T-shirts could easily be the most popular wardrobe staple in the world today. They are easy to wear, cheap compared to most clothing items, and work great for different occasions. Perhaps what we love most about the t-shirt is that it is a fashion staple that cuts across gender, income brackets, and countries.
Around the world, sustainable fashion is gaining acceptance. In a world full of short-lasting fast fashion choices, when you choose ethically made sustainable t-shirts, you support apparel consumption that benefits not just you but other people and the planet as well.
Here's a list of sustainable fashion brands that make some of the best ethical tees. We have added key information to help you make the best choices.
From organic tees to socks, underwear, and bedding, pact offers you a range of organic basics. Pact is on a mission to create a clothing company that the planet will love. Their fiber of choice is organic cotton, and they work with fair trade-certified factories only.
Pact also partners with an eco-tech company that allows customers to purchase carbon offsets to make up for the carbon emissions resulting from shipping.
Pact sustainable cotton tees come in distinct designs and are fit for men, women, and children. The designs are so versatile that you could use a wardrobe full of pact tees for different seasons in the year.
Pact uses paper and plastic packaging made from recycled materials, which are recyclable and biodegradable. The brand also has a program that allows you to give back gently used clothing to charities.
Enjoy steampunk and gothic style? Then you will love Eco Tee’s moon tees. The t-shirt is climate-neutral and produced with renewable energy.
The brand uses 100% organic cotton certified by GOTS. They ensure that their entire production procedure follows the ethics of the Fair Wear Foundation and Confidence in Textiles Certification.
They print using water-based inks that contain no toxins or animal products and have OEKO-TEX approval. The minimalist eco-friendly paper packaging is both recyclable and compostable. The Eco Tee brand will only produce a product if you order it.
Groceries apparel uses organic and recycled materials to make ethical and sustainable tees. They use a range of sustainable materials like eucalyptus, recycled cotton, organic cotton, recycled plastic, and hemp fabric to manufacture their products. The use of plastic implies the use of some form of recycled polyester.
The Groceries Apparel factory is in Los Angeles to encourage local and traceable production. To eliminate toxic dye chemicals, the brand produces its own vegetable dyes.
Groceries apparel sometimes makes pure organic cotton clothing, and sometimes they combine different fiber materials.
As a B-certified corporation, The Good tee is working hard to establish itself as a force for good in the fashion industry. The company is also fair trade cotton & GOTS certified.
The company is concerned about the welfare of cotton farmers and pays a premium directly to garment workers for every shirt sold. The brand operates slower production schedules.
They use low-impact dyes and offer customized screen printing services with low environmental impact. They pre-shrink the t-shirts and treat them to minimize future shrinkage.
The good tee offers organic basics for men and women. Their best sellers include ‘the favorite fair trade organic unisex tee’ and ‘the relaxed fit ¾ sleeve v-neck t-shirt.’ They also have a collection for children.
From seed to garment, Know The Origin ensures ethical fashion through direct involvement. Taking a cue from the Rana Plaza disaster, the founder of this brand worked to build an ethical clothing brand that is fair to cotton farmers and garment workers.
The brand collaborates with Hyderabad, an Indian cooperative of organic cotton farmers and a credible manufacturer in Tirupur.
This brand sells its own branded organic cotton t-shirts and shares its platform with other t-shirt brands using organic fabrics and practicing ethical production.
Apart from t-shirts, you can get other ethical fashion products made from eco-friendly materials on their website.
This is one of the notable luxury organic t-shirt brands that manufacture their products in the USA. The classic t-shirt company operates out of a family-owned factory in Los Angeles.
They have crew and v-neck sustainable apparel designs in neutral and cool earth colors. You have different sleeve options to choose from. The design range for men and women looks the same, but they are cut to fit differently. The company recommends cold washing and warns against bleaching.
The Classic T-shirt Company makes all its products from 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton, and they come packaged in recycled materials.
The company also donates a percentage of its profits to support causes that provide clean water, plant trees, and clean up oceans worldwide.
The moon fairy t-shirt is a vintage-styled product. The t-shirt is hand-printed and has a luxurious homemade feel to it. The product is Woven from organic ring-spun cotton and has vegan approval and a Fair Wear certification.
It also has an OEKO-TEX certification to prove that its water-based printing ink is non-toxic. The products are usually white shirts with artistic silhouette prints.
Oldie Bazaar t-shirts may run large, so double-check the size chart before you order. Also, note that the packaging may not be completely plastic-free.
This eco-friendly t-shirt is made from organic cotton and made fairly. The t-shirt has funny dinosaur inscriptions, and you will find it appealing if you are a fan of Jurassic Park.
Apart from humor, the brand tries to offer the highest standards of ethical production. They get their organic cotton from an Indian region with an excess water supply thanks to monsoons.
They are one of the few brands that power their manufacturing process with green renewable energy to reduce their carbon footprint. Dusk Shop produces its t-shirts in line with PETA, GOTS, and FWF guidelines.
Dusk Shop organic t-shirts come in compostable packaging. The company says it reduces the carbon footprints of its t-shirts by 90% using calculations certified under the PAS2050 standard. They stock a variety of colors for men and women.
How about a clothing brand that combines natural cork and organic cotton? The organic apparel’s love t-shirt is a loose-fit tunic with ¾ sleeves for women. Instead of prints or embroidery, the shirt features an applique made of cork.
This unique combination of materials makes the LOVE tees a must-have in the search for fashion-forward apparel.
The tees come in white and purple. The brand designs and manufactures its products in Portugal. They use low-impact, non-toxic dyes, and plastic-free packaging. The high-quality crew neck t-shirt comes in s-xl sizes.
This store offers basic t-shirts, with no frills or fuss. The tees are made from GOTS-certified 100% organic cotton. These fair trade tees have a traceable production and supply chain- and they give a portion of their profit directly to the workers.
The company tracks and audits its suppliers to ensure that they adhere to the standards of the Fair Labor Association.
Open Road tees are soft and have a bit of extra length. They come tailored to a slight, slim fit. The tees are true to size, so you don't have to worry about ordering a size up or down.
Crafted especially for women, UNI-T makes every shirt from a mix of bamboo and organic cotton fibers. This brand is OEKO-TEX certified and practices a socially responsible manufacturing process. They do all the prints on the t-shirts using eco-friendly water-based ink.
All UNI-T designs are hand-drawn and printed by Eujin Kim Neilan. They also offer you the choice of sustainable custom t-shirts, where you can tailor the color and design. What's more, the brand pre-washes the t-shirts to prevent shrinkage.
Crew neck or v-neck, whichever you prefer, organic signatures have ethical basic cotton tees. The t-shirts are made from organic cotton and are cool and breathable.
The plain t-shirts are entirely free of latex, chemical, and synthetic fibers. They source their organic cotton responsibly only from fair trade farms.
This brand says its t-shirt emits 46% less greenhouse gas than a non-organic t-shirt. They design casual tees for men, and it comes in a range of small to double extra-large sizes. If you like a ‘no-nonsense’ yet casual look, then check out this store's basic t-shirts.
This brand offers you unrivaled softness in an ethically made t-shirt. Made from ring-spun organic cotton grown and supplied sustainably under GOTS, the t-shirts are great ethical options. The brand subscribes to Fair Wear’s social responsibility conditions and has also got PETA vegan approval.
The packaging contains no plastic; it is entirely recyclable and biodegradable. The t-shirt comes in yellow, burgundy, and white unisex, with simple graphic prints. You can choose from a size range of extra small to double extra-large, all in the mid-tier price range.
A t-shirt does not seem like much; sometimes it's plain other times, they come adorned with graphic prints. In all sorts of fabrics, shapes, and sizes, the t-shirt really is one of the more versatile clothing items.
It's also usually the cheapest item in-store, but clothes cost much more than money. The environmental cost of clothes outweighs the value we usually get from them.
The fashion industry is the second-largest environmental polluter, and the industry is responsible for 10% of annual human-caused carbon emissions3.
It is also the second-largest consumer of the planet’s water supply. Further, production processes also use toxic chemicals that can end up in rivers and oceans, making them unsafe for wildlife and humans.
Related: 37 Fast Fashion Facts & Statistics
Environmentally, t-shirts are not cheap; purchasing one white cotton t-shirt results in the same amount of greenhouse gas emission as a 35-mile car drive.
If cotton tees are so problematic, imagine the damage polyester t-shirts can cause. You probably wear tees more often than other kinds of apparel, so wash them more. Washing a load of synthetic clothing sheds over 700,000 microplastics.
There is also the issue of poor working conditions and human rights violations. Some top fashion brands source labor from countries like China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Cambodia. They do this because the economic situation in those countries created the conditions for cheap labor.
Factory owners often exploit garment workers. For every 29 euro T-shirt you buy, they earn about 18 cents.
Earning so little, they are unable to afford basic needs like comfortable housing. Many garment workers barely make enough to send their children to school. In 2013, 1,100 workers died when the Rana Plaza collapsed, and many others sustained injuries.
There have also been numerous factory fires that resulted in the loss of lives. There are even reports of child labor in cotton farms2.
In the US alone, textile waste amounts to 4% of municipal solid waste1. Consumers worldwide seem not to do a great deal better than fashion companies, as 80% of all textiles end up in landfills or incinerators every year.
Waste like this pollutes the environment and results in wasted financial resources. One factor that may be responsible for such waste is fast fashion, which is infamous for inferior-quality apparel.
Getting maximum value for the money you spend on clothing begins with buying high-quality clothing. Proper care of your t-shirts is also essential, but poor-quality t-shirts may not be worth the effort.
One important quality of eco-friendly t-shirts is that they make them with quality materials and processes that ensure durability. This quality helps ensure that they don't end up in landfills a few months post-purchase.
To be ethical simply means prescribing to a code of conduct or standard. When applied to fashion, ethics cover production practices that are eco-friendly, humane, and value-oriented. Here are some things to watch out for before classifying a t-shirt as sustainable and ethical or not.
When buying your sustainable t-shirt, the first thing to consider is the materials it is made from. Natural fibers are always a better choice for the most sustainable t-shirt as they will decompose into organic matter when in a landfill, unlike synthetic fibers made out of fossil fuels which are plastic and don’t biodegrade.
Of all natural fibers, cotton is the most used, but it is not without some downsides. A quarter of pesticides used in the United States result from conventional cotton farming. Cotton is a water-consuming crop. It adversely affects the water supply when cultivated commercially.
Organic cotton is the most favored ethical fiber used in sustainable shirts. This is because they grow it without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Other sustainable natural fibers include bamboo lyocell and hemp.
Blends of these fabrics are also common, e.g., a hemp cotton blend, as are recycled nylon and other synthetics. However, recycled synthetics are still synthetics, so whereas an improvement on drawing on raw materials, the best option for the environment is always organic and sustainably sourced.
In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission sued several fashion companies for the false representation of bamboo rayon as natural bamboo textiles.
This was because although the production started with bamboo, the chemical-intensive production process produced an entirely synthetic fabric. Up until that time, these companies successfully hid the truth about their production process from consumers.
Sustainable and ethical fashion producers have a transparent production process that allows auditing and certification. Some ethical certifications include fair trade factories, global organic textile standards, and fair wear. PETA and OEKO-TEX also give certifications to brands that are vegan and eco-friendly.
Buying poor-quality t-shirts that wear out too soon wastes resources, some of them not renewable. Brands make ethical t-shirts to last, ensuring optimum use of resources. High-quality tees stay in excellent condition for a long time with proper care.
This makes it possible to donate or resale it via an online thrift store in the event it’s at the end of its useful life for you.
Ethically sourced materials are essential in sustainable clothing. An ethical supply chain should ensure that the environment does not suffer damage while raw material is being taken from it.
Also, an ethical supply chain ensures fair trade. This means that go-betweens do not get to cheat farmers out of appropriate payment for their fiber, as may prove the case with more traditional clothing brands sold cheaply in volume.
One problem with the fast-fashion supply chain is the unfair treatment of garment workers. Garment workers suffer everything from delayed wages, underpayment, extortion, physical abuse, hazardous working conditions, and even death. Socially responsible organizations like the Fair Trade Association work to improve these workers' lives. And they ensure the payment of fair wages.
Buying fair trade-certified products assures you that the workers who stitch your tees are not having their human rights trampled on, and your t's are made by people benefitting from ethical working conditions.
What’s better than ethically made t-shirts? Ones that we can recycle! We can repurpose a t-shirt or recycle it into another product to extend its life and service, making it an ethical option.
Also, ethical tees get bonus points if they are pre-loved. The essence of sustainability is preserving what we already have rather than getting a new one.
The basic tee is a clothing item that has become so commonplace that it's easy to overlook its environmental and social costs. People who care about the environment are already practicing sustainable fashion and seeking fast fashion alternatives, but the apparel industry needs more than eco-friendly manufacturing.
Eco-friendly apparel also needs to care about people, garment workers deserve a better work environment, and farmers need fair trade to make a profit. Next time you're looking for a brand-new tee, take the time to consider where and how it was made.
Buy sustainable t-shirts, and you can have a wardrobe full of high-quality t-shirts without a guilty conscience.
|Luz Claudio, 2007, Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry, Environmental Health Perspectives 115:9 CID: https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.115-a449|
List of goods produced by child labor or forced labor. Bureau of International Labor Affairs. U.S. Department of Labor.
|Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashions future. 2017.|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.