My mother messaged me the other day having read my recent article What To Wear When Covid-19 Is Over and said: “Hi Panda! That post was awesome… just wish I had the odd £10k to buy it all! We’re all going to be broke after Covid-19 so maybe you need an ethical budget alternative post next!” SO! Here we are! I’m going to be honest and say that everything on this list is less than $150 as that is my personal limit when it comes to investing in clothes – and if I’m spending that much it has to be something that I wear many, many, many times. I’m sure you will have a different budget in mind, so – just so we cover all bases my budget scale (listed beside the outfits below with a $ sign) is this:
- $ = ethical items below $50
- $$ = ethical items from $50-$100
- $$$ = ethical items $100-$150.
You’ll find items within these budgets in each of the five outfits I’ve styled below, but for the more expensive ($$$) items like jackets and shoes, I always remember a trick my mother’s best friend told me when she took me out shopping one time. She said before you buy something at the upper end of your price range first style it with the rest of your wardrobe in your head and work out an estimate of how often you’re going to wear it, then divide the price of the item by that number. So if a pair of ethically made shoes costs me $115 and I estimate I’m going to wear them 100 times, that means every time I wore them would cost me $1.15 – would you be willing to pay this? Personally, I would – so I’d probably go ahead and buy that pair of shoes. Of course, everyone budgets differently, but I think within these outfits there’ll be something for all. Let’s dive in!
1. The Laid-Back Lady ($-$$)
Whether it’s pouring over your books, lounging around the house or enjoying a lazy coffee with friends, comfort is the order of the day. So I’ve chosen these black organic cotton dungarees by Lucy & Yak and a white crew-neck cotton t-shirt to go underneath. Both have that crisp yet roomy relaxed feel about them – timeless classics that you can wear again and again and both closet staples.
Lucy & Yak are a quirky and affordable ethical clothing company who are committed to paying every single person along their supply chain the Living Wage as appropriate to their country. They have also invested in a new, larger factory in India, which has solar panels fitted on the roof so soon the factory will be running off 100% renewable energy. As it says on their site: “It’s so important that all of our staff are treated with respect, no matter how big or small their role is. Whatever country they are in, they will always be looked after.”
A basic white cotton tee is an essential part of any girl’s wardrobe. This one is by Kotn, a brand on a mission to solve the cotton crisis in Egypt. Did you know that there has been a 95% decline in demand for cotton farmers in the Nile Delta by big corporations, who have chosen to go with cheaper options? As you can imagine, this has caused significant problems in the community there. Kotn was founded in 2014 by three friends who wanted to change this. The brand now buys its Egyptian cotton directly from the farmers, ensuring a guaranteed price – “Like farm-to-table, but for your clothes”. The material is sent to a nearby factory outside Alexandria which employs local craftspeople and is responsibly run. You can read more about their work here.
Simple jewellery is a must when it comes to completing this relaxed vibe. I love these sterling silver rings by Oh My Clumsy Heart – they’re so endearing. I have to say I’ve slightly fallen in love with this brand and not just because of its really reasonable prices. Everything is handmade in their studio in the UK and they only produce jewellery in small batches to keep the cost and waste to a minimum. They also only work with responsible suppliers who provide them with fair trade gold and silver, use lab-grown diamonds rather than mined, and are experts in the jewellery industry. You can learn more about their materials here.
A pair of white sustainably made trainers is such a worthwhile addition to your closet. It can be styled up or down depending on the occasion – shopping with your girlfriends, dinner at your favourite bar, or travelling fresh paths on a well-earned city break. This low impact eco-friendly trainer by ethical clothing brand Everlane is crafted from leather tanned in a gold-certified tannery and its soles are made from a blend of natural and recycled rubber that is 94.2% free of virgin plastic. If you’re looking for a vegan alternative within the same price range check out Will’s Vegan Shoes here.
This casual eco-friendly backpack would be great to throw over your shoulder, completing our laid-back look. I love how smart the colour is but that it has that slightly crumpled canvas look – like you’ve just shoved your books and laptop in it in the morning, late for work or class. Baggu has crafted this backpack from 65 % recycled cotton and uses environmentally responsible dyes, which are fully absorbed by the bag’s material rather than creating run-off and pollution.
2. The Bohemian Babe ($-$$)
Feminine floaty dresses with a feel of the desert about them… giggling girls rocking around in a musical vintage van… I thought this vibe would be hard to find in an ethical fashion brand since, surprisingly, a lot of affordable mindful fashion is quite plain cotton basics…
Not so with Tamga Designs, I was overjoyed to discover them! I absolutely love their eco-friendly bohemian print dresses and feather-light kimonos, mindfully made in Bali. This will be the most expensive part of your outfit, but it’s well worth it.
Tamga Designs’ fabric is made of eco-friendly fibre Micro-TENCEL® – this is an extra-fine and light cellulose fibre made from sustainable wood sources. The process spins wood pulp from certified sources into cellulosic fibres, which has a low ecological impact by recycling water and reusing the solvent in the fibre at a recovery rate of 99%. You can read more about TENCEL® here.
I’d pair Tamga’s bohemian dresses and kimonos with these vegan western boots by Matisse and a lot of layered long & dangly gold jewellery for that ultimate free-spirited look. Matisse do loads of affordable boots that would match here and I particularly like the transparency of this brand. They say on their website: “We produce our footwear in five countries. Most of our factories are family-owned and operated and have been partners with Matisse for over 30 years. All factories used are socially audited to ensure workers are compensated accordingly and treated fairly based on standards set by Matisse. Our factory partners are a very important part of our company and the Artisans that produce our goods are an integral part of our team.” They go on to say that recycled leather and textiles are used in the heels and uppers of the shoes wherever possible.
This stunning Many Memories Necklace with Mother of Pearl discs is a fair trade creation by artisans working with TARA Projects. TARA Projects stands for “Trade Alternative Reform Action”, a project working in a 125-mile radius of Delhi, India which facilitates hundreds of members to sell their items internationally. Further benefits for communities working with TARA include: medical insurance, interest-free loans and advances, a savings program and skills training. Interestingly, Ten Thousand Villages, the online ethical store where I found this necklace, has purchased products from TARA since 1986.
And no peace-loving flower child would venture far from home without their crown. This dainty little flower crown is handmade by Pixiewood Flowers in England from real flowers which have been dried and then woven together to form the perfect bohemian headpiece. You can find more handmade flower crowns in varying colours and styles from Pixiewood Flowers here.
Finally, the ultimate road trip crossbody bag. For those unexpected adventures, grab this 100% woven iraca fibre bag and hit the road! The iraca fibre comes from a tropical palm that produces very robust fibres so you can be sure of this little bag’s sturdiness. Every item on Hope Made comes with the story of the maker and this bag is no exception – it was crafted by a woman called Juanita, who used the age-old weaving techniques of the Asociación de Tejedoras Juanita to create it – an organization of approximately 100 artisans – heads of households – whose main economic activity is weaving and craftsmanship. Juanita and the Asociación are located in Sandoná, Nariño in Colombia. Hope Made also offer Home Decor and Accessories as well as bags with similarly important stories.
3. The Chic Muse ($-$$)
It seems that every great artist had a muse. Someone to inspire them. Picasso had Dora Maar, Rossetti had Elizabeth Siddal… Flicking through black and white photographs of them now, they seem endlessly elegant and captivating. But you know what both these women also had in common? They were both celebrated artists in their own right. And just like them, I believe we are our own muses, creating our own art because we are the canvas. Simple, graceful colours and silhouettes have that effortless ‘less is more’ look and you can highlight your lips with a burst of bright red to make the whole outfit pop. Here’s my very own ‘chic muse’ outfit…
This long, flowing yet structured dress is made from a soft, patterned eco-friendly fabric Tencel™ lyocell and viscose weave. To me, it’s a cross between English sensibility and French chic. What do you think about big high street fashion brands like H&M doing a ‘conscious’ range? Personally, I think it’s a step in the right direction but I think they could do more – for example, their range could really benefit from a background story about where the items are made and I’ve yet to see any other big brands other than H&M taking up the gauntlet and follow suit with similar responsibly produced ranges. It’s 2020 – COME ON GUYS!
These shoes. So stylish and I love that they have that unusual grape vine tie tassel effect with the gold bunch of grapes at the end. It gives your muse outfit a classic uniqueness and a little bit of je ne sais quoi. These sandals are made from a vegan imitation leather called VEGEA™ – a “leather-like vegan material made from bio-waste produced during the winemaking process” – hence the bunch of grapes detail!
I put together this set of gold jewellery from ethical independent jewellers Oh My Clumsy Heart, but they have loads of pieces on their website so you can mix and match! Clean lines and simplicity are essential for me when choosing jewellery, but you may prefer something different. The 14K Gold Personalised Letter Necklace, Diamond Ring and Arc Earrings are similarly modest and compliment each other well.
Like my shoes, I like a bag with some unusual detailing and this vegan crossbody bag with its gold chain shoulder strap and art deco-inspired design by Melie Bianco fits my muse. This brand’s vegan bags are made ethically in China – “sculpted with love in a cruelty-free, animal-friendly environment, using fair trade principles”. Workers get fair pay, equal opportunities, free lunches and paid vacations. Melie Bianco also operates under a Profit Sharing Model, which means the employees get a share of the company’s profits.
There is nothing like a pair of oversized black sunglasses to complete this look. These are by DIFF Eyewear – a designer charitable eyewear brand based in the United States. In the 4 years I have been following them, they have donated over 1.5 million pairs of glasses worldwide to people in need – every pair of glasses sold provides one person in need with reading glasses. They’ve partnered with Sightsavers for 2020 to go even further – “Now, every pair of DIFFs sold helps to provide the gift of sight to someone in need through eye exams, surgeries, glasses, medicine, and more”. You can read all about their partnership here.
4. The Office Belle ($-$$$)
High-heeled court shoes clicking on marble lobby floors, manicured fingertips flying over laptop keys and sharply tailored suits. The working girl is one to behold – she’s ambitious, driven and switched on. Especially in this outfit.
Office wear is when I turned to my tried and trusted old friend, People Tree. Their Sale is always really good and they stock investment pieces that can be worn heaps of different ways, like this Fair Trade blazer made from 100% organic cotton.
The handwoven Fair Trade Dorothea Shirt is a favourite of mine because of its loose, relaxed fit. I prefer longer top halves as then you have the option to wear it out, tuck it in, or tie it for that breezy office look. The Dorothea Shirt and 100% organic cotton Fair Trade trousers below are both in the People Tree Sale, so if you are looking for similar ethical items at this price point I recommend checking out Thought Clothing.
I love these Point Flats in rose pink by Will’s Vegan Shoes for a splash of colour in your workday outfit. Ethically made in Portugal from vegan leather created with bio oil. This oil is sourced from organic cereal crops grown in Northern Europe. Their insoles are also made from recycled rubber in Spain.
A day at the office can be stressful and I always like to have a little glitz on me to cheer me up. Kestan is a new find of mine with loads of jewellery under $50 and all sterling silver. I thought the Malibu Sterling Ring and Avalon Earrings would go well with this. Their ethos is that beautiful items should be made by happy workers and to this end, they spent 6 months in the factories they now use to make certain they complied with Kestan’s standards. They also do a clothing range that uses eco-friendly fibres and you can take a look inside their factories here.
This Matt & Nat satchel is made out of vegan leather alternatives and its lining is made from 100% recycled bottles. Approximately 21 bottles are recycled for every bag this brand produces so you’re doing good just by carrying this bag to work – no matter how the rest of the day goes! 😉
5. The Hollywood Starlet ($-$$)
When I first saw this glamourous Old Hollywood-inspired ‘wiggle’ dress I felt like I had stars in my eyes! Handmade in Los Angeles from eco-friendly fabrics, the Marilyn Dress design has stood the test of time and that’s exactly why it’s on offer at Frock L.A. – a brand that prides itself on slow fashion, creating pieces that will be in style season after season.
This is such a versatile classic piece for your wardrobe. It’s formal yet sexy – perfect for dinner dates, cocktail parties and black tie events. A standalone piece, you could choose to keep your jewellery to simple, delicate silver or gold tones or layer on bold statement items with bursts of colour – a chunky bejewelled sapphire necklace, bracelet or earrings (or all three!) spring to mind. Rich hues would really highlight the snow-white-ness of this Little White Dress and give the impression you’re just dripping in gems. And where to find such jewellery?
I’d have to return again to the affordable ethical marketplace Ten Thousand Villages for their Harmony Necklace – $37.49 and Blue Rhapsody Earrings – $12.99. So well-priced and such high quality. Paired with the Marilyn Dress, it would be difficult to tell these beautiful pieces apart from ones that are ten times their cost and not nearly as ethical in their origin. The Harmony Necklace, for example, is made by artisans working with CFM Market Linkages – “a fair trade partner that helps makers in India develop skills and earn fair wages to support their families”. Meanwhile, the Blue Rhapsody Earrings are made by the women artisans of TARA Projects, working in and around Delhi, India.
For the shoe, I would have to go for a demure yet sleek white heel. These Nina Heels from SUSI Studio compliment the sultriness of our Old Hollywood dress and they’re ethically made too using vegan recycled microsuede and rubber. The Hong Kong factory SUSI Studio works with is also owned and run entirely by women. SUSI’s founder, Bianca, visits the factory regularly, has formed friendships with them and ensures all workers receive “fair wages, reasonable hours and environment”.
This Beatrix Beaded Bag by Monsoon is the ultimate elegant piece to round off the look. Monsoon is a familiar sight on many city high streets around the world, but unbeknownst to many, this fashion giant has helped over 10,000 disadvantaged and vulnerable women and children throughout Asia through its charitable foundation, the Monsoon Accessorize Trust. Monsoon believes “in the positive, empowering, life-changing power of trade rather than aid. And we want to do right by the people who make our beautiful things”. They were a founding member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and since then they have been “at the forefront of driving sustainable improvements in working conditions and livelihoods wherever we do business”. You can read more about this company’s fascinating history and ethos here.
I hope you’ve found some ethical fashion and jewellery treasures here! If you’d like even more affordable mindful shopping ideas, check out my article 11. Affordable Ethical Fashion Brands You’re Going To Love.
In Love&Light, MM XOXO