I have, along with most other privileged consumers, made the switch as best I can to organic foods because they make me healthier, they're better for the environment, the economy and the animals. I have also switched to organic or low toxin products for cleaning supplies and body products to avoid harsh chemicals in our body and in our home and to aid in the protection of the environment. I have not however, made the switch to shopping ethically. Buying clothes from ethical brands is actually the most important choice we make in purchasing because it isn't just good for ourselves, the animals or the environment - it's good for people, real life hardworking men, women and children.
Fast Fashion is today's common practice and it's aimed at rapidly producing new trends that are up to par with high street fashion and cost very little i.e. Forever 21. This is a tall order and the desperate need to keep up with such demand is taking it's toll.
Landfills are piling up with old clothing because it only lasts a few washes and cannot be reused or re- purposed because of the poor quality (unless it's recycled into carpet padding). There is immense pressure for low wage work in order to keep consumer costs down causing harmful working conditions in factories in LA, South America, China and more recently in Bangladesh. The designs used at Fast Fashion stores are ripped almost directly from designers without proper approval with many out of court settlements to solve the matter. It's not sustainable and it's bad for everyone and everything including the consumer.
In doing research I've realized how little transparency there is in the fashion industry. So it takes a lot of work on the consumer's end to find out which brands are worth supporting. We vote with our pocket books and I think if we had the opportunity to step into a factory with over-worked and under-paid staff we might find it a little more gut wrenching to hand them $10, 1 penny of which they'll receive, in exchange for the dress they made. Unfortunately we can't do that, we have to do the hard work of finding trustworthy brands and giving them our business.
From the information I could gather, I'm really avoiding places like Urban Outfitters & Forever 21. Mediocre options are H&M, Zara and JCrew. Good options are Everlane and Raven + Lily.
Some great sites for checking the ethical standards behind your favorite brands are The Good Guide or Free2Work . For an ethical shopping guide you can check out The Art of Simple. Or shop women's ethical fashion brands at Ethica.
So this means I'll buy less and buy better. I won't be turning my closets over every season and because my budget isn't gargantuan basics are the way to go.