Clothing, for many, is more than just throwing on pieces to wear. It represents a way of expression and, for many people, a connection to a particular ideology. Since clothes are a necessity and people are continuously discovering their style, the fashion industry continues to boom.
However, the constant production of clothes has come at a cost to the environment. Due to the rise in concerns about the fashion industry's environmental impact, sustainable alternatives began to spring up. When you think of sustainable fashion, your mind will probably conjure up images of hemp fabrics and earth tones. However, streetwear brands are now showing us that you can express yourself through streetwear style while making eco-friendly decisions.
This article will explore sustainable streetwear brands, including the meeting point between slow fashion and streetwear apparel brands.
As we know it today, streetwear clothing has its roots traced to the 70s to 90s. This period experienced the emergence of a clothing style that embraced casual wear. More than that, this clothing style was born out of scenes like the Los Angeles surf-skate culture and New York’s hip-hop fashion.
Holistically, this trend became prominent in the fashion game as it drew from more than the surfer vibe scene but blended a unique surf-skate culture that gave a laid-back casual vibe. The style also draws inspiration from Japanese street fashion.
As streetwear brands continued to emerge, they began to infuse influences like punk, heavy metal, and new wave. Whether on the end of the surf-skate culture or more on the edgy punk trend, it’s easy to identify streetwear. The urban and fashionable style often features pieces like hoodies, t-shirts, baggy pants, face caps, and sneakers.
Since it came to being, streetwear fashion has blown up in various parts of the world. From new fashion labels constantly springing up to well-known luxury brands, this style is here to stay.
Many people who embrace this trend view it as more than clothing but more of a culture. As a result, streetwear culture brings people together in various parts of the globe.
Studies estimated the global streetwear market to be about $185 billion in 20193. This was further interpreted as about 10% of the worldwide footwear and clothing market. With a large market, it’s only normal for concerns to arise regarding its environmental effects.
The style has become more mainstream over the years, which has meant more production. So, do these streetwear brands pay attention to the negative or positive impact they have on the environment? Although streetwear often has strong ties with social issues, environmental concerns haven't always been at the forefront.
Due to the production of various staple pieces within this trend, the industry often uses materials like nylon and polyester. Such materials aren’t environmentally friendly and, therefore, negatively affect the planet. With concerns regarding over-production to meet the increasing demands from consumers, this heightens the environmental impact. Also, since streetwear fashion often relies on trends rather than timeless designs, this leads to more consumption.
With growing consciousness around sustainable production, streetwear companies are now stepping up. Gone are the days when you only imagine dull colors when you think of sustainable clothing brands.
Sustainable streetwear labels are rising. These sustainable clothing brands embrace sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, patronize fair trade suppliers, and use organic and recycled materials. So, whether you’re a streetwear guru or newly embracing this fashion trend, you can embrace sustainable streetwear. You no longer have to compromise your ideal sense of style when shopping with ethical brands.
The fashion industry is a large market - after all, we all require clothing in our everyday lives. In one way or another, we all buy into this large market. Whether that’s shopping with second-hand online thrift stores, buying from fast fashion companies, or embracing sustainable fashion companies.
As insignificant as it may seem on your path, clothing has a significant impact in the grand scheme of things. From the extraction of materials to production and distribution, various touchpoints have their impact.
What truly makes the difference and ensures you minimize your carbon footprint is intentionally seeking a sustainable fashion brand to shop with. With growing concerns around the state of our world, sustainable clothing came in.
Sustainable clothing pays attention to the entire lifecycle of clothing items. So, rather than using synthetic materials, companies select natural materials. Companies use natural fibers and recycled fabrics. Many also get creative by incorporating materials like recycled plastic which consumers can send back for recycling after use.
A lot of companies also use surplus fabrics or deadstock to make new pieces and accessories to prevent waste. Apart from the focus on materials, social responsibility also plays a role in the sustainable fashion scene.
For this reason, many people support brands that also prioritize fair wages apart from natural, sustainable fabrics. Sustainable streetwear is now embracing these practices. It’s moving from being simply trend-driven to environmentally conscious.
The media and various conscious organizations, ourselves included, continuously provide information about human impact on the planet. For this reason, more people are becoming more informed about the role they can play in a healthier world.
Since clothing is a necessity, people are learning more about sustainable materials and zero-waste practices in fashion. Whether it’s by watching documentaries like The True Cost or viewing images of cloth piles in landfills, eco-consciousness is rising.
A 2021 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit revealed that over five years, there was a 71% increase in the popularity of searches from consumers for sustainable goods2. They call it “eco-wakening” because it represents increased awareness of the environmental crisis. Furthermore, the United Nations is supporting coordinated action steps within the fashion industry. The body specifically does this through initiatives like the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion.
With this growing awareness and the fact that streetwear has tremendous power, this sector can make a difference. It doesn’t seem like streetwear is going anywhere any time soon, and many companies are now taking sustainable steps. Their roles are now to cater to the needs of eco-conscious streetwear enthusiasts. These sustainable streetwear companies maintain urban and edgy styles without conforming to the minimalist approach that so many other brands embrace.
Lyst reveals that sustainable streetwear brands are rising as companies move away from overproduction and overconsumption. You’ll now see streetwear companies using various sustainable materials and encouraging repairs.
For instance, the company’s data insights show a 67% increase in demand for vegan sneakers and ethical skate shoes after Nike revealed their vegan Air Jordan collection. Many companies also show their dedication to fair trade practices and giving back to communities.
Streetwear largely appeals to a younger audience, especially the Gen Z and millennial communities. For this reason, it’s significant to understand this group’s buying pattern.
Specifically, with Gen Z shoppers, studies reveal that they are concerned with issues like climate change and income inequality1. Rising streetwear labels continue to cater to the expressive nature of this group while ensuring sustainable principles. Gone are the days when sustainable fashion only meant a wardrobe favored by muted and minimalist pieces.
The types of materials that a sustainable company uses often convey its commitment to sustainability. Traditionally, streetwear labels used mainly synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester when making clothes. However, the rise of sustainable streetwear brands also indicates using sustainable materials.
Pay attention to sustainable organic fabrics like organic cotton, hemp, and linen. Many labels also use recycled fabrics, such as recycled cotton and cashmere, which are purely natural materials. While the more innovative ones replace oil-produced synthetics with the likes of recycled polyester for more sustainable clothes.
Related: For more sustainable options, you might like our picks of sustainable t-shirts, sustainable sneakers, and vegan skate shoes.
Fair labor practices are also something to examine when looking for a new brand to shop with. Examine whether the brand uses fair trade supply methods, which speaks to its entire company culture. Also, companies show their dedication to the people in many ways. Some collaborate with non-profit organizations to support communities.
The production process matters because some methods have a greater carbon footprint than others. A truly ethical brand will be transparent about its sustainable processes.
Apart from clothes, a comprehensive sustainability plan also considers packaging waste. Look out for any brand that uses biodegradable or recyclable packaging materials.
Explore some sustainable streetwear brands making a difference through sustainable materials and ethical practices.
Based In: Los Angeles, California
Materials: GOTS Certified organic cotton and upcycled pieces
Most Prominent Co. is a Los Angeles-based sustainable streetwear brand committed to conveying important messages through fashion. The brand creates clothes that address concerns around circular fashion and fair labor practices. The brand has its roots in Japan and Peru before relaunching in California in 2019.
Most Prominent Co. doesn’t only make sustainable pieces but also educates the public on important matters. It sources its materials responsibly across its supply chain and works with fair trade-certified facilities. When sourcing materials, the owners pay attention to durability and longevity. This way, you can enjoy your items without worrying about a quality loss in a short period.
This brand’s clothes are statement pieces, literally. When the founders came together, their vision was to share meaningful and important stories throughout their sustainable collection. They sell pieces like shirts, outerwear, headwear, and bottoms.
Based In: New York City, New York
Materials: Recycled cashmere, cotton, linen
Noah creates casual men’s clothing with its flagship store in New York City. The brand’s collections create a unique interpretation of menswear in the modern day.
Noah was founded by Brendon Babenzien, former creative director of Supreme. The brand gets influences from the surf-skate culture, mixing this with modern-day men’s style.
Noah prioritizes principles around environmental and worker care. By doing so, the brand ensures that its processes care for garment workers and the planet. It uses sustainable fabrics like linen and embraces recycling by incorporating recycled cashmere in its processes.
Beyond making clothes, Noah prides itself in creating a space for dialogues about political, social, and cultural issues.
Although Noah may not be the most sustainable brand in the world, the brand recognizes the importance of responsibility. Noah believes in the principles of a responsible business and continues to inform consumers about this.
Based In: Gothenburg, Sweden
Materials: 100% organic cotton, recycled cotton, upcycled denim, ethical production
Everyone knows that jeans are a staple in every wardrobe - including a streetwear enthusiast's own. It can be hard to find a good pair of jeans, and throwing in the environmental factor, it becomes quite a task. This Sweden-based company is taking the right steps toward providing you with casual, laid-back staples.
Don’t be fooled by the name; Nudie Jeans also provides t-shirts, shirts, jackets, sweatshirts, and a variety of bottoms. The brand is transparent about all its production processes, including its production facilities. Nudie Jeans stays committed to the environment by using materials like organic cotton.
For every pair of jeans, you get from Nudie Jeans, you’re entitled to a lifetime of free repairs. This prolongs the lifespan of the jeans and encourages a reuse and repair culture.
Based In: Melbourne, Australia
Materials: Cotton from an Ethical Clothing Australia-Certified company
HoMie is out on a mission, and this mission is more than just providing streetwear pieces. More than a streetwear label, this brand is also a social enterprise with impact programs.
This brand remits 100% of its profits to support youths affected by hardship and homelessness. The HoMie team works to support them in rebuilding their confidence and gaining necessary job skills. The results? Young people are better prepared for the future and have gained increased confidence in their experiences.
HoMie is on a mission to improve the experiences of young people on the streets of Australia. Using its streetwear pieces as statements, the brand is committed to making a difference.
Based In: Los Angeles, California
Materials: Hemp, Tencel, recycled and organic cotton
Back Beat Co. is built on the principle of dress easy, live easy. The brand is inspired by the Californian surf-skate culture, embracing low-impact fashion.
If you’re into the laid-back vibe and looking for casual pieces, Back Beat Co. is for you. Apart from going for sustainable fabric options, the brand also uses plant dyes for its clothes. All their pieces are made ethically in Los Angeles.
Beat Back Co. focuses on making low-impact pieces for both the environment and the people. The label believes in enriching the lives of both the people wearing the clothes and those making them.
Streetwear fashion keeps rising in popularity and gaining a loyal following. This alone gives it significant power within the entire industry and an opportunity to point the way toward improving sustainable practices.
With concerns about fashion’s impact on the planet, many streetwear labels prioritize sustainability. This way, streetwear lovers can continue to use clothes to express themselves while reducing their environmental footprint.
Williams, A., & Hodges, N. J. (2020, December). Generation Z and Socially Responsible Fashion Consumption: Exploring the Value-Action Gap. In International Textile and Apparel Association Annual Conference Proceedings (Vol. 77, No. 1). Iowa State University Digital Press.
The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2021, May 17). An eco-wakening: Measuring awareness, engagement, and action for nature. [PDF].
Strategy&. (2019). Streetwear: The New Exclusivity.
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.