Sustainable fashion Vs Ethical fashion

Posted by divya ahluwalia on

Fact: Fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, following of course the petroleum industry.
This realisation has kicked us in the face and today many responsible designers are trying to undo the damage caused by years of negligence in the name of style and fashion, by trying to make amendments in the way they create new products.
Hence we hear a lot of noise now and words like sustainable fashion, eco fashion, slow fashion, ethical fashion etc are becoming new trending words in the world of fashion, and widely used by brands as marketing keywords in their campaigns.
But do outsiders- and by outsiders I mean people outside of fashion industry- really understand what these terms really mean? When you hear of a brand promoting themselves as sustainable fashion brand do you really wonder what it means? Does it mean the brand uses sustainable fabrics? If so, what are sustainable fabrics? Do they use sustainable processes in manufacturing? If so, what are these processes? And what is ethical fashion then? How does it differ from sustainable fashion? Or is it the same thing and the two are interchangeable?
My purpose for starting this blog is to clarify this and many such other facts and terms that would help consumers understand what for me is ‘Responsible fashion’ more than anything else. And whether you are interested in fashion or not, it’s important for you to know and understand as each one of us is a consumer and our choices impact us and our future generations.



This is a sort of self explanatory term- fashion that is sustainable. What you create should be able to sustain for a long time. Or using materials, processes, and care so that the process of creating fashion can be sustained over a long period of time and we do not run out of it.

Sustainable fashion is also called eco fashion because it entails choice of materials -that are the basic building blocks of fashion- that are environment friendly. Most commonly used materials and textiles come from nature and as natural resources have a limitation, both in terms of availability and production, sustainable fashion brands need to pick the right materials that have a low impact on the environment. Also, using man made synthetic materials that have a very high carbon footprint are avoided.

This is very vast topic in itself and I shall dive deeper into sustainable fabrics in a separate blog later.

Sustainable fashion is also relatable to Slow fashion. Because it is everything that fast fashion is not. That means small production lots instead of vast volumes of fast fashion production. It means more hand made techniques crafted with care, instead of fast machine made value additions. It basically means creating with more love and care so every piece has a story, and is therefore treasured more, as compared to disposable fast fashion.



While sustainable fashion has a more environment related angle to it, ethical fashion is more about the human factor of fashion.

In April 2013, the unfortunate Rana Plaza incident in Bangladesh shook the entire world when 1134 factory workers died, because the factory owner ignored the safety aspect and neglected repairs in the building that was showing faults in its structure, that caused it to collapse as a result.

This brought to light the fact that behind the glitz and glamour of trends and fast fashion, lies the despair and misery and plight of common workers who actually produce these trendy styles and yet are at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of payments and the way they are treated.

Ethical fashion also entails Fair trade policies. Not just the factory workers, but the farmers who grow the crops for the raw materials, the weavers, the artisans, everyone who works behind the scenes and does not get any recognition for their contribution to the glamorous end product that we see in flashy fashion magazines!

There are some amazing people who are now campaigning for these workers. Saffia Minney, Lucy Seigl, Livia Firth, Emma Watson are just some of the well known names today. Also the organisation FASHION REVOLUTION with their annual ‘Who Made My Clothes’ campaign every April to commemorate the Rana Plaza tragedy, has helped bring awareness to Ethical Fashion.

So, to conclude, both sustainable fashion and Ethical fashion is the need of the hour. Even though they both differ in meaning, both go hand in hand. They both need to be the norm in fashion.

In the words of Livia Firth- “Call it eco fashion if you like. But I think it’s just common sense.”


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  • Hey Cristina, thank you so much! Really appreciate your support!!

    Divya on

  • Such a great article and insight. Reposting it on my facebook page ;)

    Cristina on

  • Thank you for your comment Chinmayee!
    As mentioned in the blog, though Sustainable and Ethical fashion go hand in hand to create a fair fashion industry, the two have their own basic guidelines that define them. Some brands can be sustainable but not necessarily ethical and vice versa. Hence the title. :)
    Thanks for your encouraging words. I really appreciate it. :)

    Divya on

  • Hello, loved your post! Just one doubt, can the name of this post be something different? Though you’ve cleared it in the end that both these terms go hand in hand, still after reading the title I thought they actually have some differences. I might be wrong in this, just thought about sharing this. All the best, keep posting! :)

    Chinmayee Rane on

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