Five ethical clothing brands you can actually afford

We've found a few brands with low markups, so you're paying for quality materials and craftsmanship, rather than for brand status.

Rick Bowmer/AP/File
Tania Bjornlie, from Patagonia, holds one of the new Patagonia day packs a during set up at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City.

Whether you buy high-end designer goods or shop from the bottom of the barrel at discount stores, ask yourself: Am I really getting what I'm paying for? Retailers often mark up clothing more than eight times the cost of production, and prices for luxury apparel have risen 25 to 50 percent over the last five years. That $100 pair of jeans you just bought? They probably cost around $12 to make.

This  markup strategy results in an unnecessarily high profit margin for the retailer, and it also means that the workers who make the clothing aren't getting fair wages, the low-quality fabrics are unlikely to be eco-conscious, and your $100 jeans might not even last through the end of the year.

There are a variety of ethical and sustainable clothing brands out there, but very few of them are actually affordable for most people. Luckily, we found a few gems that meet the consumer halfway by lowering their markups, so you're paying for quality materials and craftsmanship, rather than for brand status.

Here are our five favorite ethical brands you can actually afford to wear:

Grana

By going direct to fabric mills, Grana is able to offer quality clothing at just a 2x markup, which means you can get cashmere sweaters for $99 at full price. But during the 'No Mark-Up Sale,' you can find pima cotton tees and tanks for $10, cashmere sweaters for $48, and classic silk shirts for as low as $24. You're literally paying for what it costs to make the clothing, and not a cent more.

Everlane

Everlane aims to be transparent about the factories they use and their costs and markups. They also feature quality fabrics, like cashmere, cotton, wool, and silk, at comparable prices to Grana. But they also have some trendy versions of their classics, which was appealing to this style-hungry deal editor. I love the boxy, cropped fit of this cashmere mock-neck sweater.

La Causa

La Causa's fashion-forward clothing is ethically made in Los Angeles. The prices are a little higher than you'd find on basics at Everlane and Grana, but their styles remind me of designer pieces going for four times the prices at other retailers. I'm basically in love with this Sheer Maxi Dress from their holiday collection.

Nisolo

When it comes to shoes, it's especially important to invest in quality. You wear them out more than apparel, and they can make a huge difference in your overall comfort. In my experience, a quality pair of $100-$200 leather shoes will last 10 times as long as a $20 pair from a discount shoe store, and you won't have to put up with the foot odor, the blisters, and the back pain. Nisolo makes classic, quality shoes for every occasion, and we love that they offer a membership for those who want to fill in their shoe needs over time.

Through Nisolo's '5 for 5' club, you can pay $500 and get two new pairs of shoes every year for five years! A pair of classic leather Oxfords usually go for $158, which is already less than what you'd pay for most designer footwear, but with a membership, each pair comes out to just $50.

Patagonia

When it comes to outerwear, Patagonia is our number one choice for ethical and sustainable coats that perform against the elements. Is it affordable? Not particularly. But several times a year, they offer some killer deals. Currently, they're offering 50 percent off a selection of fleece and down jackets. Plus, you'll be getting the warmth and durability you need from winter jacket, and you can rest easy knowing that whatever you buy will be made of mostly recycled materials.

Ten years ago, bargain retailers like Forever 21 began gaining popularity, because staying on trend and buying a ton of looks for less was an incredibly appealing idea. But by now, most of the items we've bought at these discount retailers has either fallen apart or gone out of style. If we have anything left, we have way too much of it.

These days, retail trends are turning in the opposite direction, with practical shoppers and fashionistas alike opting for a more refined wardrobe of quality essentials. New apps like Cladwell aim to help people build simpler, more versatile, and functional wardrobes, but you can also create a capsule wardrobe on your own. As the world moves towards quality over quantity, it's a great time to re-evaluate the brands you support. If you can pay less for better quality and ethical production, well, isn't that the icing on the cake?

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals

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