eCan I Shop Ethically On The High Street?

Shopping ethically is a journey, not a destination. The first step is figuring out what ethical fashion actually is. The next is to think about altering your shopping habits based on what you now know.

Some people get stuck at that step forever, and it’s easy to understand why. Some of us (me!) love shopping, especially on the high street. Looking good on the outside can make you feel great on the inside, for better or worse. You don’t just go cold turkey on that kind of addiction without serious withdrawal.

But for true fashionistas, ethical shopping presents just another sartorial challenge with a big pay off. If you continue down the path, you’ll find unique style that makes you look and feel even better inside and out, knowing you’ve made good choices that don’t harm people or the planet.

There are some myths about ethical shopping that are just plain untrue. Let’s bust them before we go further:

1) Ethical clothes are ugly.

We all have a hemp horror story from our youth (right? Mine was a hooded hemp poncho). In days of yore, ethical fashion was all ethnic prints and billowy skirts, but no longer! Some of the most exciting and innovative brands and designers (like Reformation and Zady) are not adding ethical lines to their collections, but they have been ethical from day one. Don’t resign yourself to the worst-dressed list. Ethical fashion is the place to be.

2) Ethical clothes are expensive.

I hear a lot, especially from people just starting out in their careers, that they’d love to shop ethically but can’t afford it.

It’s true that unless you are buying secondhand (which by the way is very ethical) you won’t find an ethical brand that reaches Primark level low prices (more on them in a bit). The model of fast fashion is to produce clothes quickly and cheaply. Ethical brands who usually have smaller production runs and longer timetables do tend to cost a bit more.


However, ethical shopping isn’t as expensive as you might think. People Tree, one of the pioneers of ethical fashion movement, is reasonably priced and has great sales. And Birdsong is a London-based brand that sources their lovely products from women’s groups.

Ethical garments will often last longer; sometimes in the long run, it’s cheaper to buy a quality piece of clothing.

In our busy lives, convenience is king — and for the most part, shopping ethically takes more of the one thing we have so little of: time. While online ethical shops abound, (Reve En Vert , The Acey), if you like to try things on, you have to work harder to find ethical shops near you.

Never fear; we can help with that too. We’ve outlined a few great London spots on my app Not My Style (like The Keep in Brixton, 69B in Broadway Market and East End Thrift Store). Charity shops have also upped their game in recent years, and can be the site of great finds.

Can I shop ethically on the high street?

High street brands have made strides in the past decade to understand who makes their clothes and treat them more fairly. However, the complex nature of international supply chains, and the reliance on outsourced production, means that guarantees that your clothes were made ethically are not possible.

For lovers of the high street though, it’s not all doom and gloom. Some brands are making more of an effort to share information about who makes our clothes than others. While transparency with consumers doesn’t necessarily mean a brand is more ethical, sharing more information makes it easier for us as shoppers to make decisions ourselves.


Of the 105 brands we rated on Not My Style, 25% don’t share a single scrap of information on where our clothes are made or what kind of policies they have in place to ensure fair wages or prevent things like child labour on their websites. That’s embarrassing.

Others rise to the top of the high street pack. Although our ratings change based on when stores release new information, we have 21 green-rated brands who are sharing not just policies, but the active steps they are taking to address challenging issues, like joining industry-wide monitoring schemes, or partnering with NGOs that protect workers. Our green brands include H&M, Cos, Primark (shocked? Don’t be. They’ve come a long way.), Gap, Zara (sighs of relief go up around the nation), M&S, and a few others (find the full list here). While those brands don’t really qualify by most definitions of “ethical” fashion, we applaud their efforts to share more in the quest to do better.

Whether your first step is buying from your first ethical shop, or just asking more questions about what you buy — just take it. The journey is worth it.

READ MORE: Ethical Fashion: How To Shop With A Clear Conscience

READ MORE: Emma Watson’s Favourite Ethical Fashion Brands You’ve Never Heard Of

Originally published at on February 24, 2017.