There are four terms we use most often to describe the brands we carry - sustainable, ethically-made, locally-made, and independent. They are all important for different reasons, but there is a lot of confusion and debate surrounding these terms in the fashion industry as well as overlap in their meanings. Here is what it all means to us:
A sustainable brand either uses sustainable manufacturing practices and/or sustainable fabrics. Examples of this would be using eco-friendly or natural dyes on fabric; using certified organic cotton or other easy to replenish fiber sources like bamboo, modal, or hemp; using dead stock fabrics, which means fabrics lying around in bolts that are vintage or have been discarded from design houses; minimizing packaging, waste, and water usage from the manufacturing process; producing items to order rather than in mass quantities with the sole purpose of driving down per unit cost; and making items out of quality fabrics made to last generations instead of cheap throw away trendy pieces. There is no regulatory system in the fashion industry rating these companies. Some brands are more sustainable than others, thinking about sustainability at every level, and some only focus on one aspect.
Most sustainable brands also have ethical or transparent practices, which speaks more to the working conditions of and compensation to the factory workers and artisans creating your garments, accessories, and shoes. Fair-trade would fall in this category as well as philanthropic companies that give back to the villages producing the goods or non-profits doing social and environmental good. Things can be made ethically anywhere, including China, and poor wages and working conditions can exist in the US. Not all ethical brands are sustainable because sustainability has more to do with environmental impact. Ethically-made is often confused with being vegan. Vegan products are made from materials not sourced from animals or living things (like not buying products made from leather, beeswax, and traditional silk).
This is exactly what it sounds like - items made locally. These can be produced in a factory setting or by one person designing and producing everything, whether it be jewelry, clothing, skincare, pottery, etc.. Some of our local brands have started out as a one person business and grown by managing their own mini-factory, by working with local established industry professionals, or by doing a hybrid of the two and even seeking some help in Los Angeles. Why does local matter? Because local can be environmentally friendly. Not just if the company has sustainable practices, but because product isn't being shipped all over the world to reach you. Many of our local designers drop off the orders at the shop or I pick them up. That means very minimal packaging and resources like gas to get products to our shop. Then there is the local economy. Spending in your local economy has a trickling effect. If you buy a local good, then the money goes to a person living in your same community, a person that then buys something like groceries or goes to a restaurant in the same community. Each time money is spent it is taxed and that means your city is getting more money to spend on dealing with it's problems. Spending more money in your local economy also means local job growth. If a local brand (or business) grows, then they need to hire local staff.
An independent brand could be sustainable and ethically-made, but this term is more about who owns the company. Our preference is to work with brands that are owned by the creative force behind the business, which means the designer who started the business still owns and runs the company. A company can absolutely be ethically-made and sustainable but not be independent because they have built a company on a business model like fair-trade or one for one. It's not necessarily negative to not be independent, but when you buy from an independent brand it's easier to trace who the money is going to, who is making the garments, and who is responsible for the creative aspects of the business. I think this is especially important for women-owned brands.
Here is a link from Greenstrategy.com about other forms of sustainable fashion.