7 ethical and affordable fashion brands and what to buy for spring

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Once the home of hemp flares and tie-dye shirts in dodgy rainbow shades, ethical fashion is now as mainstream as it comes. Designers such as Stella McCartney have shown that ethical clothing can be lust-worthy – Meghan Markle’s night-time wedding dress was incredibly droolable – without costing the earth.

The trouble is, until recently, buying ethical fashion did cost the earth – as in the price was out of reach of most of us.

Thankfully, though, and in large part due to the work of McCartney as well as documentaries such as The True Cost and The Machinists, consumer demand for everyone to get a fair deal has led to more companies taking up the cause. And that means prices have dropped dramatically and ethical fashion is easier to find – even Asos is in on it.

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The vast majority of workers in the clothing and textile industry are women – an estimated 80% – so the rise of affordable ethical fashion is having a huge impact on making life better for everyone.

Women are key to changing their local communities. As Jennifer Georgeson told me about why she started ethical online retailer So Just Shop: “It’s been shown that if you put money into the hands of women, 90 per cent of it stays in the community, paying for health care, food and education. If you put money into the hands of men, only 50 per cent of it does.”

With spring now well and truly making its way over the horizon, there's no better time to check out what the ethical brands are offering.

And to make it easier for you, here is my pick of the top sites to revamp your wardrobe.

People Tree

Founded in 1991, People Tree is a pioneer in Fair Trade clothing. They adhere to the highest ethical and environmental standards and offer contemporary, versatile designs. I particularly love their V&A prints. 

As well as actively supporting farmers, producers and artisans in six countries, they follow principles covering fair wages, good working conditions, transparency, environmental best practice and gender equality.

I’m in love with this spotty Dalma Paisley Dress and for anyone asking: “Am I too old for dungarees?”, look at these beauties and the answer is a resounding: “Never.”

Komodo

Another oldie that's been going for more than 30 years, Komodo uses natural fibres and innovative eco fabrics to provide good quality and easy-wearing – that does not mean boring – clothes that won’t look out of place in anyone's wardrobe.

While designed in London, so they have the current fashion zeitgeist, they trade fairly with factories in Nepal, China, Indonesia and Turkey. They also support environmental and social causes in the UK and abroad, from London’s homeless to helping rebuild a school in Tibet.

I don’t know about you, but I want this Stella skirt soooooo much.

Madia & Matilda

Okay, I have to confess: I was first attracted to Madia & Matilda by the beautiful font of their logo (graphic design geek). I’m pleased to say the clothes are just as lovely.

Launched in 2013, the label is the brainchild of Shalize Nicholas, who worked for the likes of Mary Katrantzou. She works with end-of-line or slightly-flawed materials that would otherwise be thrown away to create vintage-inspired clothing in sizes 6-20.

No animal products are used and all practices and materials are sustainable. Plus, Madia & Matilda has a social heart – last year, they organised a charity fashion show to help struggling families in Dominica following the devastating earthquake.

If you’re in Stroud, you can visit the store. If not, Madia & Matilda ship all over the world. Hands off the Flamingo tee, though. That’s mine.

Thought

An Aussie brand that began by selling menswear in 1995, Thought came to the UK seven years later with pop-ups on the likes of Portobello Road Market. And if that’s not enough to prove ethical fashion is hip and not hippy-dippy I don’t know what is.

Now selling womenswear, too, Thought uses naturally-grown bamboo, cotton, wool and hemp that are free from harmful pesticides and chemicals. Fabrics are also sourced from the country where they’ll be made, helping cut down on the carbon footwork.

As well as their designs, they help social causes such as Smart Works – the charity that helps dress women for interviews, who are also supported by the Lulu Guinness x Bobbi Brown link-up – and In Kind Direct, which works with not-for-profit organisations and companies to help ensure everyone has access to life’s essentials.

I particularly love their mantra: “Wear Me, Love Me, Mend Me, Pass Me On.” It’s easy, when you think of it.

Out of this season’s collection, the Palm House Bamboo Maxi Dress is a definite holiday must-have.

Nancy Dee

Nancy Dee was created in 2008 by Seraphina Davis and all the clothing is made in small British factories using UK and EU working regulations to ensure workers have the highest protection.

Seraphina uses fabrics mostly made from renewable sources such as bamboo and organic cotton, as well as modal, a man-made material that begins life as beech wood!

Nancy Dee’s green credentials run through every element of the design and shopping process. Acid-free tissue paper and recyclable cardboard tags and mailing boxes are used to wrap your clothes and send them out and they’re all sourced locally to both support the local economy and cut down the carbon footprint.

I’m a sucker for wide-legged trousers so these Aura pants have my name all over them. They’re also on sale at the moment.

Bibico

After spending years designing for high-street retailers, Spaniard Nieves Ruiz Ramos – aka Snow (google translate Nieves) – was disillusioned. Fast-fashion meant the amount of collections she had to create had jumped to practically every week, so quality was falling while pressure was rising for the textile workers.

The result was Bibico, a back-to-basics, slow-fashion company with some gorgeous clothes. As well as using natural materials, they work with two women’s cooperatives that are have the WFTO Fair Trade certificate. Consequently, the workers are given training and education, empowering them to move themselves and their children forward.

Denim is going to be big in spring, so why not go large with the Maya Oversized Denim Shirt. I love the free-flowing movement it has. I'm also a sucker for pretty dresses, so the Grace Swing Sleeveless Dress is definitely on my shopping list.

H&M

Of course you all know H&M, but did you know how sustainable it is? The H&M Conscious collection offers more-than-affordable pieces with the environment at heart. Plus if you recycle old clothes, you get a £5 voucher off for when you spend £25. For a high-street store, I’m incredibly impressed.

I love all three of these – especially the soft, gentle calf-length skirt. That’s a piece that will never go out of style.

Also, don’t forget the amazing brands featured on 50Sense, including Sundried activewear, Pala Eyewear, ALICAS charity and find out how to make sure you shop sustainably with Issara.

And let me know what ethical brands you would add to the list and how you shop sustainably. Leave me a comment below.

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