Ethical Fashion


The massive growth in responsible consumption and production, originating in the food industry and growing out of the experience of fair trade (Perna 1998; Roozen et Van der Hoff 2002; Skov 2006), before spreading to the handicraft, finance, and tourism sectors, has grown to include the textile and clothing industry (Bovone 2017; Clark 2008; Fletcher 2008, 2010, 2012).  

Therefore, the expression of ethical fashion refers to these forms of production and consumption (Parker 2011; Mora 2007; Mora 2009; Reiley and DeLong 2011). Although manifesting themselves in many ways, they find a unifying feature in the attention paid to the economic, social, and environmental consequences, which that concretely turns into responsible actions to contain (or limit as much as possible) the negative effects or to trigger virtuous circles of recovery and enhancement of skills, territories, people, and traditions. 

Different forms of responsibility can be identified and, even if they are increasingly intertwined with each other, all together give rise to ethics in several ways of production and consumption (Lunghi e Montagnini 2007):  

  1. responsibility towards themselves: products which are pivotal to well-being and personal happiness (as in the case of clothes and/ or accessories free of toxic substances, wearable by people with allergies or specific health problems) 
  2. responsibility towards others: production taking care of fair wages, respect for workers' rights, exclusion of child labor, employment of disadvantaged categories of workers (prisoners, migrants, asylum seekers, women over 45; young people in difficulty, etc.), fair trade activities in developing countries 
  3. responsibility towards the environment: goods made with biological and/or recycled materials; cruelty free; packaging with low environmental impact; attention to waste disposal processes. A virtuous circle is established between those who produce and those who buy in all these forms of responsible acting.  

This synergy can confer them ethical values such as solidarity, justice, and respect for the environment. 

A growing number of consumers are aware of the ethical aspects of their clothes, taking respect for the environment and workers’ rights as non-negotiable standards in their purchasing choices, to the point where these have become a badge of political commitment in the case of political consumerism (Micheletti 2003; Micheletti et al 2004). Furthermore, this approach is now widespread, and is not restricted to specific segments of society but is, rather, to be found among consumers of all ages, moving beyond the confines of ideological, anti-consumerist purchasing, to extend to broad swathes of consumers in search of both individual and collective well-being. 

There is undoubtedly a widespread desire for information about supply chains, materials, and manufacturing and distribution processes. Recently, moreover, in the light of environmental concerns (unprecedented ecological disasters, ever more worrying levels of pollution, etc.), our quality of life and the need to protect ecosystems have come to be seen as of significant cultural and ethical importance. In this sense, the specific demands of consumers have been designed to ensure greater control over raw materials, production techniques, the recycling of packaging, the elimination of waste, and the reuse of products, overlapping in part with some of the values that find expression in the fashion for second-hand goods (Gregson and Crewe 2003).  

We also need to consider the rapid development of globalization, a trend that has created new links between individuals and has opened the circulation of information, making it far more difficult for companies to hide their manufacturing policies and practices. The fashion world has responded to these new demands by presenting ethical collections and by offering information about their products and their materials. 

Ethical fashion, then, in the broad sense, seems to offer some interesting challenges not only for the future of fashion itself but also for the economy, creativity, and culture. No less significant is the observation that responsible fashion favors a move away from an emphasis on images of wealth and towards a search for a new, respectful, non-exploitative relationship with others and with the environment. All of this would seem to indicate that responsible fashion is not solely a marketing phenomenon but also holds the potential for new economic and cultural practices (Beard 2008).  

More specifically, researchers, academics, activists, and consumers reveal four new approaches to ethical fashion: 

  1. the first involves the research and the use of new organic materials, by making products with fibres derived from food waste (i.e., fibers from orange waste, wine waste, apple skin, etc: see paragraph 3) 
  2. the second entails the application of traditional techniques and expertise to enhance the value of certain products through the process of co-creation and cross-fertilization. Different cultures meet and enhance each other, creating garments that combine the strengths of different textile and clothing traditions, very frequently about Western and non-Western know-how (as in the case of Endelea which combines the beauty of African fabrics and embody the qualities of Italian design with its attention to detail, style, and finish; also in the case of Fiori all’Occhiello: see paragraph 4) 
  3. the third concerns the creative reuse of fabrics and products, as in the case of recycling and upcycling  
  4. the final approach relates to how these initiatives offer an unprecedented opportunity for employment and social inclusion for people who are marginalized or in difficulty as in the case of jail fashion brands Made in Carcere in Lecce and Sartoria San Vittore in Milan (Lunghi 2012; 2014; Mongelli et al 2012; see paragraph 4).  

The recycling and regeneration of agri-food waste in eco-sustainable vegetable fibers represent the most innovative scenario and the strongest link between sustainability in fashion and food. Today, many are the foods from which modern technologies allow us to obtain natural yarns with low environmental impact. Among others, we mention: The Italian company Orange Fiber is the world’s first brand to produce sustainable fabrics from citrus juice by-products. The innovative process has been patented since 2014 in the main citrus juice producing countries all over the world. The Company has established strong relationships with famous Italian fashion brands such as Salvatore Ferragamo and Eugenio Marinella and big players as H&M. Bananatex® was developed in 2018 by the Swiss bag brand and material innovators QWSTION in collaboration with a yarn specialist and a weaving partner, both based in Taiwan. It is the world’s first durable, technical fabric made purely from the naturally grown Abacá banana plants in the Philippine highlands. These plants are self-sufficient and require no pesticides, fertilizer, or extra water cultivated, qualities that have contributed to reforestation in areas once eroded due to monocultural palm plantations. Bananatex® is Cradle to Cradle Certified® Gold, the most advanced standard globally for products that are safe, circular and responsibly made and is used for shoes, furniture, and bags. Vegea Company was founded in 2016 in Milan, with the aim to promote the integration between chemistry and agriculture through the development of new eco-sustainable products. The company valorizes agro-industry biomass and residues as high-value feedstocks and transforms them into new materials for fashion, furniture, packaging, automotive and transportation. In collaboration with Italian wineries, Vegea has developed a process for the valorization of wine waste: grape marc, which is composed of grape skins, stalks and seeds discarded during wine production. Chip[s] Board is the first company in the world to transform potato waste into a range of innovative and sustainable materials for fashion and interior design. Parblex Plastics is the name of the derivatives, translucent bioplastics pure or fibre-reinforced with an incredible surface finish and strength for fashion and interior design.  

There are also some interesting experiences that create sustainable fashion and food products at the same time. Among others, we mention: 

Le Costantine ( found its roots in the early twentieth century when in Maglie, (a little town near Lecce, in the south of Italy) an enlightened benefactress - Giulia Starace - wanted to promote, along with another philanthropist, Carolina De Viti de Marco, the art of weaving and embroidery as a tool of emancipating women through economic autonomy. Activity slowed down and then continued over the years, so much so that the Foundation was founded in 1982 and reopened the weaving workshop by hand in 2002. Here the artisans work, with antique wooden looms, fine yarns such as silk, cashmere, wool and linen: among the buyeres, Loro Piana and also Dior for the Cruise 2021 collection by Maria Grazia Chiuri. In addition, great attention is paid to the quality of life with the practice of biodynamic agriculture (cultivation of olives, cereals and legumes), the opening of a holiday home, the offer of vocational courses for the recovery of early school leaving. 

CANGIARI ( it is the first eco-ethical brand in the Italian high fashion market. Ethical materials: becoming the first Italian high fashion brand using only strictly organic materials, G.O.T.S certified. Ethical production chain: cooperative production chain, participated by the workers themselves, opportunity of employment also for disadvantaged people. Ethical brand message: a refined lifestyle founded on the values ​​of GOEL, a group of social cooperatives, gave birth to a “redemption community” with the hope to change Calabria - a land suffering with serious social and economic problems - in different ways and in different fields. GOEL has also the brand GOEL Bio that aggregates Calabrian farms that oppose the 'ndrangheta, build a sustainable development of the territory, ensure ethical business conduct and offer high quality typical products. 

1. Ethical fashion as the result of the employment of disadvantaged categories of workers. 

The case of prison fashion brands as Made in Carcere, (located in Lecce and Trani’s prisons) and Sartoria San Vittore (housed in San Vittore, the main jail of Milan) 

These prison fashion brands show new cultural ferments introducing, in daily garments, original emotions and stories, which talk about creativity, inclusion and handcraft and work with the logic of beauty and well made to recover and re-socialize border people. Inmates have frequently stressed how these goods succeed in transmitting a different understanding of prison, one which is, paradoxically, almost positive, speaking as it does of a place in which it is possible to recover one’s dignity through work.  

2. Ethical fashion as the link between cultures and the result of co-creation and cross-fertilization

The case of Endelea Dream Bold ( It is an ethical fashion brand founded in Milan in 2018 to create clothes and accessories in African wax fabrics with a made in Italy design. Endelea's collections are designed in Milan and handmade in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, between local markets and a workshop created together with Tanzanian tailors and dressmakers. By sharing resources and knowledge, Endela truly empowers people, creates durable progress, and invests part of its revenues in sponsoring educational programs. 

The case of Fiori all’Occhiello ( Fiori all'Occhiello was founded in 2014 as a social entrepreneurship project within La Rotonda APS (Association of Social Promotion) to combine high professionalism and employment on the territory of Baranzate, the Italian Municipality with the largest number of resident foreigners (33%) and where 72 different ethnic groups coexist. It is an artisanal tailoring with the intention of creating a concrete job opportunity around the ability of foreign women and men. Today the initiative has almost made 8,200 items and hundreds of customers, mostly contractors. Everything is done by hand, from drawing the pattern without CAD to cutting. A brand, Fiò Made in Baranzate, is also born and bespoke dresses and wedding dresses are also made. The sartorial workshop has gradually added to the production also a training activity, which has become increasingly important and which since 2022 has become the core business of Fiori all'Occhiello


a) Academic/peer reviewed 

Beard D. N. (2008), The Branding of Ethical Fashion and the Consumer: a Luxury Niche or Mass-market Reality? «Fashion Theory», Volume 12, Issue 4, Oxford - New York, Berg, pp.447-468. 

Bovone L. (2017), Ethical Fashion as a Post-Postmodern Phenomenon, in Motta G. and Biagini A. (eds), Fashion through History: Costumes, Symbols, Communication (Volume I), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, (pp. 326-336) 

Bovone L. e Mora E. (eds), (2007), La spesa responsabile. Il consumo biologico e solidale, Roma, Donzelli Editore 

Clark H (2008), Slow + Fashion - an Oxymoron - or a Promise for the Future, «Fashion Theory», Volume 12, Issue 4, Berg Publisher, Oxford - New York, pp. 427-446. 

Gregson N. and Crewe L. (2003), Second-Hand Cultures, Berg, Oxford – New York. 

Fletcher K. (2008), Sustainable Fashion & Textiles. Design Journeys, London, Earthscan. 

- 2010, Slow Fashion: An Invitation for Systems Change, «Fashion Practice», Volume 2, Issue 2, Oxford - New York, Berg, pp. 259-266. 

- 2012, Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use, in «Fashion Practice», Volume 4, Issue 2, Oxford - New York, Berg, pp. 299-321. 

Lunghi C. (2012), Creative evasioni. Manifatture di moda in carcere, Milano, FrancoAngeli. 

(2014) Eccentric Fashions: Prison and Creativity, «International Journal for Fashion Studies», vol. II, Intellect, London (pp. 209-226). 

Lunghi C. e Montagnini E. (2007), La moda della responsabilità, Milano, FrancoAngeli. 

Micheletti M. (2003), Political Virtue and Shopping, London, Palgrave MacMillan. 

Micheletti M., Follesdal A., Stolle D. (eds) (2004), Politics, Products and Markets: Exploring Political Consumerism Past and Present, New Brunswick, Transaction Press. 

Mongelli L., Versari P., Rullani F., Vaccaro A., (2012), Made in Carcere: Integral Human Development in Extreme Conditions, «Journal of Business Ethics», 152 (pp.977-995). 

Mora E. (2007), L'abbigliamento tra etica ed estetica, in Bovone L. e Mora E. (eds), La spesa responsabile. Il consumo biologico e solidale, Roma, Donzelli Editore, (pp. 75-101). 

(2009), Fare Moda. Esperienze di produzione e consumo, Milano, Bruno Mondadori. 

Parker E. (2011) Steps towards Sustainability in Fashion: Snapshot Bangladesh, London, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion. 

Perna T. (1998), Fair Trade. La sfida etica al mercato mondiale, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri. 

Reiley K. and DeLong M. (2011), A Consumer Vision for Sustainable Fashion Practice, «Fashion Practice», Volume 3, Issue 1, Oxford - New York, Berg, (pp. 63-84). 

Roozen N. et Van der Hoff F. (2002), L’aventure du commerce equitable. Une alternative à la mondalisation par les fondateurs de Max Havelar, Paris, Éditions Jean-Claude Lattès. 

Skov L. (2006), The Role of Trade Fairs in the Global Fashion Business, «Current Sociology», Vol 54(5), London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi, Sage, (pp. 764–783). 

b) Other sources 

Vesti la natura (

It is an Italian association committed to promoting ethical and sustainable fashion. Volunteers, textile professionals and teachers work together and offer their knowledge to spreading an ethical approach to fashion among consumers and companies and to propose suitable solutions to reduce the harmful effects of fashion on the environment.  

It has developed several projects: among others, ecoFashion (, a browser for ethical brands and fashion stores. 

Fashion Revolution (

It was founded in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013. Since then, it has grown to become the world’s largest fashion activism movement, mobilizing citizens, brands and policymakers through research, education, and advocacy. Every year a Fashion Revolution week was organized in the week surrounding the 24th of April, the anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse. 

Clean Clothes Campaign (

CCC was founded in the Netherlands in 1989 as Schone Kleren Campagne. It has become a global network of over 235 organisations operating in over 45 countries. This network connects actors across the garment and sportswear industry, linking homebased worker organisations, grass-roots unions, women's organisations and trade unions, to labour rights and feminist organisations, CSOs and activists in both garment-producing and consumer market countries. All members are dedicated to empowering workers to improve the working conditions of the global garment and sportswear industries.  

Detox Campaign (

It is a Greenpeace campaign, started in 2011 to address the widespread use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing of clothes, which were being released into waterways in countries such as China, Indonesia and Mexico.  It was the first campaign to challenge big clothing brands from all sectors to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of their manufacturing supply chains and commit to achieve zero discharges of hazardous chemicals by 2020. 



Bravo L. (2021), How to break up with fast fashion, Headline  

Cline E. L. (2013), Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Penguin 

(2019), The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good, Plume 

Ciuni L.e Spadafora M. (2020) La rivoluzione inizia dal tuo armadio Solferino Editore, Milano 

Dalla Rosa R. (2011), I vestiti che fanno male, a chi li indossa, a chi li produce, Terre di mezzo Editore, Milano 

De Castro O. (2021), Loved Clothes Last- How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act, Penguin, London 

Minney S. (2016) Slow Fashion. Aesthetics meets ethics, New Internationalist, Oxford, UK 

(2017), Slave to Fashion, New Internationalist, Oxford, UK 

Thomas D. (2020), Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, Head of Zeus Ltd, London 

Siegle L. (2012), To die for: Is Fashion Wearing out the World?, Fourth Estate, UK 




China Blue (Vimeo) 2011  

The True Cost, 2015 

Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion (Prime Video) 2016 

Riverblue (Prime Video) 2017