I Switched To Ethical Fashion & Found My Signature Style. Psst—You Can, Too

February 8, 2018
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Before I became an ethical fashion champion, I was already turning my back on mainstream fashion. The clothes at the mall seemed to be getting worse every year. At Zara, H&M, Forever 21, and the like, the materials felt cheap, the tailoring shoddy, and the styles skimpy. Clothes were either dirt cheap or crazy expensive. Affordable, quality basics seemed to be disappearing like the middle class. I was turning to vintage and thrift stores because the quality was generally better, and I wanted to dress in more modest and classic silhouettes.

When I started researching which brands I could buy that didn’t exploit workers or cause huge environmental damages, I felt limited in what was available to me. While it’s still a challenge to find certain things, such as ethical running shoes or T-shirt bras, over the past year, I realized making the effort to shop ethically has actually improved my style. Here are 3 ways going ethical can benefit you too.

1. Trends won’t dictate what you wear. 

Many ethical fashion labels keep their styles more timeless since they don’t drop that many collections in a year. That’s a relief because it’s tiresome to chase trends.

While I still keep up with what’s going on in fashion, I have a good sense of what will be out next season and what’s worth investing in that will still be relevant for years to come. A good indicator of a trend that will soon retire is when you see everyone on Instagram wearing the same thing. When that happens, run in the other direction. Case in point: 2016’s lace-up body suits and chokers. There are a couple of trends that are popular now that I’m predicting will die by the end of the year.

The oversized men’s tweed jacket and high-waisted jeans I’m wearing may be on trend, but they’re both vintage pieces from the 1970s. The bag is also vintage that I recently scored for only $30! If you want to know which trends will stick, simply look to the past. If a certain piece has been a classic for decades, is flattering on your body, and can be easily integrated with the rest of your wardrobe, it’s a keeper.

2. Your style will be more unique.

No, you won’t be the girl in the Zara dress that every other girl already owns. Ethical brands are unfortunately not mainstream at the moment, most being found online, but at least you won’t find yourself twinning with anyone else in public. When you shop vintage, you’ll be the only person who owns that special piece.


One of the misconceptions of dressing ethically is that we rely too much on bland basics—and shapeless sack dresses. My wardrobe is a mixture of affordable and luxury ethical fashion labels, cheap thrift store finds, and secondhand couture. While I do rely on my capsule wardrobe and keep my style simple, no one ever accuses me of being a boring dresser. Conversely, I’m constantly being asked where I bought this or that. It’s fun because I can tell them a little history of the piece if it’s vintage or where it’s made if it’s from an ethical brand, instead of saying, “I got this at Forever 21.”

3. You’ll discover talented indie designers. 

Once you quit shopping at the popular chains, you open yourself up to smaller indie brands doing some lovely things. Here’s a list of ethical labels I compiled a while ago, which includes some of my favorite brands. I’ve stopped updating because new ethical and sustainable companies seem to be emerging every day—which is fantastic—and I’m writing about them in new fashion posts as I go.

Read more on Terumah.

Also by Annie: How Paris Turned Me On To Minimalism & 4 Ways to Do It Anywhere

Related: Truth: You Don’t Have To Be Rich To Do Ethical Shopping. 7 Genius Ways I Save Money

5 Ethical Jewelry Brands For When You Need Guilt-Free Glam *And* Chakra Healing

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Photos: Annie Zhu

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Annie is a film buff, lit nerd, and the founder of Terumah, a site created for smart young women looking for fun insights on style, beauty, travel, art and pop culture. A member of the Ethical Writers' Coalition, Annie is based in Toronto. Follow Annie on Instagram @terumah.ca.


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