How Do You Know if a Clothing Company Is Ethical?

How Do You Know if a Clothing Company Is Ethical?

Ethical fashion is getting a lot of awareness these days, which is a great thing!

But, unfortunately, it also means that some brands try to shortcut implementing ethical practices throughout their supply chain and simply tell consumers that they're operating "ethically" in hopes of gaining customers.

Some companies will make statements like, "We ensure the safety and fair pay of all of our workers..." which leads people to believe that they're ethical. However, most brands don't own the factories their clothes are made in.

This means the factory workers aren't technically their employees and therefore aren't their responsibility. 

Striving to earn a reputation as an ethical business is noble, but it requires commitment. Most businesses are financially driven, and it is possible to be both ethical and successful.

But there is a fine line between making choices for financial gain and making choices that will not adversely affect others. The ethical business knows the difference.

Sadly, many fashion brands have cottoned on to the fact that ethics and sustainability are great marketing tools.

They stretch the truth or manipulate words and imagery to make it seem ethical when they aren't. Here's how we discover a brand's ethics and how we here at EME find out if their claims are actually true.

What are ethics?

Ethics are expressions of our personal values and beliefs, and therefore it's hard to set one standard that suits everyone.

For example, we might justify buying bananas in plastic packaging because it increases shelf life and reduces food waste.

But, on the other hand, you might tell me I'm "bananas" because that extra plastic packaging is unnecessary!

Some things are easier to agree upon than others. Clothing brands that source products from sweatshops in Asia are on the nose with most consumers.

However, many alcohol, tobacco and gaming industry products are legal but require our government (and our taxpayer dollars) to fund their social costs. Does this mean that everyone should abstain from drinking, smoking and gambling?

To check if a fashion brand is ethical, look at where and how their clothes were made, from raw materials to chemical treatments, garments production, waste management and end of life-cycle.

Unfortunately, not all fashion brands and retailers are transparent with this information. Most of them only show what end consumers want to see.

Many fast fashion brands even hide that they use unsafe factories, forced labour, hazardous chemicals, abusing farmers, workers, and animals in the process.

There is so much going on in the fashion industry that many brands and retailers don't want us to see. The environmental impact of clothing is huge and increasing year after year.

Luckily, ethical and sustainable fashion is gaining popularity. As a result, people are starting to care more about how their clothes were made, and not just the price and style of the clothes they buy.

Learning more about the dangers of fast fashion and getting informed about ethical fashion is a major step in the right direction. When out shopping, look for high quality and durable pieces from fashion brands that are ethical.

Consumers have the right to know where and how the clothes they buy are made. However, there are a few tips that I can give you to find out if a fashion brand is ethical.

Look for high transparency, lower frequency of new items, support for social causes and fair product pricing.

Conversations about the environment are popping up for good reasons. We have to act now and promote environmental, economic and social sustainability in the fashion industry.

Some fashion brands are making an effort toward sustainability since the green movement is booming. But how to tell if what they claim is true? Especially if you are new to ethical fashion, it can be quite confusing.

Ways To Know If Your Brand Is Ethical 

It's All About Transparency

If a brand is ethical, they're going to want to shout it from the rooftops. After all, becoming truly ethical is no easy feat.

It requires a commitment to ethics at as many levels of the supply chain as possible.

For example, Dorsu (a brand featured on our brand directory) works incredibly hard to do the right thing, and that's apparent in their website bio and in a lot of the content they post online.

Another way to look at transparency is around honesty and integrity. If a brand is transparent, it will admit its faults and celebrate its wins.

For example, Lois Hazel nails eco-friendly practices but admits they cannot trace their entire supply chain.

We'll take this level of honesty and integrity any day because no one is perfect, and if they claim to be, that's when you should start questioning them.

The Transparency Index is a report from a well-regarded non-profit which simply measures how much information a large brand has shared on its efforts to be more sustainable and ethical. It doesn't mean that a company is sustainable or ethical.

But if a brand is highly ranked as transparent, you can be sure that activists and watchdogs have rooted out almost any skeletons in its closet.

We don't trust or include companies that are ranked low on transparency by Fashion Revolution.

It either means they are hiding something or think the whole conversation around sustainability and ethics is beneath them. Either way, it's not a good look.

The Transparency index only ranks large global companies, however, with revenue in the hundreds of millions.

Look For The Company's "Impact Report"

The first place to start when determining if your clothing was made ethically or not is simply to ask.

Send an email or a direct message on social media asking about the company's specific standards regarding worker wages, working conditions, and health standards.

Look for their transparency on product creation and sourcing, and seek out the company's social impact report.

Generally speaking, the more transparent and aware a company is about its production process, the more likely it is to produce clothing ethically.

Read the Brand's About Page on Their Website

The brand's about page should explain the brands' ethics code, why they are an ethical company, how they make their clothes, where they make them, how they source fabrics and what those fabrics are.

Essentially, their supply chain process should be transparent.

When you're checking out a brand online, the quickest place to look for ethical values is on their policy page. If a brand is ethical, they usually have extensive information available to the public.

A good brand has nothing to hide. For example, suppose the brand doesn't say anything about where clothes are made.

Once you've found what the brand has to say about themselves, it's time to see if other sources will back their claims up.

After checking the brand's about page, try to find a page on their factory information, labour regulations, and production location.

If production is done in an unregulated country, then you should search for wage information and certifications like fair trade, living wages, names and details of factories.

A brand that is willing to share where its products are made, and its employees' working conditions is ethical.

Encircled takes pride in every item made in Toronto and showcases all the Sewing Studios on their website.

Think of it like online dating. A guy will list all of the best qualities on his profile, but that doesn't mean they're all true.

So before you go out with him, you may want to ask around to see if anyone who knows him can vouch for his claim to be "strong but sensitive and handy in the kitchen." 

So, where can you go to check in on a brand's ethical claims?


One way to know that the clothes you are buying were made ethically is by Fairtrade certification. In addition to recognizing and upholding ILO standards (International Labor Organization), Fairtrade certified companies also have to comply with these factory standard requirements:

  • "Fair Trade Premiums. Workers decide democratically how to allocate additional funds, whether to distribute a cash bonus or invest in a community need."
  • "Worker Voice. Workers receive training on their rights and have confidential channels to report grievances or complaints, both within and outside the facility."
  • "Women's Rights. Standard has specific provisions to protect women's rights, prevent sexual harassment, and promote equal pay."

Core Value Statement

An ethical business has a core value statement that describes its mission.

Any business can create a value statement, but an ethical business lives by it.

It communicates this mission to every employee within the structure and ensures that it is followed.

In addition, the ethical business will institute a code of conduct that supports its mission. This code of conduct is the guideline for each employee to follow as he carries out the company's mission.

Check The Fashion Brand's Factories

Your favourite fashion brand should be as transparent as possible. You should be able to find out where the garments are being produced easily.

Visit their website and look for information on factories. There should be at least a page mentioning relevant data about the factories, countries of production and labour regulations.

It is even better if you find information regarding living wages, health care, vacation, and other benefits.

A fashion brand willing to share that kind of information is trustworthy. This should be the norm for all brands and retailers across the industry. But it isn't at the current moment.

Luckily, change is coming. More and more people are asking questions, and fashion brands are opening up.

Remember that you have the power to make that change happen. You choose the clothes you buy and support the brands that deserve it with your money.

If a fashion brand isn't being transparent enough, then pass. Brands should clearly report on production locations and conditions. This doesn't have to be a secret.

If some information is missing about labour standards, where the clothes were made or who made them, ask them directly!

Respect for Employees and Customers

Ethics and respect go hand in hand.

For example, an ethical business demonstrates respect for its employees by valuing opinions and treating each employee equally.

Likewise, the business shows respect for its customers by listening to feedback and assessing needs.

An ethical business respects its vendors, paying on time and utilizing fair buying practices. And an ethical business respects its community by being environmentally responsible, showing concern and giving back as it sees fit.

Google The Brand and Stalk Their Social Media

After you've explored their website, travel on over to see what Google has to say about them!

First, search the brand's name on Google to find out if there has been any press about them or blog posts from ethical bloggers/influencers.

Usually, the more (positive) media, the higher the chance that the brand is ethical.

Here are some questions to ask yourself while scrolling through search results:

  • What articles are coming up first about the company?
  • Do they have a lot of press?
  • Are they a well-known brand?
  • What are they talking about on social media?
  • Does their social media encompass the values stated on their website?
  • Are bloggers wearing their clothes and writing about them?

Cultural Awareness

We've received some truly offensive pitches before from brands who just don't get it when it comes to white saviours, cultural appropriation, and other hot-button topics sustainably and ethically.

Or, they don't have any models of colour in the lookbook they sent over.

We might pass on these pitches completely, or if we think the issue is easily fixable and not representative of deeper issues, tell them that we simply can't share their message until they do some updates.

Check Each Fashion Brand's Policies

This is another great way to check if a fashion brand is ethical. In addition, some large fashion brands will have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies.

These are self-determined guidelines to incorporate social and environmental goals in day to day operations.

Look up the brand's website to find their policies. Some will be involved with charities or volunteering, which are good signs of ethical practices.

You want to find out if large brands and retailers are making conscious efforts to minimize their impact on the planet.

Are they donating part of their profits? Are they supporting charitable causes?

Do they participate actively in recycling, reforestation, ocean cleaning or waste collection?

Where they are and where they want to go. 

No brand is perfect. So the brands we trust most have measured their negative impact in detail — toxins, emissions, water usage, waste — on the environment and set goals for where they want to go and by what date they hope to achieve it.

That helps keep them honest and motivate the company and employees to do better.

Labour Transparency

For small brands, sharing the name and location of their factory can mean a competitor steals that factory or can put the artisans in danger of a burglary.

But we would at least like to see pictures and know which region of which country they're located in, what they're paid relative to the minimum and living wage in the area, and what kind of inspections and certifications they operate under.

Accurate Information And Promises

Even the best brands have shared misinformation in the past.

But now that we're all aware of the need for vigorous fact-checking, we don't have the patience for pitches that tell us that fashion is the second most polluting industry.

Or website copy that promises a product that is not possible.

For example, one brand pitched bags made from leather that are the offcuts from a leather jacket factory and later said the leather was vegetable-tanned.

That's not possible, as leather jackets can't be made from stiff vegetable-tanned leather. We will link that's not a brand until they fix the copy and demonstrate more expertise and awareness.

Don't Trust What A Brand Says; Watch What They Do!

It is not enough for brands to set sustainability goals and say they are working to reach them. Every brand should also report on the progress being made.

To find out what is happening, you can watch what brands and retailers are doing.

Are they using a cause to place their brand in a good light more than to help others?

It is a good thing to participate in charitable organizations and nonprofits, but it has to be genuine and for the long term. And not to appeal to customers or build public relations.

They can donate a percentage of their profits but, in fact, only a negligible margin. So be attentive and observe their daily operations.

What about using renewable energy? Recycling in the headquarters? Electric transport for deliveries? Recycled packaging paper?

You can find lots of useful information on Google about a fashion brand and see what they have been doing.

Are there reports from the press or from influencers about their positive impact?

Check their social media.

What are they talking about the most there? Do they share the same values, stories, and mission on their social media and their website?

There is plenty to be found online from the press and other news sources, especially for large fashion brands. Look it up!

You can also subscribe to a fashion brand newsletter. Watch what kind of marketing tactics they employ. Look for marketing strategies that solicit emotional buying decisions first, as those are not ethical.

Reading their email and hearing their sales pitch is a great way to find out what a brand or retailer is about.

How often do they come up with new products? The traditional seasonal cycle of designing new collections 2 to 4 times per year is a lot more ethical than pushing new items to high street stores every week.

Ethical and sustainable fashion is all about producing high quality and durable pieces that will last a long time. Brands and retailers should encourage consumers to love, wear and take good care of their clothes as much as possible.

And this should happen across all their product lines. Not for only one eco-friendly or eco-conscious collection. When only a small section of their product offering is ethical, it is not enough to be considered an ethical fashion brand.

In the case of the most well-known fashion brands, people already know if they are ethical or not. And also how well they are doing concerning economic, social and environmental sustainability.

FAQs About Ethical Company 

What makes an ethical brand?

As the name suggests, when an ethical fashion brand operates within a closed-loop system, they follow a circular production line rather than the linear 'make, use, dispose of' model. That means they design, manufacture and distribute their clothing in a way that uses minimal resources and creates minimal waste.

What does a sustainable business look like?

Sustainable businesses consider a wide array of environmental, economic, and social factors when making businesses decisions. In addition, these organizations monitor the impact of their operations to ensure that their short-term profits don't turn into long-term liabilities.

How can I be more ethical when shopping?

Ways to Shop Ethically Without Access to Sustainable Brands

  • shop secondhand, obviously, this doesn't work for everything, but it's always the first step to look into
  • buy from local companies & businesses. that's another cool option to try
  • focus on well-rated companies
  • focus on natural fibres
  • buy good quality products

Read more

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