What comes to mind when I think of ethical fashion is an eco-friendly t-shirt with some sort of saying emblazoned on the front. However, browsing around in the online store called Helpsy changed my opinion. Think hip and fashion forward pieces. Created by Rachel Kibbe, a former fashion designer, Helpsy proclaims that its goal is to “change this misconception and to curate apparel and products that are as beautiful, exciting, and design-forward as they are ethical.” It sells women’s and men’s clothing, plus accessories.
Helpsy was created to provide ethical fashion that also happens to be cutting edge. What exactly is ethical fashion? Can there really be ethical fashion in an industry riddled with low wage labor? The online store defines ethical fashion by listing attributes that products must meet three or more of to be considered ethical, which includes fair trade. The other attributes are:
- Non-disposable and well-made
- Made of eco-conscious materials
- Vintage or secondhand
- Sold to profit philanthropic causes
- Locally produced (manufactured where it was conceived)
- Handcrafted in a way that preserves artisanal traditions
- Cruelty free
- Made in small quantities
Take, for example, a product called the Kordal Ellen Tank. It is listed as being non-disposable, well-made, handcrafted and locally produced in Brooklyn. Or consider the product called the Study Twist Dress which is listed as being non-disposable, well-made, eco-conscious materials, locally produced in New York City, and cruelty free. Both meet at least three of the listed attributes.
Helpsy invites companies that meet its definition of ethical standards to become one of its partners by taking the Helpsy Pledge. Companies are invited to contact Helpsy via email to participate. Once confirmed as a partner, the company is allowed to place the Helpsy black heart symbol on its website with a click through to Helpsy’s site. This is considered to be a sign of a company’s “commitment to ethical and sustainable production and sales practices.” It is also a good way to get free marketing and advertising.
The pieces sold on Helpsy are rather pricey. However, Kibbe is not concerned about their high price. As she told Truthout, ethical fashion pieces are quality and you have to pay more for quality. “You know, good, organic food costs more than cheap, less-nutritious food.” She added, “I think there’s a misconception that fashion is frivolous, and so sometimes even if people love fashion, they want to get the style that’s in copy from the cheaper chain because they feel overindulgent in spending too much. But I would say buy less, buy better, buy from the person who designed it for real.”
Ethical fashion is spurred on by tragedies such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over a 1,000 people last spring. “Sadly, it took the death of over 1,000 people for us to wake up,” Kibbe said. “But the fact that questions are finally being asked, reinforces my belief that consumers and the fashion industry alike are ready for changes which respect human, material and spiritual resources.”
There are sites that are dedicated to educating consumers about ethical fashion such as the Australian site Shop Ethical. There is also another online ethical fashion site called Shop Ethica. Clearly, there is a market for ethical fashion and sites like Helpsy are meeting that demand. It will be interesting to see if more online stores like Helpsy pop up as consumers awareness increases.