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How to Build an Ethical Closet, It’s Easier Than You Think

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Unfortunately, most of us have closets that contain items manufactured in unregulated workforces, or worse, with slave labor. If you’re working to build a more ethical closet without breaking the bank, this article has great tips.


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Fashion brands want to out price their competitors and create buying demand by rapidly redefining what’s currently considered “in fashion.” It seems like the trends change weekly…. Which is no accident. The faster that clothing goes out of style, the more clothes can be sold.

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“Fast Fashion” describes fashion retailers who sell items that are very cheap and extremely trend-based. Fast Fashion companies can respond very quickly to trend changes, but they must produce items in extremely grueling conditions. Unfortunately, buying Fast Fashion comes often with the collateral damage of human suffering and toxic environmental impacts. At its worst, the Fast Fashion industry can be built upon slave labor.

If you’re seeking to curate your personal ethical closest, read on for tips on how to build it, piece by piece.

How to Build an Ethical Closet, It's Easier Than You Think

Image courtesy of Shutterstock, Inc., Used By Permission.

Buy Used

The simplest way to ensure that your dollars don’t fund unethical manufacturing is to buy used clothing. Even if the brand has compromised ethics, your purchase goes towards the reseller, not the original producer. Many second-hand vendors like the Goodwill or Salvation Army have amazing missions that you’ll support by default with your purchases. However, traditional thrift stores lack curated selections that reduce the consumers’ “hunt” time. More fashion-forward resellers like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet or Crossroads ensure that their items will be fairly on-trend.  Alternatively, you can buy used directly from individuals through eBay or Poshmark.

In addition to reducing sweatshop labor, buying used also has a positive impact on the environment. Your purchase prevents used items from reaching landfills and reduces packaging waste. Bonus points for also being super wallet friendly!

Download Helpful Apps

  • Done Good: Consider installing the Done Good extension on your web browser. Via notifications within the browser, this extension flags if you’re about to make an online purchase from an ethically compromised brand. Done Good recommends an alternative vendor and provides a coupon code to incentivize you buy from the better business. Browse Done Good’s directory to find businesses verified for ethical excellence.
  • Good On You: This mobile app is great to reference when you’re out shopping. You can quickly input the brand you’re interested in to see how they check out for production practices. Good On You also runs a fascinating blog which regularly takes deeper dives into specific popular brands and their strengths/weaknesses as ethical vendors.

Buy “Made in America”

By purchasing “Made in America” items, you can rest assured that a minimum level of care was considered for the product’s manufacturing team. Employees were paid at least minimum wage and will not have been forced to work overtime unless properly compensated for their time.

Additionally, when you purchase “Made in America,” your dollars will stay within the country. By keeping your funds within America, this helps grow local economies, ensuring that jobs are not exported abroad.

Chose B Corps

B Corps “are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” B Corp labels are similar the Free Trade or Certified Organic labels you often see on packaging in the grocery store.

How to Build an Ethical Closet, It's Easier Than You Think

Image courtesy of Shutterstock, Inc., Used By Permission.

Over 2,600 companies are B Corps. The B Corp website features nearly 100 fashion-specific brands that have been independently verified for employing ethical business practices. B Corps’ directory can help you find recommended brands for non-fashion purchases as well; environmental and ethical concerns apply to purchases beyond just your closet.

Check Brands’ Websites for a Supply Chain Disclosure

Over the past few deades, many brands garnered bad press for having problematic supply chain (sweatshop) processes. Given this newfound attention paid to manufacturing practices, if a brand is investing heavily in ethical employment practices, they’re also likely to proudly publish their policies on their websites.

It seems like the trends change weekly…. Which is no accident. The faster that clothing goes out of style, the more clothes can be sold.

Certainly, there are ample ethical smaller name brands to seek out in boutiques and online stores. However, even when shopping major department stores, there are globally known brands operating with a heart, including Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Adidas/Rebook, Brooks and Levi’s.

Extra Credit

If you are eager to learn more about this topic, the documentary “The True Cost” explores the negative impact Fast Fashion has on a global scale. Check it out on Netflix.

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Stick with the Brands You Trust

You may feel overwhelmed with all this information. Set aside some time for research to find your “go-to” apparel brands.” To make this easier for you, here’s a handy ethical closet checklist:

  • Find your favorite second-hand retailers
  • Download Done Good browser extension and the Good On You mobile app
  • Buy “Made in America”
  • Research B Corps to find new trusted brands
  • Explore your current favorite brands’ websites for their Supply Chain Disclosures
  • Watch “The True Cost

It’s a lot of work to do this research. The good news is that there are ample companies who can fill your closet. Once you’ve figured out the brands you’d like to wear regularly, keep coming back for more!