10 awesome ethical labels you haven’t heard of yet

Sydney-based designer Celeste Tesoriero creates gorgeous minimalist pieces from 100% bamboo jersey.

Sydney-based designer Celeste Tesoriero creates gorgeous minimalist pieces from 100% bamboo jersey. Photo: Instagram

Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood: two of the hardest working designers in the industry. They have done some incredible things in the name of bettering the world we live in, from fooling people with vegan leather to the 'Drew Me To Safety' T-shirt initiative – but it's about time some other likeminded labels got a share of the spotlight.

That's where #ItsNotJustStella comes in. The hashtag encourages other socially conscious brands to share their stories on social media.

There are thousands of lesser-known labels out there committed to being responsible, honest and thoroughly forward thinking. They're also making ethical clothes and accessories that are desirable, luxurious and beautiful – successfully shattering the tired hemp-toting, granola-munching eco-fashion stereotype. So why don't we hear about them?

Rachel Kibbe, founder of ethical e-store Helpsy, has partnered with The Business of Fashion to tackle this exclusion head on. "Too often the fashion news media deifies a certain few elite designers, highlighting their voices only in the sustainability conversation. That's part of the limiting and closed attitude that got this industry sick in the first place and it needs to change," she says. "How is the consumer to know the alternatives and solutions that exist when they aren't mentioned in the journalism that aims to uncover these issues?"

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This prompted them to come up with the hashtag #ItsNotJustStella, and it's already inspiring positive discussion.

On that note, here are 10 brands that are just as deserving of your kudos (and cash) as Ms McCartney.

A A K S

Luxury bag brand A A K S is the work of Akosua Afriyie-Kumi. Every beautifully hued, raffia creation is organically dyed and hand-woven by a group of women she works with in Bolgatanga, in northern Ghana. The look is contemporary without compromising the brand's African soul and aesthetic. Watch the magic unfurl via her Instagram.

Celeste Tesoriero

The Sydney-based designer believes in labour rights every step along the production chain. Tesoriero's gorgeously minimalist pieces, inspired by traditional Japanese tailoring, are made from 100 per cent bamboo jersey – a renewable resource – that she decorates with organic, vegan dyes.

Freedom of Animals

A (relatively) inexpensive, sustainable, vegan leather company that does luxury accessories as sweet as Céline's? This isn't a dream, people. Even the lining is made from organic cotton and recycled water bottles. And would you look at the end product!

YEVU

Sydneysider Anna Robertson was doing aid work in Ghana when she came up with the idea for her label. "I had to develop YEVU so I could keep feeding my addiction to print, so in a way it was more of a coping mechanism," she says. The vibrant pattern-heavy aesthetic makes us think of New York's Suno and Italy's Stella Jean, but without the hefty price tag. All materials are picked from the markets of Accra, Kumasi, Togo and Cote d'Ivoire and sewn together by Ghanaians at a grass roots level. 

The North Circular

As winter rears its chilly head, be sure to rug up in cosy, luxury, sustainable knitwear. Lily Cole's label The North Circular has garnered its fair share of attention among dedicated style-setters, but has yet to make it in the mainstream. The brand uses biodegradable, organically dyed yarn and they invest in sustainable methods of production, i.e. every item is hand knitted by a card-carrying 'granny'! Another worth a shout-out is Study 34. They were first to jump aboard the #ItsNotJustStella hashtag, with every jumper they make designed, refined and produced in their studio in Newcastle. 

Bhalo

Bhalo is Bengali for 'good' – a most fitting moniker considering this Aussie label supports and sustains rural producers and craftsmen in Bangladesh. They believe in transparent production methods – connecting a garment's wearer to its maker – and, oh yeah, looking incredible in your clothing.

Kindah Khalidy

We simply adore the riot of dashing colours that's Kinda Khalidy's signature style. And though we can't afford a painting, her range of handmade bags and clutches are just as good. The California-based painter designs in-house and produces locally. Here's your way to wear art while supporting young indie upstarts.

Ovna Ovich

Only like wearing muted colours and unfussy, utilitarian designs? Check out New Zealand label Onya Ovich by Marina Davis. Favouring pared-back minimalism and relaxed sophistication, it's a far cry from the image usually conjured up by 'eco-friendly' and 'socially sound' in relation to fashion. You would never know that this halter, for example, was hand-knitted out of recycled T-shirts.

Kowtow

New Zealand's Kowtow does 100 per cent organic, fair trade fashion that reminds us slightly of cool-kid streetwear boutique Alpha60. They make the kind of modern, wearable separates you can take along when travelling, mixing and matching without anyone suspecting you of a wardrobe repeat.

Osborn

Brooklyn-based artists Carla and Aaron Osborn can't stand wastage. To create their print-happy steppers, they combine materials sourced from Latin America with fabrics they've cut from thrift-store finds.