You’ve always been a caring soul, working hard to ensure those closest to you are happy and secure.

But recently, ignited by the vegans and eco-conscious folk in your life, you’ve started to think about how your actions can impact the bigger picture.

This guide is for the ethically curious. It’ll teach you how to shop for fashion that doesn’t pollute our planet, harm animals or people. You’ll learn:

  • The different ethical shopping terms
  • Good fabrics vs. bad fabrics
  • Tips for online shopping

Discover just how easy shopping compassionately can be.

Unravelling ethical shopping terms

“It’s fairtrade cotton!” exclaims your vegan friend as they show off their new shirt.

“Cool?” you reply in bewilderment, thinking to yourself: Why is this important?

And it’s not just the term ‘fairtrade’ that leaves you with more questions than answers. Eco-friendly. Cruelty-free. Organic. What exactly do they mean?

Let’s demystify these ethical shopping terms and get you in the know.


Products with the Fairtrade certification have been produced by workers in the developing world who have hygienic and safe working conditions, are justly managed and paid fairly.

Companies like APE’s suppliers pay costs which never fall below the market price to ensure fair terms of trade for farmers and workers.


Eco-friendly fashion (also known as sustainable and green fashion) is made from fabrics which, when produced, cause minimal or no harm to ecosystems and the environment.

Such fabrics, like organic cotton, hemp and soy, are biodegradable and harvested using environmentally-friendly farming techniques. They are also produced in a way that reduces waste and aren’t manufactured with any harmful chemicals that jeopardise factory workers’ health.


Cruelty-free means no animals were harmed or killed in the production process. Products that are tested on animals (including monkeys, dogs, cats, horses, mice, rats and rabbits) are not cruelty-free, as these tests cause suffering and death for millions of animals every year.


Organic fabrics are produced in line with organic agricultural standards. Meaning the materials have been grown on farms that are pesticide and chemical fertilizer-free. This ensures minimal harm to the environment, as natural habitats are left undamaged and the land remains non-toxic.

It’s good to look for official certifications, such as Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), to make sure the clothes you buy are truly organic.

Fabrics that favour life

The fabrics you choose to buy can have a huge impact on the environment as well as the welfare of people and animals. As the sustainable food advocate, Anne Lappe puts it:

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”

But it can be a minefield to understand which fabrics to avoid vs. which to pick when you’re new to ethical shopping. Allow us to make this easier for you.

Materials to avoid

Polyester – a synthetic petroleum-based fibre that is non-renewable and takes around 70 million barrels of oil to create each year. Plus, polyester breaks down into microplastics, polluting our oceans.
Acrylic fibre – contains acrylonitrile which is a carcinogen and a mutagen (substances proven to cause cancer). Manufacturing acrylic fabrics exposes factory workers to these toxic substances endangering their lives.
Nylon – is three times more energy-intensive than cotton to produce. It’s also non-biodegradable, and the production of nylon results in the release of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is “300 times worse than CO2”. (The Conversation)
Rayon – made from wood pulp treated with toxic chemicals such as caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulphuric acid. Many rayon factories dump these chemicals into waterways, poisoning local communities.

Materials to love

Organic cotton – a biodegradable, natural plant-based fibre. Unlike non-organic cotton, growing organic cotton doesn’t involve the use of genetically-modified seeds, pesticides or other harmful chemicals.
Linen – is made from flax, a naturally occurring plant that only requires rainwater to grow. Plus, the whole flax plant can be used, leaving no waste. It’s also recyclable and biodegradable.
Hemp – farming hemp uses very little water and doesn’t require the use of pesticides or fertilizers. No part of the hemp plant is wasted (for example, the seeds are used to make oil supplements). Hemp plants are also 100% biodegradable and absorb more carbon dioxide than trees.
Soy – another biodegradable natural plant-based fibre, soy is as an animal-free replacement for silk and cashmere. The fibres used are taken from the leftovers of the soy food industry, reducing waste considerably.
Up-cycled plastic – can be used to make eco-friendly clothes, handbags, shoes and other accessories. This creative reuse of plastic cuts downs on the rubbish that enters our landfills as it is re-purposed waste.

Ethical shopping made easy online

Now you have the knowledge needed to impress your eco-conscious comrades, the next step will blow their socks off. And that’s adding ethical clothes to your wardrobe!
Seriously though, becoming an ethical shopper is an amazing thing to do for people, animals and the planet. What isn’t amazing is how hard it can be to find brands you love.
Enter the internet. Using an online search engine (we recommend trying Ecosia instead of Google as every time you hit ‘Search’ a tree is planted) you can easily find ethical clothing brands that suit your style.

Here are our top tips for ethical shopping online:

  • Research the brand. Ethical shops should be 100% transparent about where their products are from and how they are made.
  • Look out for official certifications such as Fairtrade Certified and Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS).
  • Buy from shops who donate a percentage of their profits to charities (a solid indication of an ethical brand).
  • Research how the business treats its employees (you should be able to find this information on a website’s Ethics page or Code of Conduct).
  • Look into the type of packaging that’s used by a shop. If it’s reused and biodegradable, you’ll know you’ve found a truly eco-conscious brand.
  • supportive. If you find an ethical brand you love, spread the word online and among your friends.

The last point is critical. By helping your favourite brands be more successful, you’re strengthening their positive impact on the things that matter.

Change the world one purchase at a time

Feeling empowered to take the ethical living leap? We hope this guide has given you the knowledge to make this easy.

If you want an even easier ride, visit our shop. APE, which stands for Animals, People and the Environment, offers a vast range of stylish clothes and products that are animal-free, eco-friendly and fairtrade. You can also learn more about our ethics here.


Written by Georgina Walls from Incredibble, on behalf of APE.