Though ideologically I’m probably more like a hippie than I realize, I’ve never fully embraced the carefree aesthetic of Free People.
But I’ve always admired the effortlessly cool people 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.
In addition to poor labor standards and appropriation, Free People is known to copy designs of small makers and artisan brands. It’s particularly appalling because they’ll claim to want to support these makers, then request samples and use them to make a carbon copy of the design.
It’s disingenuous to sell a carefree, artisan aesthetic while refusing to support the laborers, designers, and cultures who made that look possible.
It makes far more sense to buy directly from the culture that created it.
Fortunately, the fair trade movement is all about restoring and preserving artisan craft tradition. These sustainable alternatives to Free People do more than pretend: they work directly with artisans to produce high quality, contemporary pieces any Free People customer would love to wear.
This list contains affiliate links and I may make commission on sales generated from this post.
Sustainable Alternatives to Free People: 12 Brands
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.
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 in clothing, accessories, homeware, and more makes the shopping experience more similar to Free People.
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.