Ethical vs. Sustainable vs. Slow Fashion: What’s the Difference?

Since I’m making a conscious effort to share more ethical fashion I thought I’d go over a few terms first so everyone is on the same page. I’m sure you’ve heard these terms thrown around: ethical, sustainable, and slow fashion. A lot of people use these terms interchangeable but there’s actually a difference. Some brands and products might encompass all three, while others only hit one of them. I would also say that these are very basic definitions and that there is so much more to consider when talking about ethical, sustainable, and slow fashion but this is a start!

Ethical vs Sustainable vs Slow Fashion

The Difference Between Ethical, Sustainable, and Slow Fashion

Ethical Fashion: This is an umbrella term and usually refers to human rights issues in regards to how clothing is made. So basically, how the people who made the clothes are treated. The term “ethical fashion” usually casts a wider net and can cover all stages of clothing production: from how the clothes are designed, to how they are produced and sold. It can even cover how the raw materials that are used to make the clothes are produced and harvested. Ethical fashion means no child labor, sweatshops, slavery, or worker abuse of any kind.

Sustainable Fashion: This term is more specific and refers fashion’s effect on the environment. Sustainability is defined as being able to meet our own needs without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs. So sustainable fashion means that the way the clothing was produced doesn’t deplete resources and produce a lot of waste and pollution. Usually, sustainability is more broad and refers to the entire life-cycle of an item: from production to packaging. If we are being super technical, it’s almost impossible to have a truly sustainable fashion brand. Which I think is why the next term is so important…

Slow Fashion: This has more to do with the approach to fashion and the clothing itself. If slow fashion is the opposite of fast fashion It means producing clothes made of high quality materials that will last. It means avoiding trends. For brands, it means producing less collections each year. For consumers, it means buying less. When you buy less and use what you already have, you have less impact on the environment – which leads back to sustainability.

Everlane Espadrilles

So, if we are going off the definitions above, a brand can be “ethical” in terms of how it treats it’s workers but not sustainable based on the type of materials they use to produce their clothes. You might also see fast fashion brands produce specific items in their collections that are made sustainably or made from sustainable materials. A brand might use sustainable materials in their products and packaging but not treat their workers in an ethical way. A slow fashion brand might use non-organic cotton which would make it not sustainable. And technically, I think it’s almost impossible to be considered a truly sustainable fashion brand that isn’t also a slow fashion brand – because the more you produce, the greater impact you have on the environment and people.

So as you can see, it can all get kind of confusing! However, I think it’s important to have a basic understanding of what the differences are so that you can be aware of brands that try to use these buzz words for marketing purposes. And my definitions are just scratching the surface – I’m sure there is even more to consider when talking about ethical/sustainable fashion.

Ethical Fashion Brands, Sezane Claude Bag

Ready to Shop More Ethical Fashion Brands?

If you are interested in shopping more ethical, sustainable, and slow fashion brands then download my Ethical Brand Guide! It’s a spreadsheet of over 50 ethical fashion brands AND COUNTING! I’m updating the list every so often and you’ll be able to access and download the new spreadsheet anytime. The list includes links to the brands, descriptions, categories, and price points to make it easier to find the perfect ethical brand for you!


Ethical Fashion Brand Guide

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