6 Ethical Brands That Are Better Than Free People

Free People pretends it’s “artisan made,” which can lead people to believe they’re fair trade. But most of their stuff is actually made in sweatshops, or under less than transparent circumstances. Here are some ethical alternatives to Free People.

Is Free People ethical?

Though ideologically I’m probably more like a hippie than I realize, I’ve never fully embraced boho style.

But I’ve always admired the cool girls and women who pull it off well. Layers, mixed prints, embroidery, and drapey silhouettes feel easy while offering tons of visual interest.

The boho/hippie style is typified by Free People, the aspirational brand that makes you want to spend your life savings on sheer slip dresses and perfectly draped tees just to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live life with no reservations or regrets.

I love the Free People catalogs as much as the next suburbia-raised American, but as I’ve learned more about ethical fashion and cultural appropriation, it’s been necessary to keep my distance. 

Not only is a large portion of Free People’s product line produced in factories where wage and safety standards are low or unverified, the overall aesthetic capitalizes on the trendiness of indigenous and cultural craft traditions without giving the original makers the credit they deserve.

Learn more about appropriation here.

I’ve come around to thinking that I really shouldn’t be wearing an intricately woven dress made to look like the work of a Oaxacan artisan if it was actually made by a poorly paid teenager in Bangladesh. Instead, if I want to capture the look of a traditional technique, I should buy directly from the culture that created it.

Fortunately, the fair trade movement is all about restoring and preserving artisan craft tradition. These brands do more than pretend: they work directly with artisans to produce high quality, contemporary pieces any Free People woman would love to wear.

This list contains affiliate links.

6 Ethical Fashion Brands That Are Better Than Free People

1 | Abrazo Style

Lightweight dresses, blouses, and shawls made by Oaxacan and Chiapas artisans in Mexico, Abrazo Style aims to offer the highest quality hand-embroidered products while keeping the dying craft tradition alive for years to come.


2 | Victoria Road

Tunics, dresses, and more made out of supple local cotton. Designed by Pakistani designers using traditional embroidery techniques and contemporary cuts.


3 | Symbology

Symbology makes feminine silhouettes with artisan details, like block printing by Indian textile artists and embroidery by Pakistani artisans, with a mission to preserve craft tradition and offer stable, living wage employment.


4 | EcoVibe

Swingy shapes with cool details. Made in USA out of environmentally friendly and recycled fabrics.


5 | Same Thread

Handmade in Thailand under fair trade guidelines using local textile craft traditions and contemporary cuts.


6 | MATTER Prints

A socially motivated business making artisan loomed and printed pants, shorts, tops, and jumpsuits and specializing in affordable luxury.


The Boutique Alternative: Made Trade

Made Trade carries a curated collection of fair trade, artisan finds with one-of-a-kind details, and the fact that they carry multiple brands makes the shopping experience more similar to Free People.


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