What constitutes eco and ethical fashion?

When people ask me about my interests, and I tell them "eco and ethical fashion", many have never heard of these terms--and so there is often some confusion about what I am even talking about.  So I'm here to clear things up and provide you with some information and perspective on something very near and dear to my heart. 

"Eco" (ecological or sustainable) fashion is clothing that is kind/good to the EARTH, and "ethical" fashion is kind/good to PEOPLE (and animals).  Eco fashion is not always ethical, just like ethical fashion is not always good for the environment--but when your fashion items are both eco and ethical, its a win-win for both the environment AND people! 

Photo by me, taken at MATE the Label, Headquarters in Los Angeles, a brand dedicated to sustainability.

Photo by me, taken at MATE the Label, Headquarters in Los Angeles, a brand dedicated to sustainability.

EXAMPLES OF "ECO FASHION" PRACTICES:

-Buying secondhand from a thrift or consignment store (this is the most sustainable option): 1. These items are discarded or donated as the owner no longer wants them. If these are not given to a secondhand store or new owner they will be thrown away, likely into landfill waste. 2. You can use less gas by shopping at small, "local" thrift and consignment stores that are often within your own community.  3. You are literally REDUCING your total purchases at a normal retailer, the cost of the item (your wallet thanks you!), and your environmental footprint, REUSING someone’s discarded clothing, and RECYCLING the items back into your closet so the pieces can have a new life. 

-Buying secondhand from an online store such as Tradesy, eBay, Poshmark, Mercari, Depop, thredUP, etc. Buying online as opposed to in person is slightly less sustainable as you have to factor in environmental pollution from packaging materials and shipping/transportation.

-Buying something secondhand that is still new from online or in-store. Not all secondhand items have to be "used". Although buying new secondhand items is slightly less sustainable than buying used, it still offsets the manufacturing and production impacts in comparison to buying new straight from the company or retailer. A great item to buy secondhand that is new is swimwear, as it seems unhygienic to most people to purchase swimwear worn by other individuals. 

-Using more sustainable fabrics such linen, hemp, modal, tencel, etc. Bonus if you use organic! 

-Using recycled fibers, fabrics, and materials. An example would be using old plastic bottles to spin into fibers and then into fabric to make a new shirt. 

-Upcycling fabrics and clothing items. This is not to be confused with recycling as upcycling does not go through a shred>spin>new fabric cycle that recycling does. Upcycling keeps the general fabric components. An example would be cutting up an old t-shirt and making a reusable grocery bag out of it. 

-Purchasing products from companies who implement sustainable practices and elements in their production, factories, packaging, etc. 

-Purchasing products that use natural dyes like vegetables or seaweed instead of harsh chemical dyes that impact your health and the environment.

 

EXAMPLES OF "ETHICAL FASHION" PRACTICES:

-Having a "Sweatshop" free environment: There should be no harsh working conditions for the employees, all the design and production and shipping facilities and factories must comply with state/country regulations and standards.

-Fair Trade: Workers are compensated fairly for their work in accordance with regulations and wage guidelines.  

-Any initiatives, programs, partnerships, etc. that a brand may have that is dedicated to social/environmental good.  An example could be an artisan jewelry company that donates a percentage of profits to the World Wildlife Foundation or charity wellness programs for the artisans who make the jewelry. 

Taken at MATE the Label Headquarters. Wearing vegan hat, MATE the Label organic cotton tee, thrifted vegan belt from Poshmark, Boyish by Her jeans made from 30% recycled denim and 70% BCI cotton (Better Cotton Initiative) designed by one of my best friends Nicole Azevedo, and vegan Coconuts by Matisse x Free People booties.

Taken at MATE the Label Headquarters. Wearing vegan hat, MATE the Label organic cotton tee, thrifted vegan belt from Poshmark, Boyish by Her jeans made from 30% recycled denim and 70% BCI cotton (Better Cotton Initiative) designed by one of my best friends Nicole Azevedo, and vegan Coconuts by Matisse x Free People booties.

OVERLAP - CAN BE BOTH ECO & ETHICAL

Made in America: Most clothing items made in the United States are not necessarily eco-friendly or sustainable. However, if the clothing is made in the United States, wages and working conditions in American factories are usually better than in other countries, due to stricter regulations and workplace standards. However, there have been reports that there are still sweatshops in the US where workers are not earning minimum wage, or are required to work long hours or work in other potentially hazardous conditions, so try to do some research. By shopping local(ish), you also cut down on transportation pollution. Something shipped within the same state or country has much less of a transportation environmental impact than something shipped from overseas. Some companies take greater measures to implement sustainable practices and materials than others. Depending on the company or brand though, you could be shopping both eco and ethical made in the USA items! Bonus: by purchasing items within country or state lines, you're also supporting the economy and hardworking Americans! 

Made in Europe, Australia, or Canada generally have similar working conditions to the US. 

Vegan Fashion:

Vegan fashion includes clothing items that are free of any animal products! This means no leather, suede, wool, silk, cashmere, fur, etc. The debate of vegan fashion needs to be addressed--you can make the case that it is eco or unsustainable and you can also make the case that it's ethical and non-ethical.  Every situation requires a bit of thoughtful analysis--Here are a couple of examples:  

Example 1: Company X sells Vegan shoes for ($10 - $30)

-Eco: Good because you're using much less resources to produce the fabrics and materials to make the shoes. Bad because this particular company is known for its pollution, harsh chemicals, etc. to produce shoes--thus potentially harming both the environment and workers' health. 

-Ethical: Good because you're not harming animals, but not so good because this company may cut corners in taking good care of their employees, and not pay them a fair wage for work, and there have less than good working conditions in their factories. 

Lower price point items are typically made cheap, do not last as long, but are much less likely to have animal products, whereas most more expensive items (unfortunately) are made with animal products and are durable. This is not the case with all brands and items though.

Example 2: Company Y sells Vegan shoes ($500+)

Eco: This company as a brand is dedicated to sustainability efforts in every area of its development and production.

Ethical: This brand is ethical all the way around - to humans, animals, and the environment. 

Promoting and practicing sustainable initiatives. Environmental sustainability is both a concern for both ethical fashion and eco fashion. While it is both eco and ethical--there is sometimes a conflict in that you can't always afford to buy the most expensive items you'd like--a good time for shopping for resale.

 

Reflect

I hope this information helps you think about the purchases that you make and the types of companies you support. This has been quite the learning process and journey for me over the last few years and I’m always learning more about this topic and am happy to share with you all. As sustainable/ethical fashion awareness grows, so does the industry. Consumer demand drives companies to make changes, so the more we learn and talk about these issues, the more companies will shift their mindset. Let’s #MakeShiftHappen! 

My Low-Waste (Vegan) Lifestyle

I do my very best to reduce trash and disposables in my life, but I am not full “zero-waste”. I eat no animal products (dairy, eggs, meat, fish, and honey) and avoid wearing animal products like leather and suede. I’d like my lifestyle choices to be kind to the environment in as many ways as I can. 

I cleared my closet of animal products when I moved to California almost 2 years ago. I may still have a few items with leather embellishment and maybe a wool hat or two but it's hard to tell exactly what it's made of if it's missing a materials tag. Not going to lie — me being a fashionista my whole life, this cleanse was tough, but I feel so much better now! 

I think that this is a big step toward living in a more sustainable manner.  I've only personally met a handful of people that live a full vegan lifestyle and only one that was “zero-waste” — sure I see the ones on social media, but in general, these lifestyles are very rare. When you limit all of your shopping options to this level, it can be overly restrictive. Anything extra that you can do to reduce the amount of animal products and garbage/waste that you consume or produce is a good option! I like to think of searching for vegan low or zero-waste items as an opportunity and challenge to find more sustainable items/products/food. It makes me very happy when I choose kindness for both people and the planet.  :) 

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So, while I am moving towards more “zero-waste” options, I am really more “low-waste”… I could never do full “zero-waste” for a few key reasons: 

1. Convenience, time, and my taste buds are a big factor. I like my tofu, tempeh, soy/pea protein vegan meats, seitan, almond based yogurt, vegan coconut milk ice cream mochi (when I can find it), and vegan cheese. I just don’t have the time or resources to make all of these products myself. I can make a bomb cashew cheese and cashew cheese sauce, fresh pesto, lentil bolognaise sauce, and attempt some homemade seitan or nut milks – but the rest of the items seem pretty out of my league. If you know where to get some of these products zero-waste around Long Beach (or LA/OC within a reasonable distance) let me know!

2. I like to wear makeup. Nothing too crazy, but just the basics! I haven’t found a vegan, cruelty-free, makeup brand that has the products I normally use with a recycling program or with compostable/fully recyclable packaging. If you know of any, hit me up! I also go through makeup extremely slowly, which is a good thing — it’s not like I am using a lot of product or packaging. I’ve had my daily eyeshadow and bronzer for at least four or five years, so some perspective is in order!

3. You must consider your own living environment, and others. Composting in an apartment can be obviously difficult, and impractical, depending on your living situation. We currently have limited freezer space for me to freeze scraps and take to a composting site later on. I would love to start composting someday — I saw a super cool composter that turns food scraps into soil within 24 hours on Kickstarter! Expense, appropriate space, and facilities is a common barrier, so you may certainly have to scale back what you can do until you can be in the proper space, place and time. Having a yard, garden, or a really convenient setup makes a huge difference in how all this can work. Typically local urban gardens will take your compost or in some big cities have services or drop off sites. You also don’t want your struggle for an environmentally low-impact lifestyle to have a high negative impact on your relationships with your roommate, spouse, or significant other. While being kind to the environment is important, people come first — for some things, it’s always best to just do your best, and not obsess! 

4. A lot of mailed packages arrive encased in Styrofoam or other non-recyclable materials. I did learn recently that the City of Los Angeles will recycle styrofoam, but Long Beach will not even though it's technically LA County (sigh). And yes, the items delivered I cannot get second-hand or at a thrift shop. Whenever I know I can buy something elsewhere without the waste, I do so! I’ve heard of some zero-waste people taking these materials back to the post office, but I need to look more into this. 

5. Traveling and eating out can be a barrier as well. I always bring my metal cutlery set but often when doing either of these things, restaurants prepare meals with unnecessary disposables despite ordering from more health conscious/vegan-friendly places.

6. Medical and necessary health products are a must. If you have regular medicines, get sick, or have another issue that requires medical attention, you need to use the proper products to aid your health — many of which have extra waste and packaging for sterilization and sanitation purposes.

Despite my handful of barriers, I’m really trying my best to reduce plastic use and disposables when I can. I’ve been researching zero-waste places to buy products around me and have found some great spots. One spot in particular is called Co-Opportunity in Culver City. It is amazing! They have a location in Santa Monica too but it doesn’t have a deli. They have so many items in bulk. You can get apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, liquid soaps, detergents, lotion, buy zero-waste by bringing your own containers or buy the glass mason jars they have there.

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I had been using zero-waste shampoo and conditioner bars, and although I loved the shampoo, the conditioner didn’t actually make my hair silky or help me get out knots so I was super excited to find some liquid shampoo and conditioner that I could refill! It’s vegan, eco-friendly, smells like lavender, and works wonders. What a find!

I’ve been in the process of replacing my pantry items into jars. I got a label maker — yeah I know, also not technically zero-waste, but it reduces a lot of packaging in the long run and I need to know what’s in my jars! It’s been great to see my pantry evolve.

Baby steps people, baby steps! Kindness to people and the planet!  You can live a lower-waste life and make a positive impact on people and the planet through your example.

This is all pretty new and exciting for me and I’m happy to share the resources and practices I’ve learned so far with you. Here’s to learning more about a low-waste lifestyle, educating those who aren’t familiar, and to reducing your carbon footprint and environmental impact through daily actions and lifestyle choices!

Remember, you certainly don’t have to be perfect at all of this to make a big difference. Any little bit you can do helps a lot!

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