Conscious Consumerism + Ethical Fashion Reading List

Conscious consumerism and ethical fashion reading book list

The state of our climate is in crisis, and the way we produce and consume products must change if we’re ever going to slow down the trajectory we’re on. While collective change is needed, as individuals we can educate ourselves about how we got here and potential solutions we can help bring into fruition. I’ve compiled a list of some incredible books (some life changing for me) for you to get inspired and enjoy too. 

unraveled book by maxine bedat

1. Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment


Maxine Bédat has crafted this thorough look into the global apparel industry: tracking the production of a pair of denim jeans from Texas cotton farmers, to weaving and dyeing mills in China, to sewing facilities in Bangladesh, to U.S. mass-market retailers, to after we're done wearing them. This is the perfect place to start if you haven’t looked into this massive global system we are ALL a part of (we all wear clothes, we all breathe air, we all drink water). Maxine visits these facilities herself and tells stories of the people at every stage. I can’t recommend this book enough - it will certainly shift how you relate to the clothes you wear and buy.

The Intersectional Environmentalist book by Leah Thomas

2. The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People and Planet


"We can't save the planet without uplifting the voices of its people, especially those most often unheard. We should care about the protection of people as much as we care about the protection of our planet -- to me, these fights are the same."

This beautiful book walks us through intertwined systems of oppression: You can't talk about the environmental crisis without addressing racism, privilege, wealth inequality, gender inequality, colonialism, and so much more. Leah Thomas's activism propels us into the future by first teaching us about our world's past and present. It's the perfect environmental justice primer filled with an abundance of tools and resources (and each page is so gorgeously designed). A must read for everyone.

Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline book held in a woman's hand in a bookstore

3. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion


“If consumers weren’t so focused on quantity over quality and trends over innovative design, the price of domestic production might not seem so exorbitant.”

Elizabeth Cline digs into the atrocious impacts of fast fashion and how it has impacted the economy, the environment, our collective psychology, and even our financial well-being. She presents the rise of cheap clothing chains and its affect on global manufacturing. Us readers are along for the ride, witnessing her personal journey with clothing as well. She shifts her own purchasing habits and even learns how to alter her own clothing to fit better, last longer, and be even more loved. She also provides ways to support small designers who keep environmental impact in mind (like Ethel Studio! That’s us!).

Cradle to Cradle book

4. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things 


“Here's where redesign begins in earnest, where we stop trying to be less bad and we start figuring out how to be good.”

This was one of those life-changing books for me: I poured over the pages and couldn’t put it down. It changed the way I saw the world and was influential on my journey to create Ethel Studio. The book proposes a circular cradle-to-cradle model for products and materials instead of a linear cradle-to-grave model which most products follow in our society (from material extraction to a short use phase to landfill or incinerator when we are “done” with it). The writers show us how to look to nature for inspiration to design new products for the future across all industries since nature contains circular systems where no materials are ever wasted. The book itself is written not on paper, but is a Durabook made from “upcycleable” synthetic resins. Since the book was published in 2002, a lot has changed since then, but yet again… a whole lot hasn’t improved since then, and now the climate crisis is even more dire.

Consumed by Aja Barber book held up in a woman's hand.

5. Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism


“When I think about colonialism in the fashion industry...they literally are taking our resources from our lands, selling it back to us and burying garbage next to us; it's colonialism at its finest.”

Aja Barber exposes the atrocities of the fashion industry from a social justice lens: tracing oppression to slavery, colonialism, and a whole slew of injustices built into the industry from the very beginning, the patterns which are still present today. Get ready to learn, unlearn, and transform your thinking with this incredible book. Aja helps us understand the psychological patterns within ourselves which originate in the dominant consumer culture, causing us to consume clothing in unhealthy, unconscious ways. She gives us the tools to become more intentional, empowered citizens.

Let My People Go Surfing book by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia

6. Let My People Go Surfing


“Most of the damage we cause to the planet is the result of our own ignorance.”

Part memoir, part unconventional business guidebook, Yvon Chouinard shares the origin story of Patagonia: from starting as a blacksmith making climbing equipment to building a multi-billion-dollar clothing and gear company. This exciting book explores doing business differently with values leading the way, environmentally-responsible sourcing, intentional and functional design, innovation, overcoming obstacles of all sorts, rethinking capitalism, resilient mindsets, and even some Buddhist philosophy. Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia have been incredibly influential to me in how I’ve built Ethel Studio, and I hope you love reading this one too. 

This Changes Everything book by Naomi Klein

7. This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate


“A great many of us engage in this kind of climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look but then turn it into a joke (“more signs of the Apocalypse!”). Which is another way of looking away.”

Get ready for a transformative wake up call. In this deep dive of a book, Naomi Klein shows us how you can’t address the climate crisis without addressing unchecked capitalism. She shows us how we must build a new radically different economic system to bring us into the future before it’s too late. 

Loved Clothes Last book by Orsola de Castro

8. Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act


“The fashion industry leaves behind a trail of human and environmental exploitation. Our wardrobes don’t have to be the finish line; they can be a starting point for loved clothes and new ideas.”

Fashion Revolution activist Orsola de Castro has created a beautiful guide of words, infographics, and illustrations celebrating our beloved clothes through mending, fraying, stitching, caring, washing, redesigning, and reimagining. With stories and educational info along the way, she presents an overview of fiber and supply chain basics, making it a lovely introduction to the world of being a caring owner of clothing. It’s a perfect book to give as a gift too!