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Fashion, next to oil, is the second most polluting industry in the world. It’s responsible for emitting greenhouse gas more than all the world’s airline flights and maritime shipping combined.

It also wastefully uses 93 billion cubics of water annually and dumps an insane amount of microfiber, the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil, into our oceans each year.

Fortunately, there are many brands committed to positive change and ethical manufacturing. There are also affordable and even free options available if you know where to look. Here are twenty of the best places to buy sustainable clothing.

Looking for something specific? Check out our article on the best swimsuit brands!

The Basics of Sustainable Clothing

Ever since the invention of plastic and the development of synthetic microfibers like rayon, nylon, and polyester, the fashion industry underwent a massive revolution. The synthetic textile fabric became easy to mass produce for consumption. When polyester’s use peaked in popularity in the 1960s and 70s, natural fibers were already on a downswing.

By the turn of the 21st century, the global garment industry adopted the “fast fashion” business model for clothes production. Because plastic-based fabrics were so easy to produce, it was easy for garment factories to come up with different styles every fashion season. Trendy and affordable was the mantra of these companies.

fast-fashion-environmental-impact
Fast Fashion Environmental Impact
Photo Credit: srdjanns74

In Europe, companies like H&M and Zara were the purveyors of this new view. They were able to snowball because they had no qualms to cut down costs or even outsource labor to overseas countries where it is cheaper. 

The impact of fast fashion on global culture resulted in the democratization of fashion. Fashionable clothes were no longer limited to the rich, nor were they too expensive to buy. Anyone who aspired to be rich and trendy could become one by wearing these affordable and stylish garments.

Unfortunately, though, these clothes aren’t designed to last. And this fuels the demand to produce more trendy garments at the shortest possible time at lower costs. It’s an insidious cycle of wastage, backed up by intense marketing, to ensure that what’s in this season becomes what is not, the next season.

As a response to this situation, the idea of ecologically friendly fashion began to develop. Also known as “slow fashion,” this concept is a holistic outlook on how a garment should be produced. By looking at the entire life cycle of the garment, from how it was designed, sourced, and later had, one can minimize its negative impact on the environment, making it more ethical and sustainable in the long run.

6 Issues Addressed by Sustainable Clothing

Sustainable clothing looks at how resources are used, the labor force that produces the garment, and ultimately to the consumers who purchase it

Water Wastage

Commonly cited industry statistics show that the garment industry uses many water resources and wastes them just as quickly. Nearly 20% of global wastewater comes from garment production. Sustainable clothing proponents find ways to try to reduce water usage by looking at their supply chains. 

Toxic Chemicals

Fast fashion uses a lot of dyes, most of which are harmful. These chemicals are a hazard to its workers and the environment since it is usually spilled into waterways and water tables. Development of eco-friendly dyes or finding ways to chemically treat these fibers without causing damage to anyone is one goal of using sustainable materials to reduce environmental impact.

Product Life Cycle

Fast fashion spits out clothes almost in a blink in an eye. It is not uncommon for brands to fast track a design into production and retail stores all in one week just to satisfy a fashion trend. Because these clothes are cheaply done, they’re not meant to last. Sustainable fashion is the antithesis of this; careful planning and production are done with minimal impact on the environment so that the garment can be used for a long time.

Waste Reduction

One of the ethical fashion movement goals is to reduce the waste caused by the mass production of cheap clothes. To make this possible, sustainable fashion brands move towards a closed-loop system, where clothing is upcycled into a new garment or recycled back into the production system, eliminating waste.

Natural Fibers

Not all fibers are created equal. Some require energy-intensive inputs to produce the quantity needed for mass production. Others require toxic pesticides. In sustainable fashion, threads that are grown organically are used to prevent damage to the environment.

Working Conditions

Sustainable fashion seeks to address the social justice angle in garment production. Fast fashion is notorious for using cheap labor in poor working conditions. In contrast, fashion brands that produce ethical and sustainable clothing ensure that their workers are paid fairly and work in safe conditions and environments.

3 Affordable Sources For Ethical and Sustainable Clothing

One common perception of ethical fashion is that it’s too expensive. And at the beginning of the sustainable fashion movement, it really was. That’s because sourcing for eco-friendly materials was expensive. During this time, recycled fibers were also still being developed and tested. So by the time the garment hit the retail market, the mark-up costs made it high-priced.

But now that there is consumer demand, there are more supply chains that cater to sustainable clothing. So a company can cut down costs when producing ethical garments. This translates to more affordable eco-friendly clothing that the public can buy.

Still, even if you don’t want to buy sustainable clothes from a retail brand or online shop, there are inexpensive and even free resources.

When you buy secondhand, you keep the clothes out of the waste stream. An often-cited statistic is that an average American throws away 80 pounds of clothing per person per year. That’s a lot of trash. When you go thrifting, you ensure that the resources used for that garment don’t go to waste. Plus you prevent new carbon emissions, which happens every time new clothes are made.

It’s like going to a thrift store but just more community-friendly. It may not give you a wide variety of choices, and yet, who hasn’t snagged a luxury brand for a bargain in these sales.

This is a worldwide recycling movement that encourages people to give away things that they no longer need so that other people in need of them can use it. You can use it to get clothes for free.

How To Shop For Sustainable Clothing

Unfortunately, because ethical and sustainable clothing has become a trendy movement these days, many garment companies try to jump in the bandwagon by marketing their products as sustainable even when they’re not.

This has given rise to the phenomenon of “greenwashing,” where companies use their massive PR machines to hide the fact that they’re not eco-friendly at all. It doesn’t help that words like sustainability and eco-friendly have become buzzwords ripe enough for misuse by anyone out to exploit this issue.

To cut through all that crap, I’ve rounded up the top 20 best brands to buy ethically made clothing. This is the criteria I used to select them:

Materials

I looked into what kind of materials ethical brands are using. Most brands either use a blend of natural and recycled fibers. They get gold star points if they manage to invent a unique fabric blend that’s eco-friendly and affordable. Most of them use these fabrics:

Organic Cotton

The cotton is usually sourced from organic farm cooperatives overseas. These companies partner with them to ensure that the growing, harvesting, and processing of these fibers follow eco-friendly, ethical, and transparent processes.

Organic Hemp

Hemp is a sustainable and eco-friendly crop. It has many uses, one of which is fiber production. Organic hemp fiber is durable but soft and has antibacterial and anti-UV ray properties. It also doesn’t use considerable water resources during production

Organic-Linen

It is made from flax, another sustainable crop that does not require a lot of water or pesticides to flourish. Flax linen is a versatile fabric. It’s strong, moth-resistant, and absorbs moisture quickly. 

Recycled Wool

This fabric is basically wool recycled from discarded wool garments or textile waste. It’s a sustainable way of obtaining wool because you don’t harvest it from stressed-out farm animals. And because it’s sourced from scraps, the fiber doesn’t need to be treated or dyed again, eliminating toxic chemicals.

Synthetic Nylon

Made from abandoned fishing nets from the ocean, these fibers require less energy to produce cloth and create lesser carbon emissions. Econyl is a famous brand name for recycled synthetic nylon.

Synthetic Polyester

This is a fabric produced from single-use plastic bottles retrieved from the trash. Once they are cleaned, they are reduced to pellets before they are processed into recycled polyester.

Tencel

These are two fibers, Lyocell and Modal, sourced from eucalyptus and beechwood pulp. The Tencel production system is a closed-loop sustainable system because nothing goes to waste. Water and solvent are used 99% of the time.

Green Best Practices

To further minimize their impact on the environment, some companies invest in recycling back practices or engage in plastic-free packaging. Some even give back to the communities or give a portion of their profits to the environmental causes.

Certifications

It’s not enough to say you’re an ethically made brand. You have to back it up with certification. And here are the ethical and sustainable fashion brands that you should be on your radar.

B-Corp Certification

The highest certification ethical brands can achieve is becoming a B-Corporation. It’s challenging to get one because a company must score very high in 80 key areas and maintain these standards annually. Plus, all the annual assessments can be accessed by the public, so there’s no chance of greenwashing.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

This is the global standard for textiles sourced from organic fibers. When organic cotton is GOTS certified, it means that the cotton is grown without chemicals and harvested by hand.

OEKO-Tex 100

OEKO-Tek 100 certification ensures that no toxic dyes, chemicals, or metals were used in manufacturing.

Fair Trade

The Fair Trade certification assures the consumer that the garment was produced ethically by workers under fair labor conditions, safe factories, and paid just compensation.

20 Best Places To Buy Sustainable Clothing

Patagonia, California, USA

If you’re looking for an ultimate resource within the ethical fashion industry, this should be anyone’s first stop. From wetsuits and t-shirts to bags and accessories, this brand has it. Back when the idea of eco-friendly activewear was just a concept, Patagonia was one of the pioneers who looked into using recycled materials like nylon and other plastics for its outdoor and surfing gear. Throughout the years, they have supported community groups and initiatives that try to find solutions to the environmental crisis.

Their Worn Wear recycling program allows consumers to trade in their used Patagonia gear to store credit. Not everything gets recycled or upcycled into their fashion collection; what remains is kept in storage while they look for new ways to use these in their production. 

Materials: Seventy-two percent of their clothes use recycled materials. They have the most diverse collection of natural, synthetic, and bio-fibers for their clothes. For example, they use natural, plant-based rubber as an alternative for neoprene, making their surfwear more eco-friendly than most.

Certifications: Certified B Corporation, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fair Trade Certified. 

Eileen Fisher, New York, USA

Known for women’s apparel and accessories, Eileen Fisher is among the industry leaders in sustainable and ethical clothing. This label is very committed to reducing its carbon impact on the environment and strictly guaranteeing fair working conditions and wages among its supply chains.

Materials: They use traceable organic cotton. This means that the cotton they use is genuinely organic because they track their cotton fields’ production to their garment factories.

A lot of their products are made from recycled nylon, polyester, and cashmere fibers. They are also committed to using responsible wool, which means that the thread they’ve sourced is harvested from sheep cruelty-free. 

Certifications: Certified B Corporation, FairTrade certified. They are also BlueSigned certified. This means that they use safer chemicals for dyeing and finishing. This reduces the impact of chemical pollution on the waterways.

Outerknown, California, USA

Co-founded by surfing legend Kelly Slater, the brand reflects Slater’s vision of a clothing label that is stylish and casual but also eco-friendly. It caters to both men and women, and its production processes aspire to a closed circular model that reduces waste. This includes a recycling program for their clothes. They also have a firm plan for supporting advocacies and communities to save the environment.

Materials: They were the first to use Econyl fibers for clothing. These are fibers that have been recycled from ghost fishing nets that were abandoned in the ocean. They also use fibers from recycled plastic bottles to create their swimming trunks. They also use organic cotton for their casual daywear.

Certifications: Fair Trade USA and BlueSigned certified. They were also the first garment company to get a Fair Labor Association (FLA) accreditation before shipping a product.

Fair Indigo, Wisconsin, USA

This brand is well known for its men and women’s clothes made out of organic Peruvian Pima cotton. According to them, it’s the best cotton in the world and will last for more than five years. 

They are invested in their workers’ welfare; their artisans and workers in Peru are paid fair and living wages. They also established a Fair Indigo Foundation, which helps local communities by supporting their education.

Materials: Almost all of their fibers are made of organic Peruvian cotton, although they use some blends. The cotton is grown on two family farms and carefully harvested by hand. They also use earth-friendly dyes for their fabrics.

Certifications: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton (COG), Safe Dyes Certification, OEKO-TEX Certification for their stuffed animals’ collection, Green America and Better Business Bureau Seals of Approval

Sense Organics, Germany

When it comes to babies and children, Sense Organics is one of the best and most established brands in Germany for over a decade. Their garments are super-soft, dye-free, and great for sensitive skin.

They are a pioneer in organic textile manufacturing, and their products include clothes and baby accessories like blankets and baby hats. They also produce muslin cloth.

Materials: They use 100% organic cotton for their products. The cotton is certified by GOTs. This means that all parts of the supply chain are audited. Their dying and printing units are also similarly certified and controlled by external, independent auditors.

Certifications: SA 8000 Certified, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton, Fairtrade Foundation, PETA Cruelty-free, and Vegan certification

Little Emperor, Australia

Little Emperor is an Australian children’s fashion label that focuses on environmental sustainability. Its clothes are made from organic cotton, and they avoid using plastic in all stages of their garment production and packaging.

Materials: They use 100% GOTs certified organic cotton. While they outsource their production to India, their factories are audited by Sedex to ensure safe working conditions and decent living wages.

Certification: GOTs certified organic cotton. 1% For The Planet Member

Mini Rodini, Stockholm, Sweden

This Swedish brand is known for its stylish childrenswear based on art, nature, and children’s imagination. They’re also well known for their emphasis on responsible production and the ethical treatment of their workers.

They carefully select suppliers and factories that are already certified with SA-8000 and Fairtrade. This ensures that their supply chain is aligned with the brand’s mission of sustainability and social justice.

Materials: They use a variety of sustainable fibers: They use Econyl yarn, recycled synthetic fibers like polyamide and polyester, and use eco-fibers like organic wool, cotton, and hemp. They also use bio-fibers like Tencel and Modal. They even upcycle their fabric waste to create new collections.

Certifications: GOTS, OCS, GRS- Global Recycled Standard, OEKO-TEX, SA-8000, FSC – FOREST STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL, BIONIC FINISH ECO, FairTreade certified

People Tree, London, United Kingdom

As a pioneer in sustainable fashion, People Tree has had two decades of making women apparel with the highest environmental and ethical standards in all phases of garment production.

They’re well known for their organic cotton garment collections and low impact, biodegradable materials. They’ve also partnered with fair trade artisans and farmers in the developing world to produce their high quality knitted and embroidered products.

Materials: They use Fairtrade Certified Cotton, and Organic Cotton, TENCEL™ Lyocell bio-fabric, eco-fibers like flax and wool linen, and Fair Trade denim uses 87.2% less water than in conventional denim production.

Certifications: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Soil Association, Fairtrade International, WFTO, PETA-approved Vegan

RubyMoon. United Kingdom

RubyMoon specializes in making sustainable activewear and swimwear for women. These garments are produced from recycling abandoned fishing nets and plastic trash from the ocean. They are firm proponents of a circular economy, where nothing is wasted. That’s why they also recycle their fabrics and garments to produce upcycled collections. Send your old RubyMoon garment to them, and they’ll give you a discount on your new purchase. Because of this, they can reduce their carbon footprint by 42%.

Materials: They use ECONYL® nylon yarn and Xtra Life Lycra. 

Certifications: The Princes Accounting For Sustainability 

EcoAlf, Spain

EcoAlf produces garments for men, women, and kids. Most of the fabric is made of recycled plastic from marine trash. Its foundation works with fishermen all over the world to collect the abandoned nylon fishing nets and assorted PET plastic bottles. These are then transformed into pellets from which a high quality 100% polyester recycled filament is obtained. 

Materials: They also use recycled nylon and recycled natural fibers like cotton and wool. They also invested in research to produce other useable products from the trash. Now, they can recycle used tires to make their line of eco-friendly flip-flops.

Certifications: B-Corp certified. Their supply chains must have at least one Bluesign® certification, a STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX, a BSCI, or SA8000.

Vatter, Germany

An underwear brand, VATTER, produces organic cotton undergarments for men, women, and children. Their commitment to sustainability extends to their packaging. They don’t use plastic and use vegetable-based dyes for their printing. They also work with supply chains and processing plants that meet the minimum social standards set by the International Labor Organization.

Materials: They use GOT certified organic cotton. All of their products meet the standards for Level 1, which means that at least 95% of organic cotton is used to use the label organic underwear.

Certification: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), CERES-0128

Girlfriend Collective, USA

This brand makes sustainable activewear for women. They use recycled synthetic fibers taken from abandoned fishing nets and old plastic water bottles and turn them into socks, bras, leggings, and t-shirts. They’re also known as a size-inclusive label, meaning they have sizes for all types of women.

They also have a Recycle Back program. They collect old Girlfriend clothes and recycle them into new pieces of garments. They also reward their consumers who send them back their old clothes by giving them discounts. 

Materials: Many of their products are made from recycled polyester and nylon produced from plastic bottles collected in Taiwan. They also use Econyl fiber for some of their designs.

Certification: SA 8000, Oeko-Tex Standard 100

Saola Shoes, France

Soala makes eco-friendly, sustainable shoes for both women and men. They use recycled materials, and their products are made from bio-based and low impact sources. To cut down on the products’ carbon footprint. The uppers of their shoes are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which they recycle from plastic drinking bottles. The outsoles meanwhile are made from crushed algae mixed with EVA. The algae are harvested from the deadly algal blooms that are present in our lakes and seas. Their shoelaces are meanwhile made from organic cotton.

They also donate 1% of their sales to wildlife conservation projects.

Materials: Certified organic cotton and recycled synthetic fiber from plastic bottles. They also use recycled EVA foam and algae.

Certifications: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Recycled Global Standard, 1% for the Planet member

Toad & Co, USA

Their brand makes travel clothes for both women and men. They’re very passionate about sustainability. They aim to use 100% synthetic fabric by 2025 and cut down their water usage to 100,000 liters per year by 2025 using water-wise fiber sources like hemp plants.

Materials: They use Certified organic cotton, Tencel, Lenzing Modal, and Hemp fibers. They also use recycled cotton and wool. Their recycled polyester fibers, meanwhile, are made from 100% post-consumer plastic bottles.

Certifications: Bluesign and STANDARD 100 -OEKO-TEX certified, 1% for the Planet member

Organic Basics, Copenhagen, Denmark

Organic Basics is a fantastic example for the fashion industry, creating everyday wear and activewear for men and women. It uses natural, renewable, and recycled synthetic fibers for its line of sustainable garments.

They also partner with factories that also share the company’s sustainable vision. Low carbon footprints, safe workplaces, and equitable living wages are indicators that the company’s partners adhere to.

Materials: They use both natural and recycled synthetic fibers. They use organic cotton, recycled nylon, recycled wool and recycled cashmere, and a trio of bio-based fibers: TENCEL Lyocell, SilverTech, and Polygiene.

Certifications: Certified B Corp, Bluesign and STANDARD 100 -OEKO-TEX certified; nylon is GRS certified

Aday, New York, USA

Aday creates garments for women that are designed to last for seasons. Its aesthetics tend towards minimalist designs, which also reflect the brand’s mission of creating clothes that can be versatile and not dependent on trends.

One of their goals is to achieve a closed, self-sufficient loop, which is why they have a recycling back program that allows consumers to drop their old Aday garments to upcycle them into new clothes. In return, consumers get store credit per returned item.

Materials: Their products are made from recycled materials like abandoned fishing nets in the ocean. They also use Lenzing Modal, and they also make their own fabric called Recycled Scuba, which is made from Repreve polyester obtained from water bottles. 

Certifications: Bluesign and STANDARD 100 -OEKO-TEX certified

Encircled, Toronto, Canada

Encircled creates clothes for men and women that are comfortable to wear and has versatile designs. They only produce in small batches because they take the slow fashion concept to heart. Being mindful of their design and production processes makes sure that the clothes become sustainable and environment-friendly.

They practice zero waste production in their studios by saving all scrap fabric and upcycling it into accessories. They also practice zero plastic in their packaging and use FSC-certified paper and eco-friendly cleaning products.

Materials: They use natural fibers like linen from flax and rayon from bamboo. They also use bio-fibers like Modal and Tencel Lyocell. They also make garments from hemp and organic cotton.

Certifications: Certified B Corporation

Vege Threads, Melbourne, Australia

Vege Threads produce everyday garments, activewear, swimwear, and other accessories for all genders. Their products are made in Australia using organic and sustainable materials like low impact dyes and, often, in low quantities.

Materials: Their organic cotton yarn is knitted locally, and they use Australian Certified Organic (ACO) dyes for coloring their garments. The rest of their garments use 100% hemp or locally sourced organic blends. They also use deadstock fabric for their undergarment collection and Econyl and Lycra for their swimwear. They also use wool.

Certifications: Australian Certified Organic, Ethical Clothing Australia, 1% for the Planet member

United by Blue, Philadelphia, PA

United by Blue creates clothes for the outdoors. This label produces garments for men and women and also sustainable lifestyle products made from recycled resources. They outsource their production overseas, and each of their factories has high standards for facilities and personnel and has also passed international third party certifications.

Materials: They use sustainable materials like hemp, organic cotton, modal, and yak. They also use recycled polyester and alternative bio-fabrics like Tencel and Modal. They also use coroza, or what is known as vegetable ivory, for their buttons.

Certifications: GOTS certified, OCS, Certified B Corp

Pact, Colorado, USA

This clothing brand specializes in making high-quality cotton apparel for men and women. They use 100% organic cotton, and they make sure that their entire supply chain is eco-friendly and transparent. For example, it partners with a sustainable, organic agricultural cooperative in India to source all the organic cotton it needs for its production. Their support protects and improves the livelihood of cotton family communities and helps rehabilitate and preserve the environment.

Materials: They use organic cotton, but they also produce organic cotton blends that contain elastane fabric.

Certifications: B Corp certified, GOTS Organic Cotton Certification, Fair Trade USA factory certified

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