For consumers For business
three people looking happy wearing ethical denim brand Outland Denim
13 Sep
three people looking happy wearing ethical denim brand Outland Denim

How to Be an Ethical Fashion Brand

It’s no secret that ethical fashion is a hot topic, as more and more shoppers are demanding to know where and how their clothes are made.

That’s why brands and retailers are teaming up with Good On You, the leading sustainability ratings platform for fashion, to help shoppers make more conscious and sustainable choices.

For retailers, a positive rating by Good On You can help reinforce a brand’s conscious credentials—and drive traffic.

James Bartle, who is the co-founder of ethical brand Outland Denim, says: “Good On You was one of our earliest supporters and our partnership with them is incredibly valuable. Not only are they one of the most trusted global resources for consumers who want to make more sustainable purchasing decisions, Good On You’s platforms are also consistently in our top five sources of webstore traffic and referral-based conversions each month.”

But what does it really take to be an ethical fashion brand? And how can a brand address its impacts to reach more conscious shoppers? We explain.

How it works

The Good On You rating system considers the most important social and environmental issues facing the fashion industry to assess a brand’s impact on three key pillars: people, planet, and animals.

We look at leading industry standards, certifications, and a brand’s own public reporting to award a 5-point score from 1-We Avoid, to 2-Not good enough, 3-It’s a start, 4-Good, and 5-Great.  We recommend supporting brands rated ‘Good’ (4/5) or ‘Great’ (5/5) across our channels.

How transparent is your brand?

Transparency is an important first step in the journey to becoming a more sustainable brand, because it drives accountability and progress over time. It also helps customers make informed choices if a brand publicly discloses information on their practices and policies.

For this reason the Good On You rating system is based on the specific, concrete data that brands publish. So brands that are transparent about their practices and progress against key sustainability issues score better, whereas brands that don’t disclose any information score poorly.

Here’s what we look for when rating a fashion brand for their impact on people, the planet, and animals.

Impact on people

When we assess how a brand impacts people, we look at how its workers are treated across the supply chain. These include policies and practices on child labour, forced labour, worker safety, gender equality, the right to join a union, and payment of a living wage. We also consider a brand’s relationships with their suppliers, how they empower their workers, and whether they audit their factories.

Brands that want to avoid or reduce negative impacts on workers can:

1. Trace suppliers all the way to raw materials

2. Avoid hotspots for human rights abuses

3. Create and publish a supplier code of conduct that aligns with international labour standards

4. Develop strong relationships with suppliers to ensure worker safety and living wages, and promote worker empowerment

5. Use certification schemes to ensure compliance with standards, eg Fairtrade, Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA)

Brands that score well on people include premium jeans label, Outland Denim (Great), which traces all of its supply chain and offers employment opportunities for women who have been trafficked in Cambodia. Or US-made Christy Dawn (Great) that ensures payment of a living wage in its final stage of production.

Impact on the planet

For the environment, we consider each brand’s use of resources and waste management, their commitments to circular practices, whether they measure and reduce carbon emissions, their impacts on water and microplastics, as well as how they use and dispose of chemicals.

Brands that want to reduce their environmental footprint can:

1. Use eco-friendly materials to limit the amount of chemicals and water used in production

2. Transition to renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions

3. Reduce textile waste by reusing offcuts or using recycled materials

4. Minimise and/or use recyclable packaging

5. Use certification schemes to ensure compliance with standards, eg the Global Organic Textile Standard

Brands rated by Good On You that score well for the planet include timeless accessories label BEEN London (Great) that uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials including recycled materials and manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint. Sportswear giant, Adidas (Good), uses recycled materials and has set an absolute target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations.

Impact on animals

For our animal ratings we consider how well a brand traces its animal products and its animal welfare policies. We identify the use of fur, angora, down feather, shearling, karakul, and exotic animal skin and hair. We also consider if wool has been produced using ‘mulesing’ and whether and how the brand uses leather.

Brands that want to protect the welfare of animals should:

1. Consider going vegan—build a label without the use of animal materials

2. Use upcycled and recycled materials—good for animals and the environment

3. Avoid non-domesticated animal materials such as python and crocodile

4. Avoid harmful practices in the supply chain like sheep mulesing, or materials with inherent cruelty like karukul, shearling, and angora

5. Use certification schemes to ensure compliance with standards, eg PETA-approved

We rate brands like Ahimsa Collective (Good), producing cruelty-free vegan leather handbags and accessories. All garments made by modern streetwear brand Plant Faced Clothing (Good) are PETA certified vegan.

For a closer look at our approach and the issues we consider when rating a brand, refer to the Guide to the Good On You rating system.

Author bio:

Sandra Capponi is the co-founder of Good On You, the leading source for sustainability ratings in fashion. Since 2015, she’s led the team to rate over 3,000 brands for their impact and empower millions of consumers to buy better. With years of experience in corporate social responsibility, Capponi has long been concerned with supply chain issues in big business. She started Good On You because she sees huge potential in using people power to drive industry change. A typical Melbournian, she loves espresso coffee, live music, and wearing black…from brands rated “Good” and “Great”,  of course. Follow her on LinkedIn.

Editor's note

Feature image via Outland Denim. Good On You publishes the world's most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use the Directory to search more than 2,500 brands. To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

Ethical brand ratings. There’s an app for that.

Wear the change you want to see. Download our app to discover ethical brands and see how your favourites measure up.