ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Profit from Being an Ethical Designer

How you can profit from being an ethical fashion designer may not be something you’ve thought about but it is an area far more underserved than you might think. So what is ethical fashion? It’s really a little bit of history repeating. To put it simply, ethical fashion is where sourcing, manufacturing, and design are all completed to the benefit of people and communities whilst minimizing its environmental impact. 

The fashion industry is now a trillion dollar industry thanks to fast-fashion, or disposable-fashion. Instead of investing in garments that are made with integrity, consumers are spending more money on clothes that won’t last 10 years. These discarded items now end up in landfills or being sent back to vulnerable countries where it is again a pollutant. Hard working people who aren’t wealthy have fallen prey to spending far more money. They have been seduced at the thought of wearing something that looks like a designer garment.  But the truth is what you’re buying is nothing but rubbish that could be toxic.

The average person who is trying to make end's meet and just wants a decent life for themselves and their families are the most affected. When they purchase fast-fashion they are contributing to an industry that is now the second-largest pollutant in the world! Fast fashion brands like H&M, TopShop, Primark, Forever21, and Joe Fresh aren’t paying a living wage to their workers either. These employees do not have benefits, and they aren’t getting a retirement package when they retire. In some cases these brands have contributed to deaths of young women who wanted to make a decent living for themselves or help support their families.

“The fashion industry has fooled billions of people into spending more money than they have.”


As an ethical fashion designer you contribute to decency, and integrity, things that are now lacking in the fashion industry but is now a growing conscious community with steady economic growth.

Where the traditional fashion industry saw a 2-2.5% decline last year, in the 1940’s clothing manufacturing was a local endeavour. Factory workers were making well-made, built-to-last garments whilst getting a decent living in a safe environment. If you’ve ever purchased vintage, you will see the difference in fabric, and finishing.  Compared to fast-fashion today, workers (sometimes children) are paid 6c; they’re working extremely long hours in factories that sometimes are locked up. 

The first thing you must ask myself what kind of fashion designer do I want to be?  Do not get mesmerized by the glitz and glamour of the fashion industry; this is a business like every other industry and you mustn’t go into it thinking like that. I have watched fashion designers get caught up in the celebrity aspect of it and when you're starting out it can blind you to what is important. The fashion industry is highly competitive and making a living in this industry is possible in a growing niche market such as ethical fashion.  This is why ethical fashion could be your profitable area. Serving a niche market allows you to gain a foothold without the struggle.

According to Drapers in 2013 online clothing sales increased by 21%. With the growing popularity of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, online clothing has continued to show a steady increase since then. Launch online and you`ll have a greater chance at succeeding as an independent ethical fashion designer thanks to social media. Cater to a sub-niche market such as plus-size women and/or children, and you will again insure a steady profit as an ethical fashion designer. These are markets that are still highly underserved, because graduating designers now see these areas as dull or perhaps lacking in prestige. The truth is that launching in a sub-niche such as the aforementioned children's or plus-size markets where you already have customers waiting is just smart. You can always add to your collection later--Juicy Couture is a great example of this. They launched with tracksuits; a far cry from what they sell today. 


Go To School

The best schools in the world for fashion can be attainable if you are talented, and prepared to wow the admissions department. So many people send through mediocre applications (I once saw an application package that included a condom wrapper), so you must stand out from the crowd in order to win a place at , say, Parsons School of Design, Central Saint Martins or the Fashion Institute of Technology. These are three of the most important schools in the world where they boast graduates such as Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Michael Kors and Alexander Wang. How you can achieve this, is a question you must ask yourself.

New designers that are graduating, or designers who have always had talent to create beautiful well-made clothes, can make a difference and still profit. Once you have decided your niche into womenswear, menswear, or accessories, understand that starting small ensures control over your brand’s growth. In the beginning you yourself may be the one to invest in fabric, materials, supplies, and sewers. Don’t think you can do this all on your own if you want to be a designer; the difference in someone sewing clothes at home is that person is a seamstress. You want to go into production with a capsule collection which can consist of 8-12 pieces.  

Keeping it simple means you don’t go into fabric debt. This can spiral out of control rapidly if your intention is to follow the traditional fashion calendar and create 3-5 collections per year (don’t do it!). And choose to work with natural fibres. If you don’t know a lot about natural fibre materials, do some research and see how many beautiful choices you really have. Ethical Fashion doesn’t have to be boring, but here is a large hole in the market for really beautiful affordable clothes.

PRO TIP: Create pop-up shops to reduce your expense of renting a store. Although pop-up shops have been around for quite some time, they are still useful to the indie designer.

You must have a website to promote your collection, along with a blog and  social media presence. It is necessary to stay connected and build an audience online. When you're ready to start selling  your sales can come in the form of online sources you weren’t expecting, especially if you create multiple streams of income. 


Jacqueline Carlisle is the editor-in-chief of THINKmag