What do ‘sustainable’ and 'ethical' mean when it comes to fashion?

It’s easy to consider switching up our wardrobe to more sustainable and ethical garments, but have you ever considered your hair accessories? If not, now might be a great time to give it some thought. Just because they are small does not mean hair ties, scrunchies, or headbands are free from having an impact. And, more than ever, our hair accessories are moving from utilitarian to something of a trend themselves (for instance, the scrunchie come-back, which we are fully on board with!).

But what does it mean for an accessory to be sustainable, or for that matter, ethical?

A blonde-haired model with her back to the camera looks over her shoulder with her hair up in a bun secured with a dark blue, plastic-free, organic cotton scrunchie.

What does sustainable mean in fashion?

While there is no one-size-fits-all definition for sustainable fashion, there are some common themes. Sustainable fashion is truly sustainable if it:

  • Replenishes the earth rather than depleting it.
  • Enhances the lives of those creating clothes and accessories, rather than creating suffering.
  • Is accessible to everyone.

Our goal at KOOSHOO is to ensure that these three boxes are always ticked, with any product we bring into this world. Sustainability is at the core of our business, it is not an afterthought. Some of the ways we do this include:

  • Creating plastic-free hair accessories. No petrol in your hair!
  • Working with suppliers and manufacturers who are fair-trade certified.
  • Using only plant-based ingredients (like organic cotton and natural tree rubber) in our hair ties, scrunchies, and headbands.
  • Sourcing sustainably-harvested natural tree rubber to guarantee against deforestation.
  • Packing our accessories using FSC-certified cardboard packaging.

How do you know if fashion is sustainable? (and how does this relate to hair ties?)

With ample greenwashing claims popping up from companies purporting to be making products more sustainably, the answer to this question requires a bit of investigation. Here’s a list of questions to help guide you:

  • What materials do they use for their products? Are they renewable? Are they cultivated organically? 
  • What labour protections are in place to protect and empower their workers? If in a developing country, do they have certifications such as Fairtrade in place to audit working conditions and protect workers? Or are they making their goods in a country signed to the ILO (International Labour Organization) that fundamentally guarantees worker rights in their country? 
  • What kind of dyes do they use? Do they hold a certification to prove they use non-toxic dye? 
  • How do they ship their products? Do they use single-use plastics or are they using a compostable solution?

If the fashion brand you're supporting lists answers to all of the above transparently on their website, chances are they are a sustainable fashion brand. 

If they hide the above information by not showing it on their website or labels, chances are they don't want you to know.

How does this relate to hair ties? It’s simple: just because our products are small does not mean their ingredients are immaterial. In fact, it’s more important than ever that we consider sustainability beyond garment choices. We’re committed to being transparent about how our hair ties are produced and what they’re made of. If you don’t see the answers you’re looking for on our website, please reach out to us. Our door is always open.

What is a sustainable fabric?

As with all things in life, there is no one, singular, “silver bullet” solution when it comes to sustainable fabric. 

Sustainable materials exist along a continuum from passable to great. Materials like bamboo, conventional cotton and recycled polyester fall into the "passable" category, while materials like organic cotton, hemp and linen are closer to the "great" end of the continuum. Other sustainable fibres like wool and silk have a lot of benefits but do come with animal welfare questions that require further digging into the suppliers creating the textile. 

For us, in order to label a fabric or material as “sustainable” it must pass muster with three criteria (and we are uncompromising on these points):

  1. Is it renewable?
  2. Are its raw ingredients cultivated without pesticides, insecticides, or chemical additives?
  3. Is it biodegradable in a reasonable amount of time?

While conventional cotton fits both (1) and (3), it is one of the most heavily chemically sprayed plants on earth and therefore is not a sustainable material (see ‘Organic Cotton vs Conventional Cotton - a Tale of Opposites’ for more). Organic cotton, on the other hand, checks all three boxes.

We really love this post by The Good Trade that provides additional ideas on how to understand what materials are more sustainable than others.

Certification programs can also go a long way in ensuring standards of practise are met and adhered to (for instance: organic production or non-toxic dyes).

(Curious to learn more about FSC-certified and other forest certification programs? Check out our blog from International Day of Forests.)

What is sustainable fashion and why is it important?

We’ve talked about what sustainable fashion means, but why is this important? And especially, why does sustainable fashion matter with products as small as hair accessories?

Simply put: sustainable fashion is important because we use a lot of textiles globally. 

Our desire for the latest trends coupled with our thirst for materials that are non-renewable makes the fashion industry one of the most unsustainable industries on the planet. Fast fashion has created an environment in which we don’t value our clothes as we once did. Mending and repairing have taken a backseat to buying new clothes every time a new trend comes into play.

The same holds true for hair ties and hair accessories. We use a lot of them! 20,000 pounds of hair elastics alone - the weight of a city bus - are lost or discarded into our environment every day in the USA alone. With most of these consisting of petroleum-based plastic ties, this is a real problem for our blue planet.

Sustainable fashion and accessories typically take the road less travelled: companies adhering to sustainable production practices are often crafting their goods from materials that are regenerative, natural (versus chemical or synthetic), plant-based, or vegan, among other distinctions. Sustainable fashion - and sustainable hair accessories - ask us to slow down and be more mindful of our consumption habits. 

And remember, you’re not too small to make a difference. In fact, we wrote a playbook for quick and easy ways to make a positive difference on our planet as an individual

Is sustainable fashion a trend?

As it turns out, sustainable fashion is more than just a trend: it is, in fact, a movement. 

First sparked alongside the environmental movement that grew from Rachel Carson’s seminal 1969 publication, “Silent Spring,” the connections and understanding between unsustainable pesticide use in commercial agriculture and its detrimental effects on our environment and human health has been building momentum ever since. No more are we in the dark about how our food - or the materials for our textiles - are grown and produced.

We are excited that the sustainable fashion movement is only growing, year by year. Frankly, we hope that one day, sustainable materials, clothing, and accessories will be the norm, everywhere. As we’ve mentioned throughout this post, we’ve built KOOSHOO with sustainability as our baseline, instead of adding it in as an afterthought later.

We see this happening more and more with new companies coming online: they are starting with true sustainability at their core. This shift, in turn, makes it much more difficult for other brands to hide behind shoddy labour practices and toxic manufacturing processes.

A cotton plant holds a raw ball of cotton.

Is sustainable clothing good quality?

Generally, yes. A commitment from a company to sustainability generally correlates with a commitment to quality. Part of sustainability is maximizing the use of a garment. Here at KOOSHOO we always design our products with two primary sustainable characteristics:

  1. Multi-use. The more ways you can wear one product, the more products it can replace. This is best exemplified in our Organic Twist Headbands which have been cleverly designed to be worn ten or more ways (bandana, bandeau, face mask, twist headband…).

  2. Quality of craftsmanship. It sounds horrible but it’s true: companies often design goods to deliberately break down. This is especially true in the hair tie industry. The reason they sell you 100 hair ties on a pack is that they’re designed to break and break often. This encourages repeat purchases and is the antithesis of sustainable fashion.

    At KOOSHOO we take the opposite tack, designing all our products to last (in your hair, not a landfill) and then testing to ensure we’ve achieved our goals. Our Flats Plastic-Free Hair Ties are hand-sewn and when tested against other hair ties are shown to be 3x stronger than the competition. Our Rounds Plastic-Free Hair Ties are glued closed but still clock in at 2.5x stronger than the nearest competition.   

That all said, beware of companies masquerading as sustainable. We call that greenwashing and those items are generally not of high quality.

Do sustainable clothes last longer?

Yes! Well-made, sustainable clothing typically lasts longer because the quality of materials used to produce them is of a much higher calibre. This goes for your accessories, too. 

For instance, our plastic-free hair ties are 3x stronger than our nearest competition so will long outlast them. This means you’ll be less likely to burn through a 5-pack of our ties as you might with a 100-pack of plastic-based ties.

One other side benefit of using sustainable materials in clothing and accessories is that often, these materials are able to be repaired. This creates a cost-savings for you: by repairing or mending your garments and accessories, you don’t have to keep buying new products. Patagonia will famously repair all their products.

Why is sustainable fashion expensive?

Truly sustainable fashion often appears more expensive but in reality, the price point reflects the true cost of its production. Fast fashion and cheap accessories do not paint an accurate picture of what went into the production of those items (and more importantly, what isn’t going into them). 

The price of sustainable fashion and accessories often reflects:

  • The true costs of paying workers fair wages to make our goods.
  • The savings to our environment through adherence to organic and fair trade standards.
  • The cost of producing better materials such as plant-based, vegan, or organic.

Instead of thinking of sustainable fashion as expensive, try to reframe it for what it is: exceptional value. A well-built, high-quality, sustainably-made item will bring you far more value and joy than any disposable fashion good ever will.

What is ethical, sustainable clothing?

We tend to think of sustainability in terms of the environment: how will my garment or accessory choices impact the planet and its ecosystems? Ethical fashion asks us to consider the impact our choices will make on people: how will my purchase impact the person who made my goods?

But at the end of the day, most people use those terms interchangeably to effectively say the same thing: a fashion item made in a way that uplifts both people and the planet. Other common terms are eco-fashion and green fashion. Whichever descriptor you choose, if you’re using it to describe fashion done right, then you’re already winning! 

Here at KOOSHOO, our mission is to create better hair accessories for you that elevate the health of our planet and the lives of the people who make them.

Have you ever wondered who makes our hair ties? Our ‘Transparent supply chain’ blog post will fill you in on the amazing humans behind our ties.

Can cheap fashion ever be ethical?

If you mean “cheap” as in “as inexpensive as possible” then no!

Cheap (or “fast”) fashion is only “cheap” (and fast) because many of its externalities have been hidden from the point of sale. When we peruse racks of $5 t-shirts, or $2 packs of 100-count plastic hair ties, we are not seeing the cost to the worker who had to make those products for pennies, nor are we seeing the environmental impact of those manufacturing practices. Most often, too-good-to-be-true prices are exactly that: too-good-to-be-true! Someone somewhere (planet included) was taken advantage of to deliver that “cheap” product at the store level and the brand behind it hopes you don’t go asking questions.

Is slow fashion the same as sustainable fashion?

Slow fashion is a form of sustainable fashion. By slowing fashion (and our accessories) down and becoming more intentional - not only with how we produce goods but also how we consume them - we automatically begin to leave a lighter footprint and create more equitable communities.

Slow fashion and sustainable fashion live a wonderful, intertwined life together. :)

Jesse Schiller, co-founder of KOOSHOO, stands with two hair tie artisans.

How can we be more ethical in our fashion?

There are many ways we can become more ethical in our fashion and accessory choices. But first, it’s helpful to know about the current ethical issues in the fashion industry.

What are ethical issues in fashion?

  • Fast fashion - as it suggests, this is clothing produced very quickly in response to trends. It is cheap, abundant, and highly wasteful. Workers are often underpaid in the manufacturing of fast fashion.
  • Lack of transparency - brands hide their manufacturing and production practices so that consumers have little way of knowing how their clothes were made or who made them.
  • Lax labour laws - companies move their manufacturing to regions with relaxed labour laws, so they can continue making their clothing or accessories at a fraction of the cost.

Our blog, ‘From fast to fair fashion’ offers 11 ways you can take action to be more ethical when it comes to making fashion decisions.

How to become a savvy, sustainable shopper

In a world awash in dubious sustainability and ethical claims, it can be hard to know what’s what! And with so many competing issues facing our planet, we might be fooled into thinking that switching up our hair accessories for something more sustainable or ethical won’t make a difference. In actual fact, it is those individual actions that, when summed up, make a huge impact: starting with something as small as a plastic-free hair tie.

That said, it can be helpful to have a guide to lean on the next time you want to make a sustainable - and ethical - accessory purchase. Here are some ideas:

  1. Read labels. You’ll learn a lot about what a company is (or isn’t!) doing by what they put on their labels. At KOOSHOO, you’ll always find our certifications and a list of ingredients for each of our products: we have nothing to hide.
  2. Ask questions! If you don’t see what you’re looking for, contact the company to inquire. Chances are good that if a brand is truly sustainable and ethical, they’ll be happy to chat. Our contact details are freely available and our virtual “door” is always open.
  3. Check out the reviews or online presence. Some businesses marketing themselves as ethical or sustainable are nothing more than shell companies selling cheap, mass-produced products. One way to determine if what you’re seeing is legitimate is to check out their reviews or dig into their social media and online presence. Do they have real followers? Are their reviews written by real people? This is not always easy to discern but with a little practice, you’ll be cutting through the murk in no time.
  4. Look at the price. It can be very attractive to find a garment or bundle of hair ties for a cheap price but that cheap price typically comes at a cost: to the environment or to the worker (likely both). If you’re still wondering about price, read our blog about how to invest in sustainable swaps for your next hair accessory purchase.

Sustainable and ethical fashion requires us to slow down, rethink, and demand better. We here at KOOSHOO are working hard to make this the new business as usual. How are you supporting sustainable and ethical fashion?

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Browse the Shop

"The best hair tie I've ever used. The fact that it adheres to my standards of a planet friendly product is a bonus!"
- Melody P.

"You guys, these scrunchies are ridiculous. I have THICK hair and I'm so pumped that not only can I wrap it around my hair twice, but it stays in without slowly falling out."
Sarah L

"I think the headband is my favourite one I have ever worn to be honest!!"
Kaitlynn M.