Cruelty Free

What Does Ethical Fashion Even Mean?

Peter Jensen x People Tree


What the hell does ‘ethical fashion’, the industry’s latest buzzword, and the main focus of my blog and career, even mean? I decided, after getting asked asked this question by friends, family, readers, colleagues and customers multiple times, to explore and explain the subject a little more. I am by no means an expert nor a perfect example of an ethical fashion blogger or eco-friendly shopper  (I’m a shopping addict on a student budget!), but sustainable apparel is a subject I’m becoming more and more interested in as time goes by. 
These joyful images are from the fair-trade and sustainable Peter Jensen x People Tree Collection (available here). I hope this post helps to shed a little more light on the somewhat overwhelming category of ethical fashion.


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Charity Fashion Takeover


Last week I spent a brilliant day at Barnardos in Stockbridge in a charity fashion collaboration. My challenge was to recreate some London Fashion Week street style looks using only garments and accessories available at the retail store. I am passionate about ethical shopping, and what better way to do it than supporting a good cause too. This outfit was inspired by an Alexa Chung street style look, and we managed to recreate it with items all costing £20 and under! Read on to see the other looks we created using quality pre-loved fashion.


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Killer Cotton

The devastating impact of the cotton supply chain that dominates much of the textiles industry is often brushed under the carpet. Luxury or mass-market, this natural fibre has been exploited to the point that not only the environment is permanently damaged, but the people and animals that keep the industry going are physically and mentally deteriorating too. 

This article is inspired by a lecture by Dr Sue Thomas of Heriot Watt University. You can watch her TEDx talk about ethics in the fashion industry here.

First up, how does a fluffy little plant in a faraway field end up as a crisp white shirt, perhaps oversized and worn layered under a cropped sweater or corset for SS17? It starts with a seed, and it ends with a landfill site, and there are problems at every stage of the life cycle, from sexism, sizeism and racism, to animal rights and environmental impact.

Growing and Harvesting

Pesticides and fertilisers don’t just affect the crop in question. Now that mechanical vehicles spray vast quantities of these chemicals over unimaginably huge expanses of land, they are spreading to water supplies and nearby fields. Animal and human cruelty is also a massive factor in the collecting of cotton crops. In many societies, unregulated child labour is utilised, or working people, including doctors and teachers, are forced to take unpaid leave to help out during harvest season. Where modern machinery isn’t available large livestock like oxen or cattle are used to drag heavy combine harvesters and do not receive proper veterinary treatment.

Fibre Processing

In the cleaning of cotton (called ginning but nothing to do with gin), spinning it into yarns and weaving, knitting or felting it into fabrics, waste products are a huge issue. From large quantities of dust and dirt being inhaled by unprotected workers leading to lung problems, to toxic carcinogens like Formaldehyde (which FYI is also used to preserve dead bodies…) as well as dyes and treatments being washed away into rivers and lakes, threatening these ecosystems. All processing of cotton requires vast quantities of water, particularly the dying of denim jeans. Fashion is a thirsty business.

Garment Production

Worker rights are simply not protected or valued in the manufacturing phase of the fashion supply chain, whether its cotton or silk. Factory workers work long unsociable hours without overtime pay or paid holidays, spend time in unsafe and insecure buildings filled with health hazards, are forbidden to form unions or strike, and receive salaries that don’t even cover their own personal expenses, let alone support their family.

One of the most alarming consequences of the cotton supply chain has been the degradation of the Aral Sea Basin. This lake, once one of the world’s largest, completely dried up between 2000 and 2014, due to the irresponsible irrigation of water for cotton crops. Find out more here.

Here are some quick statistics about the cotton industry:

  • 47% of chemicals used in cotton production are known human carcinogens.
  • 10 tonnes of water can be used on cotton to make just one pair of denim jeans.
  • 95% of cotton garments that go to landfill could be recycled.
  • Over 8 million acres of land in the US alone is used for cotton farming. This is land that could be used to grow fresh produce for the global food shortage.
  • The huge amounts of pesticides used to grow cotton cause 350,000 farmer deaths a year and a million hospitalisations.

The good news: 

  • Cotton is  a natural product therefore it is biodegradable. The average cotton garment can take as little as 6 months to completely biodegrade if correctly recycled. In comparison, a nylon or polyester garment can take more than 50 years.
  • Quality of production varies greatly, and it is not always to do with brand names, whether its fine Egyptian Pima cotton or standard American Cotton, whether its Prada or Primark. Do you research, and look for transparency in the the supply chain.
  • 42% of fashion brands use, or aim to use, organic cotton in their products.
  • There are eco-friendly alternatives available as well as organic versions of cotton. Take for instance Lyocell, a sustainable man-made textile. Or emerging waste-free fabrics like Pinatex (pineapple leather)!

Overall, many of the problems in the cotton supply chain for the fashion industry can be traced back to long-term, systematic issues with the global politics and western culture. If the rules were more efficiently regulated and there were more serious consequences for corruption, perhaps developing countries would no longer produce cotton for developed countries that is toxic an damaging to the environment and human health. If fashion followers and retailers decided to value quality over quantity and started paying more for their consumer products, perhaps workers throughout the supply chain would receive fair wages and fair treatment. The fashion business is about supply and demand. So long as we keep demanding cheaper and cheaper garments faster and faster, these dangers within the textile life cycle will continue.

Recommended reading: 

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade by Pietra Rivoli

Where Underpants Come From – From Checkout to Cotton Field – Travels Through the New China by Joe Bennett 

Ruth @ Urbanity xxx

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24 Vegan Hours in Edinburgh

 *guest post*

Is it easy to be vegan in Edinburgh? Heck yes!

Hi – I’m Emma, and you may know me from the website I’ve been vegan for about a year and a half now and for around six months of that time I have been singing the praises of the vegan foodie scene in Edinburgh. I’ve made it my life’s mission to eat my way around all the best cruelty-free food in the city and share my mouth-watering discoveries with visitors and locals alike. 

There seems to be this preconceived notion that vegan food is boring and bland – but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in my opinion, vegan food is far more inventive and far more tasty than a lot of traditional meat and dairy dishes, and the fact that you’re doing what’s best for your health, the animals and the planet is just the proverbial cherry on the cake. Read on to discover how I would spend a foodie day in the Scotland’s capital, without a single morsel of “rabbit-food” in sight.

 Breakfast – Loudons
94b Fountainbridge, EH3 9QA

One of the most popular breakfast haunts in the city has a wonderful inclusive menu, with a couple of delicious options for vegans. The blueberry pancakes are my current favourite, served with banana cream and cherries. Pair this up with a carrot, ginger and apple juice and you’ve got yourself a power-up breakfast that will stand you in good stead for the rest of the day. 

Mid-morning Coffee – The Milkman
7 Cockburn Street, EH1 1BP

A relatively new addition to the Edinburgh coffee scene, The Milkman on Cockburn Street has a really great vibe and offers one of the best shots of espresso in the city. This place isn’t exclusively vegan by a long stretch, but they have sweet treats that cater for all, including treat-sized bars of Pana Chocolate and the odd vegan option from gluten-free baker Glutteny. 

Lunch – The Pakora Bar
96 Hanover Street, EH2 1DR
Fancy a quick bite for lunch? Look no further than The Pakora Bar, which can be found in the heart of the New Town on Hanover Street. These guys deep-fry vegetables like no-one else in the city, and their £4 – £5 portions of pakora make for a reasonably priced yet indulgent treat. Most of their veggie options are vegan, including mushroom, asparagus, aubergine and (my personal favourite) cauliflower varieties. If you fancy something a bit more, you can also order their curry of the day, which is also usually vegan. 
Dinner – Novapizza
42 Howe Street, EH3 6TH

You don’t have to roll too far away from The Pakora Bar for the next stop on our vegan tour of Edinburgh – Novapizza Vegetarian Kitchen. This Italian restaurant has a completely vegetarian menu, with half of the options suitable for vegans. If you’re craving a vegan pizza fix then this is the place to go – it was even recently named by the Vegan Society as one of the best vegan pizza spots in the UK. Need I say more?

Evening Cocktails – Foundry 39 
39a Queensferry Street, EH2 4RA

Again, this is not a vegan place in the slightest (in fact, their food menu is completely devoid of vegan options at the time of writing – boo!), but sometimes I find these “accidentally vegan” treats that I just have to shout about. Case in point – the Far Eastern Orchard cocktail at Foundry 39. Made with coconut cream, lemongrass-infused vodka and vanilla syrup, it’s a lovely rich concoction that is perfect for rounding off an indulgent day of eating the best vegan food in Edinburgh. 

But enough about me – what about you? Where are your favourite places to eat vegan in Edinburgh? Let me know in the comments below or come and say hello to me wherever you get your social media – I’m on FacebookInstagramTwitter and Pinterest. Can’t wait to hear your suggestions! 🙂
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Money Fashion Power

Fashion Revolution is launching pre-orders for the first in a series of collectible fanzines uncovering the stories behind clothing. The inaugural issue is called MONEY FASHION POWER and explores themes of transparency, sustainability, inequality and ethics in the fashion industry. Through poetry, illustration, photography, editorial and playful games, readers will discover hidden stories behind their clothing, what the price they pay for fashion means, and how their purchasing power can make a positive difference.


Illustration by @alecdoherty
Before they reach the shop shelves, our clothes have been on a very long journey, and made by many different people. What do you know about where your clothes come from? Do you know who made them, in what country, and in what conditions? And do you care? Have you ever wondered #whomademyclothes? Or what you can do to make sure my purchases are empowering the people who make my clothes, rather than exploit them? Do your purchases empower or exploit?

Illustration by @thedrawingdoor 
It takes a garment worker 18 months to earn what a fashion brand CEO makes on their lunch break. Shocking, I know. And the complexities of power make it disheartening to wonder if you can make a difference in this exploitative supply chain. But Fashion Revolution have started a movement to empower consumers like you and me to actually change things for the better.

Illustration by @tyler_spangler

“Fashion Revolution is a global movement that works for a more sustainable fashion industry, campaigning for a systemic reform of

the industry with a special focus on the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. Fashion Revolution is a non-profit organisation with presence in more than 90 countries around the world. Our vision is a fashion industry that values people, the environment, profit and creativity in equal measure. Fashion Revolution works all year round to raise awareness of the fashion industry’s most pressing issues, advocate for positive change, and celebrate those who are on a journey to create a more ethical and sustainable future for fashion.”

Illustration by @chrissieabbott
Find out more and order your print copy of the fanzine at:
Ruth @ Urbanity xxx
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