Maybe it’s the knot you get in your stomach when you think about the poor labour conditions. Perhaps it’s the water pollution, carbon emissions and overflowing landfills. Or maybe you’re just tired of having so much stuff yet feeling like you have nothing to wear. Whatever the cause—or, more likely, causes—many of us are ready to break up with fast fashion and spend our dollars elsewhere.
Enter ethical—or slow—fashion. A series of small but growing brands are transforming the fashion industry by prioritizing all the things that fast fashion doesn’t and placing a focus on quality pieces made by workers who are paid a living wage and treated with respect. Many makers also focus on using eco-friendly fabrics and manufacturing locally to reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact.
Investing in just a few higher-quality pieces you love—instead of buying lots of things because they’re on sale or because you have an immediate need (or, let’s be honest, want)—can transform the way you see and use your closet as well. It’s easier to shop your existing pieces and combine them into amazing outfits when you’ve got less of them and they’re purchased with intention. Wearing out your existing clothing and transitioning your wardrobe to ethical fashion is one way to curb your consumption and invest in makers that truly care about labour practices, fabric manufacturing and creating pieces that last season after season, year after year.
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The ethical-fashion scene in Canada is made up of a group of makers dedicated to thoughtful, beautiful, high-quality clothing in a variety of styles and for a variety of body types. Many labels (like the ones featured here) are women-owned and make an effort to highlight a representative range of bodies in their photo shoots and marketing. Most sell in Canadian dollars and ship within Canada, so you won’t get hit with high shipping costs, exchange-rate surprises or unexpected duty charges. Most are also pretty accessible when you consider the cost per wear on each piece.
Here are 10 covetable Canadian-made ethical brands to get you started
Thief & Bandit
Made in Halifax in a beautiful studio-shop using small batches of eco-friendly fabrics, designer Amie Cunningham’s screenprints of her original drawings beautifully blur the line between art and fashion on a variety of pieces, including swimsuits and athleticwear. Thief & Bandit also offers custom-sizing options for every body.
Started in 2015, Free Label creates well-cut classic pieces and manufactures them in Toronto and Vancouver with eco-friendly fabric. Free Label’s most popular pieces are a series of bra tops made for a range of bust sizes, its high-waisted Loretta pants, its Reese wrap pants and its Jamie tee. The entire line is available in XS to 2XL.
Toronto’s Hoibo has been around since 2007. Its motto—“To wear, to use, for days, for years”—is a great summary of the brand’s practice and its beautifully flattering pieces and accessories. Many of Hoibo’s styles are made with natural fibres and are suitable for four-season wear, and it has recently launched a mending workshop series so that people can learn how to keep their clothing in use for as long as possible.
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Franc’s basics, made of an oh-so soft eco-Tencel blend that the brand has spent years perfecting, are manufactured in a factory just outside Toronto. By selling directly to consumers via its website, Franc keeps its ethically made pieces accessibly priced, and one of its well-constructed classic V-necks is easily worth two or more of the fast-fashion alternatives.
Featuring a highly wearable collection of clothing made in Toronto from eco fabrics—including dresses, multiway tops and, a cult favourite, the dressy sweatpant that easily takes you from work to play—Encircled is well known in ethical-fashion circles.
Power of My People
Started in the founders’ B.C. living room, Power of My People boasts beautiful button-down shirts made from natural fibres like linen that won’t gape and are perfect tucked in or left out. Each shirt has an iconic name, like The Friend, The Narrator or The Director, and they are favourites among Canadian ethical-fashion influencers like Lee Vosburgh and Candice Tay.
Birds of North America
Based in Toronto and Montreal, Birds of North America has been making flattering ethical womenswear—named for, you guessed it, birds—since 2007. With unique bold prints (designed by the owner’s partner) and in sizing from 0 to 18, these pieces are the ones you pull out year after year and feel incredible in.
This B.C.-based brand started as a Kickstarter for swimwear and launched an apparel line in late 2019. With a focus on inclusive sizing (including larger busts), Nettle’s Tale’s entire collection is available in XS to 4XL and customer favourites include the Harbour Pant and the Mayne Blouse.
A casual line based in Toronto, OkayOK is best known for its quirky vinyl-print T-shirts; with each piece of vinyl individually placed by hand, these shirts are truly one of a kind. Among OkayOK’s most popular items is its series of confetti prints, which are created from the waste from other pieces. These are available for the whole family, so you can do some ethical twinning with the kiddo in your life.
Based in B.C., Uniform Handmade is a collection of made-to-order separates in a variety of colourful linens and raw silks, and they’re designed to be worn often, like a uniform. Because each piece is custom-made, customers can pay a small fee for pattern changes, such as a longer length or wider bust.