How To Make Sure A Brand Is Ethical?

Have you ever wondered how can you know if a brand is ethical?

In this article, we’re going to give you some guidelines to help you out.

But firstly, we need to understand the concept of “Ethical Brand”, a term that we hear more and more in the fashion world. 

What exactly is “ethical fashion” or “ethical brand” referring to? Aren’t all businesses supposed to be ethical, because it’s the values that we grow up with?

Well, yes, they’re supposed to be, but, unfortunately, many of them aren't.

ethical balance

Trying to define ethics can be completely vast and personal, knowing that the literal definition of ethical, according to the Cambridge dictionary, is “relating to beliefs about what is morally right and wrong”, but when we combine the values of ethics to the fashion industry it should be a little bit less complicated to understand and a bit more of human logic thinking.

The target of ethical fashion is to address the problems arising from how the fashion industry is operated, concerning human rights, animal welfare and environmental impact during the whole process of designing a piece of clothing, from the sketch being made until the final step when the client is wearing it.

Common questions to ask ourselves when it comes to ethical fashion are:

  • Who makes our clothes?

  • Are factory workers well paid?

  • What is the composition of the materials?

  • Where do they come from?

  • Are these clothes safe for me to wear?

  • What kind of impact do they have on the planet?

These are key wonderings that you must always have in mind when buying clothes and accessories (let’s not forget about accessories!) and because we know it’s not easy research to do, we will give you a few tips. 

Read the brand story.

brand story

This is basically the first step: stalk the brand. Check all the information about it, go to their social media, and most importantly go to the “About page” on their website.

This is the introduction of the brand, the story, the why, and how, as a brand that wants to be completely honest with you, they will share everything about their essence. What is their mission, what are their values, their sourcing, their design and conception process? An ethical brand will tell you everything in a clear and direct way, they won’t hide any information or give out half-answers that don’t seem too legit. Anyone can write “pretty” words to get your attention, but their backstage ground actually isn’t as pretty as they’ve painted it to be. Marketing is able to carry out a whole lot more than reality. This is particularly true for any non-manufacturing brand.

No brand is perfect, so if it seems like they are portraying themselves to be the most ethical brand in the market, it most likely isn’t true.

Check out for honest information about their struggles as well, they must tell you their mission and objectives but also their difficulties and how to improve them. Their level of transparency will tell you how real they can be. 

Check the factory and labor information.

This is a very important aspect of the brand to check, and you need to know why.

Have you ever heard about the incident at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013? If you haven’t, we’d recommend you search for it. 1,135 factory workers died in the collapse of the building that was in poor condition. Brands like Zara, H&M, and Gap were using these factories for their clothing conception.

For a company to be ethical, it must have a right, legal and balanced working environment

I made your bag
Arsayo backpack facotry in Portugal

You don’t want to read that the brand treats its workers as “family”, you want to know real facts. Where are their factories based, how often do they visit them, what are their labor regulations, what are their living wages according to the country they are based on, you want to know details of the production.  Pictures highlighting those facts will be a plus. 

Find out about their fabric and materials sourcing.

You want to make sure that you know exactly what you’re wearing. Think of it as a meal you are having, you want to know what you are putting into your mouth. Food is a primary necessity that requires knowledge about its origin out of necessity purpose, and it should be the same way with clothing. You want to know what it is exactly what you’re wearing. 

Try to learn about the kind of fabrics they use, what are the compositions, where do they get it from; the manufacturing place is one information, the sourcing is another and a very important one, a brand can’t be 100% ethical if they tell you exactly how their clothing is being made but not where they are sourcing from. 

ethical fashion sourcing

Another good point to think about when it comes to sourcing is to understand that some fabrics can’t be completely ethical, take leather for example, even if you are able to source from what kind of animal is made of and what kind of tanning has been used, it’s hard to know where these animals are exactly coming from,  and secondly, there’s also the tanning process involving many chemicals toxic to the planet and especially the workers working with them.

So just as the factory workers could be at risk with poor working conditions, it’s the same way for the workers making the fabrics. Therefore, transparency about the whole supply chain is key.

Look for certifications

member of the fake movement

Claiming ethics is good, proving ethics is better. One way for the brands to do that is to show you certifications.

Here are some to look for:

Ethical certifications:

  • Fairtrade mark
  • GOTS Certified Organic Cotton
  • WRAP Certification
  • Max Havelaar Fairtrade Certified Cotton
  • World Fair Trade Organization
  • Fair Wear Foundation
  • Certified B-Corporation

Sustainable certifications:

  • OEKO-TEX 100 Organic and ecological textiles
  • GOTS Global organic textile standard
  • GOTS Certified Organic Cotton
  • FCS Forest Stewardship Council
  • OCS Organic Content Standard
  • GRS Global recycled standard
  • Cradle to cradle

F.A.K.E. Certification:

The founder of the F.A.K.E. movement (Jonathan Ohayon) takes the time to interview every brand that is a part of the movement (the FAKER designers) and ask them many questions to make sure that they share good values (AKA Vegan and Ethically made).

Contact the brand directly

At the end of the day, the best way to get information will always be talking directly to the brand, therefore email them or reach them through their social media as many times as possible, in today’s world it’s just a few clicks away, so don’t be shy!

Try to be very precise about your questions and consider not to ask what you can find on their website. 

contact customer service

Read carefully their reply and analyze it based on all we explained earlier. Test the limits of their transparency. If they are indeed genuinely ethical, they should be pleased to share what their brand is about. If instead, you get vague answers, you should know that they are not so trustable. And remember that as a potential customer, you have every right to be demanding about their ethics.

What about vegan brands?

Does the fact that a brand is Vegan mean that it’s an ethical one? The answer is a simple no. They could be a hundred percent ethical to the animals but maybe not to the workers, maybe not to the rest of the process, maybe the materials they use are not completely ethical; so don’t count on all vegan brands to be ethical just because they are vegan, you still will need to check all the points above to be sure they are ethical as well. 

hello Im vegan

And what about the other way around? Shouldn’t all ethical brands be vegan? If we go back to the definition of ethics and its morality, the fact that veganism is based on the respect of animals is a true ethical value, because it is not right nor fair the exploitation of animals for human purposes. Therefore, the answer is yes, technically all ethical brands should be vegan indeed. If the ethics of fashion are to protect animal welfare it doesn’t make any sense that we still kill and use animals’ skin to make leather, feathers, fur, no matter how “ethical” they are in the process. It’s time to make the connection between ethical brands and veganism. They must go together. Period.

As one can see, searching about brands’ ethics might be a long process and not so fun to make but when it comes with results and you find the pearl, you will get even more satisfied and proud of buying from them. Because when purchasing an ethical piece of clothing, you purchase it with a lot of consciousness and respect.

georgina servin
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