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08 Apr

Navigating Ethical and Sustainable Fashion for Teens

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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.

Girlfriend Collective

Rated: Good
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 @ LVRSustainable.

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: Good
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: Good
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

Gwen Structured Triangle Bra – Ships internationally from Australia

NICO > Aerie

Australian brand NICO brings high quality basics and underwear to the fashion landscape, featuring clean lines, luxe fabrics, and the styles and colours needed for everyday. NICO’s factories are signatories to The Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord and are compliant with BSCI and certified with WRAP. This is a great step away from brands like Aerie that do not use eco-friendly materials or promote ethical labour standards. Go for the Triangle Bra in place of another Aerie bralette!

Sizes: XS-2XL

Price: $$$

See the rating.

Shop NICO.

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 an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Cognitive Science and Data Science. She aims to create accessible design spaces on-campus and educate others about fashion and environment-related social issues. As the VP of Marketing and Design at Berkeley, her work promotes inclusivity and diversity within communities. In her free time, Hua enjoys writing about consumerism and slow-fashion advocacy; her work has been featured on Good on You, pulling from her experiences to cater towards a Gen-Z audience. Outside of school, you can find her making art and sipping on matcha lattes. Find Rachel on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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 thousands of rated brands.

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