What makes a brand, an ethical brand?

Over the last few years, the subject has been gaining relevance, and more recently, the conversation gained a boost of oxygen due to the impacts brought by COVID. The discussion appears to have left the early adopters and activists and is becoming more vivid in the consumer’s mind. The subject of having more sustainable and ethical brands is no longer a niche conversation. Brands are starting to take action, leave the rhetorical arguments behind, and rethink their process to reduce the harmful effects of industries.

It is the production chain that I want to talk about, and what will answer the questions that started this reflection. People who don’t come from the textile or fashion industry don’t understand how products are made, sewed, dyed, where they come from, and after they’re done being used, how they are discarded. Whether we may not like to admit it, fashion can be one of the most polluting industries and one of the less sustainable systems in the world.

Parenthesis to clarify something at this point: when referring to sustainability, I am not only referring to the water, soil, and air pollution (of course, this is a massive portion of it), but I am talking about the whole ecosystem: design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues that go from working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, even up to the environment and animal welfare.

With all that being said, when we talk about ethical brands, we refer to companies that tackle at least one (ideally more than one) of the issues found in this chain. These brands have gained space in the market, with consumers seeking more than clothes, but buying from a purposeful brand that shares a vision of a better world.

I scoured the vast “worldwide web” to bring some helpful examples to share with you, and I hope this helps give more options for conscious brands to support:

Local

Wynwood Tribe
(men / women / accessories)

Wynwood Tribe is a platform for sustainable and conscious brands from all around the world. Each brand has its own story behind it and they are all either hand made, fair trade, or recycled. Many of them support charities, women empowerment, and are eco-friendly. Wynwood Tribe’s goal is to make you look good while supporting economic growth in small communities, charities, and the environment.

Nomad Tribe YouTube

The Onikas
(women)

The Onikas is a sustainable textile company that collaborates with global artisans to produce beautiful goods. They believe in preserving cultural heritage by supporting the production of traditional crafts like the art of block printing and weaving. They encourage and embody a lifestyle of slow living in consumption, manufacturing, and being.

Celia D Luna for The Onikas

Lanhtropy
(women)

They are all about linen (which can be one of the most biodegradable fabrics) – sophisticated and fresh, which is perfect for Miami’s warm weather. Lanhtropy uses only eco-friendly treatments and a handmade dying process.

Nani Marguery

Antídote
(women)

They are a hub of amazing indie-designers hand-picked by Sophie Zembra. While their founder might be French, Antídote was created in Miami. We should be proud of it because they have some of the coolest and most fashionable pieces around. On their website, you can pick which ethical quality you want to buy products from. You can choose between vegan, made in the U.S., social responsibility, eco-friendly and recycled. From their in-store details down to their bags, their values come first.

Antidote.us

National

Reformation
(women)

You probably have heard of this one. It is one of the most famous and largest sustainable retailers, and in 2019 it opened a physical store in Miami (Design District). Reformation puts sustainability at the core of everything they do, and they keep an eye on every step of the process: water consumption, pollution, plastic usage, gas emission, chemicals. If you go to their “about” section, you basically can take a class for free about ethics and sustainability.

Reformation

Polo Ralph Lauren with the Earth Polo:
(women and men)

This one is a product, but I like the idea of well-established brands testing the waters in becoming more sustainable. Recently, the fashion magnate, Polo Ralph Lauren launched The Earth Polo. It is crafted from an innovative fabric made entirely from plastic bottles (an average of 12 plastic bottles per Polo) and dyed using a waterless process. Ralph Lauren is committed to sustainability initiatives, they intend to use 170 million recycled plastic bottles in their products and packaging by 2025. By simply switching from a regular Polo to The Earth Polo, you are already creating a larger impact. Very important, though, to keep an eye on the brand and make sure they deliver on their promise.

Ralph Lauren via The Daily Beast

Soko Jewelry
(women accessories)

Soko is a women-led ethical jewelry brand and manufacturing platform. Their jewelry brings together a modern aesthetic with global market access to artisan communities in Kenya (and in my opinion, they have incredible accessories). Their revolutionary jewelry supply chain increases income 5x for marginalized artisans in the developing world.

Soko

Girlfriend Collective
(women’s athleisure)

Girlfriend is not only ethical but democratic. You can find the clothes for all body sizes, and the cherry on the cake is that they are affordable. One of their main characteristics is transparency, and you can find a bunch of information (again, another free sustainability class) on their “about” section on their website.

Girlfriend Collective

Thousand Fell
(women and men shoes)

There are some sustainable brands, and there are fashion brands that have sustainability at their core. This is what I feel about Thousand Fell. With an urban and vibrant look and feel, the style of their sneakers is atemporal. In my opinion, one of the coolest things about their brand message is that they have a strong focus on the “garbage” their products could eventually become in the environment. They make it clear to the consumer that their products and waste does not go to landfills because it is biodegradable. While many brands tell us that their product comes from recycled products, Thousand Fell tells us not to worry because their product won’t generate any waste.

Thousand Fell

Boyish
(women)

Boyish is a sustainable women’s denim brand. Its Standard 100 goes beyond national and international standards for protection from harmful toxins, chemicals, dyes, and restricted substances. Boyish ensures its textiles are ecologically safe and healthy for humans. They also recycle water to keep harsh chemicals out of freshwater streams (and they transparently talk about their process on the website).

Finest Fashionite

Pact
(women / men / baby / kids)

They are basic, simple, organic, and affordable. They want individuals to not only care about what they put in their body, but what they put on their body. Pact pays attention to every step of the production chain, living up to and empowering others to think about Fair Trade standards and making the most ethical fashion products on the market.

Pact

Farm Rio
(women | accessories)

They are vibrant and unique. You can feel Farm Rio‘s brand energy by looking at their website. They are a brand that speaks a lot about their culture, without having to say many words. Farm believes it is part of their duty to help protect nature, give back to the environment, and help recover endangered forest ecosystems like those in the Amazon rainforest. For each purchase on their website, in stores, and at other authorized retailers, they donate one tree to be planted in the Amazon rainforest – up until May 2020 they have already donated 50.000 trees.

Farm Rio

Outerknown
(women | men)

Outerknown is Kelly Slater’s brand. They have a high commitment to cleaning the seas, and consequently, with sustainability. 100% of their trunks are made with recycled or renewable fibers. They partnered with Aquafil, a company that offers an incentive for fishermen to turn in and properly dispose of their worn nets to keep them out of the sea, to create ECONYL® – an innovative nylon yarn.

Outerknown/Instagram

It is crucial to note that this conversation is far from being solved. Our intention here is to ignite the topic reinforcing its importance to the world and not serve as the final word when it comes to sustainability. The road is long, and some of the examples we’ll see here still have work to do. This type of content requires constant evaluation and updates.

Cover photo by Wynwood Tribe.


Isabella Franco is an image and style consultant, advocate for conscious consumption, marketer, and passionate about communication in all its form. You can follow her at @amuse.style.