The 7 Best Places for Fair Trade Formal Dresses
Fair trade and ethical fashion is really starting to take off, but one area that is struggling is the formal world. I don’t know about you, but when I think of gorgeous formal dresses with embroidery or beading, I kind of think of slave labor. Any clothing manufacturing, but especially such tedious work lends itself to abuse. Formal dresses are expensive to make, and you have to cut costs somewhere.
Or do you?
These 7 fair trade designers certainly don’t cut corners when it comes to their employees and the environment, but perhaps most importantly, they don’t deliver lack luster styles either. I think you’ll be pretty surprised at who is on this list and that you’ll probably end up spending less than you would on a non ethical formal dress.
I’ll let you figure out which one is my favorite…oh, who am I kidding. I couldn’t pick a favorite if I tried. They’re just all so good!
1 | Reformation
Ethical | Eco Friendly Fabrics, recycled packaging, pays livable wages, represents minorities, and limits animal products
Price Range | $98-428
Reformation is the epitome of everything ethical and fair trade fashion. Their formal dresses range from about $98 to $428 at the most expensive. This is a big price range, which means most people can find a suitable dress for the occasion that fits in their price range. Also, if you’re lucky enough to catch one of Reformation’s sales, you could get an even better price if you’re quick! Stuff goes fast here.
Many fair trade manufacturers sell “classic” designs, but Reformation does a good job of offering trendy cuts and designs, with the caveat being these are in limited supply to reduce waste. I love that their formal dresses aren’t made of polyester, which is bad for the environment and my armpits!
2 | Frank & Oak
Ethical | Designed in Canada, sustainable fabrics and efforts to limit carbon emissions, diverse employers, recycled packaging, and donates portion sales to Equitas
Price Range | $99-149
If you’ve heard of Frank & Oak, you may be thinking why the heck am I recommending them for formal and cocktail dresses. You’d be surprised! Frank & Oak offers a subscription box of ethically sourced and made clothing and supports sustainable initiatives in their manufacturing and packaging. So, basically they win everything.
But, while you can and definitely should try their subscription box, you can shop their collection without a subscription, which has some to die for formal options. Their dress options are a little limited, but there is a good split between classic and eclectic styles. Where they really shine is in their non traditional formal options: jumpsuits. The jumpsuits are sleek and flattering and say “I’m a boss” in the best possible way. And those prices? Buy two and be set for life.
Ethical | Recycled clothing program, member of Better Cotton Initiative, uses renewable energy, transparent supply chain, and pays livable wages to workers
Price Range | $18-299
You might be most shocked to see H&M on this list, but I guarantee you they’ve earned their spot the hard way. H&M has had a bad, bad reputation as a fast fashion retailer, but they’ve really made good efforts environmentally and for their employees to turn that around.
H&M stays true to its fast fashion roots and offers a hugeeee selection of formal and party dresses for the fair trade lover. Because of the sheer size of the company, they can also offer lower prices than some smaller companies, which is good for my and your wallet while not killing the environment.
If you are concerned about quality and sustainability of the dresses from H&M, then you might feel more comfortable sticking to their lines labelled “Premium Quality” or the “Conscious Collection”. These two collections are made using higher quality fabrics, but the prices will reflect that. It’s worth it to me!
4| & Other Stories
Ethical |Recycled clothing and beauty products program, member of Better Cotton Initiative, uses renewable energy, transparent supply chain, and pays livable wages to workers
Price Range | $49-179
& Other Stories is actually a member of the H&M group, which means what mom is doing, baby is doing, too. Their clothing is a bit more designer and a little less mall fashion, but the prices do not reflect typical designer prices. & Other Stories is designer fair trade dresses on a budget, and I couldn’t be more happy about it.
I think their range is a bit more mature than H&M, not your grandma Cheryl mature, but “I’ve graduated from college and have my first job” mature. I would go straight to & Other Stories if you’re looking for better quality and unique pieces, which is a little harder to find in the Premium & Conscious collections at H&M that offers more classically styled pieces. This is another great option for Reformation lovers on a budget.
5| People Tree
Ethical | Ethical & Eco Fashion pioneer, organic & fair trade fabrics, ship by sea to reduce emissions, only uses azo-free dyes, locally sourced design and products, rural and minority community support
Price Range | $90-160
People Tree is the OG in ethical fashion, after Eileen Fisher, that is. I’ve always been a giant fan of People Tree, because they don’t limit themselves to black and white color palettes or only minimalist styles. As someone who wants to care for the earth and her people but not want to lose herself doing it, I reallyyyyy appreciate this. Ethical fashion shouldn’t have to be a sacrifice.
Their party wear section is small but mighty. There’s a mix of unique pieces and classic pieces that will serve you time and time again. I particularly like that People Tree primarily uses cotton and tencel, which is hardddd to find in formal wear. I would get one classic piece and one unique piece like this jumpsuit, because, well, options.
6| Fame & Partners
Ethical | Custom clothing reduces waste, almost zero waste production, customer chosen charity donations of sales, sustainable production practices
Price Range | $200-499
If you are looking for a truly formal dress beyond a cocktail party or business casual wedding, then you want to come to Fame & Partners. They offer fair trade formal and floor length dresses that are custom to you. I know, I know. That sounds expensive with a capital E.
It’s actually incredibly affordable! I mean, I was shocked. Prices start at $200 and go up to about $500. But, keep in mind this is for a CUSTOM formal dress! Regular formal dresses at a department store are in that price range, and you’ll probably have to pay for some hemming or taking in on top of that.
These aren’t just size customizations, either. While you do put in your height to get the correct length out of the box and your dress size, you also have the option for other customizations like removing a slit in the dress, raising the neckline, or changing the sleeve style. These little customizations are what make a dress truly yours, and they only cost $10 for each one. I dare you to find a good tailor who isn’t charging a base of at least $50 for changes like that.
Custom clothing also reduces on the waste of overproduction and three sizes fits millions way of production, and it ensures really great quality. Fame & Partners, you’re changing the world.
Ethical | Responsible sourcing, transparent supply chain, Ethical Trade Initiative members, health programs and female empowerment, recycled catalogs/packaging, and eco-friendly fabrics
Price Range | $105-340
Boden has been around the block the exact same amount of time as People Tree and is doing just as much good for the fashion world. Boden is the opposite, though, in that they are the ultimate classic designer, staying true to their British roots.
The classic design is mostly in the cuts and design of the clothing, but the fabrics are a mix of trendy velvets, prints, and your favorite thick knits. They also offer mens, boys, girls, and babies, so get ready to outfit the whole family in ethically made clothing for your next event.