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What’s an Ethical T-Shirt?

At Ethix Merch, we pride ourselves on providing the best, most ethical t-shirts possible. But what does the term ethical mean? An ethical t-shirt refers to a garment produced in a manner that prioritizes social and environmental responsibility throughout its entire lifecycle. While some organizations may prioritize purchasing t-shirts made with union labor or at factories with living wages, others may be more concerned about the environmental impact of their tees. However, these issues are not mutually exclusive. 

Worker justice and environmental justice are intrinsically linked in the context of manufacturing. The conditions in which workers operate directly impact the environment, as poorly regulated or hazardous workplaces often result in pollution, waste, and resource depletion. Conversely, when workers are treated fairly, provided with safe working conditions, and given a voice in decision-making processes, they are more likely to advocate for environmentally sustainable practices within the manufacturing industry. Thus, prioritizing worker justice improves individuals’ well-being and fosters a healthier environment for present and future generations. 

Read on to learn about the various issues that characterize ethically made t-shirts.

Ethical Business Practices

Beyond adhering to labor standards, businesses and manufacturers can distinguish themselves through various ethical practices. Engaging with local communities by supporting nonprofits or giving back can have a profound impact. Encouraging staff to participate in community events or volunteer for initiatives like tree planting, community building, and programs promoting employee wellness or mental health also fosters thriving communities.

Some businesses go the extra mile to increase their sustainability rating by upgrading lighting with more efficient LED systems, using renewable resources like solar power, or reducing waste through innovation and recycling programs.  Through internal policies and practices, businesses have the power to make a positive difference.

Supply Chain Sustainability

Supply chain transparency entails the clear and accessible disclosure of every step in creating a product, from sourcing raw materials to manufacturing and distribution. For ethically-made t-shirts, this transparency encompasses the journey of cotton cultivation, the dyeing process, factory labor conditions, transportation logistics, and beyond. By embracing transparency, suppliers can empower consumers to make informed decisions that are aligned with their values. 

Fair Labor

Ethical t-shirts are usually manufactured in facilities where workers are paid fair wages, provided safe working conditions, and given reasonable working hours. This includes adhering to labor laws and regulations and respecting workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. While union membership may be at the top of the list for some organizations, others choose to support companies with worker ownership or profit-sharing options for their staff. We can all agree that working conditions and wages must comply with local and federal laws to ensure no wage theft or hazardous or harmful working conditions.


Did you know the average T-shirt travels around 40,000 miles before reaching your hands? Most T-shirts are more traveled than the average US citizen! They crisscross the globe as they work through the supply chain from farmer to weaver to knitter to the cut and sew facility. The best way to reduce carbon footprint is to source hyperlocal ethical t-shirts that stay near where their material originates.

Longevity and Durability

We’ve all cherished that one t-shirt that withstands the test of time. However, in today’s era of fast fashion flooding the market with low-quality options, finding such durable pieces is increasingly rare. High-quality, ethical t-shirts are designed to be durable and long-lasting. Since they are made to last, consumers can buy less and choose quality over quantity, which helps reduce the environmental impact.

Certifications and Standards

Ethical t-shirts may be certified by third-party organizations that verify compliance with ethical and environmental standards. Some common certifications include Fair TradeGlobal Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Cradle to Cradle, and OEKO-TEX Standard 100. New certification organizations are popping up as interest in sustainability, circularity, and workers’ rights grows and becomes more critical.

Ethical Values Vary

Many progressive organizations, nonprofits, and unions come to us for USA Made, eco-friendly, ethical t-shirts. Which tees do they choose? It depends on the organization’s values, budget, and timeline. We offer a range of ethical t-shirts from organic to garment dyed, made by union workers, local small businesses, or worker owned cooperatives. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the ultimate ethical t-shirt!

Learn more about our most popular ethical t-shirt styles here:

USA Made T-Shirts

Our basic Made in USA t-shirt for groups looking for a soft and modern tee. One of most popular items, made from 100% ring-spun cotton.

Organic Cotton USA Made T-Shirts

Unisex short-sleeve crew neck t-shirt made with 100% certified organic ring-spun cotton.

TS Designs Homegrown T-Shirt

The Homegrown unisex tee is a super-soft, long lasting shirt made with 100% cotton grown in the USA, cut and sewn in North Carolina, and dyed at TS Designs in Burlington, NC. TS Designs’ unique water-based dying process is better for the environment than traditional dye processes.