(Pictured: the Qwstion store in Vienna, which brings their own sustainable bags together ethical brands.) This post is generously sponsored by Kanekta, a digital sourcing platform that connects ethical brands to retailers. As always, EcoCult only works with brands we trust. Support our editorial by supporting them!
I remember when I first start visiting trade shows at the founding of EcoCult in 2013. I got myself a press pass and strode into a small trade show called Capsule. I walked the whole floor, stopping at each booth whose aesthetic I liked to ask if there was any sustainable or ethical element to the fashion on display. It took me three hours, and during that first trade show trip I found some brands that are still favorites of mine, like Baserange and Blanca Monros Gomez.
But Capsule and other trade shows grew quickly. When I walked in the third year, I spent all day walking from booth to booth, asking the same question, and getting blank stares, or even worse, some blatant greenwashing from sales people who were willing to say anything to get me to stick around. It was a colossal waste of my time. I’ve also worked tradeshows, and experiencing the paperwork and old-fashioned order forms was sort of shocking to me!
If you’re trying to find sustainable and ethical brands for your own store, you might have experienced some similar frustrations! But ethical sourcing doesn’t have to be such a daunting task. After five years of doing my own searching and speaking with small store owners, I’ve come up with five ways to easily find ethical brands that fit your stores vibe and aesthetic. Here they are:
1. Stick to trade shows that clearly mark sustainable and ethical brands.
I wish more American trade shows did this, because it made my life so easy and fun at Berlin Fashion Week! First I visited an Ethical Fashion Show (renamed to Neonyt), which features nothing but ethical and sustainable brands. Then I popped by the big show Seek, whose brochure helpfully listed the sustainable brands in green. Tranoi in Paris has a category called Free Spirit that claims to be ethical, sustainable, vegan… but it’s hard to tell if this is truly enforced, or just a frame of mind and aesthetic choice, since all the clothing curated seems to have a boho chic vibe. NY Now has a Handmade section featuring craftsmanship and artisan items. As for the other big shows? I don’t think they do, but send them an email and ask if they mark out sustainable and ethical brands, and if not, make a request that they do so next year.
Just make sure to double check that the brands still meet your personal standards for sustainability! They’re not always carefully vetted by trade show organizers, just self-selected.
2. Look through EcoCult’s shopping guide.
Hey, I would call this shameless self promotion, but I’ve spent a good five years curating that list. So I’m positive you’ll find some goodies in there. You can even check a box for the type of clothing you’re looking for or what continent the brand is located on.
3. Look through relevant hashtags on Instagram.
This is a trick I learned from Rosa Ng of Young & Able. Relevant hashtags to peruse include: #30wears #fairfashionootd #ethicalootd #sustainablefashionblogger #ethicalfashionblogger #ethicalstyle #ethicalfashion #sustainablefashion #naturalfiber #sustainablestyle #ecochic #ecostyle #slowfashionblogger #capsulewardrobe #slowfashionmovement #ecofashion #fairfashion and #fairtradefashion. You can also find influencers that fit your aesthetic to follow, who will curate ethical fashion brands for you.
Just be careful: some of these hashtags are being used by unethical/conventional influencers, so they’re really just a starting point. You’ll have to do additional vetting.
4. Look to see what other ethical stores in other cities are selling.
I’ve noticed as I’ve traveled that a lot of ethical stores across Europe and the U.S have some core brands that are the same, but manage to mix it up with other interesting finds. You can crib some of their stuff by having a look through their website.
Now, I am not advocating that you look through the selection of an ethical store that is in the same city as you. Many brands have an exclusive geographical agreement with stores that they won’t sell to other stores in the same city. Even if they don’t, you might be accused of “poaching” brands or “copying” the other store’s hard sourcing work. Don’t be that store.
5. Sign up for Kanekta.
Kanekta is a digital sourcing platform that connects ethical brands to retailers. It provides a simple, streamlined sourcing process for both retailers and small brands, eliminating the majority of the manual paperwork and expensive in-person travel and tradeshow visits which are usually required in a wholesaling relationship. Boutiques, e-commerce stores, or other wholesale buyers can find – and place purchase orders directly from – multiple brands right on the platform.
Even better, unlike the above strategies, where the curation can be very suspect, the brands are vetted by the team at Kanekta in order to make sure they meet ethical and sustainable standards. Each brand must be either certified through a third party (such as Fair Trade International, for example) or they must pass a self-assessment which Kanekta created with permission based on the World Fair Trade Organization’s assessment.
It’s a really great time to be a conscious retail buyer, because more and more ethical brands are showing up. The key is finding them, and then making sure they’re up to your ethical and design standards. But the search is half the fun, right? And with the above tactics, you’ll likely find more amazing brands than you know what to do with! Next step: trying to whittle it down to the the very best. And that is totally up to you.