08 Apr

Navigating Ethical and Sustainable Fashion for Teens

In a world where social media and influencers are gaining more traction every day, trends significantly impact our shopping patterns and wardrobe choices. It’s especially easy as a teenager or young adult to fall prey to the latest craze—whether it be a pair of Urban Outfitters cargo pants or one of those Brandy Melville sweaters.

It’s not that difficult to come across your latest wardrobe addition as a teen. Influencers broadcast their outfits and shopping hauls on Instagram and YouTube, and it’s thrilling to keep up with current fashion trends. And nothing remotely troublesome crosses your mind when buying those clothes, as long as it fits the criteria: (1) it looks good, (2) it fits, and (3) it’s affordable.

But you should be adding something else to that list.

Is it ethical and sustainable? 

I know firsthand that choosing ethical fashion might seem daunting, including everything from convenience to price. But it’s not as difficult as you imagine, even if you’re a student and not exactly in the position to be buying anything at $120 apiece—which is perfectly normal!

Here are some of my tips to help guide you towards ethical fashion on a budget, with some great examples of sustainable fashion for teens!

Find ethical dupes for your favourite brands

It might seem difficult to let go of brands you typically stick to when shopping—ones like PacSun that mainly cater for teens and young adults. Thankfully, there are much better alternatives to choose from that are transparent about their labour and resource consumption. Many even fall into a similar price range!


Rated: Good
white adidas sneakers

Hoops 2.0 Shoes – Ships internationally from Germany

Adidas > Nike

I understand the appeal of Nike and its widespread marketability. Instead, let’s look to better brands that might offer similar items. Adidas has a ‘Good’ rating thanks to its use of eco-friendly materials and tracing its supply chain through production. Instead of AF 1’s, pick Adidas Hoops 2.0!

Sizes: 4 – 21 (shoes), 2XS-2XL (apparel)

Price: $$

See the rating.

Shop Adidas @ LVR Sustainable.

Shop Adidas @ Labell-D.

Shop Adidas Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

Shop Adidas.

Girlfriend Collective

Rated: Great
women wearing black activewear by girlfriend collective

FLOAT Seamless High-Rise Leggings – Ships internationally from the US

Girlfriend Collective > Lululemon

Lululemon has become highly popular for its stylish yoga-inspired line due to the growth in athleisure wear. However, its supply chain doesn’t include fair labour practices or environmental-friendly materials. Girlfriend Collective is a better swap! The brand maintains a timeless style made for all genders while utilising recycled materials. Instead of Lululemon Align Leggings, go for Girlfriend FLOAT Seamless High-Rise Leggings!

Sizes: 2XS-6XL

Price: $$

See the rating.

Shop Girlfriend Collective @ LVR Sustainable.

Shop Girlfriend Collective @ thegreenlabels.

Shop Girlfriend Collective.


Rated: Good
woman wearing pink dress by ethical brand spell

Rae Mini Dress – Ships internationally from Australia

Spell > Princess Polly

Princess Polly has remained popular among the young adult demographic as many influencers continue to promote its trendy pieces. However, its lack of sufficient information about environmental practices is a large red flag. Spell is an Australian brand that offers a similar dainty style while being transparent about its supply chain. Rather than Princess Polly’s Lioness mini-dress, go for Spell’s Rae Mini Dress!

Sizes: 2XS-2XL

Price: $$

See the rating.

Shop Spell.


Rated: Good
couple wearing dark green t-shirt by afends

Retrofit tee – Ships internationally from Australia

Afends > Pacsun

PacSun has kept up over the years as a popular teen brand, marketing apparel that maintains the brand’s roots in youth-oriented culture. Yet the brand lacks evidence of providing a living wage to employees and falls short with its environmental policies, gaining a ‘Not Good Enough’ rating. Instead, look to Afends. It is an affordable brand that uses organic hemp and renewable energy in its supply chain to reduce its climate impact. Go for one of the Retrofit tees in place of another Pacsun graphic!

Sizes: XS-XL

Price: $

See the rating.

Shop Afends.


Rated: Great
black chnge sweatshirt

Black Butterfly Quote Hoodie – Ships internationally from the US

CHNGE > Supreme

CHNGE is a sustainable fashion brand that markets the same casual street style as Supreme while using organic materials. The brand has a labour rating of ‘Great’ and supports social movements like Black Lives Matter. The Black Butterfly Quote Hoodie is an excellent alternative to any Supreme hoodie!

Sizes: 2XS-2XL

Price: $

See the rating.



Rated: Great
woman wearing dark green leather jacket by frankie

Street-style Jackets – Ships internationally from Canada

Frankie > Urban Outfitters

While Urban Outfitters is known for streetwear, it also lacks adequate information about its supply chain and environmental practices. Frankie is a great alternative. This Canadian brand features vintage and reworked apparel while manufacturing locally with eco-friendly materials. It keeps up a great collection that matches Urban’s street style, like these jackets!

Sizes: XS-L

Price: $$

See the rating.

Shop Frankie.


Rated: Good
woman wearing black sweater by nu-in

Ribbed Henley Neck Long-Sleeve – Ships internationally from Sweden

nu-in > Zara

nu-in is an excellent alternative to Zara, keeping a similar minimalist yet on-trend style while staying sustainable. It offers many closet basics as well as activewear and loungewear. The brand uses eco-friendly materials and renewable energy in its supply chain, earning a ‘Good’ rating. Its Ribbed Henley Neck Long-Sleeve is a great dupe for any Zara basic!

Sizes: 2XS-XL, extended sizes offered

Price: $$

See the rating.

Shop nu-in.

The Nude Label

Rated: Good
woman wearing dark red underwear by the nude label

Triangle Bra – Ships internationally from Spain


Two people wearing black and maroon ethically made briefs by The Nude Label.

The Nude Label – Briefs

Cheeky underwear that gives you a relaxed, simple fit. Classic, comfy, and with a very flattering design. 5% discount on packs of 3 or more briefs. (Ends: 22 DEC)

Shop now
Two people wearing a liliac and a black pair of sustainable socks made by The Nude Label.

The Nude Label – Unisex Socks

Breathable, naturally antibacterial, and antifungal genderless socks. To help your feet stay happy and healthy. 5% discount on packs of 3 or more socks. (Ends: 22 DEC)

Shop now

The Nude Label > Aerie

The Nude Label is a Spain-based brand that curates comfortable vegan underwear. It offers basics in various colours, and its products are all created locally from sustainable organic cotton. This is a great step away from brands like Aerie that do not minimise textile waste or promote ethical labour standards. Go for the Triangle Bra in place of another Aerie bralette!

Sizes: XS-XL

Price: $$

See the rating.

Shop The Nude Label.

Be mindful of your wardrobe’s longevity

As a teen, the brands that cater to us often have “New Arrivals Day” and “Trend Lookbooks”. These are designed to be momentary, so we can add to the cart then rinse and repeat when new products are released. It’s understandable wanting to keep our wardrobe updated and fresh! But it’s important to consider how long you will actually be wearing it. By staying informed about your clothing choices, you can decide on options with better quality and longevity.

Invest in versatile staples

I find that choosing a few staple pieces that I genuinely like—a white tee, solid jeans, a timeless coat—tend to stay with me far longer than fast fashion pieces. It’s much more sustainable to purchase items that have multiple uses.

Take, for example, a plain black turtleneck: it can be worn by itself for a casual look, dressed up to be more formal, or layered for colder weather. It’s far more versatile than buying one piece for each outfit. By slimming down your wardrobe size, you can invest in ethically-made staple pieces that still maintain your style.

Thrift, thrift, thrift!

Not all of us have a large budget or are instantly ready to dive headfirst into conscious brands. Thrifting is a great alternative that still promotes sustainable fashion for teens!

It’s affordable, which is highly attractive for low-cost students. It’s also incredibly accessible, especially for those new to ethical fashion who can’t invest in expensive products immediately. You can head on over to your local thrift shop or browse online with sites like thredUP, or any of these other great options.

As a teen consumer, it also prevents you from handing your money over to large capitalist corporations that continue to churn out tonnes of fast fashion waste. As a result, thrifting is very sustainable for students—keeping your wallet happy and your carbon footprint minimal.

Remember: our choices matter

Make an effort to keep yourself informed as you dive into ethical and sustainable fashion for teens. Research your usual brands and make the decision as a shopper to support those that prioritise the wellbeing of people, the planet, and animals. I have the Good On You app downloaded on my phone to double-check brand ratings while shopping. A quick search is no more than a few taps away. An ethical company’s job is to keep itself transparent, from labour to production. If I doubt it, I don’t buy it.

Keep in mind ethical fashion doesn’t imply that you must immediately clear out your closet and buy an entirely new wardrobe. It’s about being conscious of your choices and buying items that won’t end up in a dumpster after a few uses. It’s about knowing exactly where your products are from and how they’re made—a right you justly deserve as a buyer. As a teenager, it may be easy to consider your judgements insignificant, but we as a demographic contribute significantly to the fast fashion economy—Gen Z contributes about $830 billion a year in retail spending!

As a consumer, even a young one, your choices are important. Make the right ones.

Check out more affordable fashion brands to meet your budget.


Author bio:  Rachel Hua is a current undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Cognitive Science and Computer Science with an additional concentration in design. At Berkeley, she remains passionate about establishing consumer awareness and making resources accessible to underrepresented students. Outside of writing and academics, you can find her making art and looking for a good matcha place. Find Rachel on Instagram @byrachelhua.

Editor's note

Feature image via Afends, all other images via brands mentioned. 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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