Can you be ethical and fashionable? YOU’s fashion director Shelly Vella investigates

Hempy and frumpy? Not any more… Forget everything you thought you knew about eco-friendly dressing, says YOU’s fashion director Shelly Vella.

It’s important that we know the environmental impact of fast fashion, but here’s the conundrum: we don’t want to cause any more damage to the planet but we still love clothes. What to do? Well, instead of a lecture, I thought it would be far more helpful if I went in search of ideas for how we can stay stylish and become more ethical.

Happily, designers and major high-street brands are switching on to the idea that their customers want to make more considered choices, so are rethinking how they produce their clothes. There are now entire websites dedicated to chic ethical choices, plus young designers, great accessory brands and sustainable jewellery (yes, diamonds and gold need to be considered too) are on board. It’s true that prices are often higher because the clothes aren’t produced in mass-market quantities, but major retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Mango and H&M all have ethical collections with affordable price tags.

To prove that sustainable fashion is as on-trend as it gets, here’s my pick of the best looks out there right now…

The standout sheer top

Photo by Eva Schwank

When we speak of transparency, we don’t just mean this lovely blouse. H&M’s Conscious and Conscious Exclusive lines are elegant, innovative and 100 per cent sustainable.

Blouse, £49.99; Trousers, £79.99, and Boots, £79.99, Conscious Exclusive, Earrings, £48, and bangle, £117,

The animal-friendly accessory

Photo by Eva Schwank

I love this Stella McCartney bag, but faux leather doesn’t have to be designer to look just like the real thing – the high street has nailed it, too. Look out for Marks & Spencer’s vegan shoe range, out next month.

Bag, £725, Stella McCartney, Jumper, £395, Skirt, £325, Alexa Chung,

The laidback trouser suit

Photo by Eva Schwank

When Safia Minney launched People Tree 27 years ago, she blazed a trail in offering fashion that is as fairly traded and ethically made as it is relevant to the consumer. Now our high-street heroes are joining in: last year Mango launched Committed, a collection of covetable pieces created with sustainability in mind, such as this glamorous blazer and trousers made from recycled wool.

Top, £39, Blazer, £99.99, and trousers, £69.99, Committed, trousers. Earrings, £53, and gold rings (on left hand), £53 each, Trainers, £55, Ethletic,

How to make a difference

  • Look for sustainably sourced cotton – probably the biggest impact you can make.
  • Buy vintage – planet-friendly with the bonus of scoring a one-off.
  • Consider investment pieces. Quality fabrics and finishes will endure.
  • Think before you spend. When shopping, consider how long an item will last and how long you’ll love it for.

The showstopper dress

Photo by Eva Schwank

The feel-good factor of this Beulah dress isn’t just its luscious green satin. Via the Beulah Trust, established in 2013, the label offers a sustainable livelihood to victims of human trafficking.

Dress, £450, Necklace, £341, Silver split ring, £65, Silver double ring, £20, Boots, £180,

The sports luxe top

Photo by Eva Schwank

Who knew this sleek hoodie started life as plastic bottles – just one of the waste
sources (others include fishing nets and fabric landfill) that Riley Studio recycles to create its streetwear.

Hoodie, £90, Skirt, £195, Natalija, Trainers, £455,

The little black dress

Photo by Eva Schwank

It’s a wardrobe essential, but where to source one made from sustainable fabric? Struggling to find frocks that ticked that box, Christina Castle launched her label Dagny, aiming for each piece to be as beautiful as it is ethically made with enduring style.

Dress, £375, Earrings, £46, and Bangle, £71, Boots, £140,

The off-duty basics

Your one-stop shop for ‘honest luxury’, website Rêve en Vert was founded by Cora Hilts and Natasha Tucker to bring together high-end fashion, beauty and homeware brands with a conscience.

Shirt, £150, Natalija, Jacket, £565, Trousers, £135,

The ethical fashion pieces you’ll love for a lifetime…


Jacket, £595,

Cape, £298,

Bag, around £285,


Jumper, £245,


Skirt, £460, Maggie Marilyn,


Dress, £550,


Jeans, £87.50,

Earrings, £169,

Trainers, £95,