Awesome Ethical Brands to Consider While Christmas Shopping

What is an Ethical Brand?

The term Ethical Brand can be a little confusing to understand. So in short, ethical branding means having an in-depth knowledge of ethics that should be upheld. Additionally, ethical branding means using graphics, digital marketing, SEO, and content to position a brand in front of a socially and/or environmentally conscious audience. Or even better, the brand should strategize to reach an audience who is unaware of the implications of their purchases, in hopes of steering them toward ethical consumption.

Core Values of an Ethical Brand

Beyond the actions behind ethical branding, there are 3 driving factors:

A Point of Difference:

We are currently living in a world of backlash culture where protest is rampant, from political rallies to social media storms. There are thousands of consumers who want to get their voices heard. And so, ethical branding is all about making an emotional connection with these consumers. But to make this happen, the consumer needs to know what the brand stands for.

It all starts with having a point of view and a point of difference. The ethical dimension could be small, or a really grand problem. Regardless of size or scale, it must have traction and allow for consumer buy-in. 

To Feel Natural:

This is where brands need to be careful. Brands shouldn't attach themselves to a cause just for the sake of it. The brand's cause has to feel like they have a right to comment and feel true to who they are as a company. Brand alignment has to be a natural fit.

To be Fearless:

The brand needs to stand by their values regardless of external influences. 

Ways to Become an Ethical Shopper

Shop Online:

22 percent of a garment’s climate impact comes from the process of a consumer driving to the store to try something on, driving to another store to try that thing on, then bringing their final selection home in their car. If you live in a city where you can walk or take public transportation to a store, then do that!

And don’t feel guilty about ordering items online. First, because a UPS, FedEx, or USPS truck is like public transportation for your clothing: efficient at moving a lot of stuff with minimal fuel. Second, your clothing probably comes through a distribution center, skipping the process of going to the store at all and going straight to you. And according to multiple studies, online shopping has a much lower environmental impact than brick-and-mortar shopping. It may feel wrong to get an item of clothing in a plastic bag in a box, but rest assured that if it goes to a store instead, it’s also showing up in a plastic bag — the bag’s just gone by the time you see it on the rack.

Another benefit of shopping online is the opportunity to be more thoughtful and discerning with what you buy. In a physical store, it might not be possible (or even occur to you) to research every brand you encounter then and there on your phone. But when you’re home and on the internet, you probably have more time, along with more access to resources, to do some deeper digging.

Look for Certifications:

There are a few gold-standard certifications that indicate that an objective deep dive into a product’s supply chain has been conducted. OEKO-TEX is an independent test and certification system for textiles, and it offers multiple levels of certification, the most basic of which indicates that the product is free of hazardous chemicals. The next level up concerns whether the textiles are made in socially and environmentally responsible conditions. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is a certification for textiles that contain “a minimum of 70% organic fibers.

Forest Stewardship Council certification indicates that any trees involved were sustainably harvested. Fair Trade certification indicates that the factory workers are paid at least the minimum wage and that the working conditions are safe.

Avoid These Fabrics:

Polyester is made from oil (it’s basically a plastic thread) and all synthetic fibers shed microfibers into waterways. Acrylic is even more toxic to produce than polyester. Viscose rayon (this includes bamboo rayon) turns plants into a textile through a toxic, polluting process and is contributing to the disappearance of rainforests.

Conventional cotton relies on pesticides and herbicides which are improperly, excessively, and dangerously applied in underdeveloped countries, and might have led to the worldwide decline of insect populations. The typical leather tanning process is so toxic that 90 percent of the people who live in the leather-tanning neighborhoods in Bangladesh die before they reach 50.

Look for These Fabrics:

It’s pretty hard to avoid polyester altogether, especially if you enjoy athleisure clothing, swimsuits, or anything with stretch. So look for polyester that’s made of recycled water bottles, fishing nets, carpet, and other post-consumer products. These products financially support the recycling industry and help to keep plastic waste from the landfill and ocean.

Tencel is a viscose rayon alternative by the Austrian company Lenzing made from sustainably-sourced eucalyptus trees in a closed-loop process that ensures no toxins are released into waterways. Silk, hemp, linen, and wool are all natural, low-impact textiles.Vegetable tanned leather doesn’t use heavy metals in the process (but as an FYI, that means it’ll take longer to soften up and break in). More leather alternatives are coming, but right now the best new alternative available for purchase is Piñatex, which is made from pineapple leaf waste.

Seek Out Brands That Pay Their Artisans Fairly:

Many fair trade brands, like Lemlem, Voz, Siizu, Brother Vellies, Par en Par, Ace & Jig, Uniform, Manos Zapotecas, and more, have photos and information on their websites of the women and men who hand-make the garments or the factories they use. Other brands, like Reformation and Saint James, give factory tours. Still others, like Naja and Nisolo, give you a report on working conditions, pay, and benefits, plus how getting paid to use their community’s traditional skills positively impacts a worker’s community.

Capsule your Wardrobe:

The best thing you can do is just buy less stuff. And you can buy less stuff if you buy things that are timeless and high-quality enough to last a long time. The longer you use a garment, and the more times you wear it, the lower the impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go out and buy exclusively locally-made, organic fashion that costs well in the hundreds of dollars. Whatever it is, if you think you will wear it 30 times or more, that’s definitely a sustainable choice.

One popular notion in the conscious fashion world is the idea of a capsule wardrobe: an extremely edited collection of versatile pieces that can be endlessly mixed and matched so that you get maximum use out of minimal possessions. If you want some guidance in this area, try the app Cladwell, which helps you discern your style, whittle down your wardrobe, donate or sell what you don’t love anymore, and come up with interesting new combinations.

Ethical Brands to Consider this Holiday Season

People Tree:

This London-based label has been a pioneer for sustainable fashion since its founding in 1991, but the clothes aren’t the least bit crunchy-looking — think Gap but cuter, and committed to becoming 100 percent fair trade throughout its supply chain. In 2013, People Tree became the first brand to receive the WFTO Fair Trade product mark. Almost all of their line is made with organic cotton, and 89 percent of their suppliers are currently undertaking environmental initiatives.

The brand’s selection is huge; expect everything from printed wrap dresses and plain trousers you’ll wear to the office to yoga leggings and organic cotton robes. Shop here for basics, work clothes, athletic clothes, and jewelry. Prices start around $35 for a shirt and $90 for dresses, though sales like the one happening now can knock that down considerably.

Nudie Jeans:

In the US at least, Swedish company Nudie is known mostly by raw denim fans. But some of the reasons why Project Just and the denim heads hold the brand in high regard are one in the same. The brand’s 100 percent organic cotton jeans last forever, and if they don’t, Nudie will repair them for you free of charge. They’ll also recycle your old jeans into new products in exchange for a 20 percent discount off your next purchase. In addition, the brand scores major points for publicly disclosing its suppliers and maintaining a public code of conduct.

Aside from jeans, Nudie also makes knits, basics, outerwear, and kid’s clothes. Note that while the jeans are unisex and available in waist sizes 24 through 38, most of the other stuff, like underwear and T-shirts, are designed for men (though some pieces are modeled on women too). Prices start around $55 for a T-shirt and $165 for a pair of jeans.


Patagonia is a leader in environmental and social responsibility on many fronts. You might as well start with the brand’s mission statement — “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” — and its level of transparency around that goal, which Patagonia acknowledges as a work in progress.In addition to being fair-trade certified for all its sewing production (and by fall 2017, more than 400 products), the brand knows and publicly discloses all of its first-tier suppliers, and is actively working to map out the rest down to the farm level for raw materials.

Kings of Indigo:

Another label known primarily for denim, Netherlands-based Kings of Indigo makes great jeans as well as contemporary fashion for men and women. Like many of these brands, Kings of Indigo is extremely transparent about its supply chain, publishing a production map and regularly visiting its factories. The brand uses 90 percent organic cotton in its denim, plus a fabric that combines organic cotton, recycled cotton, and hemp. It also uses dyeing and distressing techniques that reduce water consumption throughout the process.

While indigo may be the brand’s specialty — all dyeing is done by hand in a factory in India where the indigo originates — Kings of Indigo has a lot more than denim on offer. Shop here for on-trend casual pieces like striped sailor shirts and oversized duster jackets; the brand also makes jeans for babies and other stuff like tote bags and quilts. Prices start around $30 for an on-sale T-shirt and $116 for a pair of jeans.

Raven + Lily:

Another certified B Corp, Raven + Lily has made fair labor practices integral to the brand’s identity. Designed in Austin, Texas, Raven + Lily’s pieces are made by female artisans at fair-trade wages in countries like Ethiopia, Peru, India, and Kenya from sustainable materials like deadstock fabrics and fair-trade organic cotton.While the clothing options here aren’t super extensive, all the pieces do feel special. Expect bohemian but polished looks with feminine accents, like ombre dip-dyed gauzy silk dresses and alpaca sweaters with fringe.

Raven + Lily is one of the only brands on the list that makes clothes, jewelry, and accessories as well as items for the home such as candles, ceramics, quilts, and duvets. Shop here for gifts, jewelry, totes and wallets, and casual women’s clothes. Prices start around $88 for a top and $24 for a pair of earrings.


We can wrap this article up in a short statement: buy smart, buy less, and do your research. Consider buying clothing that is slightly more expensive, but is made with higher quality. The less you have to go to the store to buy new clothing, the better for the environment. As Christmas draws near, consider shopping the brands we listed here.

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Tyler Farr

Tyler is an energetic nature enthusiast who is currently considering moving into a tiny house. Tyler and his wife enjoy hiking, mountain biking, camping, and doing anything in the great outdoors. He hopes that the articles he writes will help others learn how important it is to take care of the environment.

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