A Beginner's Guide to Sustainable Fashion - Good On You
07 May

A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Fashion

More people than ever are starting to recognise the impacts humans have on the world. And as a result, a lot of us want to reduce our footprint. In fact, in 2020, McKinsey & Company found that 57% of respondents had made significant changes to their lifestyles to reduce their environmental impact. This is fantastic, and it’s only the beginning!

For many, the sustainability journey starts in the wardrobe. Why? Because sadly, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, impacting millions of people. Shoppers want to make better fashion choices. They want to do good, look good, and feel good. And if you’re one of those people—congrats!

But where to start? How do you know what’s good and what’s bad? And what do you do with that information?

Fear not, Good On You is here to help! Good On You is a world-leading ethical rating system for fashion. We’ve done the research and spoken to the experts, the campaigners, and the brands to develop simple ratings for how each label impacts these three key areas: people, the planet, and animals. We score each brand on these issues and give an overall rating from ‘We Avoid’ and ‘Not Good Enough’, through ‘It’s A Start’, to ‘Good’ and ‘Great’. Search your favourite brands over on our Directory or in the app.

Today, we’re giving you the lowdown on ethical and sustainable fashion so that you can look good and feel good about the clothes you wear. Consider this your go-to guide and index on all you need to know about building your eco-conscious wardrobe with confidence. Ready? Let’s go!

What is ethical and sustainable fashion?

Ok, but before we get reeeeally started, we need to talk about what “ethical and sustainable fashion” means exactly.

In 1987, the UN defined sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Sustainable fashion means finding a balance when designing, manufacturing, and consuming clothes. It means avoiding the depletion of natural resources and the exploitation of individuals and communities.

Being sustainable also means maintaining this balance well into the future by taking a long term approach to the production and consumption of clothes and accessories. It’s about ensuring the fashion industry both creates good and avoids harm to people, the planet, and animals.

Ethical and sustainable fashion are often used interchangeably. For some, ‘ethical fashion’ focuses more on the social impact of the fashion industry and what is “morally right”.

Ethical fashion goes beyond your local labour laws and covers a wide range of issues such as living wages, working conditions, animal welfare, and vegan fashion.

But ignoring the ethical dimensions of catastrophic environmental challenges like the impact of climate change or the destruction of freshwater sources on humans and animals wouldn’t make sense!

Learn more about ethical and sustainable fashion.

You now know the basics. Here’s what to do next!

Learn

22 ethical and sustainable fashion terms you need to know

Whether you’re new to the world of sustainable fashion or an ethical fashion veteran, ethical and sustainable fashion terminology can be confusing. We’ve created this comprehensive but easy to understand sustainable and ethical fashion glossary so you can navigate the ethical fashion world with ease.

What is … ?

  • Fast fashion: If you’re interested in this article, you might already be aware of fast fashion’s dark side, but it’s worth exploring how the industry got to this point—and how we can help change it.
  • Slow fashion: Slow fashion is an awareness and approach to fashion that considers the processes and resources required to make clothing. It advocates for buying better-quality garments that will last longer and valuing fair treatment of people, animals, and the planet.
  • Vegan fashion: Even if you don’t call yourself vegan in everyday life, you may still be tempted by vegan or cruelty-free fashion. Why? Because intriguingly, it seems to win hands down over conventional fashion, in terms of several human, environmental, and of course, animal welfare impacts!
  • Circular fashion: In this article, we dive deeper into what circular fashion is today, how it came to be, and what we can do to align with the concept in our consumer choices—not only concerning fashion but also in our lives more broadly.

20 hard facts and statistics about fast fashion

In this article, we take a deeper dive into the industry and see the statistics that lay behind the ever-changing garments that won’t stop flying off the shelves.

How can you tell when a fashion brand is greenwashing?

Greenwashing exists in fashion, but it may be less glaringly obvious than other examples. As conscious consumers, we should recognise that there are no simple solutions to complex problems. So what are the telltale signs? How can you tell when a fashion brand is greenwashing?

What are you wearing? The ultimate clothing material guide

We have done the detective work for you and written guides to a vast selection of fabrics that you can find on the shelves and in your wardrobe and compiled them here in our (hefty yet helpful) ultimate material guide.

Is ethical clothing really expensive?

We get it⁠—for a lot of people, one look at the price tag on an item of ethical clothing is enough to turn you off for good, but we are here to tell you that it shouldn’t. There are very good reasons why those little numbers seem an awful lot bigger than they do at the chain retailers down the road and why we all, as conscious consumers, should push through the temporary pain for the long term gain.

Is locally made better?

We’ve all seen that little white label that sits tucked away on the inside of our clothing: ‘Made in Australia’, ‘Made in Turkey’, ‘Made in Bangladesh’. But what do those labels really mean? In this article, we discuss whether locally made clothing is more ethical. Read on to find out before your next shop!

The importance of transparency in the fashion industry

Transparency has been gaining traction in the past decade and is worth paying attention to. It means being as open and honest as possible about what’s going on behind the scenes. Read this article to discover what transparency in the fashion industry looks like, why it’s essential, and perhaps most importantly, whether it’s enough.

Why we should wear clothes until they’re worn out

Do you darn old socks? Take your shoes to the cobblers? Or put patches on your elbows and knees when they thin out? A Swedish study from 2017 suggests extending the life of our clothes is one of the best things we can do for the planet.

What on earth is a clothing supply chain?

Clothing supply chains often involve many different individuals at all production levels, making it difficult for companies to know where different parts of their products originate. Luckily for us, we have slow-fashion entrepreneur Ania Zoltkowski to break the process down, one step at a time.

Do

laptop showing Good On You directory on screen

Check how your favourite fashion brands rate

Good On You gives you the power to make better fashion choices and help you find sustainable brands that match your values and style. Discover our Directory or download the app to check how your favourite brands are doing when it comes to their impact on the planet, people, and animals.

The 5 R’s of fashion: Reduce, Rewear, Recycle, Repair, Resell

While brands are at work looking at the part they play in all of this, what can we as consumers do to contribute? A lot can be said for some catchy alliteration at the core of this shift to help you get started: reduce, re-wear, recycle, repair, resell. Ready?

The ultimate guide to creating an ethical wardrobe

Are you worried that your budget, combined with your love of fashion, will overrule your desire to shop ethically? Are you scared of being forced to opt for cheap and nasty over eco-chic? Never fear! Here are 8 tips for creating a versatile and ethical wardrobe without breaking the bank.

4 easy ways to simplify your wardrobe

How often do you look at your wardrobe and feel overwhelmed by the decision of what to wear while simultaneously feeling like you don’t have enough clothes? Luckily, there is a simple solution! The time has come to embrace a new approach to your wardrobe—it’s time to declutter.

Capsule wardrobes: How to build a sustainable closet for life

Have you ever pulled open the doors of your wardrobe, only to find yourself muttering or groaning loudly that you have nothing to wear? At this point, it can be tempting to rush out and buy something new, fun, and affordable. But if it’s this kind of quick-fix buying that leads to the ‘nothing to wear’ dilemma in the first place, then we’re just running in circles. Cue the ‘capsule wardrobe.’

Our guide for where to buy second hand clothing

Whether you are new to the pre-loved market or an experienced thrifter, we have put together a comprehensive guide on where to buy second hand clothing to help you find your next vintage treasure in person or online.

14 sustainable fashion documentaries you’ll be glad you watched

We compiled some of our favourite documentaries on ethical fashion, fast fashion, and sustainability as a whole. These documentaries are a great place to start: enlightening, shocking, and inspiring all at once. It’s time to get smarter whilst lazing on the couch!

11 must-read sustainable and ethical fashion books

To all the eco-conscious fashion-loving bookworms out there, this one’s for you. We know sifting through the countless options can be overwhelming. So, we’ve put together a list of our favourite must-read sustainable and ethical fashion books! You can thank us later.

14 of the best fashion podcasts

Podcasts are an entertaining (and often free!) way to stay productive whilst going about your day-to-day business. We’ve compiled a list of the best fashion podcasts that you can download and listen to wherever, whatever you’re doing. Let’s get listening!

Top 5 free ethical and sustainable fashion online courses

Wherever you are on your sustainability journey, we’ve listed our five favourite ethical and sustainable fashion online courses to help you learn more and help make a positive change.

AND these five courses are completely free, so if you have time, there’s no reason not to have a look at what they have to offer!

How to make a sustainable wardrobe according to our grandparents

The buying habits of our generation are utterly unrecognisable to our grandparents, and they aren’t working for us. It’s time to start thinking like someone from a different era as we learn how to make a sustainable wardrobe!

3 simple tricks to mend your clothes and why it matters

These 3 simple tricks to mend clothes are about prolonging the life of our clothes, but they are also about challenging ourselves to think of imperfections as opportunities. Just as we can learn so much from a mistake, so a broken piece of clothing properly mended can become a favourite statement piece.

How to reduce the carbon footprint of your fashion choices

Considering the clothing industry’s significant carbon footprint, the choices we make when we shop, coupled with how we look after our clothes, can make a real difference to the environment. Discover how you can reduce the carbon footprint of your fashion choices.

7 helpful ways to calm your eco-anxiety

Global conversations surrounding climate change and environmental responsibilities are increasing in volume across all political affiliations and age groups. But with this increase in knowledge can come a decrease in mental wellness, resulting in a condition known as eco-anxiety. Here’s how to combat it.

Support

The ultimate guides to:

  • Ethical and sustainable basics: An easy way to begin your journey as a conscious consumer is to choose your basics from brands that do right by people, the planet, and animals. The great news is you can do this without sacrificing your sense of style! Each listed brand has been rated for its impact on the ethical and environmental issues you care about.
  • Ethical and sustainable activewear: The desire to do something good for your body and mind is nothing new, but what if you could be minimising your environmental footprint at the same time? Lucky for you, we found the best sustainable activewear brands currently on the market.
  • Sustainable jeans and ethical denim: Ethical brands are going above and beyond to create better, more sustainable denim options. So here is our guide to sustainable jeans and ethical denim!
  • Ethical and sustainable t-shirts: We don’t know about you, but what we’re looking for in a t-shirt is the right size, the right price, the right style, and the right ethics. We’ve scoured the planet for sustainable and ethical t-shirts and rounded up our top brands that meet our ratings criteria to be classified as ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ overall.

22 eco-friendly clothing brands doing ‘Great’ for the planet

Whether you’re just starting to do an ethical overhaul of your closet or you’re a seasoned sustainable fashionista, these brands are well worth a look in if saving the planet is on your to-do list.

16 affordable sustainable fashion brands

We found 16 of the most affordable sustainable fashion brands rated ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ with a $-$$ price point in the Good On You Directory!

8 ethical brands you’ll love more than Zara

Zara gets a rating of ‘Not Good Enough’ from us, so we’ve listed a few of our favourite brands that cover all bases in terms of reliable wardrobe go-to items, all while respecting the planet, animals, and the people who make their clothes.

21 sustainable gender-neutral brands and gender-inclusive clothing for everybody

Our selection of ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ rated fashion brands creating sustainable gender-inclusive, non-binary, unisex clothing for everybody. Even if you identify as a man or woman and prefer a neutral look, these sustainable gender-neutral brands are for you, too!

The most sustainable size-inclusive fashion brands

When it comes to ethical fashion, size inclusivity has a way to go for it to be genuinely accessible to all conscious consumers. We’ve listed some of our favourite brands taking both fashion movements in their stride.

17 brands bringing you beautiful, sustainable, and ethical plus size clothing

Body type inclusivity is a real issue faced by people the world over. Fortunately, some brands are catching on by making beautiful ethical plus size clothing for everybody! Here are 17 sustainable and ethical fashion brands for plus-sized fashionistas.

 

Looking to shop local? Check out our favourite brands from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the US and Canada, LA, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, all other images via Unsplash and MATE the label. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 3,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links

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