What makes an article of clothing eco-friendly? What do we mean by Trade Not Aid? Read on to learn how we define our ethical categories.
But first, ethical fashion. Though some people use these words interchangeably with terms like eco fashion, sustainable fashion and slow fashion, we think ethical fashion encompasses a broader and more rigorous set of criteria. No matter how eco-friendly a product is, or how much a company gives to charity, we believe a brand cannot be considered ethical if it has not made a demonstrable commitment to protecting human rights.
A Higher Standard
In addition to the specific qualities that we call out, all of the companies we work with are socially responsible and people-friendly. Their products are made in safe, healthy environments where workers are treated and compensated fairly.
To this end, we are extremely careful about where the items we sell are manufactured. Many of our brands make their items in the U.S.A. or European Union, where labor and environmental regulations are more comprehensive and better enforced. Companies that manufacture in developing countries must demonstrate that they are doing so in a way that empowers, rather than exploits, workers, and that employees or contractors are afforded basic protections in line with international labor standards. Ethica does not work with brands that cannot provide certified or verifiable details about the conditions their workers (or their suppliers' workers) enjoy.
We recognize that the complexities of the global garment industry cannot be reduced to an item's country of origin, but we nonetheless seek to source products that are not made in those nations where inhumane conditions for garment workers are most widespread and egregious. Should we believe that an exception is warranted–for instance, as pioneers establish fair-practice settings in high-risk countries–the circumstances that influenced our decision will be communicated. We do not hide behind labels like "Imported." We disclose where every item in our store is made. As we grow alongside the designers we work with, we hope to increase traceability beyond manufacturing and apply these standards to as much of the supply chain as we can.
Second to oil in terms of total environmental impact, and to agriculture when it comes to being the largest polluter of clean water, the fashion industry is one planet-harming juggernaut. The sustainable fashion designers represented at Ethica are careful stewards of our planet, implementing a variety of eco-friendly measures to minimize their environmental footprints. Beyond that, theirs are timeless, quality products designed to have long life-cycles, rather than throwaway pieces to be discarded be as part of a relentless, trend-driven commerce model.
Some of the steps our designers take to create eco-friendly clothing and accessories include:
- Using salvaged, reclaimed, vintage, repurposed or upcycled materials
- Using high-quality natural fibers (e.g., cotton, flax/linen, hemp, jute, wool, cashmere, alpaca, silk) that are sustainably and responsibly harvested. Natural fibers are renewable resources and biodegradable
- Using environmentally friendly cellulose fibers, such as tencel or lyocell, cupro and acetate
- Using recycled materials, particularly those sourced from post-consumer or post-industrial streams, and recycled through energy-efficient and/or closed-loop processes
- Avoiding or minimizing the use of synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic and nylon, which are made from petrochemicals, do not biodegrade and increase our dependence on oil
- Experimenting with and advancing zero-waste fashion, along with related techniques like whole-garment knitting, to reduce textile pollution
- Treating fibers with natural, botanical or AZO-free dyes
- Using water-efficient and lower-impact dyeing methods, such as digital printing and water-based inks respectively
- Avoiding or minimizing the use of harmful chemicals, including petrochemical dyes, formaldehyde, VOCs, chlorine, PBTs and heavy metals
- Instituting steps to conserve water and energy in the processing of raw materials, as well as throughout the production process
- Powering facilities through clean and renewable energy, as well as energy-efficient design and policies
- Adopting safe and environmentally sound measures for the collection, treatment and disposal of waste
- Sourcing and manufacturing locally to reduce the impact of transporting materials to various stops along the supply and production chains
- Making items by hand or in small batches in an effort to decelerate the fashion cycle, as well as avoid the environmental impact of machine-driven assembly lines
- Selecting quality materials and paying those who make their products fairly, which in turn contributes to more realistic prices that challenge the idea that fashion is disposable
- Designing with longevity and durability in mind, enabling those who own their products to consume less
- So much more! We're infinitely amazed at the creativity and resourcefulness of the people we work with, and the way that they channel those talents for the benefit of our world
In the post-globalization marketplace, Made in the U.S.A. has survived its supposed brush with death; in the fashion world in particular, it has been re-born as a new brand of luxury. Thanks to the heritage movement–a domestic offshoot of the slow fashion movement–that is taking hold across the country, today Made in the U.S.A. stands for premium quality goods, ethically made with an eye toward quality and longevity.
It's an oldie, but a goodie: "Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime." This is the principle behind Trade Not Aid. While charitable gifts can provide immediate and invaluable relief to individuals or communities in need, the goal of commerce in the context of ethical fashion is more long-term: to create sustainable employment opportunities that have the potential to permanently lift people out of poverty.
The brands listed under our Trade Not Aid category employ artisans and workers in developing countries in fair-practice environments, aiming to nurture a demand for their skills and empower their communities to prosper. Several designers we work with have set up company-owned factories in their countries of ancestry in order to create stable sources of safe, long-term work. Others collaborate with nonprofits, local cooperatives and governments, artisan groups and NGOs to produce their goods.
In the majority of these cases, it is about much more than paying workers fair wages. These jobs offer a way to preserve local textile, metalsmithing or crafting traditions, or for workers to acquire valuable skills that will help their families and communities prosper. Many of our designers take it yet a step further by providing benefits that are uncommon in many of these areas, such as access to medical care, on-site childcare, scholarships for employees' children and micro-loans.
Unique by definition, handcrafted pieces are where fashion gets personal. With quality workmanship front and center, these items help foster an appreciation for craft and artistry, as well as illuminate the connection between the things we wear and the people who made them. More environmentally friendly than mass-produced items and not nearly as ubiquitous, handmade goods are exquisite tools in the slow fashion arsenal.
Compared to "leather alternatives," which may use glues or other substances that contain animal products, vegan goods are strictly animal-free. Recognizing that the health of the planet is inextricably linked to the well-being of the animals that occupy it (just ask anyone who's seen the heart-wrenching images of starving polar bears), most accessories represented in our Vegan category further the goal of being animal-friendly by implementing eco-friendly production practices and using the most sustainable synthetic materials available.
Because people, and children in particular, also deserve cruelty-free lives, our designers manufacture their vegan bags and accessories in fair-practice settings. Ethica does not not carry animal-free products made in countries where sweatshops or child labor are ubiquitous, nor do we carry "leather-free" products that mimic other designers' intellectual property or signature styles.
One More Thing...
We don't believe in simplistic labels or blanket statements. Becoming a more conscious consumer involves analysis, deliberation and asking lots of questions. On our end, it requires a strong commitment to transparency. On the Details tab on our product pages, you'll find information about where each item in our store was made, and what raw materials were used to make it.
Of course, much more thought, time and research has gone into curating our selection than these two considerations. We are equally committed to going beyond bare facts and disclosing–and discussing–our decisions. Every product page also has a Why It's Ethical tab that lists what we like about a brand and the reasons that led us to make it part of Ethica. If something doesn't meet your ethical standards, please let us know why! Technologies evolve, business practices change, and we are constantly re-assessing our criteria to ensure that the brands we carry truly represent the most promising efforts to transform the fashion industry from within.