ethical vs sustainable fashions; all the definitions you need to know

androgynous guide

You’re watching a documentary that focuses on “ethical fashion”, window shop online and read about “cruelty-free” soap, or hear about an innovative “fair trade” brand on Indiegogo.

When you’re embarking into the world of ethical fashion, you’re going to get hurled with a lot of definitions and new words. Did you know that ethical fashion and sustainable aren’t interchangeable terms?

Let’s be honest, it can get confusing. With this Androgynous Guide, here’s a definitions cheat sheet with all the terms you may encounter. Learning more about all the branches of ethical fashion may help you focus on what ethical issues are most important to you!


Ethical Fashion
An umbrella term for fashion that is conscious of a combination of social and environmental issues involved with design, sourcing, production, transportation, and retailing.

Social Issues:

  • Manufactured in a safe environment, free of sweatshop
  • Workers are paid a fair living wage
  • Made without child labour
  • Employs local community workers instead of outsourcing overseas
  • For further reading:

Environmental Issues: Everything below and beyond!

Sustainable Fashion/Ecofashion

Focuses on environmental issues within ethical fashion. The goal is to sourcing and produce with minimal impact on the Earth. Eco-friendly companies and brands can have a variety of values such as:

  • reducing/lessening pollution, waste
  • decreasing water consumption
  • using organic/sustainable materials in order to avoid use of harmful chemicals when harvesting
  • minimizing carbon footprint
  • reducing energy consumption (to decrease contributing to global warming)

Fair Trade
Ensures that workers and artisans are fairly compensated for their work and time when sourcing and manufacturing apparel/accessories. Fair Trade is regulated by both Fair Trade InternationalFair Trade USA, and Fair Trade (Canada). Fair trade labels aren’t just found on clothing, they can be found on food products such as coffee, chocolate, tea, etc.

  • Triple Pundit has a great article on 5 facts about fair trade
  • FAQs answered by Fair Trade USA


Anything local is my personal favorite! You get a sense of pride knowing that your clothes were made right in your very own neighborhood or you’re supporting a fellow community.
Locally made: handmade in the area local to the designer/company

Locally sourced: materials sourced within the area used

  • Provide jobs for members of the community
  • Stimulate local manufacturing industry
  • Preserve artisan/handmade crafts that are indigenous to that culture/area
  • Materials sourced from the local area contributes to the local economy/industry

Prioritizes that animals were not tested on in the making of cosmetic, beauty products.
It’s important to note that there is no government standards or official definition in the United States. Companies who use any cruelty-free labels are free to define the term any way they wish (ex: a make-up company can claim “cruelty-free” if their outsourced suppliers test their products on animals, but not the company themselves.)

  •  Sudsatorium is a Toronto-based vegan company that makes really neat soaps, shower gels, and tons of other beauty supplies. They’re transparency is comforting to customers. They sincerely believe in cruelty-free, no worries they only test on humans!

Prioritizes that materials used did not derive from an animal as well as animals were not harm in the making of the product. 

  • Materials used did not come from an animal (no wool, down feathers, silk, etc)
  • Artificial leather alternatives used
  • Faux fur used
  • Products not tested on animals (in cosmetics/beauty products)

Reclaimed/Upcycled Materials
Materials used have been refashioned from previously used materials, in order to reduce contributing to landfills. These materials can come from a variety of sources: end pieces from mills/factories, cut from existing clothing, etc. There’s plenty of innovations in the fashion tech industry that are constantly discovering cool new ways to upcycle materials into something stylish.

Great companies with use secondhand materials:

  • Brothers We Stand has a great line of cool sweaters made from recycled bottles
  • Fox and Brie is a Texas-based company that uses a combination of new, secondhand, and deadstock materials to create their stylish tie collection.
  •  is a Canadian-based company that uses reclaimed cut-off wood from mills to create wooden bow ties, any leather used in their products are end-off reclaimed leather

Ethical companies that are open, honest, and educates their customers regarding their sourcing and manufacturing practices. The less secrets, the better!
Here are some of my fav companies who do a great job being transparent:


  • Everlane are proudly radically transparent. They’re committed to providing detailed information regarding the conditions of their factories as well as a breakdown on every garment of how their mark-up works
  • Brothers We Stand includes thorough information about the social and environmental footprint on every garment (as well as comments on areas where they can improve to become more ethical).

Links à la Mode #3, September 24

SPONSOR: Amazon’s Shopbop BLK DNM, Line & Dot, Ulla Johnson, Chan Luu, Three Dots, A Line Skirts, Black Flare Jeans, Fringe Booties, Mini Bags, Men’s Theory

This post is not in any way sponsored or affiliated with the brand(s) mention. If I am affiliated with the brand(s) in the future, it would be clearly stated on my blog for your discretion.

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