What is Ethical Clothing?

Ethical clothing and ethical fashion are apparel created with special attention to the materials used to make the clothes, and how the clothes are actually put together. This can mean different things to different people and brands; some people see ethical clothing as mainly environmental, where reducing pollution is the main focus. Others see ethical clothing as mainly related to labor, where the treatment of workers in factories are the main focus. This isn’t to say that brands are committed to one or the other - many care about both!

However, ethical clothing often stands in contrast to “fast fashion” and many popular brands. Fast fashion is mainly focused on speed, regardless of the human or environmental impact. The Good Trade defines fast fashion as “focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing” that “bring inexpensive styles to the end consumer.” This means that people and our environment are often negatively impacted when clothing is made to get to market as fast as possible.

What makes clothing ethical?

By contrast, ethical fashion is made with the intent to manufacture clothes with a specific focus on the way the clothes are made, rather than only on the design or time to market. Different brands have unique values, but often they have similar values around a few areas:

Treatment of employees

This can often include wages, working conditions, hours, types of tasks, not employing children and more.

Environmental impact

This can mean reducing carbon emissions, not polluting water sources, responsibly growing cotton and other crops, and opting out of plastic for packaging.

Supply chain transparency

Brands in ethical fashion usually provide details around where their clothing was made, how their workers are treated, where they source their materials, and more.


The increased attention to detail with ethical clothing manufacturing often carries with it an extra benefit: better quality clothes.

Again, brand values can vary, but most brands in this space share similar focuses to the ones listed above. Sources like Good On You do a great job of distilling down these values across brands to identify the most ethical ones to choose from. At Burke and Bowen, we use their site often to find new options for our wardrobes.

Why buy ethical clothing?

People’s reasons for buying ethical clothing, like the types of ethical clothing available, are very unique. For some, it’s purely logical. Ethical clothes are more likely to be high quality and possibly backed by a warranty, like Patagonia’s famous Ironclad Guarantee. For others, ethical fashion may be more of a moral or religious decision. Looking deeply into the supply chain of the products you buy may be a significant part of how you see the world.

Whatever your reason, many people look for ethical choices, but they’re notoriously difficult to find.

Which clothing brands are ethical?

Again, we recommend directories like Good On You to find a wide variety of brands that you may not have heard of before. Additionally, many Instagram accounts and blogs (like this one!) exist to help others find high-quality ethical garments. Ethical apparel is a unique subculture with tons of sources that are eager to help you find what you’re looking for. 

Whether you find a big brand or a local boutique, any ethical apparel can help make our world a better place by caring for the people and places that make our clothes.

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