What is Ethical Fashion? {5 Budget-Friendly Ways to Transition Your Closet to Ethical + Sustainable Style} 

You’ve probably heard of ethical fashion {along with sustainable, small biz and eco-friendly} and have only a vague notion of what it is. I hear ya. “What is ethical fashion?” is on my most-asked list so here’s your answer, plus 5 ways to transition your closet to ethical + sustainable stye!

At the end of this post you’ll get access to a freebie: 8 boho basics from ethical fashion brands! It’s a list of 8 basics to get your bohemian capsule wardrobe started, with links to specific items from ethical fashion brands. Conscious consumerism meet boho glam meet laziness. 😉 If you just wanna skip to that, get that cheatsheet here.

What is ethical fashion?

Great question, babe! Quite simply, ethical fashion is people-first. A fashion brand is ethical if they are mindful of how ALL their employees are treated through the entire production process {such as making of cotton/denim/other fabrics, zippers, and the farming of the materials.}

12 MILLION people a year fall victim to human trafficking. Some (many) are trafficked as modern slaves within the garment industry. This is why 10% every sale of Build Your Boho Capsule Wardrobe goes to human trafficking relief!

Yes, making fashion ethical takes committed time and energy. Yes, that means your ethically produced jeans are gonna cost more than “standard” jeans.

Quite simply, ethical fashion is people-first.

Is it worth it?

YES. Not only are you supporting people that are truly making the world better — you’re buying articles of clothing that are gonna last. Ethical brands care about the customer, too which is why they don’t sell you cheaply made sh*t.

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion is planet-friendly: otherwise known as eco-fashion or green fashion. To be sustainable, the material for your fashion pieces are grown with the planet in mind plus produced in factories that try to limit pollution.

Sustainable fashion is ethical fashion because it preserves the earth for future generations.

When doing a Closet CleanOut, please donate or recycle or upcycle. Please please please do not simply throw out clothing. Our landfills already overflowing and it’s CRAZY how much is clothing. (Thank you Sam for bringing this up!)

Re-gift to a friend who’d love that item. Sell it (yay money!) Do a clothing swap.

What’s the difference between shopping ethically + supporting small biz?

(Thank you December for asking this question!)

They’re often the same thing, as many small businesses do their best to use ethically-sourced materials and to take care of their employees!

I think part of shopping ethically IS supporting small businesses. Ethical fashion is like the category under which “supporting small biz” is filed. (If that makes sense. :P)

Where does vegan fashion fit in all of this?

Vegan fashion is based on compassion for all sentient beings — meaning for an item to be vegan it is without any animal products.

That means no leather, wool, feathers and certain kinds of glue because they use animal products too.

For all my vegan babes, (yes including you Emilie!!) here are three internationally-available ethical vegan fashion brands (with a boho feel): Bourgeois Boheme (shoes), Vaute Couture and Bohemian Vegan Fashion.

Why do my clothes matter?

Your closet {and its contents} may seem like a “first world” ethical problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, caring for the PEOPLE who make your clothes is an “any-world” issue. Secondly, the human beings essentially forced to work in the garment industry are often members of a poorer country thus making a “second world” problem as well.

I hear many people complain that ethical fashion is expensive. If by actually paying the seamstress, factory worker, farmer, etc it raises the cost of my jackets, jeans and t-shirts: so be it. If choosing to shop ethically means shop less, DO IT. What is more valuable to you — your wallet or your practice of charity?

Not to get on too much of a soapbox here, but the price of a human’s dignity and lifespan is priceless. THERE IS NO MONETARY PRICE ON A HUMAN LIFE. If fashion becomes more expensive because overall the industry becomes more people-focused than money-focused, who cares?

I’d rather save up for items than buy cheaply and know someone suffered to make me my clothes. {Don’t you agree?}

Plus there are ways to make ethical fashion budget-friendly. We’ll get to those in a moment. 😉

Your closet {and its contents} may seem like a “first world” ethical problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, caring for the PEOPLE who make your clothes is an “any-world” issue. Secondly, the human beings essentially forced to work in the garment industry are often members of a poorer country thus making a “second world” problem as well.

*gets off soapbox* ;P

without further ado…

5 Budget-Friendly Ways to Transition Your Closet into Ethical and Sustainable Style

(1) Start thrifting.

Ethical-ize your shopping by scooping up second-hand steals! I posted on Facebook asking peeps to ask me ethical fashion questions, and one of my friends (hey Gillian!) asked:

Is it ethical to thrift unethically produced fashion?

Personally, I buy possibly unethical items thrift because the damage is already done — I’m not supporting the production of this item nor the company, so I might as well purchase the $2 shirt. Additionally you’re keeping clothing out of landfills which is a big plus.

Ultimately this is why I think JUST thrifting is not enough: if you’re really serious about ethical fashion, supporting the small brands that make the commitment to trace their production lines and care for their people is vital. Just thrifting isn’t gonna change the garment industry standards.

(2) Thrift ONLINE!

Not only is this ethical and budget-friendly, it’s soooo easy. Since some (including Catherine) asked, here are some of my favorite online thrift stores:

  1. ThredUP
  2. LGT Vintage
  3. Goodwill’s online auction site
  4. Salvation Army’s online store
  5. Oxfam

(3) Shop budget-friendly ethical brands!

Not all ethical fashion brands come with a hefty price tag! I have a list here of 5 Ethical Fashion Brands to Watch in 2017 — and many of them are very wallet-conscious.

Jewelry from a wallet-friendly ethical brand Adorned! {listed in 5 Ethical Fashion Brands to Watch in 2017}

(4) Shop your own closet — or a friend’s.

Yup! Since you’ve already bought these items, let’s get as much use out of them as possible! 🙂

Mix n’ match items you wouldn’t normally wear. Think wearing that scarf as a kimono-meets-cape. Wear a form-fitting sweater over a dress for a different look. Layer a short sleeve top under a long sleeve one. Wear casual sneakers with a sundress for a punk-meets-cutie look. Get creative!

You can shop your friends’ closet! Set up a clothing swap with friends and family. You’ll all get access to new clothes (at no cost!) and avoid supporting unethical practices and businesses.

If you’re in love with your closet, you’re less likely to wanna shop. Which brings me to tip 5.

(5) Build a {bohemian} capsule wardrobe!

Haha you knew this was gonna come up, didn’t you? I’m all about capsule wardrobes because they not only save your morning routine {instead of worrying what to wear you can spend time sipping tea & meditating}, they’re also wallet-friendly!


A capsule wardrobe is on average between 32-40 pieces of clothing in a certain color palette curated for a specific season. (More on bohemian capsule wardrobes here.) Many of those items may already be in your closet — meaning your shopping will be focused on exactly what you need. No aimless shopping or needless spending.

Let me put it this way — if you’re totally happy with a simple, boho wardrobe you have no need to go out shopping every month for something new because you’re vaguely unhappy with your closet. Even if you spend an extra $30 on your closet each month, you’re spending $360 a year unnecessarily!

Being a capsule curator will change your mindset. It will naturally guide you into conscious consumerism. You’ll want less. You’ll be freer. You’ll have more time in the morning to spend on things that matter. You’ll be confident in your style — because you’ll only allow in your closet items you  l o v e.

Are you ready to start your own bohemian capsule wardrobe with ethical + thrifted style? Get the 8 Boho Basics from Ethical Brands cheat sheet here! It’ll give you a short list of items, with specific links, and most of these items are wallet-friendly.

Do you have any ethical fashion questions? A favorite ethical brand you’d like to share? Comment and let us know!

happy ethical shopping babe,






6 thoughts on “What is Ethical Fashion? {5 Budget-Friendly Ways to Transition Your Closet to Ethical + Sustainable Style} 

  1. Stephanie Perry (@Vaycarious) says:

    Monica, this is wonderful food for thought for someone like me who has a closet full of cheap clothes that don’t represent my priorities. I’m shifting to a much more minimal wardrobe sine I’m traveling more often. I’ll be mindful of how I buy from now on..especially in other countries where I’m likely buying directly from the maker. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Monica Watson says:

      Thank you so much Stephanie! I’m glad you’re inspired to pursue ethical fashion! 🙂 It’s truly a rewarding experience to have a closet that reflects your personal style AND priorities. Please let us know how your ethical fashion transition goes! ❤


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