ethical fashion


I don’t know about you but I find it incredibly easy to give up on the idea of dressing ethically. Every now and then you and your friends muse briefly on the latest factory disaster in Asia or wonder in passing how Primark manages to make its clothes so cheap. It’s hard to know whether your clothes have been sewn for less than a penny by a child in a faraway land, and because you don’t know for sure, it’s easy to stay blissfully ignorant and give up assuming that all highstreets stores are morally bankrupt but that dressing ethically is only for those who can afford high priced sustainable fashion. The other side of the coin is those who assume that dressing in a sustainable fashion means being an unwashed hippy or dressing like an aging bohemian, sweeping around in swathes of fabric. Alas after a bit of research it seems it is actually possible to dress sustainably for less! Here are some ways to stretch that tight budget of yours for maximum gain to you and this little planet of ours.

Wash Clothes in an Environmentally Friendly Way

Sometimes washing clothes in certain ways can be more environmentally damaging than the actual manufacturing of them. Levis have discovered that 58% of their carbon emissions as a company come from their customers washing their jeans! They have now started advertising washing them at 30c, line drying and donating them when you’re done.

Another way to avoid the damage done to the environment in the washing of your clothes is, and hear me out here, washing them less! It’s true, most of us are inclined to chucking things that aren’t really dirty into the laundry basket at the end of the day, just a little bit of added thought could save you washing, could make your clothes last longer and help the environment. Instead of chucking things in the wash all the time, try spot cleaning stains and leaving things out to air (foody smells are terrible for ingraining but leaving them out of your wardrobe, or better on the washing line, gets rid of that perfectly fine.) Another thing which has the double benefit of supporting your laziness and being better for the environment is hanging clothes on coat hangers in a steamy shower room to get rid of smells and creases, works a treat!

Buy Quality Clothes you really like

As I’ve gotten older my dad’s fussiness with quality has rubbed off on me. I am now one of those annoying people who inspect garments to the nth degree before purchasing them. In my head, something might be a bargain but if it is already loose at the seams or had threads hanging from everywhere it ain’t going to last long and is not worth your pennies! Sometimes it’s worth really looking at the quality of something and thinking, is this going to fall apart after one wash or does it look a bit sturdier? Natural fabrics are often a good shout too, they can last longer and when binned they decompose, double whammy! Of course recycling is always the way to go! But just in case your piece of clothing ends up in a landfill somewhere down the line at least it isn’t going to ruin our pretty earth. Sometimes it’s worth paying a tinsy winsy bit more for something that looks like it might last. From my experience it is often the places who have amazing fashion street-cred that bang the price up but don’t care about the quality, not to name any names…

Use what you have (shock horror I know!)

Clothes take energy and resources to create so this constant heavy producing and consuming circle is not great for the planet. We are all guilty of neglecting some of our clothes, leaving them crying in the back of the cupboard. Get in your wardrobe, rifle about, and I’m sure you will find you have so much choice. With a bit of imagination, combining them in different ways and experimenting, we can revitalise our style helping us steer clear of the first world problem of having so many clothes and nothing to wear!

Make-do and Mend, Alter and Upcycle

It can be easy to get lazy and chuck things out the minute they break but try to resist and learn some little skills in the process. Learn how to do some simple stitches and it you will be sorted. Here is some idiot proof direction.

If you are feeling terribly productive and adventurous you could even learn to darn or patch holes in your clothes here.

Altering clothes that don’t quite fit can be a useful skill and saves on waste (see ideas here) or even that new-fangled fashion of upcycling. Check out these fantastic before and after shots here!   There is so much instruction out there on how to do these things. Google away my lovelies!!!

Bin Clothes Ethically

If the clothes you’re trying to ditch are wearable there is a million options; donate them to charity, a friend or a thrift shop, sell them online (ebay ahoy!) or at a car boot sale, or have a clothing swap. Clothing swaps or ‘swishes’ are the new thing, (well probably not that new, I tend to be behind on most things) and they are fantastic! There are lots of swishing sites out there for example swishing.co.uk and swap style to name a few. We had a great one at work, everyone came away with something and I managed to nab an Orla Kiely top with the tag still attached! WINNER! Still don’t know which crazy cat brought that in to swap! I hope it wasn’t an accident for their sake.

If your clothes are unwearable that is still no excuse to plop them in the wheelie bin as tempting as it is to avoid dragging bags to the tip. It really is worth getting rid of them properly. Not only are there clothes recycling bins which often get used for industrial rags but charity shops also have rag bags which they get money for from the rag trade meaning you are inadvertently raising money for charity by dropping off your duds.

Shop Second Hand

Give unloved clothes a second life it’s much less wasteful! The key with second hand clothes is that you have to put your laziness aside and trawl the rails or the website for diamonds in the rough. You must be patient, the good stuff will come!! There are some great options out there; charity, thrift and vintage shops are the obvious ones but there are also options online; ebay of course, but beyond that there are loads of great websites such as Etsy, Folksy, ASOS Marketplace and Beyond Retro. Also don’t forget about a cheeky car boot sale or raiding the clothes your friends are about to chuck. At university I spend many an hour raiding through bin bags of my friend Lois’s donations (she was a shopaholic basically, so a good friend to have around!) and still wear a lot of the things I pinched from her.

Ethical Shopping

Of course you can’t avoid shopping forever for the sake of ethics! Perish the thought! But there is always more ethical choices out there. To explore some friendly fashion online and on the high street have a peruse of our other blog posts: Top Ethical High Street Retailers and Top Online Ethical Retailers. Happy shopping!


Some of the shops on the high street that you might assume to be unethical are actually pretty surprising in their morality! Though many of them might not advertise themselves as ethical, and there might be room for improvement, sometimes it’s good that they’re just a little bit less bad! Every little counts when it comes to buying ethical fashion on the high street. Let’s take a look at the top ethical high street retailers…

We’re always on the hunt for new eco designers, so we’ve been searching London City to find the new hot stuff.

This month we’re introducing a new clothing line by designer Jett Clark named Jett Blak Clothin. The line fuses together ethical clothing and high end designs. The clothing is made from sources such as earth positive and bamboo giving a 100% Organic with 90% Reduced CO2 Footprint clothing.

It’s a fairly good time for the trendy and eco-friendly. Fashion at all levels is paying heed to our environment. From celebrities’ exclusive clothing lines to design students’ bold creations, green fashion appears to be developing greatly as a fixture for sustainable brands and outlets. Hopefully these promising, eco-friendly fashion campaigns will yield positive results because actually, it is high time they did.

Another ethical designer showcasing for the first time, is Jan Townsend of Jacob James. From the unlikely beginnings of discarded fabrics, plastic bottles and weeds, Jacob James invests love and creates beautifully sustainable hats.


The inspiration for Jacob James A/W 2011 comes from transformation – taking the ugly, unsightly and unloved and fashioning it into beautifully tailored hats. The pallet of soft greys with an accent of beige/blue is a reference to dusk, a time when all things are transfigured by the change from day to night.

When I briefly caught up with Jan at LFW, here’s what she had to say:

Q. Tell me a little about yourself and your design background?

I actually have an engineering background, so that’s how I learnt to draw, and I then transferred the skills. The designs for the hats basically come from the fabrics, as that is what we’re all about – the stinging nettle fabrics, and the recycled bottle fabrics. There are certain designs of hats that you can go for with those fabrics, so you have to start with the fabrics, see what they’re capable of, and then take it from there.

Q. What was the inspiration behind doing ethical and sustainable fashion?

We wanted to create hats that you could wear when it’s cold, so a useful product, but with these interesting fabrics. Originally we started making bags out left over leather that we had access to, but we found the market was already quite full, and then someone asked us if we could make hats, so we went away and drafted some patterns, took them to her and she was our first hat customer. So we’ve just stuck with the hats since then.

Q. Have you encountered any challenges when trying to adhere to this ethical philosophy?

Actually no we haven’t.

Q. What do you think the future is for sustainable fashion?

I think it will go into the mainstream. I think people will just used to seeing it in the shops, and you won’t have to go to specific ethical outlets to get it.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring ethical fashion designers?

I don’t know…I wish somebody would give me some! I suppose just to be thick-skinned and keep going.

Q. If you had to choose one famous person to be your muse, who would it be?

Bertie Wooster!

Stockists include: Corina Corina, Warwick; Black Swan, Somerset; walford Mill, Dorest..

For more information on Jacob James and to view the collections, visit the online shop: www.jacob-james.co.uk.

Ciel is a contemporary womenswear and lingerie label with a simple design aesthetic to make beautiful clothes from the best possible green fabrics. Ciel signature hand knits and quilted parkers, relaxed boyfriend sweaters, beautiful soft organic alpaca knitwear and sophisticated draped jersey, which sit well between the vibrant Liberty up-cycled print silk dresses, organic cotton underwear and silk lingerie. Ciel’s range presents design-led, hand-finished garments with an eco-philosophy at its heart.

This week I was able to catch up with the designer of this unique brand, Sarah Ratty, on her first time exhibiting at Somerset house.

Q. Sarah, tell me a little about yourself and your design background?

Well my mum was a fashion lecturer at Brighton University, so I’ve been trained in the fashion way since the age of four. I’m very interested in the history offashion and textiles and I look at quite a lot of vintage pieces. I’m very inspiredby the fashion of the 40’s and 70’s.

Q. Would you say this reflects your own personal style?

Yes definitely, I like to do fusions, taking elements from different times and mix it up with more modern styles.

Q. What projects have you got in the pipeline?

I’m doing a collaboration project with Liberty Art, where I’m up-cycling the Liberty archive prints. So we’re doing limited edition pieces, and I’m doing a collection that’s going into Whistles in April.

Q. What was the inspiration behind doing ethical and sustainable fashion?

Well I’ve always been an ethical fashion designer, ever since I started with my first brand, Conscious Earthwear. I started with recycled knitwear from post consumer waste, had it laundered, and then we’d make these wild and wonderful creations out of Aran knits.

Q. How do you ensure that you work in a sustainable and eco-friendly way?

Well I’ve always used recycled and up-cycled materials, but now it is great as we’re also making our own hand-knits out of baby alpaca. The alpaca is organic and un-dyed so it comes in 36 different natural shades…so it’s quite exciting for me as a designer to have come full circle.

Q. Have you encountered any challenges when trying to adhere to this ethical philosophy?

Well I find that the restrictions you place upon yourself can make you more creative. That’s something that certainly happened for me. My whole ethos was that I wanted to try and make every garment range that I could, but in a green way, whilst also ensuring that it is modern, contemporary and has its own story.

Q. So what’s the story behind the organic cotton underwear and the Liberty upcycle print lingerie?

Well, because it’s the international year of the tree, I wanted to use the work I’m making to talk about the ocean of breath that we share, and to bring focus whilst still integrating into the rest of the collection. So this Autumn/Winter collection is like Amy Johnson meets Hansel and Gretel in the forest.

Q. What do you think the future is for sustainable fashion?

I think that as people become more aware, it will be the norm for the fashion industry. That’s what I want. I went to the UN last year and I was on a panel talking about the rise of the ethical consumer and what’s next, and from this I
created something called the Designer’s Green Call. This was to get people to sign up and say what it was they’d like to see in the next 10 years in terms of fashion. The feedback was universal – we need for recycled polymers to become the norm, we don’t need to have virgin polymers anymore.

Some very exciting news recently has been that Walmart has said that for futureproductions they want all of their polyesters to be from re-cycled polymers. That’s huge because that opens up the supply chain for everybody. I think it’s really important that we work hand in hand with companies like this, and designers that are here are leading the way.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring ethical fashion designers?

Do it, don’t think too much. Do it and enjoy it. Have a go and make something happen.

Stockists include: Frameworks, Japan; Igigi, Hove (UK); Eco-Age, London; Whistles – UK. For more information on Ciel, visit the online shop www.cielshop.co.uk.