Decoding the Difference Between Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

In tandem with sustainability, ethical fashion labels are not only focused on the environment, but also on people (although the two often overlap). The fashion industry, from big names to local boutiques is infamous for outsourcing human labor for less than a living wage’s worth. This model of mass manufacturing abroad where it is easier to violate the human rights standards of the United States, United Kingdom, and other “developed” countries allows for increased product output and profit, but at the cost of individual livelihoods, liberty, and sometimes even lives. In April 2013, the Rana Plaza Building in Bangladesh caved in, killing over 1,100 garment workers and exposing the extent to which inhumane labor conditions can reach. And though large labels like Nike, who was shamed in the early ‘90s for its abuse of Chinese and Indonesian workers, are typically thought to be the culprits, a brand of any size that outsources labor can be guilty of poor ethics.

For brands that are concsious of their social impacts, getting Fair Trade Certifieid indicates to customers that their products are made by people who earn a livable wage and work in safe conditions. Labels including Madewell, Patagoina, and J. Crew have specific lines that are Fair Trade Certified, and many others may support fair labor practices that help support the local communities of the artisans and workers. Oftentimes, working with local craftsman also means producing clothes using the natural materials available to those communities, such as cotton, linen, and wool, bringing a sustainable aspect to ethical clothing, too.

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