The search for a cute ethical dress started in Namibia. Lyall and I had just interviewed Justine Braby on our podcast and were on our way to a wedding in Natal, South Africa. The problem was, I had no dress to wear and really didn’t want to buy new – not knowing where and how the dress might have been made.
Thankfully, Justine kindly gifted me a dress… It was the perfect fit, physically and ethically!
This brings us to an important precursor to this article: using what you have, borrowing or buying second hand is always more sustainable than buying new. This has become our mantra when it comes to sustainable and ethical fashion. It’s easier than ever to adopt given that online thrift stores have made it much more straightforward to find quality used clothing without leaving the couch.
Fashion renting is another option, especially for formal occasions where you’ll probably only wear a dress once before condemning it to the back of your closet until the next event. Looking for prom dresses that are ethical? Or maybe an ethical bridal dress? Well, the most ethical fancy dresses are those already in circulation.
There are plenty of local clothing companies popping up these days, but Rent the Runway has truly put fashion renting on the map. Based in New York City, it has the hottest design dresses and high-end formalwear. And they’ll ship to you anywhere in the US!
Having said that, we totally understand there are situations where renting or buying secondhand is not possible. So to help you find that ethically beautiful dress, here are some of the best fair trade and/or ethical dress brands who can help you minimize your environmental and social impact.
These are the dress diamonds in a mountain of coal. Not to skirt around the issues, but we’ve covered a lot more dirty details about the hideous side of fashion in this article. We encourage you to read it and learn just why it’s so important to opt for an ethical and ideally, fair trade dress.
If you want to know how we formulated this list and what criteria we used, skip to the bottom of the article. Equally, if you come across any terms or concepts you’re not familiar with, that’s a good place to check.
Just a few runway standouts we must first mention. Mata Traders for their entire organic line which has been Fair Trade certified for over a decade. B Corp certified Synergy Organic Clothing and their recycle and return policy for giving textiles a second life. People Tree for their dedication to fair working conditions. And finally, Reformation for revealing warts and all in their model transparency and challenging suppliers to be better.
But enough with the gabbing; let’s get to the gowns!
1. MATA TRADERS
About Mata Traders
From the Hindi word “mother”, Mata Traders began with founder Maureen Dunn Fetscher’s love affair with India. They’re now based in Chicago but work to bring the colorful and fun essence of fabrics to their fair fashion designs.
They have a full line of women’s clothing and accessories. With a plentiful dress selection, you can find anything from short, summer silhouettes to longer ethical maxi dresses, and according to the reviews, all have fun prints and a comfortable fit.
Mata Traders’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Almost all are made of 100% fully compostable cotton, but they do have some that are a 50% cotton/50% rayon blend. Since rayon is less sustainable, if you can, still to the organic cotton options…there are plenty!
They’re even manufactured completely by hand, with weaving, block and screen printing, and embroidery.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Mata Traders have been a member of the Fair Trade Federation for a decade, and are a gold-status Green America Certified Business.
They work with over 1,000 artisans, mostly females from marginalized communities in rural villages and urban slums in India and Nepal. The goal is to give these talented ladies the opportunity to gain meaningful work and social mobility. They also receive health care, paid maternity leave, pensions, daycare services, and on-staff social workers.
- Inclusivity: Between lots of model diversity and sizes US 0-24 (including the separate line of Fair Trade plus size dresses), the inclusivity here is excellent. Since they’re all priced under $100, these affordable ethical dresses won’t exclude anyone’s budget either.
- Community & charitable giving: All of their artisans are part of a co-op, which provides far more than the basic package of fair pay and workplace safety. It also offers free access to classes on literacy, computer training, nutrition, and parenting, which help to empower these women.
One testimony by embroiderer Choti, tells how the co-op gave her the courage to organize a protest with 200 other women that ultimately resulted in water for her village during a drought.
2. SYNERGY ORGANIC CLOTHING
About Synergy Organic Clothing
For Synergy, fashion is about more than the final look; instead “every stitch has a story”.
With so many colors and over 30 different dress styles, from warm autumn ethical maxi dresses to summer short dresses, they have something for everyone. And one thing they all have in common: they look so comfortable! Between flowy skirts and soft mostly organic fabric, these dresses are easy, breezy, and sustainable.
Synergy Organic Clothing’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: The majority material in all Synergy dresses is GOTS Certified Organic cotton dyed with non toxic dyes. Some of their dresses also contain a small percentage of recycled polyester and an even smaller percentage of spandex for a stretchy quality.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Synergy believes “how it’s made matters” and offer a footprint calculator to see how many resources Synergy manufacturing methods use compared to traditional ones. They also aim for top-of-the-line transparency on their end, promised by their many certifications.
As a Certified B Corporation, Synergy adheres to the highest of standards regarding their social and environmental impact, from their safe and ethical factories in India and Nepal, to their offices in California.
- Green business practices: They’re also certified as a Green Business by Green America, a member of the Organic Trade Association, and certified by the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Program. As of February 2020, their major manufacturing location became Fair Trade certified, too.
Finally, when you no longer want to sport a Synergy style (or the garment is just no longer wearable), send it back through the clothes recycling program. They’ll thank you for helping them reduce textile waste by giving you a 25% discount on your next order.
- Inclusivity: Synergy is in synch with all women, so their sizes run a fairly comprehensive XS-XL. And appropriately they use a variety of women to model their many various styles!
- Community & charitable giving: Rather than choosing just one partner, Synergy spreads the love by running several yearly give-back campaigns. See their many beneficiaries here.
3. PEOPLE TREE
About People Tree
Safia Minney’s People Tree has been in the sustainable and ethical fashion game longer than most. Since 1991, actually. This London-based company was actually the first fashion brand to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organisation product label.
Their fair trade vegan dress selection (like the rest of their clothing) is pretty massive, but each one is designed with a “capsule, multi-tasking wardrobe” in mind. You’ll find traditional patterns ranging from gingham to paisley, and classy silhouettes that are equally as suitable to be a fair trade party dress as they are a work dress.
People Tree’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: The PT policy is to use natural fibers derived from a closed-loop process, which means their large range is made from a small selection of fabrics. This means mostly TENCEL™ Lyocell and GOTS organic cotton. The only synthetic fabric we found was elastane in small percentages here and there.
These are dyed using low impact, GOTS-certified, and azo-free dyes.
- Supply chain & labor practices: People Tree has a TON of eco-credentials, including those by Fairtrade International (FLO) cotton, the Soil Association, and PETA. Read their 2019 Social Review for how they’ve earned these.
Over 90% of its supply line is certified by the World Fair Trade Organization. Most of these are small producer groups located in Nepal and Bangladesh, with whom they have worked for over 15 years. Each of these Fair Trade groups focus on different things, depending on social problems specific to that community.
- Green business practices: All production utilizes as many manual manufacturing techniques as possible, meaning traditional artisan skills such as hand weaving, hand knitting, hand embroidery, and hand block printing. This not only reduces machine emissions but helps ensure ancient cultural crafting techniques are preserved.
- Inclusivity: People Tree sizes run 8-16, which is equivalent to 2-14 in US sizes. It’s a little slim on size inclusivity on both ends.
- Community & charitable giving: The People Tree Foundation is PT’s independent offshoot charity that raises awareness of Fair Trade issues, both for the environment and for the farmers and artisans behind the fashion industry.
They support various projects like Bombolulu, established in 1969 to provide opportunities for people with physical disabilities in Kenya.
prAna is owned by major outdoor clothing retailer Columbia Sportswear and they make a wide selection of ethical activewear, particularly for climbing and yoga. So all you who love to look a little dressy while staying sporty and active, fear not: prAna provides. Their line of Fair Trade certified active dresses are perfect for adding a little flow to your fitness.
Their dresses are comfortable and versatile for traveling or summer BBQs where a spontaneous game of kickball might occur. Not all are Fair Trade certified sewn, but you can filter by those that are.
prAna’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: prAna dresses use a variety of fabrics and you can use the filter function to search for various fabric types. Many of the dressed include natural or cellulose fabrics like TENCEL™ Lyocell (sourced from responsibly managed forests) and organic cotton.
Some include recycled wool and other recycled synthetics like recycled polyester. Note some dresses we looked at had a polyester and spandex blend which were not recycled so best to read the fabric content before buying and opt for more sustainable fabrics.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Being a large and older company, prAna has a huge supply chain to produce their wide array of products.
Essentially, prAna is a huge proponent for traceability and Fair Trade factories wherever possible. They bear a Textile Exchange membership and partner with bluesign® to audit their manufacturers against the use of harmful substances.
- Inclusivity: Being an athletic brand, prAna has limited upper inclusive sizes but they still offer dresses in sizes XS-XL (or US 1-14/16). Their models are real athletes, not just professional models.
- Community & charitable giving: prAna supports Outdoor Outreach, a program designed to help disenfranchised mostly urban youth experience the great outdoors. Their sponsored ambassadors get additional support for individual charitable endeavors.
5. AMOUR VERT
About Amour Vert
Amour Vert is French for “green love” and if there’s anything we love, it’s green. They make fashion for men and women, and their dresses come in a wide selection of chic cuts for every occasion.
Amour Vert’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Since 60% of a garment’s impact comes from fabric production alone, Amour Vert uses non-toxic dyes and carefully selected fabrics. For dresses, this includes FSC-certified TENCEL Modal and Lyocell, organic cotton, Cupro, hemp, recycled polyester, and OEKO-TEX 100 certified Mulberry silk (sustainably grown with very little water but not vegan).
A few of their dresses also have blends of spandex and cellulosic Modal, which biodegrades better than synthetics but requires harsh chemical processing. If you can, go for more sustainable styles.
- Supply chain & labor practices: 97% of all Amour Vert products are made at one of six factories within a few miles of their San Francisco offices. They’ve published details on each factory, including the number of employees and gender ratio.
Each product description also displays the specific factory where that design was produced.
- Inclusivity: While they have a wide range of models to show off their clothing, their range of XS-L sizes isn’t super inclusive. However, the smaller sizes do make good options for girls’ fair trade dresses.
- Community & charitable giving: Amour Vert’s biggest charitable campaign is their Tees = Trees, where they plant a tree through American Forests for every t-shirt purchased. As of the end of 2019, they helped plant 292,538 trees.
As for cultivating community, check their Amour More series highlighting lots of inspiring community members.
6. PASSION LILIE
About Passion Lilie
Katie Schmidt is the brains behind the beauty. Her designs are a classy blend of 40s, 50s, and 60s fashion inspiration with ancient Indian artisanal techniques. These ethical simple cotton dresses encapsulate the essence of minimalist fashion.
Passion Lilie’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Passion Lilie uses 100% organic, non-GMO cotton that is hand block printed with eco dyes for most of its production and they also use traditional ikat dyed and woven cotton fabrics. This helps keep such ancient traditions alive.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Passion Lilie manufactures everything in either World Fair Trade Organization-certified or family factories in India, specifically Bangalore, Jaipur, Tirupur, and Hyderabad.
They provide disadvantaged workers with long term, meaningful employment opportunities, fair wages, and health care. Access to loans and other financial assistance is also available. Get an in-depth look at their global team in action here.
- Green business practices: The whole process is almost completely non-mechanized, including hand weaving and hand block printing (read about it or watch block printing in action). The fabrics are even hand washed and dried in the sun. Any leftover fabric scraps get reused for accessories and other handicrafts.
- Inclusivity: Passion Lilie’s widely flattering styles run in sizes XS-XL, and they use a diverse range of models to show off their products. Plus, their fair and reasonable prices make sure “ethical fashion is affordable and accessible to everyone”.
- Community & charitable giving: Passion Lilie empowers others to give to charities they’re passionate about by selling Passion Lilie products. Just contact them and they’ll help you organize a trunk show to donate to any charity of your choice.
Reformation’s eco-credentials are extensive and they are constantly striving to improve. An example is how each product description states where it was made and how much water, carbon dioxide, and waste was saved through manufacturing, so you can make an informed choice.
Their dress selection is huge, with tons of designs that perfectly blend classy and sexy (yes, even their fair trade wedding dresses!). While a little on the expensive side, the quality is worth it, especially if you’re looking to invest in USA-made and designed Fair Trade dresses for a night out.
Reformation’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Most Reformation dresses are made of TENCEL Lyocell, TENCEL X REFIBRA™ (Lyocell with a 20% recycled cotton waste blend), TENCEL Modal.
You’ll also find small blends of spandex as well as viscose and rayon which are not considered sustainable fabrics so be sure to check the blend before you buy.
Other lesser-used fabrics (as far as dresses go anyway) include GOTS-certified linen, recycled cotton, organic cotton, Econyl, and Recover yards (made of old vintage fabric waste). They know their fabrics aren’t perfect and are working on increasing the percentage of top tier sustainable fabrics.
For finishing, 56% of their dyeing partners are either Bluesign or OEKO-TEX 100 certified, and all fabrics are additionally tested for any defined restricted substances.
- Supply chain & labor practices: The best way to ensure a fair factory is to just build your own. Over 65% of production comes from Reformation’s very own Los Angeles factories (of which they give monthly tours). If you’re not in the area to see for yourself, meet their employees via video, many who are women or from underrepresented populations.
All their factories (including 32 in LA, 1 in Morocco, 1 in Turkey, and 16 in China) are regularly audited and held to the Global Social Compliance Programme’s (GSCP) Code of Conduct, which is equivalent to Fair Trade standards.
- Green business practices: They recently signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment with the goal of recirculating 500,000 garments by 2025 and they’re already over halfway there!
Our favorite thing about Reformation is their acute awareness that as a business (or consumer) you can’t remove all environmental impact. As such, they sell climate credits through Native Energy on their site and incentivize others to switch to wind energy by offering a $100 store credit for doing so.
Reformation has been carbon neutral in practice since 2015 but they’re currently working on getting the “fancy seal of approval” through Climate Neutral. They’ve achieved this by using wind power suppliers, using only e-commerce methods (which saves 30% energy), and operating in Green Business certified buildings.
For whatever emissions they can’t avoid, they offset through Brazilian Rosewood Amazon Conservation Project and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF). They even offset the power used by their web server and whatever screen you use to browse their clothes!
The list of conscious business practices continues with bio-based packaging to use of eco-friendly office supplies. They even specify the types of pens they use (recycled tire pens, by the way). For much more, read this page and their 2019 sustainability report.
- Inclusivity: With such a huge lineup, Reformation has a little something for everything, including a petite line, extended size collections, and items specifically tailored for busty women.
- Community & charitable giving: Again, in the vein of empowering others to do good, they incentivize their staff to get involved in the community, with a paid day off each month to volunteer, organizing company-wide volunteer days, and celebrating staff birthdays by donating a tree on their behalf through L.A.’s TreePeople.
Additionally, they donate the profits from their rotating collections to various organizations like ACLU and Planned Parenthood.
Thought started with a thought that occurred on vacation in Australia in 1995. Seven years later in 2002, the then titled Braintree Clothing made its debut at various London pop-up markets.
Their mantra is: “Wear me, love me, mend me, pass me on,” and they encourage you to make it your mantra, too.
Their dress selection is huge and as affordable as fair trade dresses go, especially given the professional and business-oriented vibes of most of the pieces. While they have a huge selection, shopping is easy with tons of filters, including by fabric type.
Thought’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Thought’s dresses are made of three base fabrics: hemp, bamboo and certified organic cotton. These are then blended with additional fabrics like elastane, rayon made from recycled tree pulp, and viscose derived from bamboo.
Because it’s likely that harsh chemicals are used in the rendering of these fabrics (viscose and rayon are famously chemical heavy), the best options are those made from hemp, organic cotton and recycled polyester.
Finally, these fabrics contain only azo-free dyes and OEKO-TEX 100 compliant finishes.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Just about all fabric is sourced from China where it is also manufactured. It’s chosen for its quality fiber offerings and the ability to keep shipping emissions lower across production.
While not officially certified by Fair Trade entities, they are an Common Objective member and uphold their supply chain to equivalent standards. Unfortunately, other than their published supplier code of conduct and animal welfare policies, they don’t get more specific about their factories. Thought could provide more transparency on this.
- Inclusivity: Thought is considerate in their product marketing and modeling. Aside from US sizes 2-14, they use a unique range models of all shapes and ages. After all, not everyone that’s buying dresses is a young 20-something!
- Community & charitable giving: Thought works with a variety of charitable partners. Most notably, they are founding partners of Common Objective, an impact initiative that champions ethical fashion production by incentivizing it with financial returns.
Everlane was founded by then 25-year-old CEO Michael Preysman and Jesse Farmer in 2010. In 2015, Michael’s innovative fashion framework earned him a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30.
They create a full line for men and women, right down to the ethical underwear. Their wide line of dresses is a great option for something cute and casual, but not overly dressy.
They even have a whole line of “choose what you pay” dresses, where they give you three different options depending on how much financial support you’re able to give the company at that time. The lowest being pretty much the base cost of producing the dress and fulfilling the order. You don’t have to be affluent to buy sustainably!
Everlane’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: All Everlane’s environmentally friendly dresses are made with biodegradable materials, including cupro, linen, triacetate, and cotton. The best part is that they don’t mix materials on their dresses, which makes it super easy to properly dispose of them at end-of-life.
- Supply chain & labor practices: The Everlane way boils down to three things: “Exceptional quality. Ethical Factories. Radical Transparency.” We’re especially impressed by their dedication to the latter. #KnowYourFactories, they say, and provide a handy interactive map of all their factories on their website. In compliance with the CA SB657 Supply Chain Transparency Act, Everlane audits every supplier and factory yearly.
Each dress description states where that particular design is made, and an option to click and see the factory yourself, as well as the vendor code of conduct they must uphold. Most dresses are made in ethical factories in China, specifically at the Silver LEED certified Nanchong Fashion Foundation and Shenzen’s Lever Shirt Ltd.
Make sure to scroll past the reviews on each product page to see the true cost of all elements of producing the dress. Read more about their transparent pricing policies here.
- Green business practices: In 2019, Everlane announced its ReNew line, the first step in their pledge to eliminate all virgin plastic from the supply line and all company operations by 2021.
- Inclusivity: Aside from using diverse models, most dresses come in a wide range of sizes from 00-16 (only a few designs shave off the outer limit numbers).
- Community & charitable giving: Every year, Everlane launches a new Black Friday fund. For every order placed, they donate $15 to ocean plastic cleanup non-profit Oceana. They raised $300,000 on 2019’s Black Friday, enough to fund Oceana campaigns for a full year.
SKFK (sometimes referred to as Skunkfunk) comes to us from the Basque country, though they now have offices in 38 different countries. Their art and culture inspired dresses radiate an urban chic vibe that’s edgy yet timeless. With comfort and function to boot!
In the name of Slow Fashion, they only design two collections a year and offer a fashion rental service so you don’t have to resort to buying new.
SKFK’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: The best SKFK options are their organic fair trade cotton dresses. Other materials include recycled cotton, Lyocell, modal, and Lenzing’s EcoVero fabric, a new lower-impact form of Viscose. See below for more. Some of their styles still have traditional cellulose viscose, too, which is best to avoid.
For recycled polyester dresses, know that all recycled fibers are certified either by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) or Recycled Content Standard (RCS). Many actually come from fabric recycled from their own supply chain.
All these fabrics are processed without any of the numerous restricted materials and chemicals so your fair trade dresses are chemical free as well.
- Supply chain & labor practices: As per their pledge through the Chetna Coalition, SKFK only purchases organic cotton sourced from long term relationships (minimum of one year) with small farming cooperatives in India. Read more about their ethical sourcing policies in the full Supplier Code of Conduct here.
- Green business practices: Aiming to become fully circular, they offer an in-store repair department or garment recycling program. If you don’t happen to find yourself in Bilbao of Basque Country, they also partner with Koopera so you can send unwanted garments for recycling into raw, reusable fibers, which SKFK then puts back into circulation.
Each product includes a Carbon Footprint calculator which shows you the CO2 emissions that garment will create across its full life cycle, down to the recycled cotton paper tags. It also compares these emissions to the industry standard.
As a company, they’re aiming to reduce Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 37% from 2017 to 2025. They’re achieving this, in part, by powering their office and shops with green energy.
For shipping, they have a zero air transport policy, use UPS’s carbon neutral shipping option, and ship everything in Repack’s reusable and returnable packaging system.
- Inclusivity: SKFK’s dresses are sized 34-44 or XS-XXL. According to US sizes that’s 2-12, which is fairly limited. Otherwise, they seem to promote diversity with their models and general image.
- Community & charitable giving: SKFK currently gives to the newly founded Berrizan Foundation, which works to protect biodiversity and counter the damage from industrial pine and eucalyptus plantations in Basque Country.
11. CHRISTY DAWN
About Christy Dawn
Christy Dawn is a women’s fashion brand that makes everything from slips to sandals. You will find an easy-breezy Bohemian style to modestly flaunt your feminine wiles. They have lots of long, flowy skirts and pioneer-woman inspired cuts and patterns. These make the perfect ethical bridesmaid dresses for an outdoor summer wedding of the wild-hearted.
Despite being based in the bustling L.A. metropolis, their ultra elegant ethical dresses make us want to ride a horse bareback off into the sunset.
Christy Dawn’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: All Christy Dawn pieces are crafted using purely deadstock fabric, in an effort to turn textile waste into something beautiful and useful. You’ll find a lot of different fabrics across the line, many of which are not compostable. As consumers, it’s up to us to properly handle eventual disposal.
- Supply chain & labor practices: A rarity in the fashion industry, all the dresses are sewn in the USA, at a factory in downtown L.A. While they can’t control the deadstock fabric they source, they do ensure ethical manufacturing for everything beyond.
In their journey to becoming a “farm-to-closet company,” they’ve recently co-created a regenerative cotton farming initiative in India, working with traditional farmers to replenish depleted land back to health. They’re now starting to use this regenerated cotton (along with purely plant-based dyes) in their dresses.
- Inclusivity: We love the diversity in skin color and size of Christy Dawn’s models, and the dresses look fabulous on each and every one. To see more examples of the endless looks, check out their community page, featuring photos of real women sporting their Christy Dawn dresses. You can get them in sizes XS to XXL.
- Community & charitable giving: Christy Dawn doesn’t have a regular giving partner but they get involved with different community fundraisers and grassroots programs, like Olympia Ausset’s SÜPRMARKT campaign to bring healthy foods to poorer neighborhoods of L.A. Read about that collaboration here and about other charitable involvement in their journal.
12. ACE & JIG
About ace & jig
If you’re looking for something a little more unusual in style, check out ace & jig’s funky dress collection. Since Cary Vaughan and Jenna Wilson founded the company as design students in 2009, they’ve been handweaving a “textile love story” out of base offices in Brooklyn, NY and Portland, OR.
Everything is designed to be timeless and effortless, so you can wear it any number of ways for years to come. Take a look at the fun fabrics and see why they say their “textiles spark joy”. Probably Marie Kondo approved too!
ace & jig’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Every single ace & jig dress is made of 100% cotton. The yarn is custom woven, dyed with azo-free dyes, sun-dried, and wound on wooden looms. They even upcycle bicycle wheels as looms (it’s quite the visual).
- Supply chain & labor practices: ace & jig work with talented and mostly female weavers in India. The hubs are near cotton farms so as to source the cotton locally. Aside from fair wages, every employee receives access to free childcare and fresh produce grown on-site using water safely reclaimed from the manufacturing process. Cary and Jenna personally visit several times a year to work with their weavers.
- Green business practices: To promote slow fashion, they never make items available online until it’s physically in their warehouses. These then ship via carbon neutral services in 100% recycled paper mailers which are fully compostable (within a year, meaning not technically home compostable) inner TIPA bags.
They are dedicated to eliminating textile waste, because “elongating the lifespan of our garments is one of the most sustainable practices we can adopt”. In an effort to #WasteNot, they either use their trimming or donate them to schools and artists. They also sell patch kits so you can repair any garment rather than replace it. Plus, they donate 100% of the profits from these patch kits to the Natural Resource Defense Council.
- Inclusivity: With sizes XXS to 2X and a beautifully inclusive team of models, ace & jig has some truly admirable efforts toward inclusivity. Fashion industry, take note!
- Community & charitable giving: In the last two years alone, ace & jig donated over $54,000 to environmental and social justice organizations like EarthJustice, the ASPCA, the Montauk Oceans Institute, plus more.
Their recent Tote Bag Fundraiser encourages people to donate $25 or more to a set list of charities by offering 400 free one-of-a-kind tote bags made from fabric scraps in return.
“The Kennedy Dress” line by Boyish includes five different wash variations of button-up denim mini-dress. While limited in selection, this fun and vintage design could add a little sustainability to your summer look.
Started by Jordan Nodarse, Boyish is an LA-based denim focused fashion brand that promises, “The only impact we’ll leave on the planet is good jeans.” For example, one pair of Boyish jeans uses one-third the water of traditional denim (and that gets recycled).
Boyish’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: The Kennedy Dresses are made using a blend of non-GMO organic cotton sourced form Izmir, Turkey (which heavily restricts the use of GMO seeds) and recycled cotton. This denim is then dyed with safe, reduced indigo dyes from Dystar with 80% fewer sulphates.
They are certified by Bluesign, OEKO-TEX 100, GOTS, and Organic 100 Content Standard. They’re also Global Recycle Standard certified meaning these products can be responsibly disposed, though they’re designed to last a long time.
- Supply chain & labor practices: “People make our jeans, not workers” which is why this Remake-approved brand audits everyone in their supply chain through the third-party Intertek to ensure environmental and ethical standards. On the management side, they’re ISO 9001 certified meaning their operations meet top quality management practices.
They have a strict Code of Conduct all suppliers must sign and they regularly visit their own factories to keep an eye on processes (made even easier by the condensed, single-region nature of all entities).
- Green business practices: First, Boyish saves water and energy by using efficient washing processes for their fabrics. This means using neutral enzymes, cold water, vapor water washing, PP-free (potassium permaganate) vintage fading, and chemical-free triple-molecule Oxygen (O3) “Ozone Wash” for bleaching.
With a zero waste business goal, they recycle all fabric cuttings (either into products or other industrial use). Even their TENCEL stretch fabrics gets recycled using Re:Newcell . To further their closed-loop goal, they recently joined The Jeans Redesign project from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. They also use biodegradable hangtags and polybags for shipping.
Plus, their entire manufacturing supply chain is located within 30 miles so shipping emissions are hugely reduced.
Though they didn’t become certified became Climate Neutral until 2018, they’ve been carbon neutral since startup, by using energy efficient machines and manufacturing processes, choosing supply chain vendors from a single region, and purchasing offsets from Carbon Fund.
- Inclusivity: Sizes of these fair trade summer dresses run XXS-XL, so a little lacking at the larger end of the inclusivity scale.
- Community & charitable giving: Boyish is a member of 1% for the Planet through which they regularly give to the California Coast Keeper Alliance, One Tree Planted, Textile Exchange, Solar Sister, and Friends of the LA River. They also partner with social initiatives like Keep a Breast and Fair Trade USA, and participate in Cool to Care volunteer events.
Since “nature is the ultimate luxury” AMUR makes luxury dresses designed for more special occasions, like galas and weddings (even for bridesmaid dresses). Shop everything from light and flowy ethical floral dresses to formal fair trade evening gowns.
At this time, they only ship to the US and Canada.
AMUR’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: AMUR uses three pillars of fabrics: natural, cellulosic, and regenerated. Their natural fibers include cotton, hemp, linen and silk (avoid if you’re vegan), and GOTS organic whenever possible. For cellulosic fibers, you’ll find TENCEL Modal and cupro (a silky material made from recycled cotton linter- read below for more information).
Finally, their regenerated fabrics, like recycled PET and other waste materials spun into fibers, are all Global Recycle Standard certified. Some of these fabrics (from one particular factory) are also Bluesign certified. Because AMUR supports a closed-loop economy, they’ll also recycle any regenerated fabric garments for you and make them into new dresses.
Overall, AMUR recognizes that none of their fabrics or dresses may be perfectly sustainable, depending on so many factors. They state: “There are many ways to measure a garment’s environmental impact, but if it’s not in some way an improvement on the status quo, it’s not in the collection.”
- Supply chain & labor practices: AMUR is NEST-certified, which upholds their supply line to standards similar to Fair Trade. Their manufacturing is mostly based in India and Vietnam and the designs are a collaboration with these artisans.
- Inclusivity: One downside is that AMUR is lacking a bit in the inclusivity department. With sizes 00 to 12, they seem to fall into the trap of many high-end fashion brands and use mostly slim models.
WHY BUYING SUSTAINABLE AND FAIR TRADE DRESSES IS A MUST
The problems of fast fashion are numerous: pollution, utter disregard for human rights, and unfathomable waste. In America alone, about 10.5 million tons of textiles hit the landfill every year, while only 15% get recycled or donated.
When looking at all the different types of garments, dresses have one of the poorest lifespans, in terms of sheer amount of wear. Think about it: How many times have you worn any of your dresses when compared to all the other clothing in your closet? Probably not many.
Dresses are designed for specific occasions and often get tossed aside, never to be worn again except every once in a blue moon for a burst of nostalgia.
It’s time we not only start giving our dresses a much more fulfilling wear life (and therefore buying fewer of them) but buying ones that don’t harm the environment or the people that make them.
Say yes to the dress, but no to the mess.
HOW WE FOUND THESE ETHICAL AND FAIR TRADE DRESSES
So how did we determine which brands are the real deal and which ones are just blowing smoke? We used our sustainable and ethical fashion criteria, which we’ve developed after extensive research and consideration that you can read about here. Here’s the gist of the four main things we consider:
- Materials: We want materials with as low impact as possible, both from the raw production side and from the product’s end-of-life. Just below, we’ll dive into sustainable materials specific to dresses.
- Supply chain & labor practices: This means both consideration for human rights across their supply chain and environmental impact. Companies should treat workers fairly, reduce their carbon footprint (and offset what they can’t), offer recycling programs if their products can’t be composted, and use low waste packaging. Third party certifications (like B-Corp and Fairtrade) really help to provide reassurance that they’re not just greenwashing. Read more about these many certifications here.
In this artile in particular, we searched for fair trade certifications or a next level dedication to ensuring those involved at all steps along the supply chain received fair pay and safe working conditions.
- Inclusivity: We look for companies that promote both diversity and a healthy body image. Fashion cultivates a lot of negativity in this realm so we want to see companies that don’t exclude body types or sizes.
- Charitable endeavors: When comparing two companies with similar eco-credentials, we’ll always side with the one that’s involved in some charitable endeavor or cultivating an empowered, involved community of wearers.
What is Fair Trade?
Let’s start with this one (considering it’s in the title and a pretty big theme throughout the article). We hear the term “fair trade” tossed around but what does it mean? Well, it’s actually pretty simple, and the name contains the gist of it.
Fair trade refers to materials, either raw or processed, that are traded fairly, in exchange for proper pay (which means a living wage without working overtime, not just a minimum wage). Fair trade also means the material was produced in a safe work environment, free from discrimination, harassment, abuse, or child/forced labor. It also guarantees employees with things like proper training and reasonable hours.
There are lots of different certifying entities, like the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) along with individual chapters such as the North American Fair Trade Federation, Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade Foundation, and Fairtrade International.
Fabrics for Eco Friendly Dresses
Let’s start with a brief summary of some of the fabrics you’ll find on this list, and ones commonly found in sustainable fashion.
- Organic cotton: Simply, this is cotton grown without chemicals, meaning it requires a lot less water and less land, and is much safer for cotton farmers and processors. For a cotton garment to hold a Fair Trade certification, it must be grown organically.
- Organic Hemp: A fiber from the cannabis plant that requires little water and no pesticides to grow.
- Organic Linen: Another minimally water consumptive fiber spun from the flax plant.
- TENCEL (Lyocell/Modal): TENCEL is a brand with two types of compostable/cellulosic fabric. Lyocell is made from bamboo or eucalyptus wood pulp and Modal from beech trees. Unlike the process of turning bamboo into viscose or wood into rayon, TENCEL has an entirely closed-loop process, which recycles 99% of water and solvents.
- Recycled synthetics: Made from either recycled fabrics (like deadstock or vintage clothing) or other plastic waste (like Econyl), these may not be biodegradable but they do put material already in existence to second use, which is a much better use for them than going to landfill.
And then there are some new fabric innovations on the market we stumbled across while researching these dresses.
- Cupro: A silk-like fabric spun from reclaimed cotton linter. Cotton linters are a part of the cotton plant, enfolding its seeds. They’re too short for standard cotton spinning so typically they are thrown away.
Cupro not only gives this waste a purpose but is made through a closed-loop process, like lyocell and modal. Cupro appears to be typically made by Asahi Kasei in Japan and their Cupro is called Bemberg. You can read more about them here.
- EcoVero: EcoVero is the newest fabric to the TENCEL lineup. It’s made from wood through either FSC or Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) certified forests. It creates a silky fabric like viscose. Watch the process here.
However, EcoVero is a little controversial as some argue it is similar to viscose production, which relies on harsh chemicals to turn fibers into fabrics. While it does still rely on chemicals, the production process is closed-loop, chlorine-free, and produces 50% fewer emissions.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ETHICAL AND FAIR TRADE DRESSES
We hope this guide has helped you learn where to buy ethical dresses should you need to.
Just remember that every time you don a dress, you’re modeling the world you want to live in. These ethicla and fair trade dress brands will not only help you look good but feel good. And isn’t that the biggest secret to beauty?
If you know someone in the market for an ethical dress option, please share this article and help us spread the word about what to wear. If you have a favorite brand you feel belongs on this list, please let us know in the comments. The sustainable fashion market is happily growing so we’re always stoked to hear about brands we missed.