And finally, we have a few other good-to-knows at the bottom.
Start your ethical fashion adventure here:
|Plenty of organic clothing. Recycles and donates extra materials, has solar panels on factory, subsidizes public transportation for employees and provides a bike share.||Manufactures exclusively in U.S.; provides health insurance, English classes and meals. But CEO accused in several lawsuits of harassing female employees.|
|No eco-friendly items. Matches employee carbon offset donations; sends damaged goods to charities for recycling. Working on more initiatives.||Has code of conduct; inspects factories; works with noncompliant suppliers to improve or terminates relationship.|
|No eco-friendly items. Energy-efficiency initiative in stores and offices; reduced packaging and shipping energy used. Working on more initiatives.||Has principles and guidelines for suppliers; conducts third party unannounced audits; works with noncompliant suppliers to improve or terminates relationship.|
|Green Room website section features eco-friendly and fair trade clothing and accessories. Is carbon neutral; reduced carbon footprint by cutting air freight from 75% to 10% of goods.||Part of Ethical Trade Initiative association of companies, trade unions and organizations that work to improve global working conditions. Has code of conduct; has independent audits of suppliers; works with noncompliant suppliers to improve or terminates relationship.|
|No eco-friendly items or sustainable practices.||Has guidelines for suppliers; hasn’t started independent audits yet.|
|No eco-friendly items or sustainable practices.||Has standards for suppliers; conducts independent audits.|
|No eco-friendly items. Part of Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Working on more initiatives.||Has code of vendor conduct; makes unannounced visits to suppliers; works with noncompliant suppliers to improve or terminates relationship.|
|No eco-friendly items or sustainable practices.||2002 lawsuit alleged sweatshop conditions; currently being sued again for labor practices. Accused of using child labor in Uzbekistan along with Urban Outfitters and Aeropostale by International Labor Rights Forum.|
|After being found out for destroying wearable clothing in 2009, stopped that practice and pioneered affordable sustainability with Conscious Collection; #1 user of organic cotton worldwide; part of Sustainable Apparel Coalition.||Has code of conduct with independent audits; works with noncompliant suppliers but no stated policy on termination for non-compliant suppliers.|
|Some eco-friendly items and food. Reduced energy use at stores; reduced operating waste; collects consumer e-waste. Working on more initiatives.||Conducts unannounced audits; works with noncompliant suppliers to improve or terminates relationship.|
|Few eco-friendly items. Reduced energy use at stores and offices; reduced gas use in shipping; increased recycling. Working on more initiatives.||Accused in 2007 of using slave labor by newspaper investigation; published Code of Conduct in 2009; conducts independent evaluations.|
|No eco-friendly items or sustainable practices.||No labor guidelines; accused of using child labor in Uzbekistan along with Forever 21 and Aeropostale by International Labor Rights Forum.|
|No eco-friendly items. Reduced paper and energy use; increased recycling. Working on more initiatives.||Has sourcing standards with independent audits. Currently being inspected by U.S. investigators for using child labor.|
|Few eco-friendly items. Improved energy efficiency; has sustainably-built stores, including a LEED-certified one. Working on more initiatives.||Has code of conduct with inspections. Accused last fall of using slave labor by Brazilian TV report; responded saying it would “strengthen supervision.”|
Other Things to Consider
If you're a fan of companies that actively try to bring women into the decision-making process, you could do worse than H&M, which has women in 71% of management positions, and goes 50-50 on the board of directors. But Urban Outfitters has zero female board members out of six.
While fashion is a roundabout of ideas inspiring ideas inspiring more ideas, there's a difference between inspiration and ripping off work. The design team at Gap, for example, works diligently to come up with original ideas, but Forever21 has a long history of copying small-time designers' work and passing it off as their own, having been sued several times. Urban Outfitters has even stolen the design and ad copy off an Etsy jewelry designer. Ouch.
Everyone airbrushes. But if you protest against unrealistic portrayals of beauty, you will probably take issue with Victoria's Secret's heavy-handed photoshopping. Hey, where did her ribs go? It's a matter of opinion whether American Apparel's sexually charged advertising is creative and effective, or offensive.