Doing Good in Different Ways: The Five Types of Ethical Brands

how to shop ethically

There can be a lot of confusion around the idea of shopping ethically. Someone recently asked me if I only championed brands who are ethically producing clothes in developing countries, or if I also support companies that sustainably produce clothes in the USA. It's a great question, and prompted me to write this guide to empower you to shop based on your values. 

The way I see it, there are five different types of ethical purchases. I'm not here to say one is better than another, just to lay out how it works so that you can have this knowledge next time you need to buy an outfit. 

I've listed a few brands as examples in each category, but there are so many more out there! You can find a more thorough list over on my brands for him, her, or kids pages. 


Method One: SocialLy Conscious Brands in Developing Countries

What it means: This may be the most common model you think off when you hear of "Fair Trade Fashion." These brands work in developing countries, but instead of doing so to get the cheapest labor, they do so to provide sustainable employment opportunities. Many of these companies go the extra mile and offer complimentary training to workers in order to continue broadening their options for employment. 

Who it helps: This method helps workers in developing countries by offering safe employment, boosts their economy and standard of living. 

Examples: Everlane, Nisolo, Oliberte, Krochet Kids, PeopleTree


Method two: Brands on special mission 

What it means: Take the definition from the previous section and then add even more good stuff! These brands specifically use their business to employ the most vulnerable people in the world. Their employment opportunities act as catalysts to freedom for people (usually women) who would otherwise be oppressed and likely trafficked. They're all about giving back directly to their employees and changing lives. 

Who it helps: This method typically employees a small group of individuals, but it is life changing for those people and their families. Most of these companies work with women who have been rescued from sex slavery or offer pathways to education for women who would otherwise never have the opportunity. 

Examples: Sseko, Fashionable, Sudara, Naja, 31 Bits


Method Three: Truly Made in the USA

What it means: This method is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to make sure we understand that to be truly made in the USA means that materials were gathered either here or ethically abroad. There's nothing ethical about a garment that was technically sewn in the USA but is entirely made of fabric and materials cheaply and oppressively manufactured elsewhere. 

Who it helps: This method helps the economy right here in the USA and generates job growth nationally. 

Examples: American GiantAmour Vert,  Zady, Buck Mason, Elizabeth Suzann


Method Four: Small Business / Your Local Artisan

What it means: This method falls under "Made in The USA," but more specifically refers to startup businesses and local creatives who are pouring their heart and soul into every piece of clothing that is sold. One of the ultimate ways to fight "fast fashion" is to help along the very time-consuming process of building a sustainable brand. 

Who it helps: This method directly supports entrepreneurs (bonus points if they're in your own city) and local economy. 

Examples: Sotela, Swoon Swimwear, Open Air Museum, Make It Good, Han Starnes


Method Five: Secondhand

What it means: Buying vintage or used clothing is easily the most affordable way to shop ethically. You can find some wonderful and unique pieces for a fraction of their original cost. For more details on how shopping secondhand is ethical, check out this post

Who it helps: This method is quite literally a lifesaver for the environment; clothes are kept out of landfills and given new purpose. If you're purchasing from a local thrift store, you also have the privilege of supporting a small business! 

Examples: ThredUp, Velour, Buffalo Exchange, Backtalk, House of Vintage


It's so empowering as a consumer to understand the impact of your purchase. Each of these methods is an investment in a better world, and you get to choose which avenue you support directly every time you buy something!

Your dollar matters. 

Your Purchase Matters.

Your Values matter.