Shop for a cause: 8 ethical fashion brands to look out for

Act upon your ethical instincts with brands that help the planet or its inhabitants in ways big and small

Phrases such as conscious consumerism, sustainable luxury and cruelty-free have become part of mainstream fashion lingo, but, really, what do they entail and how can you incorporate some of that integrity into your wardrobe? The good news is that ethical fashion need not be constrained by any one parameter. It could mean saving the planet, aiding underserved minorities or upholding animal rights. It could involve recycling or upcycling, both of which help to reduce the tonnes of waste produced and water consumed by the apparel industry. Products that deter from animal testing, those that come in reusable, recyclable or ­biodegradable containers, as well as those that are made from all-natural ingredients, are all worthy of being ­classified as ethical.

Arguably, the act of buying items that go some way towards preserving a fast-dying craft can also be deemed moral. Not only does this inject financial aid into artisanal communities, but it also breathes new life into age-old expertise, preserving it for future generations.

Accordingly, the brands listed here address the whole gamut of socio-­economic, cultural and environmental concerns. From shoes and bags to clothes and jewellery, it is now possible to create an entirely ethical wardrobe. Here are some brands to help get you started on yours.

Known Supply

Apparel manufacturing has become a nameless, faceless industry, but here’s an anti-fast-fashion company that’s trying to change that by celebrating the people who makes its clothes. Alongside the description of an outfit you’ve selected – say, the Hollie dress in taupe from the women’s collection and a crew neck tee in burnt orange from the men’s selection – the e-tailor includes information about the person who stitched, embroidered or crocheted that garment, working with artisans from underserved communities. Uganda’s Lamunu Kevin, for example, lost her entire family to war, while Ocrira Cindrella was orphaned when she was 7. The women are now financially able thanks to Known Supply’s manufacturing facility in Gulu, which it runs alongside one in the Peruvian capital Lima and the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Each piece is hand-signed by its maker, and you can also send them a thank-you note. As the brand’s website puts it: “The aim is to humanise the apparel industry by introducing you to the [craftsperson]. So you can stop guessing about who made your clothing and the impact of your purchases.”

Okhtein handbags

A handout photo of Johnny Breaker tote from Future Nostalgia collection (Courtesy: Okhtein) *** Local Caption ***  al21au-style-okhtein03.jpg

The small, ethical Egyptian fashion label recently got a big shout-out from none other than Beyoncé, who carried one of its embroidered bags, fittingly, during a visit to see the bust of Queen Nefertiti in Berlin. The brainchild of sisters Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf, Okhtein (the Arabic word for sisters) creates hard-edged leather and woven bags, with just enough studding to convey attitude, rather than inflict injury. What makes the brand stand out is not only its gorgeous bags, but also that it is aware that it is in a position to do good. To create its products, the company has linked up with Egyptian NGOs, promoting local skills and provide support to women facing financial ­hardship. Using embroidery and weaving as a way to support local crafts, Okhtein is helping bring these skills to a wider audience. How fitting then that Queen Bey is doing the same.


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Emi & Eve jewellery

It is estimated that there are more than four million unexploded ordinance devices across rural Cambodia. Financial constraints have rendered the essential landmine clean-ups that are in place slow-going. However, London designer Cassandra Postema works with Cambodian artisans through her label Emi & Eve to produce a collection of jewellery made entirely from recycled bullet and bomb casings. The decommissioned shells are combined with natural gemstones sourced from the country to make eye-catching rings, earrings and pendants. Postema also donates a ­portion of the brand's profits to the female staff working on ­landmine- clearing duty, as well as training young craftspeople. "I've always been interested in working with individuals who need an income," says Postema. "As a designer, I feel that I carry certain ­responsibilities towards the environment in the materials I choose, and the people who make my products."

Bu sunscreens

Hawaii's Hanauma Bay and the Pacific nation of Palau are making moves to ban reef-toxic sunscreen products to protect marine life. At the same time, the 2018 NCRI Cancer Conference noted that men – who tend to be more lackadaisical in their approach to skincare – are more prone to death from skin cancer. If you're looking for a product that protects the skin but does not contribute to sunscreen pollution, here's why you should consider one from Bu: the bottles are 100 per cent recyclable and come with non-aerosol finger-powered sprayers. Self-powered spray cans, on the other hand, potentially contain harmful propellants, and they are ­pressurised, making them less easily recyclable. The sunscreens, themselves, are 100 per cent vegan and do not contain any animal derivatives. Moreover, the products are manufactured in a solar-powered, GMP-­compliant factory. "The planet means a great deal to us," say the founders. "That's why we believe in the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle." The company also produces UV apparel for men, women and children.

CoverGirl make-up

The company made news last week when it became the biggest beauty brand to get a Leaping Bunny certification by Cruelty-Free International, or in other words to be certified as completely cruelty-free. This means none of the lipsticks, eyeshadows and mascaras will be tested on animals, and the products will carry a Leaping Bunny logo. CoverGirl posted an Instagram message informing customers that all products currently on shelves are ­cruelty-free. “As the biggest make-up brand to achieve the Leaping Bunny certification, we are committed to getting affordable, ethical make-up into the hands of anyone who wants it,” it said. The brand also does not sell its products in China, where animal testing is still required by law. Parent company Coty has released a statement saying it is committed to making all its brands cruelty-free by 2020.

Veja shoes

Meghan Markle stepped out in a pair of Veja sneakers during her recent visit to Australia, catapulting interest in the brand as only duchesses can. Celebrity endorsement aside, what is special about the French label is that it taps into the trend of conscious consumerism, producing environmentally friendly footwear in collaboration with cooperatives of small producers in Brazil. The sneakers, which are available in men’s, women’s and unisex styles, are made with raw materials sourced via organic farming and ecological agriculture, without any chemicals or polluting processes. The shoe’s canvas is made from recycled bottles and recycled cotton collected from the waste of the fashion industry, while wild rubber, harvested from the heart of the Amazon Forest, is used for the soles.

Rare Carat

Despite efforts to eradicate blood diamonds, the fact remains that the industry can do with more transparency. Rare Carat, a New York start-up, aims to make it impossible for consumers to get ripped off with diamonds. The company has partnered with independent tech enterprise Everledger, to launch the Rare Carat Report, a free AI tool equipped with a fair-price estimate, for consumers to intelligently evaluate ­diamonds for sale anywhere, online or off. Simply enter the diamond’s certificate number, and the app will return an assessment that evaluates the diamond’s price, strengths and weaknesses, allowing consumers to either buy with confidence, or seek a better quality or lower priced stone elsewhere. ­According to Leanne Kemp, Everledger founder: “By enabling greater ­transparency with ­digital-provenance tracking, consumers are able to have confidence in the authenticity and ­responsible production of the diamond that they purchase.”

Gifts from Ten Thousand Villages

This maker-to-market project connects buyers with artisans in 10,000 villages across the world. It calls itself an ethical gift shop, but that's not to say you can't buy yourself with the Mama Elephant candleholder handmade by Corr–The Jute Works, women's non-profit handicraft marketing trust in Bangalesh; the Lumina mirror from the Indonesian People's Handicraft Foundation; or the Wire Owl bookmark created by home-bound artisans in Kisumu, Kenya. In addition to supplying handmade items, the company and its collaborators also ensure that makers earn a fair wage in safe working conditions. The artisans hail from underserved minorities, including people with disabilities and women seeking financial independence. Many of the design techniques are dying out, so here is a chance to support both a craftsman and his or her craft. And finally, Ten Thousand Villages helps to protect the planet by using locally sourced, recycled and renewable materials to minimise its environmental footprint.