Ethical Fashion: What It Is & Where To Shop

The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to pressing global issues such as climate change and modern slavery. However, the ethical fashion movement seeks to address the social and environmental impacts of fast-fashion consumption.

One of the key aims of ethical fashion is the fight for human and animal rights. The movement seeks to expose exploitative working conditions of those along the production line, foster socially responsible working environments and to prevent the mistreatment of animals in the farming of fur and other animal products. It also strives for sustainability, by encouraging the use of recycled materials and the reduction of pollution caused by practices such as cotton farming and the use of chemical dyes. According to the Ethical Fashion Forum, the UK throws away an estimated 1 million tonnes of clothing each year; therefore, the movement works towards ‘slow’ fashion, encouraging consumers to purchase fewer goods, repair garments when worn-down and recycle or donate unwanted items.

Many consider Stella McCartney a pioneer of the ethical fashion movement. Her label, set up in 2001, was the first luxury brand to place ethical fashion at its forefront. Seventeen years on, it is still high on her agenda; in Paris Fashion Week 2018, her entire collection was fur-free and used faux leather, whilst her shoe collection substituted glue for less damaging stitching. The ethical movement has continued to grow, particularly following the loss of 1,134 workers in the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013. Following this catastrophe, Fashion Revolution Week was established, which annually encourages consumers to question how their clothes are made, and calls for greater transparency in the production of fashion and clothing.

The struggle of ethical fashion is that it can be hard to know where to shop, however, it doesn’t take long to explore what’s on offer. Here’s a handful of some of the leading ethical fashion brands out there at the moment:


Brought to the UK from Australia in 2002, Thought emphasise their fair trade practices. They employ conscious supply policies and are committed to creating jobs, protecting wages and developing the skills of those who work in their supply chain. Thought offer both womenswear and menswear, made from natural and recycled materials. Their pieces that are relaxed, effortless and everyday, available in over 1000 shops across the globe.

P.i.c Style

This London-based brand aim to reduce the damaging effects of fast-fashion. P.i.c Style offer a host of elegant and timeless pieces, made from locally-sourced fabrics and produced in their London factory, minimising environmental impact. They also encourage consumers to purchase fewer items of higher quality, through their ‘P.i.c capsule’ of 8 interchangeable women’s garments which can create 50 different looks.


Patagonia is a well-known brand that adopts ethical fashion practices. They use sustainable materials such as hemp and organic cotton in their products, and also promote their ‘Worn Wear’ campaign, which offers guidelines on how to care for and repair products to prevent waste. They also sell a Fair Trade Fleece range, whereby every purchase sends money back to factory workers in Asia and South America, in the form of cash or collective social investment.


With summer around the corner, why not invest in some sustainable swimwear from this Barcelona-based brand? The garments are made from high quality recycled textiles, often upcycled from waste materials from other local factories, in an environmentally and socially responsible workplace. The brand is all about simplicity and sophistication, with a monochrome collection of elegant mix-and-match swimwear pieces.

Sancho’s Dress

This is a great place to shop if you’re looking to find ethical fashion here in Exeter. Founded in 2014 by two former students, the shop aims to bring organic and fair trade brands to the streets of Exeter, whilst also developing their own brand, Scarves for Sustainability. The outlet offers both men’s and women’s quality clothing, quirky jewellery and an excellent selection of gift items.

When it comes to choosing where to buy our clothes, we as consumers have more power than it seems. Though ethical fashion is indeed more expensive than typical high-street prices, the customer experience is more rewarding and fulfilling. Ethical fashion offers quality items which will hold their value. However, the most important thing is that these items don’t come at the expense of the environment or fellow humanity. The ethical fashion movement will continue to grow, and hopefully, the leading high-street fashion brands will soon begin to jump on board.


– Sophie Coles


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