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An Approachable Guide to Sustainable Fashion for Teens and Novices, by Elizabeth Stilwell

This piece originally appeared on The Note Passer, a comprehensive resource for ethical alternatives.

While this piece was originally intended for teens, I love it because it’s relevant for anyone who has just discovered the unethical underbelly of the fashion industry. It’s approachable and informative and I hope you learn a lot!


I recently gave a talk about ethical fashion to 8th to 12th grade girls. Before doing so, I solicited the advice from colleagues and deliberated about the best way to transfer my important yet often depressing knowledge about the problems within the fashion industry. I decided in the end that truth, power, and hope would be the themes of my message.

As a teacher, I know students appreciate honesty, even around difficult discussions. Without the truth, it’s impossible to change. Having been through the information myself, I know that changing something as behemothic as the fashion industry can feel hopeless, but knowing you have power over some of the changes helps tremendously. Hope can be found in the advancements of technology and awareness forcing positive changes everyday.

Use the information and resources below to help you talk to teens about fast fashion, ethical fashion, and how it all relates to them.


Don’t get caught with your organic cotton pants down; be prepared for a lot of questions. While you may not be able to answer them all (and can even search for them together) try to be ready with the basics.

Some articles to get you started:


A documentary called The True Cost has made inroads by exposing in clear terms the incredible destruction of the fashion industry. From factory collapses, to fast fashion, to pollution, to capitalism, this film is tough to watch but necessary to see. I will warn you that there are some disturbing images during the parts about the Rana Plaza collapse and other violence in the industry (it’s PG13). If you don’t want your teen to watch it, please watch it yourself and relate some of the information instead.

Other informative videos:

  • Unravel is about garment recyclers in India and relates the incredible volume of cast-offs we send out of our lives. 
  • Udita (Arise) is about the grassroots movement of female garment workers in Bangladesh. 
  • See my (Elizabeth’s) media section for more resources.


Ethics are personal. While some metrics should always be upheld—like fair wages—others are more subjective. It should also be noted that it’s difficult to overhaul your entire outlook in one swoop so to make transitions more successful and less painful, help your teen determine priorities. Love animals? Consider cruelty-free fashion first. Passionate about the environment? Research fabrics, dyes, and raw materials. Child labor can be especially relatable to those who are still children themselves. While it may seem insensitive to share, it is unconscionable that it still happens. Teens deserve the right to know about it and the opportunity to lend their voices to the fight against child labor.


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