Sustainability and Ethical Practices in the Fashion Industry


Models wear clothing made from soy bean, bamboo and silk in a bold statement about sustainability in the fashion industry.

Fast fashion is an addiction. However, consumerism has had adverse effects on the environment, especially in terms of the clothes and accessories we buy, wear and dispose of. The term “fast fashion” refers to mass-market retailers designing and producing fast, inexpensive clothing based on the latest trends. It is hard not to grow accustomed to being able to buy what you want, when you want it online or in-stores. However, The University of Colorado Boulder reports that the global fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, after oil.

Many consumers do not stop and wonder what the various processes of production that go into making our clothes are when buying at fast fashion stores, such as Forever 21, Zara, Topshop and H&M. The fashion industry is often characterized by excessive cotton and polyester usage, textile factories polluting the environment, using up natural resources and over-production of clothing. We need to become more aware as a generation about the effect the clothing we buy has on the planet. If the fashion industry remains unchallenged and unchecked, it will never become more sustainable. 

Likewise, the fashion industry needs to become more transparent. Fashion brands should let consumers know how the clothes they buy and wear are getting made and who is producing them. This raises another serious issue in the fashion industry regarding ethical practices in terms of the wages, age restrictions and the working conditions of factory workers outside the United States. It is no secret that many fast fashion brands horrendously exploit workers overseas. 

However, it is unrealistic to expect average people to just completely stop buying from fast fashion retailers because sustainable fashion is pretty expensive. Nevertheless, spreading awareness about these issues is the first step. Becoming more mindful by asking questions about the clothing we buy and attempting to avoid fast fashion whenever possible makes a difference. If consumers begin to buy more from brands that have eco-friendly agendas and ethical practices, then other brands will follow suit. I have compiled a list of fashion brands that are more cognizant and are committing themselves to providing consumers with clothing that is more sustainable. 

H&M Conscious Collection 

H&M is a fast fashion retailer and has faced ethical issues in the past. However, the company has been attempting, little by little, to become more sustainable. By 2020, H&M’s objective is to use 100 percent sustainably sourced cotton and by 2030, H&M will only use 100 percent recycled materials or other sustainably sourced materials. Regarding the factories that make the clothing, however, H&M uses independent suppliers mostly in developing countries. H&M says it is very careful and strict in choosing suppliers that respect their workers and the environment. 

ASOS Eco Edit 

The ASOS Eco Edit first launched in 2010. The Eco Edit is a select section in the ASOS website where consumers can shop for products that are made by fashion companies and manufacturers that utilize sustainable business practices. 


Patagonia’s goal is to reduce the harmful social and environmental impacts of their products and “make sure they are produced under safe, fair, legal and humane working conditions throughout the supply chain.” In terms of transparency, Patagonia discloses all of its suppliers. Additionally, their fleece better sweater and synchilla snap-t pullovers are all fairtrade certified. 


This brand is focusing more on reducing its negative environmental and social impact. To accomplish this, Levi’s initiatives focus on utilizing production techniques that use less water, committing to 100% of their cotton to come from sustainable sources by 2020 and improving the lives of their workers.


Reformation puts “sustainability at the core of everything they do.” The company invests in green building infrastructure, tracks its environmental footprint and shares the impact each garment they create has on the environment. The brand is not completely sustainable yet, so they use offsets to make up for it.   

Alternative Apparel

This brand is a fabric-first company, which means they focus on the materials and processes they use to make fabric before the design. Over 80 percent of their garments are made of sustainable materials and processes. This company recognizes its social responsibility by listing its factories online and making sure that they are in accordance with the Fair Labor Association code of conduct.

Many other brands are implementing sustainable policies and commitments within their companies including Siizu, Edun, Ethica, Amour Vert and Everlane. 

Contact Angie Diaz at [email protected].