You know I am not a big fan (understatement of the year) of the use of the word mother as a modifying descriptor – the word mumtrepreneur is actually my pet peeve of the decade (after hair on soap that is). Basically where being a parent has no bearing on the topic why mention it? However, where clothing is concerned joining the cult of parenthood does actually change or at least influence clothing needs, so I want to talk about ethical fashion and ethical fashion brands for women who also happen to be parents (and those who are not too!).
I started muka kids (which includes a marketplace to trade pre-loved ethical kids clothing) because I believe that ethical fashion & sustainable clothing could be more accessible and more connected to the women whose lives it is meant to improve . Kid’s clothes seemed a good place to start because the turnover rate is pretty high. However, I also wear clothes and care about the people who grow the cotton, weave the fibre, dye the fabric, cut and sew the cloth as well as the environment this processing all happens in. So finding ethical clothing & ethical fashion designers that met both my personal style AND life style with kids is important.
Let Start with “What is Ethical Fashion?”
The Ethical Fashion Forum’s definition of sustainable, ethical fashion is “fashion that maximises benefits to communities and minimises impact on the environment”. I go a step further and say a truly ethical fashion business aims to not just do no harm but leverages its business activities to actually generate and rebuild the environment and foster well-being in people (I have highlighted such brands in the list as social enterprises).
What do Women (also Parents) Need from their Ethical Clothing or Clothing in General?
- Well unsurprisingly we like to feel good in our clothes, so in that respect we don’t morph into a different species upon becoming parents, we like looking nice, especially given there are more times than is reasonable when we really don’t feel like we do.
- But we are time poor, so easy care is good. The floor-robe is often in use after an exhausting evening with kids and oh my God I am lucky if I remember to change my underwear some days so washing clothes by hand (or at all even) just does not meet my ‘this matters’ criteria.
- Poo/bogey/spit/food proof. Yep parenting is all glamour and these are the things that end up on us. More often than it is best to ask. So being able to easily disguise or wipe off these things is a bonus.
- Happy Clothes. You know there is just no time in our lives to wear uncomfortable clothing, we have realised that uncomfortable clothing is a waste of time, intellect and energy. And despite what BS women’s fashion mags tell us comfort really can exist with style. So we want to wear Happy Clothes, not miserable ones.
- Scarves & some accessories* are good, because fewer high quality basics that we can invest in for years matter (and is way more sustainable) and accessories etc add excitement and colour without having to have a massive wardrobe (which is also not very sustainable).
*note dangly earrings and long necklaces that get caught in plates of food, toilet roll holders (don’t ask), or give enraged toddlers a weapon to choke you with are best left for evening wear ( ‘yep I am always off out for posh evenings these days’ said no parent EVER).
So we want beautiful, easy care, indestructible clothing that feel like wearing PJs. Simple really.
21 Ethical Fashion Brands for Women who also Happen to be Parents
I have tried to cover a range of different styles, but have focussed on those I have some personal experience of, know have a genuine ethical and sustainable approach and suit my life. I tend to look for minimalist, draped and well cut clothing that is not ‘on trend’ but is interesting (its more sustainable that way), with a bit of retro feminine chic peppered in. This may not be you so I would love to feature reviews from you the readers too (just comment away!).
Everyday Ethical Clothing
NZ based. Certified organic fair trade cotton design led womenswear. Draped, beautifully cut, flattering and criminally comfortable too Timeless and elegant. I love Kowtow. I may actually be IN love with Kowtow.
Another NZ based ethical business. Organic cotton, simple, flattering, comfortable. I love my t-shirt dress. ReCreate is more than sustainable they are one of the new wave of clothing businesses focussed on tying together great design with women’s development & empowerment (* Social Enterprise).
Original ethical fashion brand based in the UK. Use both fairtrade and organic cotton. Their designs for the UK market have a comfortable everyday feel, combined with limited edition collections from designers like Orla Kiely and knitwear in winter they cover a really good range of styles. Their designs for the Japanese market have a more minimalist and modern feel.
Eternal Creation favours bold cotton prints and have a classically cut feminine focus that are good for everyday wear and work. The clothes are well made, tailored and include sleepwear. Ethical fashion Australia started with eternal creation. With a long term and total commitment to improving the ethics in the clothing industry as well of the lives of the people that work for them in Dharamsala in India, where they set up an entirely new business within the community many years ago. An inspiring story (*Social Enterprise).
A great little project that has a small & very beautiful collection of handwoven simply cut and minimalist designs in handwoven raw silk (so quite practical texture) – for something a bit special “classic cuts with a unique twist- signature pieces” (*Social Enterprise).
Barcelona based designers, focused on minimising waste in creation, reuse, upcycling, and organic fabrics. These are really special pieces of clothing. All made in Barcelona. Available from Gather & See (details below)
New Zealand designed and made clothing, with a funky modern, elegant feel. I love their cropped jackets they are so useful for layering and very flattering! Chalky Digits are committed to sustainability in many ways from their choice of fabrics to their construction processes. They also give back via their online sales to conservation projects in NZ (and like us hate the dreaded bird & forest killing possum that was introduced here!) *Social Enterprise
Fun and colourful adult and and maternity in organic and ethical cotton. Super fun striped tights and leggings!
S’Wonderful – for the ethical event (Weddings etc)
S’Wonderful produce one off made to measure beautiful dresses that are vintage inspired. Mother & daughter team design and make the clothes in NZ.
For a collection of ethical and sustainable labels in one place
An online boutique stocking sustainable fashion by some seriously hip brands including Lalesso, Kowtow and Feral Childe. For Muka Kids readers Gather & See have a 10% discount code too! Enter FREESHIPPING.
Ethical Underwear and Bras
Wonder simple and minimal ethically made in Australian underwear and bras, with a focus on using sustainable materials including organic cotton. Really committed to sustainability and comfortable and modern simplicity. Great for basics. For those who had children I would love to see a bra from NICO with a thicker front lining women who have had kids often want bit more ahem coverage.
UK based, good for basics, and is quite reasonably priced because of their simple design and limited colour palette. Organic and sometimes fair trade cotton options.
Organic cotton, knitted and made in NZ. Women’s ethical underwear in some pretty fantastic and funky designs AND won’t go up your bum! We LOVE thunderpants – they do some good basic everyday wear too.
Ethical Shoes (for more ethical shoe companies see our guide on ethical men’s clothing)
Beautiful handmade flats, in a series of superb colours and patterns. Made ethically in south America The Root Collective are focussed on providing one solution to the complex issues of poverty by partnering with small-scale artisan businesses in marginalized communities to promote change through dignified jobs. (*social enterprise)
Designed and hand made in New Zealand, Minnie Cooper have been crafting shoes for women looking for something fabulous and lasting for years. Once a customer pretty much always a customer. As one pleased woman said ‘take a curtsy’ Minnie Cooper.
Oh how I love thee. This french brand is chic and cheerful. They do a huge variety of exciting and beautifully designed ethical street shoes for women (men and kids too ).
New to the scene here in NZ (but also with a US online shop). Fair trade, Eco-Friendly and Hand Made in Peru. Street shoes with a Peruvian edge!
Beautiful hand crafted shoes that are an investment for your wardrobe and in the people who make them. Nisolo is focussed on a business model that empowers makers in emerging economies by connecting them to the global marketplace in a responsible manner (*social enterprise).
The only sustainable brand I have yet to hear of in the hosiery department. They use recycled nylon – how cool is that? And frankly what woman would not want to own a product called ‘Swedish stockings?’
While mainly selling Scandinavian organic awesome colourful ethical kids clothing, Hoopla also sells women’s leggings, socks, tops & some super fun maternity wear in organic cotton fabulousness!
My favourite favourite ethical organic cotton pyjamas are to be found at the Goodnight Society based in Australia (they do men’s PJs as well!). Run by the lovely Kathryn, she gets the importance of great design, she really does. Look NO-WHERE else for pyjamas, and you may find yourself wearing those sleep leggings all day long….
Eternal Creation (see above)
Do fantastic kimono dressing gowns and great PJs in bold and vibrant prints.
It is hard to get a fully ethical and sustainable swimwear brand BUT here are a few that edge near to the mark
Made by a Wellington woman with a background in theatre and film, this is swimwear for the modern woman. Annemiek says ‘ I aim to recreate the flattering lines, the playful, fun and sexy bathing beauties of the 1900s-1950 using new fabrics that last well in chlorine.’ She will make to measure too!
I love Ruby Moon because it not only make ethical swimwear from sustainable materials built to fit firmly and last, but it is a business that works not just to do no harm but seeks to ‘generate’. In this case through business microloans to women in developing countries (*social enterprise)
Thunderpants (see above)
Make really well priced, flattering basic swimwear pieces.
It’s better than new. It’s preloved!
Remember of course you don’t have to buy this stuff new, (not undies though. obvs.). Save searches for the labels & brands you like on marketplaces like trademe, ebay, etsy or some of the dedicated preloved clothing platforms you can buy from , for example Designer wardrobe, (NZ Based), Tradesy (US) Rokit Vintage, Oxfam online or for serious luxury goods Vestiaire (UK based) . Internationally a new movement in renting clothing has emerged too, so check out some of those for ethical and sustainable clothing brands
Need Ideas? Ethical Fashion Bloggers and Organisations
Find a good Ethical fashion Blog as they are a great source of info, they put in the hard work looking for and reviewing ethical brands. Some good ethical fashion bloggers who really understand what ethics and sustainability actually mean in clothing include The Tortoise and Lady Grey, Moral Fibres, Sotela, to name a very few.
The Ethical Fashion Forum, Fashion Revolution, Fashion Revolution Day Aus/NZ, ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative are all organisations that exist to support the ethical fashion movement- follow their facebook pages to get info and updates on new and exciting ethical fashion companies. While the annual Behind the Barcode report and Good on You can guide you on the ethical practices of mainstream brands.
Please do let me know your experiences of other brands so I can grow this guide.
Jess Berentson-Shaw founded the Muka kids’ social enterprise to make design led ethical & sustainable clothing more accessible. Muka kids has a marketplace to trade pre-loved organic clothing and ethical clothing and also helps make NEW ethical, organic and sustainable clothing brands more affordable through its partnerships with accredited brands. Sales on the marketplace fund a micro finance scheme for women cotton farmers in India trying to pull themselves out of poverty.