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What is the Difference between Sustainable and Ethical Fashion?

A couple of months ago when I heard about the terms sustainable or ethical I considered them to be the same. Once I started reading and learning more and more about it I understand better were the differences stand. Today we can hear these terms used a lot in the fashion industry, but what does it mean?

Did you know that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the whole world? And that also it is a high consumption industry and to keep selling at lower prices companies manufacture their clothes in unsafe conditions for their employees? Annnnnd that every other week we are bombarded with new items, trends, “seasons”? Is it confusing? Well yes!

I’m putting it mine own words what I’ve learned. And this is what I can easily share!

Difference between Sustainable and Ethical Fashion


When we hear the term sustainable we can quickly think about the environment and actually how a product is preserving or spending the least amount of natural resources. In fashion it can translate to the power and water they use to make their products. Also how they grow their raw materials, mostly for the fabrics.

Take into consideration that water and power will be used from the growing of the materials to the final products. Also where and how it is been sold, like online or an actual building? Packaging and all that it is involved.

Raw Materials also involve pesticides and all the chemicals the product might need that negatively impact the environment.


Quickly think about people working on making your fashion piece. Are they been treated fairly? are they working in a safe building? a safe working environment? So it is safe to say that ethical relates to the human part of the fashion industry.

It for sure involves more than just the sustainability of a product. My understanding and view is that humans are needed in every phase of a product. From growing of the raw material to the person selling it. I also believe that a lot brands and manufacturing companies are unwilling to see that safety, fare payment and health of employees is a long term benefit for everyone.

I was truly exposed to unethical practices when I watch the documentary on Netflix The True Cost. If you are able to watch it you will understand how unfair unethical treatment of humans is and it is a direct correlation of why we pay little for fashion.

Some people argue that even if employees are not been treated fairly that they have jobs, really!! Well I believe that if I don’t want my kids to suffer and be paid pennies and work under inhuman conditions I would not want that treatment for anyone else.

Is a sustainable company an ethical too?

Even though they both are a movement towards a positive impact, my opinion is that not always every company or brand work towards both. To really know a brand’s commitment do a due diligence and get to know them. In some occasions companies might work with sustainable materials but not necessarily have a strong ethical practices. Vice versa you can have a company with strong ethical practices but not completely sustainable.

What is best Ethical or Sustainable?

This is very personal to everyone. As individuals we need to prioritize where is that we want to make an impact. You might prefer either one, both or a combination.

Often times you need to make a decision based on your values, needs, budget, availability.

If you are making small changes towards better fashion practices there is no wrong way.


I started learning by listening to others that have been working hard and longer for this movement in the fashion industry. Some of the things that inspired me to make a change are the following.

Pod Cast- Conscious Chatter, she started in 2016! I started listening to her first pod cast this year and then I moved to recent ones and you can learn how much the industry has change but how much more in needs yo be done.

Fashion Revolution Is an organization with a mission to work together for a better fashion industry overall.

“We want to unite people and organisations to work together towards radically changing the way our clothes are sourced, produced and consumed, so that our clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way.

We believe that collaborating across the whole value chain — from farmer to consumer — is the only way to transform the industry.

Our mission is to bring everyone together to make that happen.” Fashion Revolution

Final Thoughts

Even if the fashion industry is changing for the good, one step at a time, we need to really make our mark. By making better choices and request better practices the industry is bound to listen. Remember that every single one of use have the power.

What do you think about the current practices in the fashion industry? Let me know in comments 🙂

I’ve already discovered some sustainable/ethical shoe brands! You might be surprised that some of them we may already own. Also how about the classic jean jacket or mom jeans, you can find different ways to rewear them.


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  • Ashley

    Thank you for this thought provoking article.

    • elementsofalicea

      Thank you! There is so much out there to learn about that I wanted to break down in a simple way.

  • Madi Rowan

    Thanks for sharing! I’m still learning about all of this & trying to make better choices when it comes to purchases!


    • elementsofalicea
      Madi Rowan

      You are welcome! Me too! This is a learning process and a lot of it. It is about being aware and do the best possible.

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