A Beginner’s Guide to Ethically-Made Fashion

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Ethically-made. Ethical fashion. Sustainable fashion. Made in the USA.

What does it all mean?

Confession: When I started Bevy Goods, it was with primary purpose to put people first by providing jobs to those in need in the US, as well as supporting local, domestic manufacturing. I didn’t know anything about ethical or sustainable fashion. All I knew was that I wanted the heart and mission of my company to be focused on empowering people and building community. Then I completed the incredible ethical fashion accelerator program, Factory45, which started to open my eyes to the true cost that goes into the garments and accessories that fill our closets.

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Defining ethical fashion is tricky because “ethical” can mean something different from person to person. As an umbrella statement, ethical fashion encompasses promoting ethical labor conditions, fair trade, animal welfare, environmentally kind and sustainable materials and production.

Some may disagree and see ethical fashion as a black & white issue: either it is all of these things or it is not. And that’s fine. But to me, ethical fashion is a journey. It reflects how you prioritize these issues based on your value system and beliefs. One may be adamant that everything they buy be free from any animal cruelty. Someone else may only buy items made with eco-friendly and sustainable materials. For others, people and production may come first. Ideally, it would be all of the above. But for the sake of this beginner’s guide, we will start with the issue of ethical production, fair wages and beneficial working conditions.

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How do you currently think about something before you buy it? Style? Price? Fit? Trend? I’m not saying that I’m any different or better at this, but it’s important to realize that everything we buy has already been touched by a lot of people. And we have important purchasing power where we endorse the lifecycle (including wages, conditions, damage) of whatever we buy. No pressure, right?

But as G.I. Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle”. We want to know that our apples are organic and that our cleaning products won’t harm our children. Shouldn’t we want to know if the shirt we’re wearing was made by someone who was treated inhumanely at a sweat shop? What went into making a t-shirt that a company can sell (for a profit) for $2.99?

What can we do? Dame Vivienne Westwood said it best:

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I highly recommend watching the True Cost documentary on Netflix/Amazon/iTunes for more information on the ethical issues with fast fashion. And for a look at the environmental impact of fashion, check out The Reformation and Zady.

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There is so much more on this topic. For now, here are a few of my favorite brands for women’s fashion. Each varies from the next in terms of ethical manufacturing and environmental impact.

Everlane – The leaders in transparency. Committed to finding ethical manufacturing, they will even tell you how much it cost to make the garment. Grab a t-shirt for $15, made in Los Angeles. You can’t get that at the GAP!

Brass Clothing – I just love Brass. Not only are they also from the Boston-area, but they have dresses in every shape, for every body type, and reasonable priced. They are committed to small batch manufacturing at a facility in China which they have developed personal relationships.

Jessica Faulkner – Timeless and fun pieces that are designed and Made in Los Angeles.

Eenvoud – A fellow Factor45er, Eenvoud is committed to transparent production practices, made in the US, and the use of sustainable materials. I just love her signature sleeveless tops can be dressed up or down. So perfect.

Hackwith Design – Working in small batches, the Hackwith designs are sewn in Minneapolis. I love their support for other independent makers, as well as the inclusion of plus sizes.

Milk & Thistle – So, I’m big on Made in the USA, but that is just for the purpose of supporting local talent, reducing travel costs of materials, building community and relationships. If I could pick an Australian sister, it would be Sydney-based Milk & Thistle, with a passion for textile design and committed to Made in Australia.

Jacob & Esau – Moving south of Sydney is Melbourne-based Jacob & Esau, an ethical, Made in Australia brand. I’m slightly biased because Melbourne is one of my favorite cities in the world. Just a note about Australian fashion if you’re based in the US: remember that we are on opposite seasons. As I sit here in Boston looking for sweaters and winter gear, their fashion is filled with summery goods.

Emerson Fry – I’ve been a fan of Emerson Fry since they went by Emerson Made. They are a small independent company committed to domestic manufacturing and conscious design. They are like the wardrobe you’ve always wanted but could never find.

The Reformation – Fashion + Sustainability. Committed to cutting out the middleman, they manufacture at their own faculty in Los Angeles.

Zady – Just as Everlane provides transparency for pricing, Zady offers an in-depth look at each of the people who work on your garment along the way, from where wool originates, to where it is cleaned and dyed and ultimately knit into a sweater. All supporting US small businesses along the way.

Kelly King Collective – Chicago-made, and just the cutest party dresses. You know all those holiday parties you have? Shop here.

Bevy Goods – We are merging style + purpose to create ethically-made bags for all your day to night moments. Where we (and soon to be you) know every maker by name.

Sign up at Bevy Goods to join us on this journey and be the first to know when we are launching. And while you’re at it, let’s connect on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter!