If you are looking for cheap clothing, you may be disappointed. “Affordable ethical clothing UK and online” is about embracing a conscious lifestyle without breaking the bank. In this article you will find an overview of some of the brands available in the UK, as retail shops or online, which are widely recognised as ethical in some degree. There is also information to help you to make ethical decisions about clothing, fabrics and fashion.
If your main concern is sustainability, many of the retailers featured on this site provide organic cotton options and prices are very reasonable. Some of the brands listed below may cost a little more, but have invested in reducing environmental impact and in monitoring and improving the conditions of workers.
Some of the places you can buy affordable ethical clothing uk in stores or online retailers who ship to the UK.
In their own words: Soft. Simple. Sustainable.™ Definitely a site to visit because Alternative Apparel take their ethical values very seriously. Production uses sustainable and recycled materials, reduced water and low-impact dyes. They have aligned themselves with Fashion Revolution. See the link under “More Information” at the end of this article. They ensure “fair, safe & clean workplace conditions on a global scale”. Prices are more affordable than some high profile fashion brands too.
Natural Collection provide a useful list of options to help customers to shop according to their own beliefs and principles. Apart from normal categories shoppers can go through portals labelled “Fair Trade”, “Organic”, “UK Made”, “Charity and Awards”, “Education”, “Eco Friendly”, “Commodity and Ingredients”, “Health and Wellness”, “Production Method”, “Animal Welfare” and “Country”. They believe that the small positive choices of the many have a great impact overall.
Levi’s have clearly stated sustainability commitments. They use huge amounts of cotton, so it is encouraging that they work with the BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) and others to help cotton growers to increase yield while reducing water and chemical use.
Everlane is a US brand which now ships to the UK. It launched in 2010 as a menswear retailer, but now supplies clothing, shoes and accessories for both men and women from ethical factories. It is unusual in its transparency, as it provides a detailed breakdown of the costs and mark-up that make up the price of each item.
Arket is owned by H&M Group and came into existence in 2017. Its first flagship store opened in Regent Street, London. With sustainability in mind, Arket aims to produce high quality long-life items rather than fast fashion. The idea is that customers buy key clothing items which last years rather than weeks. The initial purchase may not be cheap, but it replaces multiple buys and so makes a truly affordably route into conscious clothing.
Weekday (also an H&M brand) is a Swedish denim and fashion brand which launched in 2002. Its organic cotton jeans are its showcase product. They also use recycled cotton. Styled towards the younger end of the market.
Eileen Fisher now ship to the UK. They are seasoned champions of recycling and sustainable fabric use.
Some of the statistics and scenarios I came across were eye-openers. The following table lays out just a few of them. The scale of the problem results from the sheer magnitude of the fashion industry, which is sometimes ranked as the second most polluting industry in the world.
According to Oxfam’s research, the two tonnes of new clothes brought into the UK PER MINUTE produce more carbon emissions than driving a car round the world six times.
Most textile dyes used globally are synthetic, such as the Azo dyes used for bright reds, oranges and yellows. They give bright long-lasting colours at minimal cost, but waste from the dying process finds its way into water. Some does not degrade at all and some that does produces harmful substances.
As well as the dyes themselves, the dying process uses chemical additives. These are often strongly alkaline or acidic. Traditional methods of extracting workable natural fibres also use chemicals, but mechanical means are increasingly being used instead.
Plastic microfibres from synthetic clothing make up 85% of man-made material found on the sea-shore.
Faux fur, once embraced as an ethical alternative, is derived from plastics which leave polluting waste.
Washing polyester fabrics releases microfibres which contribute to the levels of microplastics in our oceans.
The fashion and clothing industry has a historic reputation of using sweat-shops. Some have described the condition of workers in them as “modern slavery”.
Even where a sustainable crop used to create fabrics is itself biodegradable, traditional production methods release harmful chemicals. For instance, according to Dr. Paul Blanc, a professor of medicine at the University of California: “Chronic exposure to carbon disulfide can cause serious health problems for rayon workers”.
On the farming front, there are two main issues. The first is unsustainable crops which cannot be replaced quickly enough. The second issue is farming practices which have a damaging effect on ecosystems. Also things may not be all they seem. Bamboo is a sustainable crop, but in places virgin forest is being cleared to plant it!
What can you do?
- Think about where your clothing is coming from and make conscious ethical choices
- Recycle clothing rather than binning it
- Buy second-hand or recycled
- Rent special outfits
- Go for “slow fashion” and invest in staple garments which will last
- Wash carefully. Several of the brands listed above give garment care and washing advice on their websites.
Sustainable fabrics list
Our “Affordable Ethical Clothing UK and online” guide to what our clothes are made from.
Production of cotton in recent years has relied heavily on agricultural chemicals. To meet demand for affordable cotton, yield has been maximised with the the use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. To grow cotton organically, without chemical use, much more land is needed, so production is inherently more expensive. Cotton growing uses huge amounts of water.
Linen is made from flax, which can be grown with minimal chemical use. It grows well on ground unsuitable for major food crops. Historically the soaking of flax in watercourses released pollutants into the water, but there are now greener methods of production.
Not everyone considers silk to be ethical. Silk production is sustainable, but since the silk is produced from the cocoon of the silk moth, the silkworm dies in the cocoon.
Wool ticks all the boxes except for those who do not wish to use animal products at all.
Ecovero is a sustainable Viscose. It comes from certified sustainable wood sources via an ecologically sound production process. Plantations are regulated by the FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC® (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).
NB – Viscose denotes a cellulose fibre made from wood or agricultural products. Traditional production used large amounts of polluting chemicals to break the raw material down.
Lycocell is a cellulose derivative produced from wood pulp. The method has very low environmental impact. Water is recycled and 99% of the solvent used is recovered.
Modal is a moisture-absorbing textile. It is often used as an alternative to cotton in sportswear and underwear. Another cellulose product, the same applies as with those above. Look to Lenzing Modal as an example of greener production.
Not one for Vegans, of course, but this list would be incomplete without including leather. Where it is made from the skin / hide of food animals it is considered a sustainable resource. Treatment and dying methods vary however.
If you are looking for affordable ethical clothing UK shops are increasing in number and so are online stores which now ship to the UK. There are brands available at quite modest prices, but generally, the more a brand has invested in sustainability, ethical factories and farms, reduction of pollution and welfare of people and animals, the more their clothing will cost. But if you are prepared to go down the slow fashion route, they become affordable because purchases are far less frequent.