12 Ethical Labels for the Greater Good

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In an attempt to make fashion faster and more available (and at increasingly cheaper rates), the global garment industry has become saturated with materials and dyes that, although looking lux and vibrant, leave in their wake an alarming mass of harmful waste and pollution—not to mention the disturbingly lax guidelines for worker health and safety.

There’s also the matter of textile waste. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), in the United States alone, there’s an annual dumping of 10.5 million tons of clothing into landfills, making the fashion industry one of the world’s largest contributors to pollution, placing second only to oil.

To combat this, several major fashion designers and corporations, including Stella McCartney, H&M, Nike and Kering, the French luxury group, have begun initiating sustainable and ethically “conscious” campaigns and collections of their own; but they’re not the only ones taking a stand for the greater good.

At the heart of the movement, smaller labels (like the New York-based jewelry line AUrate mentioned below) make up the largest portion of the fashion industry’s network of ethically conscious companies. Ranging from jewelry and handbags to clothing and even nail lacquers, this list of ethical labels is filled with everyday alternatives—be it sustainable, cruel-free or ethically sourced—set and ready to change the world.

1. AUrate

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Designed and manufactured in New York City, AUrate is exactly what you find when crossing ethically sourced gold and diamonds with a designer duo determined to make a difference in the world. The minds behind the label, Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui, have exactly what it takes to make it big, offering fine jewelry at a fair price and direct to the consumer. Even better: for each item sold, Kahn and Ezzahraoui will donate a book to a child in need.

2. Reformation

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A photo posted by Reformation (@reformation) on

Easily the most recognizable name on the list, Reformation produces limited-edition collection with three sustainable fabric sources: eco-friendly and recycled fabrics, repurposed vintage clothing and excess fabrics left over by other clothing companies. Located in downtown Los Angeles, their factory is said to be the first sustainable sewing factory in the United States using with 100 percent renewable energy sources and eco-friendly office equipment; they even offer what they call a “RefScale” online, which allows customers to track the environmental impact of every garment available for sale.

3. Matt & Nat

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A photo posted by MATT & NAT (@matt_and_nat) on

Since launching in 1995, Matt & Nat, a Montreal-based vegan accessories brand, has had sustainability in the bag—and in the name—throughout all this time. Literally meaning “MATERIAL and NATURE,” here is a label certainly worth a long glance: Durable, luxurious and costing less than $200, their accessories (including handbags, wallets and footwear) offer a gorgeous approach to animal and environmentally friendly design—even their lining is made from recycled plastic bottles!

4. People Tree

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Certified by the World Fair Trade Organization as a leader in ethical production, People Tree partners with fair trade artisans from Kenya, Nepal and developing countries to create trendy, affordable (and sustainable!) clothing. The London-based label fulfills an impressive list of ethical criteria: they use certified organic cotton, fair-trade locally sourced fabrics, safe and azo-free dyes and more. They've collaborated with some big names, too, such as Zandra Rhodes and Peter Jensen; so definitely keep an eye on this one.

5. Freedom of Animals

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Faux leather accessories have never looked less faux. The New York-based cruelty-free accessories label Freedom of Animals fuses style with sustainability for a range of handbags that offers the high-quality lux look for a pleasant price point. Created entirely out of recycled materials (such as water bottles), post-consumer polyurethane (a safer alternative to PVC) and organic cotton using 70 percent less energy than its competitors, this label has a final product that speaks for itself: EPA-approved, eco-friendly and luxuriously versatile.

6. Outdoor Voices

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Set aside the lululemon gear for Outdoor Voices minimalist and uber-flattering athletic wear label set to take the gym by storm. Already a favorite with Lena Dunham and Leandra Medine (of Man Repeller), this New York-based company produces responsibly with carefully picked factories, and their high standards in worker conditions and ethical practices have resulted in manufacturing in only Hong Kong, Portugal and the United States. From sweatshirts to sports bras, they have what it takes for you to look ethically cool while working out.

7. Vitamin A

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Already a staple in the sun for celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Alba, designer Amahlia Stevens' hip-slimming, curve-hugging and figure-flattering swimwear isn't your ordinary line of bikinis; her signature “California Cut” bikinis are sexy, high quality and sustainable. Making strides in innovating the swimwear industry, her suits are produced locally in California using EcoLux (a recycled nylon fiber), Eco Linen and a waterless digital printing technology, all manufactured at factories specifically chosen for their ability to conserve water and energy use. Making change, one bikini at a time.

8. Base Range

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The reason for this list is to show just how many sustainable and ethical products are available on the market—take Base Range for example. This French label, which stands for “Basic Aesthetic for Sustainable Easywear,” produces high-quality organic undergarments and leisurewear. Offering everything you'll need in the underwear department with the purest materials (like organic certified cotton, bamboo fibers and certified Öko-tex dyes) and in easy silhouettes, Base Range believes sustainable products should be luxurious as well as affordable—and they certainly are! Produced in small family-owned factories in nearby Portugal and Turkey to minimize their carbon footprint, Base Range's line of underwear, t-shirts, sweats and swimwear will have you covering your bases in ethical fashion.

9. kowtow

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Here is where loungewear's made right. This New Zealand-based label is committed to providing certified fair trade organic clothing “that is ethically and sustainably made from seed to garment.” Whether using only certified organic cotton, sponsoring factory projects (such as Girls Education and Cow Donation programs) or dying fabrics using Global Organic Textiles Standard approved dyes that are free of hazardous elements, the coolest bit about these fine makers of tees, joggers, dresses and jumpsuits is that they pay their factory employees a living wage, house rent, free transport, overtime pay, paid holiday and sick leave—and free education for all their children. Now, that's a complete set!

10. Everlane

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San Francisco-based online retailer Everlane believes transparency is the key to ethical fashion for men and women, and they take their mission very seriously. Far more than a mere tagline, “Modern basics, radical transparency” means they're all about factory integrity; they've even started #knowyourfactories, a system where you can take a look into the factories making your garments. And being online only, they've removed overhead costs and offer every item at its true costs, from the men's “cotton crew” tee available for $15 to the women's “silk tank” at $58.

11. Kordal Knitwear

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From bralette tops to ankle-length dresses, Mandy Kordal's eponymous label Kordal Knitwear upholds a commitment to creating knitted garments in an ethical manner, paying its workers a fair wage and designing long-lasting garments free from short-lived trends. Produced in New York City and yarn mills throughout the United States, Kordal's garments leave no fabric left behind, and any leftover yarn is donated to the non-profit Textile Arts Center. Her silhouettes are easy and effortless, but what makes her a label set to change the world is her remarkable commitment to social responsibility, sustainable garments made from ethically farmed renewable textiles (wool, Alpaca and cotton).

12. LVX Nail Lacquer

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On this list, you’ll have seen it all: clothing, swimwear, knitwear, underwear—and now nail lacquer! Founded and developed by siblings Branka and Rade Tomic, LVX’s nail lacquers offer luxury without compromise; their one-of-a-kind formula is 7-toxin free, vegan, cruelty-free, socially responsible and eco-friendly. And inspired by the top colors on the runway every season, they’re always in trend with their award-winning custom color palettes. Made in the United States, LVX’s polishes have gained favor with the likes of Jessica Chastain, Molly Sims and Kaley Cuoco, and thanks to collaborations with designers such as Mara Hoffman and Katie Gallagher it doesn’t seem as if they’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

Brent Taalur Ramsey is an American fashion journalist based in Paris, where he spends his free time cycling around the City of Light and adding to his collection of books and tea. Follow him on Instagram or at BrentTaalur.com.