A hard truth to swallow—especially in the age of $20 jeans and $5 tank tops—is that quality costs money. For designers to produce garments and accessories through supply channels that pay workers at every level a living wage, they need to set prices to reflect that. For those of us that love fashion and want to shop ethically, but don’t have an unlimited budget, this can be a bit of a moral dilemma—do we pony up the extra cash and forgo that second pair of shoes we really, really wanted? Or do we decide that, like $10 green juice and $34 spin class, ethical fashion is a luxury we’d like to be regular consumers of … in theory.
While more and more brands are paying attention to the environmental impact of their products—even H&M is holding World Recycle Week right now—what’s more challenging is finding places to shop that are not only environmentally-friendly, but people-friendly, too. That means paying attention to how transparent labels are about labor conditions at every level, from factories to corporate HQ.
Here, we’ve found five brands that are excelling at ethical design—at prices that won’t make you balk. Now, we’re not talking Forever 21 prices—after all, the idea is to buy less and buy better after all—but we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how accessible feel-good fashion is right now.
Matt & Nat
Proudly vegan since 1995, this Montreal-based brand is a stalwart of the socially- and environmentally-conscious design movement. But honestly? We'd love their bags even if we didn't know their backstory. They're beautifully-made, built to last, and cost less than $200.
Row Bowling Bag, $125; at Matt & Nat
The first clothing company to earn the World Fair Trade Organization product mark (certifying their commitment to ethical production), this UK label partners with artisans in countries like India, Kenya, and Nepal to produce on-trend, affordable fashion. Plus, they collaborate with some of the coolest designers in the game (Zandra Rhodes and Orla Kiely are personal faves).
Zandra Rhodes Lipstick Print Top, $69; at People Tree
Trying to find a real leather jacket that doesn't cost half your rent check is a serious feat—Deadwood's uses recycled leather patched together in a modern cut, cutting way, way down on the environmental cost of your jacket, while keeping the cost to your wallet in check. (It's only 80 bucks more than one you'd get from Zara.) The Swedish brand also uses organic denim and cotton for jeans and tees, merging a punk aesthetic with a revolutionary message.
Recycled Leather Biker Jacket, $280; at Zady
Organic Stone Wash Jeans, $105; at Zady
Well-made, understated shoes are an investment you'll almost never regret: You can wear them forever and they won't fall apart (I know—what a concept). Nisolo's are handmade in Peru by expert shoemakers who you can meet on the brand's website, and styles range from summery huaraches to supple leather chukka boots.
Serena Sandal, $98; at Nisolo
Harper Chukka Boot, $178; at Nisolo
The Brave Collection
There's something nice about being able to look down at your wrist every day and be reminded of something other than, say, that random jewelry store you bought your bracelet from or how many steps your fitness tracker has logged. The Brave Collection's line of hand-woven, hand-carved bracelets and necklaces are made in Cambodia by artisan women, to whom the company prides itself on providing fair wages and benefits like health insurance and education stipends. Founder Jessica Hendricks launched the line after traveling to the country to teach English during college, and she's since landed dozens of stockists around the world. Many of the styles feature the word "brave" in the Cambodian alphabet, and 10 percent of profits goes towards fighting human trafficking, so you know you're doing at least a bit of good with your dollars.
Feather Mix Bracelet, $38; at The Brave Collection