Vegan Wonder

Ethical Fashion Revealed: The Rise of Fair Trade and Sustainable Vegan Brands

Have you ever wondered what happens to your favorite vegan shirt or pair of pants after it leaves the store? You might picture little vegan elves making them in a magical forest, but in reality, it goes through a complex process involving factories, workers, and shipments. For most brands, this process is mostly hidden from consumers.

But what if we could have our clothes made in a way that’s good for animals, people, and the planet? That’s where fair trade vegan fashion comes in.

What is Fair Trade Fashion?

Think of fair trade as a way to make things like clothing more ethical. Just like fair trade coffee, fair trade fashion ensures that farmers and workers are paid fairly and work in safe conditions. It also considers the environmental impact of production.

There are many principles of fair trade, but the two most relevant to fashion are:

  • Paying a fair wage that covers the basic needs of workers and their families
  • Providing safe working conditions that respect human rights

On top of that, fair trade organizations also aim to:

  • Empower local communities to take control of their own production and trade
  • Minimize the negative impact on the environment

Now, you might be thinking, “But I don’t want to pay more for clothing!” And that’s understandable. But just like with food, when we pay a little more for fairly traded items, we’re helping to ensure that the people who grow or make them are able to support themselves and their families. In the fashion industry, this often means improving the lives of workers in countries where wages are very low.

But fair trade isn’t just about labor. It also aims to reduce the environmental impact of production by using sustainable materials and minimizing waste. In fact, many vegan fashion brands are drawn to fair trade because of its focus on sustainability.

So, what does this look like in practice? Let’s take a look at some brands leading the way in ethical vegan fashion.

Vegan Fashion Brands Making a Difference

As people have become more aware of the impact of their choices on animals, the environment, and human rights, there has been a growing demand for sustainable vegan fashion.

According to a survey by the Good On You app, 54% of consumers say they prefer vegan clothing, and almost half say they would pay more for it. As a result, we’re seeing more and more brands offering vegan options.

But not all vegan clothing is created equal. Some brands are doing more than just avoiding animal products. They’re also aiming to make their supply chains more transparent and sustainable.

Here are some brands that are leading the way:

  • Patagonia: Known for its high-quality outdoor clothing and commitment to the environment, Patagonia is also a leader in supply chain transparency. The company lists the factories where its products are made and the countries where the materials are sourced. Unfortunately, not all of its products are vegan, but they do offer some leather-free options.
  • Amour Vert: This women’s clothing brand is committed to using sustainable materials and manufacturing in the United States. Though it doesn’t have third-party certifications, it aims to make its supply chain as transparent as possible. It also uses recycled fabrics and offers a takeback program to recycle used clothing.
  • People Tree: This UK-based brand has been a leader in fair trade fashion since 1991, when it was founded by Safia Minney. It uses organic cotton and other sustainable materials and partners with fair trade organizations to provide fair wages and safe working conditions for its workers. It also offers a wide range of vegan clothing options.

These are just a few of the brands demonstrating that it is possible to make high-quality, affordable clothing in a way that respects animals, people, and the planet. But it’s not just up to brands to do the right thing. As consumers, we have the power to vote with our dollars and support the kind of fashion industry we want to see.

Innovative Sustainable Materials

One of the challenges of sustainable fashion is finding materials that are both eco-friendly and durable enough to make quality clothing. But some brands are finding creative solutions.

For example, Patagonia uses recycled materials whenever possible. In fact, its Worn Wear program encourages customers to repair, reuse, and recycle their old clothing. The brand also uses natural materials like hemp, which requires less water and pesticides than cotton.

Other brands are using plant-based materials to replace animal leather. For example, Matt & Nat, a vegan accessories brand, uses materials like cork, recycled rubber, and a fabric called “leatherette,” which is made from polyurethane.

Even some traditional leather brands are starting to use plant-based “leather” alternatives to reduce their environmental impact. For example, Stella McCartney, which has been a vegan brand since its inception in 2001, has partnered with a company called Mylo to develop vegan leather made from mycelium, or the roots of mushrooms.

And it’s not just big brands that are getting in on the action. Small, independent brands are also experimenting with innovative materials. For example, Bolé Road, a fair trade accessories brand based in Senegal, uses recycled plastic bags to make a material called “tela” for its bags and wallets.

Some brands are even experimenting with biodegradable or compostable materials. For example, Patagonia has developed a yarn made from plastic bottles that can be composted, and Adidas has created sneakers with a biodegradable upper made from a plant-based material called “Futureloop.”

While some of these materials may not be as durable as traditional leather or synthetic fabrics, they offer a more sustainable alternative. And as technology advances, we can expect to see even more innovative materials that look and perform better than their predecessors.

But even with these advances, it can be difficult for consumers to know which materials are truly sustainable and which brands are being honest about their practices. That’s why many brands choose to get third-party certifications.

Third-Party Certifications

Third-party certifications are a way for brands to demonstrate that they’re meeting certain standards. For example, Fair Trade Certified is a seal that indicates a product was made using fair trade practices. The organization that grants the certification, like Fair Trade USA, sets the standards and conducts regular audits to ensure they’re being met.

There are also certifications for sustainable materials. For example, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certifies fabrics that are made from at least 70% organic fibers and are produced in an environmentally sustainable way. The Responsible Down Standard certifies down that’s been sourced humanely. And the Leather Working Group certifies brands that are using leather in an environmentally sustainable way.

When a brand has one or more of these certifications, it can display the logo on its products and marketing materials. This makes it easier for consumers to make informed choices.

But not all brands choose to get certified. Some may feel that the cost is too high, or that the standards are too difficult to meet. Others may worry that the certification process will reveal issues in their supply chain that they’d rather keep hidden.

Still, third-party certifications are an important tool for consumers, and it’s encouraging to see more brands embracing them. For example, Patagonia has the most certifications of any clothing brand, according to a study by the nonprofit Greenpeace. And all of the brands we mentioned earlier have at least one certification.

How Ethical Fashion Benefits Animals

We often think of ethical fashion as being about human rights, but it can also help animals. When we choose to buy clothing made in a fair and sustainable way, we’re helping to reduce demand for clothing made in factories with poor labor practices and environmental standards.

This is important because, in addition to exploiting human labor, some factories also abuse animals. For example, in some leather tanneries, workers and the surrounding communities are exposed to toxic chemicals that can cause health problems. There have also been reports of animals being killed in cruel ways for their fur and down feathers.

By choosing ethical vegan fashion, we can help reduce the demand for these products and encourage brands to adopt more humane and sustainable practices.

How Ethical Fashion Benefits the Planet

Just like with other forms of consumption, the way we produce clothing has a big impact on the planet. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter of water and the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the energy and building sectors.

Much of the problem comes from the “take-make-dispose” model of production, in which clothing is made cheaply and quickly, worn a few times, and then discarded. This leads to a lot of waste and the overuse of resources.

Ethical fashion can help address these problems by:

  • Reducing the carbon footprint of clothing by using renewable energy and reducing transportation distances
  • Minimizing waste by using recycled materials and designing clothes that can be easily repaired and worn for longer
  • Preserving natural resources by using plant-based materials and avoiding the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals

In other words, ethical fashion can help move the clothing industry away from its “take-make-dispose” model and toward a more circular economy in which resources are reused and waste is minimized.

How Ethical Fashion Benefits People

The fashion industry is one of the largest employers in the world, but it’s also one of the most exploitative. According to a report by the International Labour Organization, more than 60 million people are employed in the global garment industry, and many of them are subjected to poor working conditions and low wages.

Fair trade fashion can help address these issues by:

  • Paying workers a fair wage that covers their basic needs
  • Providing safe working conditions
  • Empowering local communities to take control of their own production and trade

While many brands claim to pay their workers a fair wage, it can be hard to know if this is true. That’s why it’s important for brands to be transparent about how they source their materials and manufacture their products.

Fair trade fashion can also help improve gender equality and inclusivity in the fashion industry. For example, People Tree works with female artisans and cooperatives in countries like India and Nepal. And Bolé Road employs women in Senegal to make its bags and wallets.

It’s important to note that fair trade organizations like Fair Trade USA and the World Fair Trade Organization aim to empower all workers, not just women. But because women are often paid less and have fewer opportunities for advancement, they are often disproportionately affected by exploitative labor practices. That’s why it’s encouraging to see fair trade brands employing and empowering women.

Challenges and the Future of Ethical Vegan Fashion

While there are many brands doing great work in the ethical vegan fashion space, it can be hard for consumers to know if they’re getting what they pay for. Some brands make misleading claims about their sustainability practices, a phenomenon known as “greenwashing.”

One of the challenges of sustainable fashion is that there’s no one definition of what it means for clothing to be “sustainable.” Different brands may use different materials and production methods, and it can be hard for consumers to compare them.

To help address this problem, organizations like the Sustainability Apparel Coalition (SAC) have developed standardized systems for measuring the environmental impact of different types of clothing. For example, the SAC’s Higg Index measures the carbon footprint, water use, and other environmental factors of clothing production.

Unfortunately, not all brands are transparent about their practices, which can make it hard for consumers to make informed choices. And some brands may make false or misleading claims about their sustainability practices in order to attract customers.

As consumers, it’s important for us to educate ourselves about what sustainable fashion means and to be skeptical of brands that make unsubstantiated claims. We can also support organizations that are working to establish industry standards and hold brands accountable.

Another challenge for ethical vegan fashion is scale. While many brands are doing great work, they’re often small and may not have the resources to produce clothing on a large scale. And even when they do, they may struggle to compete with larger, less sustainable brands that can sell clothing more cheaply.

To address this challenge, some brands are partnering with larger companies to produce their clothing. For example, Patagonia has partnered with a company called Amour Vert to manufacture its clothing in the United States. And Reformation, a sustainable fashion brand, has partnered with factories in Los Angeles, Bangladesh, and other countries to produce its clothing.

While these partnerships can help ethical fashion brands scale up their production, they also require the brands to trust the larger companies to uphold their values. It’s important for brands to be transparent about their partnerships and to share information about the working conditions and sustainability practices of the factories where their clothing is made.

Another way that ethical fashion brands can compete with larger, less sustainable brands is by making their clothing more accessible and affordable. While some ethical fashion brands charge a premium for their clothing, others offer affordable options. For example, Amour Vert offers clothing that’s priced similarly to what you’d find at a regular retailer.

One of the challenges of making ethical fashion more affordable is that it can be more expensive to produce clothing in a sustainable and ethical way. For example, it can be more expensive to pay workers a fair wage and to use sustainable materials. But as demand for ethical fashion grows, it’s possible that the cost of producing sustainable clothing will come down.

Ultimately, the future of ethical vegan fashion depends on consumers demanding better from the fashion industry. By voting with our dollars and supporting brands that are doing the right thing, we can help move the entire industry in a more sustainable and ethical direction.