Ethical Style: How to Buy a More Ethical Knockoff A More Ethical Knock-Off of Forever 21 Fashions

How to find ethically produced alternatives to the latest trend—in less time than it takes to circle the racks at Forever 21.

Every Thursday, your Ethical Style questions, answered.

Modern fashion is a sprint. By the time a designer sends a new style down the runway, it’s only a matter of weeks before the trend hits fashion blogs, migrates to high-end boutiques, and is dumped en masse on your nearest knockoff mega-retailer. But the rush to snap up the latest thing doesn't leave much time to consider what we’re actually buying.

Now, a more thoughtful fashion outlet is intercepting the cycle. Fashioning Change is a website that helps trendsetters find ethically-produced, eco-friendly alternatives to whatever the big-name brands are selling this week—in less time than it takes to circle the racks at a Forever 21. Just tell Fashioning Change the types of brands and retailers you usually shop at—and the charitable causes you prefer to support—and the site’s "Changing Room" will offer more ethical versions of the latest trend from Gucci, Tory Burch, J. Crew, or Guess.

Take peplum—the short overskirt trend that’s turned up on the waists of Oscar nominees and fashion models this season. Hit Topshop, and you could spend $68 on a polyester peplum skirt of questionable origin. But head to Fashioning Change, and you’ll be invited to consider investing $100 on a better peplum—one made of wax cotton, constructed at a fair wage by seamstresses from Ghana’s Dzidefo Women’s Cooperative, and produced by Afia, a designer committed to sustainable fashion. The upcharge helps supply eight Ghanaian women with their livelihood, support local fabric production and culture, and encourage the continued innovation and ethical commitment of emerging designers—and provides a cute new skirt for your closet.

When Adriana Herrera launched Fashioning Change last year, she wanted it to be a fashion site first, a vehicle for sustainable change second. "I wish we could stop calling it 'ethical fashion,'" Herrera says—a term that evokes images of strictly unfashionable do-gooders swathed in hemp necklaces and fleece jackets. In reality, Herrera says, "every designer has a point of view"—her site just elevates the best to the top. And while she’s strict about the ethical underpinnings of every brand she takes on, she’s also keenly aware of the realities of the bottom line. After all, if a product upholds ethical standards at every stage of the production process but fails to capture the consumer’s interest, it won’t do anyone any good.

Herrera works to strike a balance between ethical processes and commercial viability, steering clear of both flashy greenwashers and forgettable "granola" brands. On an aesthetic level, Fashioning Change vets brands based on the strength of their collections, the names used to brand them (no "green" or "eco," please), and the quality of the product shots used to sell them. On the ethical side, Fashioning Change recruits brands that are transparent about their supply chains and committed to socially responsible causes, fair wages, and sustainable, eco-friendly manufacturing practices. If a brand meets Herrera’s criteria, she helps boost it alongside the big-name brands that have got the trends down, but not the transparency. Starting next week, the site will break it down even further, showing shoppers exactly why a product is good for them, and awarding them shopping credits for "Sharing the Goodness."

So far, the site has encouraged consumers to select the more ethical option 27,000 times. Fashioning Change calls each click an "intervention" for the consumer, but it also functions as a ticker of the business the big brands are losing. "The only thing that will make big corporations change is their bottom line," Herrera says. As the site evolves, she hopes to use analytics to quantify the larger economic and social impact of the shift in consumer consciousness—and convince the mainstream fashion world to join the trend.

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