Mass clothing production is a major source of ethical and environmental concerns. Thankfully, there are sustainable clothing brands willing to bet against fast fashion.
Like many other people, I enjoy wearing fashionable items. However, I've recently learned to act more consciously about where I buy my clothing from, what materials they are made of, and how I use and dispose of them.
Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation revealed that more than half of the fast fashion items produced each year are disposed of in under one year2 (>100bn units). But less than 1% of the discarded clothing is recycled. This linear process is contributing to the build-up of microfibres in our oceans, as well as (what is estimated to be) 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere per year.
As consumers, we have a responsibility to not only use and dispose of our clothes responsibly but also consider where those clothing items are coming from. For this reason, an important shift is being made to ethical and sustainable fashion. Ethical fashion brands consider the impact of their clothing from chemical composition, to production energy and emissions, the sustainability of materials, cruelty-free processes, and wages and treatment of their workers.
Ethical fashion only constitutes about 1% of the global fashion industry1, with two-thirds of ethical fashion producers located in The U.K. and U.S. Research shows that the major reasons for this slow growth are consumers’ unwillingness to sacrifice personal needs, and lack of knowledge on the importance of sustainable fashion3. For consumers, following the fast fashion trends and purchasing easily-accessible items often means more than the (environmental) implications of our choices.
You can also choose to simply reuse what you already have which will always be the most environmentally friendly option. Or go for second-hand thrift, and give someone else's fashion piece a new lease of life.
Although the transition may not be easy, switching to sustainable and ethical clothing brands will contribute to reducing the negative effects of fast fashion. Many of these ethical brands also design fashionable clothing, which we can wear guilt-free. Here are 12 brands which carry fashionable and sustainable clothing and accessory collections.
Everlane is a women and men’s clothing brand which is focused on making a difference in the fashion industry. According to their website, the brand only works with factories which score above 90% on their internally designed compliance and ethics test.
The brand also gives a portion of profit to improve working conditions at factories. Not only will Everlane tell you what exact components make up the item you are buying, they will also reveal the true cost of production and transportation, and indicate their markup for retail.
The first quote on the MUD Jeans’ About Us page goes:
‘If you love jeans as much as this planet you’re at the good place here. We aim change the fashion industry, starting with the most popular piece of clothing: a pair of jeans.’
MUD jeans has managed to check a lot of ethical boxes in terms of sourcing materials and factory conditions for workers. They also provide repairs for free and run a lease system where customers can swap old jeans (to be recycled) for new ones.
Reformation is a sustainable women’s clothing brand. The brand chose to take full control of their factory working conditions by establishing an independent factory in Los Angeles. Reformation gives virtual tours once a month, and anyone can sign up to participate. They also aim to only carry what they classify as A & B fibres- All natural and renewable fibres & Better than most because they are mostly renewable or recycled fibres.
There’s a ton of product information available on the Reformation website ranging from raw materials used to manufacturing processes.
The founders of the Sancho’s brand joined the fashion industry after trips to developing countries showed them the harsh truths about fast fashion. They took what they considered a realistic step- building a brand that will provide better jobs in the fashion industry. Sancho’s was built to provide sustainable development to countries through better employment conditions and pay.
Sancho’s carries fashion items from brands that either make their products from natural and renewable fibres, or from recycled materials.
PACT is one of the few ethical clothing brands which only carries 100% organic items. This brand pushes consumers to ask the right questions.
“We believe in individuals and the collective power of conscious consuming. When we ask questions like “who made my clothes” and “what are they made from” we become more aware of the impact of our shopping decisions.”
PACT offers fashionable items made from organic cotton for adults, kids, and babies.
Alternative Apparel is focused on three core areas- organic fabrics, low-impact dyes, and eco-friendly packaging. The brand stays conscious of the materials and processes that go into manufacturing and transporting clothing, because “clothes shouldn't come at the expense of our planet or people.”
On the Alternative Apparel website, you can find a list of sustainable fashion brands where everyone can shop for women and men’s items.
As three young brothers, the founders of this brand were dubbed Krochet Kids by their local newspaper. They already made a name for themselves by making and selling crocheted items to their peers. Now grown men, the Krochet Kids have formed a non-profit partnership with people in developing countries to give them a means to earn, and to build.
Today, Krochet Kids Intl. employs hundreds of people in Uganda and Peru to create fashionable crochet items for women, men, and children.
If you enjoy outdoor fun, then Patagonia is the brand for you. In simple words, Patagonia says:
“We’re in business to save our home planet.”
The brand appreciates that life is for the living, and was created to help customers enjoy their outdoor activities without harming the planet. Patagonia started out providing tools for climbers, but has grown into a gear, apparel, and provision store. Patagonia carries items for both adults and kids.
Athleta is a women and girls only brand of sustainable athletic wear. Their top-selling point is that Athleta’s design teams are made up of athletic women. While designing to keep their products eco-friendly, they also consider if these products are the solutions their customers need through personal experience.
The brand claims to have empowered 3000+ women through fair trade and currently recycle 70% of their shipping materials, with 80% as their 2020 goal.
Tentree literally means that they plant ten trees for each item bought.
Sounds like a heavy promise right? From what we can tell, they've shown to keep to this promise. So far, this women and men’s fashion brand has reported having planted 30 million+ trees.
The brand has also committed to making their clothing items using a blend of sustainable fabrics. There are some interesting materials in there such as coconut buttons and hemp fibres.
In an interview on the How I Built This NPR podcast, Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, explained the true history of the shoe brand. After helping to give out used shoes to children in Argentina, he promised himself that he would go back in a year and give those children new shoes. This promise drove him to start TOMS, one of the biggest sustainable shoe brands today.
For every pair of TOMS sold, they gift a pair to a child in need.
Materials used to make TOMS shoes include hemp fibres, organic cotton, and/or recyclable polyester. And they construct TOMS shoe boxes from recycled materials printed with soy ink.
Amour Vert translates to ‘Green Love’ in French. It is a sustainable brand that creates classic wardrobe staples using eco-friendly materials and processes.
Amour Vert manufactures 97% of their items in the company’s California factories for better quality control. As items are made in small batches to protect the quality and prevent waste the brand encourages pre-orders.
Amour Vert has also committed to a green promise; for every tee bought, they plant a tree.
With all these (and more) options available to us, we can all start the process of incorporating sustainability into our everyday fashion. Many ethical clothing brands offer to recycle, exchange, or even thrift items, so you can change your wardrobe as often as you want, without fearing that old items will end up in a landfill. Take your first step to eco-friendly and guilt-free fashion today!
|Crane (2016). The puzzle of the ethical fashion consumer: Implications for the future of the fashion system. International Journal of Fashion Studies, Volume 3, Number 2, 1 October 2016, pp. 249-265(17).|
|Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashions future. 2017.|
|Joergens (2006). Ethical fashion: myth or future trend? Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, Vol. 10 Issue: 3, pp.360-371|