Sustainable fashion and ethical fashion: what’s the difference?

What is sustainable fashion? And how about ethical fashion? 

We’ve been hearing more and more about sustainable and ethical fashion, but what do the two terms mean, and what exactly is the difference? First and foremost: both phrases refer to an ongoing transformation process. It all started a few years ago, with the aim of opposing fast fashion and protecting both the environment and those who work in the fashion industry by creating, and/or implementing, production cycles able to safeguard both the ecosystem and people.

Yet, the two concepts do differ. The expression sustainable fashion mainly relates to the manufacturing process, and focuses on selecting raw materials and choosing production techniques that reduce environmental impact and pollution to a minimum. We have covered this topic in this article speaking about natural fibers and sustainable textiles.

Ethical fashion, on the other hand, pertains to the people, i.e. those involved in the production process. Ethical fashion aims to guarantee employees’ well-being and health by ensuring a safe work environment and fair conditions as concerns the number of working hours and wages.

sustainable fashion raw materilas

Online sustainable fashion: how to find your way through the many slow fashion options online?

How to engage with ethical fashion? Those looking to buy sustainable clothes online are spoiled for choice: there are countless portals that offer alternatives to the big fast fashion brands. Here is a listing of some of the most popular online sustainable fashion websites, some of which also provide sustainable fashion apps. Here you have a list of sources where you can learn more about trends and sustainable fashion design techniques.

  • Talia collective – ideated by Rebecca Prunali, it provides ideas for trendy looks, articles, and a special magazine, all strictly sustainable.
  • Reve en vert – a platform focused on sustainable living, where you can find everything you need to adopt a lifestyle respectful of the environment and people.
  • Renoon – a user-friendly portal and app offering a wide range of sustainable fashion brands that can be filtered according to specific criteria.
  • Il vestito verde – 100% Made in Italy, it allows you to find both e-commerce solutions and actual stores that sell sustainable products.
  • Good on you – a novel leading-edge project co-sponsored by Emma Watson. It is a rating platform that ranks various brands according to their level of sustainability, ensuring users are able to ascertain that what they buy is ethically produced. Good on you also offers the option to download an app to evaluate the sustainability of various products.

Sustainable fashion brands: do alternatives to fast fashion really exist?

They definitely do! The wide range of sustainable fashion brands available online makes for a manifold diverse selection… so, there are no excuses for not buying sustainable fashion online anymore. Present-day options include:

  • Rifò – a sustainable fashion brand founded by Niccolò Cipriani, with a physical store in Prato and an online shop. Stemming from Prato’s cenciaioli (rag men) tradition, Rifò produces cotton, jeans, and regenerated wool clothing, plus a brand-new collection of sustainable sportswear. Price range: between 36€ and 295€.
  • Casagin – a brand that focuses mainly on sustainable underwear and sportswear, and provides sustainability certifications for all garments for sale. Price range: between 12€ and 95€.
  • Wrad – a renowned sustainable brand that boasts an insightful product: graphite-died clothing. The founder Matteo Ward and his team foster a variety of innovative projects aimed at endorsing the culture of sustainable and ethical fashion in a mindful, honest way. Price range: between 55€ and 178€.
  • Id eight – based in Florence, it provides a collection of footwear made using fruit waste, organic cotton, and recycled plastic. Price range: between 159€ and 179€.
  • jeans – a brand that relies on suppliers located within 40 km from its production plant, in the surroundings of Bergamo, to make sustainably manufactured jeans. Price range: between 69 and 134€
  • Organic basics – sustainable sportswear, underwear and basic clothing. All 100% ethically produced and made from innovative materials such as tencel, silver tech and organic cotton. The website avoids all doubts about the garments’ origin by allowing customers to check where every single one is made. Price range: between 35 and 135€.
  • Artkntit studios – minimal style sustainable clothing made from natural fabrics. Price range: between 95 and 189€.
  • Pangaia – looking for colorful sustainable sportswear? Pangaia fits! This sustainable fashion brand provides a collection of cotton, recycled cashmere, linen, “grape leather” garments. Purchase consciously, and choose the fabric that meets your needs. Price range: between 32 and 910€.
  • Colorfulstandard – offers a selection of organic cotton and merino wool staple garments, all sustainably manufactured in Portugal. Price range: between 10 and 100€.

Buying sustainable fashion often implies coming to terms with higher prices. Sustainable production cycles are inevitably more expensive than fast fashion ones, and this reflects in higher prices per garment – what we are dealing with, in this case, is what is called “premium pricing”. Yet, we should keep in mind that reducing consumerism is another one of the main objectives of buying sustainable fashion. From this point of view, higher prices will help people buy less, and hence minimize the gap between the prices of fast and slow fashion.

Sustainable haute couture: where are we?

What about designer brands? When discussing sustainability, many wonder whether the great haute couture brands are sustainable and if luxury prices reflect ethical production. Today sustainable fashion has become a real trend, and many luxury brands, from Gucci to Dior to Max Mara, have started deploying efforts aimed at reducing their overall environmental impact. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go to create sustainable and ethical couture production cycles. With one, welcome, exception. Yes, because there is one designer brand that has forever declared its commitment to sustainability: Stella McCartney. Ever since the very beginning, the Maison set itself the goal of respecting ethical production standards by adhering to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and using materials such as recycled polyester and cashmere to reduce its environmental impact.

enviromental sustainability fashion

Careers in sustainable fashion: which way to go?

There still isn’t a clear-cut way to specialize in the field of sustainable fashion. Nevertheless, though courses and study programs are few, students keen to pursue this kind of career can enroll in masters such as the Sustainable fashion design at the Academy of luxury, several courses at the IED, and the master in Sustainable fashion at Polimoda. Yet, our best advice to those who long to work for a sustainable fashion brand is to browse the web and check the brands’ websites for open job positions. Many companies are expanding, and on the lookout for new professionals!


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