You’ve watched the Global Citizen Festival (or at least seen it all over social media!), and the Global Goals have been agreed by world leaders. So, the question now is: how can we each play a part in ensuring they are achieved?  

The good news is that there are many things you can do – including how you shop.. H&M has produced a great sustainable t-shirt you can purchase, but what do you do when buying other clothing? The jeans you’re about to buy, or a new shirt for work? You can support the Global Goals by the way you shop – or you might be actively creating more harm.  

Fashion is the world’s second largest polluting industry after oil and employs over 25 million people worldwide, many in the world’s poorest countries.  Which is great, because people need jobs. However, if we’ve committed to “end extreme poverty, fight inequality and justice, and fix climate change,” this industry needs to be more ethical to help tackle these issues, rather than contribute to them – which is what is happening in many places right now. 

Let’s be honest: the term ‘ethical fashion’ can seem a bit trendy. Once scorned by the masses as unstylish hemp, ‘ethical’ is now the new cool.  ‘Green’, ‘ socially responsible’ and ‘transparent’ are buzzwords that grab the masses and get them buying stuff.  However, when it gets down to it, it’s hard to explain what they do and don't mean.  So lets unpack what the ‘ethical’ in ethical fashion really means for us shoppers.

Ethical fashion has two dimensions. 

First, a human dimension – who made my clothes? What were they paid? What conditions were they working in? How much control did they have over their work? Were any of the people making these garments bonded to their employers? Were children involved in making these garments? 

Second, an environmental dimension – what impact did my clothes have on the environment? Were any toxic chemicals used to make them? Where did those chemicals go? What is the fabric made of?  What do they do with garments that aren’t sold? What is the carbon footprint of my dress? 

With these kinds of questions swirling around our heads as we’re wandering down the high street, flicking through a fashion mag or surfing online, making a better, more ethical decision can get confusing. In order to make it less so we’ve come up with 7 golden rules to help you find your way.

1. Lose the fast fashion habit

Keeping up with the latest trends turned cool sometime in the last 20 years. We’re buying way more, way cheaper. As a result, we have more stuff that ends up in the landfill, killing our environment. Thanks to fast fashion now more than 75% of the clothes we buy end up there by the end of the year. And, in the name of style we are undermining the various workers along the way – that cheap price is cheap because someone else paid for it. Workers are under serious pressure to produce more for even less – putting the squeeze on often already exploited workers. Be part of a conscious paradigm shift: invest in quality – items that you appreciate and that will be around for more than a season. 

2. Start buying sustainable materials

Because the market in ethical fashion is growing so fast, there is high demand for design of new materials that are sustainable. Supply is still coming in short of demand, but new, more sustainable options are out there for those who look. An example of a winning fabric is Tencel aka lyocell. The trees that it’s made from are sustainably forested and making the fabric has extremely low-to-no impact on the environment. Learn more here.

3. Support sustainable livelihoods

Supporting livelihoods means not just awarding people their basic rights, but putting in place initiatives to ensure economic and social empowerment. A living wage is usually above minimum wage and accounts for the reality of a worker needing to support not only themselves, but their families as well. On a more fundamental level, sweatshops are still a thing and labour rights violations happen in a real way. Is the country that’s on that clothing label known for it’s transparency or policy? Ask some questions, do your research.

4. Avoid products using child and bonded labour

Right now there are 150 million children around the world labouring across almost every industry you can think of, including fashion. No, they are not going to school – they’re making your stuff. However, this year Child Labor Free launched. It’s the world’s first global online system dedicated to independently checking out companies and their supply chains for the use of child labour. Learn more here.

5. Have a think about your eco footprint

You can have a serious impact on your dress’ eco footprint. Sure, there are sources of carbon emissions, uses of non-renewable resources, and other bummers all along the production line. Usually, buying locally, organically, and naturally will reduce this. When in doubt, ask Santa for some carbon offsets. More importantly though, remember this: the majority of carbon emissions and water waste happen after you bought it. Drying and dry-cleaning are especially terrible. So line dry, always, and air out when you can.   

6. Buy recycled clothing or go to clothes swaps

95% of textiles can be recycled or reused, though mountains of fabric and used clothing end up in landfill. For you, this can mean two things. Firstly, buy clothes that have been made from recycled or surplus materials which avoids the churning out of more carbon emissions and use of toxic chemicals. Secondly, donate and buy clothes from thrift stores or better yet, go to clothes swapping events. Reusing clothes keeps them out of landfill. So get on the vintage trend! 

7. Get to know your certifications

With interest in ethical fashion hitting new highs, there has been a tidal wave of different certifications and accreditations stitched in next to clothes labels and plastered on shop fronts. We know that it’s hard to sort out what each accreditation might mean but here are a few to get yourself familiar with. They’re sometimes hard to fin, but they are worth searching out. And, my bet is that they are going to become more important as time goes on, especially with the new Global Goals in place with a big focus on Goal 12 for the fashion industry “Responsible Consumption and Production:"

  • The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) Product Label - Products made and traded by guaranteed organisations dedicated to the sustainable fair trade economy.
  • The Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI)  Base Code – No forced or bonded labour is used in production, safe and hygienic working conditions,  living wage, no excessive working hours and no discrimination
  • The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) – Worldwide textile processing standard for organic fibres, The standard covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibres.
  • The Textile Exchange Wool Standard – Aim to protect animal welfare, recognise existing best practices, ensure traceability, and ultimately give consumers clear and trustworthy information that will allow them to make responsible choices.

These seven rules are the first steps to get you geared up to be an ethical shopper. Awareness and conscious decision-making tie into a global movement for sustainability and global citizenship. As more and more brands kill it on style and ethical decisions, you won’t have to compromise your look. Now that’s good fashion.

Image: Global and Smart

Carry on with some great examples of specific brands and products we love that we’ll be throwing your way in the coming weeks, as we aim to make ethical shopping easier for those of you committed to the Global Goals and being a true global citizen.


Demand Equity

Your “how to guide” for shopping in support of the Global Goals

By Elisha London