Buzzword or not, sustainable fashion is here to stay — especially after a UN Conference on Trade and Development revealed that the fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting to our environment.
“[The] constant overproduction, waste creation and unjust work conditions have become a sad staple of the textile industry,” writes Sardin, a springboard for new responsible products created by leading international brands. According to research by Boston Consulting Group, “Seventy-three percent of the world’s clothing eventually ends up in landfills… and more than $200 billion of unsold stock is sitting on shop floors and in warehouses around the world. Meanwhile, the number of garments produced annually surpassed 100 billion for the first time in 2014, doubling since 2000.”
Those are staggeringly large numbers and many fashion brands are taking steps to lower them. Below, we’ve highlighted 10 sustainable clothing brands — plus fashion picks from each. Read about what these brands are doing to keep their sourcing and production ethical and sustainable.
What Are Sustainable Clothing Brands?
Sustainable development is a development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This naturally invokes practices of recycling, biodegradability, focus on sustainable localized production, carbon offset for shipping emissions, efficient water use, a focus on adding skills to workers and green energy use. Sustainable clothing brands find a symbiosis of nature and mankind.
This unfortunately can offer brands the chance to provide lip service to the concept of “going green,” reaping the marketing benefits without truly committing to action. Here is an excellent guide that is useful for navigating our brave new green world of white lies.
Do Consumers Care About Sustainable Clothing Brands?
Despite notions that customers are unaware of the issues or too lazy to find alternatives (or simply don’t care), there is evidence to suggest consumers’ hunger for change is beginning to mount. From the same BCG report cited earlier, analysts found that “75% of consumers surveyed by the group view sustainability as extremely or very important.” And consumers have the power to make businesses accountable. According to the report, “50% of consumers say they plan to switch brands in the future if another brand does more to protect the environment and help society than their preferred one.” So yes, demand for sustainable clothing is here.
Are Sustainable Clothing Brands Well-Designed?
Christopher Raeburn, famed for his pioneering, sustainable runway designs, argues in conversation with Highsnobiety not “to sell a brand as being sustainable or responsible,” but rather, “it needs to be about good design first.” Here, we emphasize brands that are striving for ethical, sustainable production while simultaneously delivering truly desirable clothes.
Allbirds is an eco-friendly direct-to-consumer brand that sells apparel and footwear. The brand was founded by Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, who wanted to create sustainably sourced footwear, something that was completely nonexistent. After years of research, Brown, and Zwillinger were able to design a merino fabric made of natural materials to create the Wool Runner sneaker.
Since launching the popular merino wool sneaker in 2016, the footwear brand expanded to apparel, releasing its first-ever sustainable clothing line in 2020. The collection consisted of men’s and women’s essentials like tees, sweatshirts and undergarments.
Our favorite piece from the collection is the R&R Hoodie. Allbirds uses sustainable practices in designing the hoodie using natural materials, including Pima cotton, hemp, Tencel and carbon credits. It has a simple silhouette and denotes its carbon footprint on the bottom of the hoodie.
Our Favorite Item: Allbirds R&R Hoodie
2. Frank and Oak
Canada-based brand Frank and Oak was started in 2012 with a mission to create sustainable clothing for a new generation of creatives, and they’re doing just that. In the last decade, the brand has proved to be a force in the fashion industry, using only sustainable materials and eco-friendly practices in its designs. A few of their practices include utilizing recycled fabrics like nylon, wool and cotton. They also have a history of using biodegradable and cruelty-free fibers in their apparel.
We decided to highlight the Frank and Oak’s Fleece Sweatshirt as it’s cozy and lusciously soft, made from a blend of recycled cotton and polyester. The sweatshirt has a slightly relaxed fit and allows it to be worn alone or as a top layer with a tee underneath.
Our Favorite Item: Frank and Oak The Fleece Sweatshirt
3. Christopher RÆBURN
Christopher Raeburn is a well-known fashion designer who, in 2010, paved the way for the convergence of high fashion and sustainability. His first collection was a reworking of old vintage military stock, which has underpinned his mantra: RÆMADE, RÆDUCED, RÆCYCLED and RÆBURN.
That means reworking surplus materials, minimizing carbon footprint with local manufacturing or simply producing smaller batches; the overarching aim is waste reduction. This vest is produced in recycled polyester ripstop, which is made from recycled PET plastic bottles.
Our Favorite Item: RÆBURN Si Quilted Gilet
Minimalist style, radical transparency and ethical factories define Everlane. The #KnowYourFactory campaign launched in October 2013 by Everlane has brought transparency to the supply chain, ensuring that labor is fairly paid and the practices used are ethical. In addition, the breakdown of a product’s price is laid bare to the consumer on the website, so they are opting for a more open, honest approach to business.
As for materials, the piece we’ve chosen is a shirt made from organic cotton, making it super soft to the touch with a lightweight construction to keep you cool. Pair with your favorite T-shirt, some black jeans or chinos and a pair of low-top sneakers.
Our Favorite Item: The Long Sleeve Summer Shirt
Less is more and Stockholm-based brand Asket is standing by that with its “The Pursuit of Less” mission. The sustainable clothing brand creates timeless garments designed to last and operates under a zero-waste policy, using only natural materials straight from the farm to production. The brand even has a full-transparency model to inform you of the origins of each garment and its cost to ensure labor is fairly paid.
It can’t get any better than a pair of sustainably sourced denim jeans. The slim-fitting jeans are made of 100% organic cotton farmed in India but were entirely cut and constructed by Asket’s Italian partners. They come in a light-wash blue and pair well with a graphic tee and sneakers.
Our Favorite Item: Asket The Washed Denim Jeans
Run by an unnamed collective, Pangaia calls itself a “materials science company” that combines sustainability with tech to create sophisticated loungewear as well as limited-edition capsule collections and collaborations that benefit a variety of causes. Their proprietary methods include FLWRDWN, a high-tech formula that utilizes wildflower agricultural waste with aerogel and biopolymers instead of animal feathers for their puffers. They use innovative materials like seaweed, lab-produced pigments made from flower DNA and biodegradable polyester. Each step of production follows a limited carbon footprint.
As for our pick from Pangaia, the upcycled rugby shirt is the newest edition to its core collection. Made for comfort and style, the body of the shirt is a thick jersey, while the collar has a lighter, woven texture. The shirt’s color was created from environmentally friendly dyes and a recycled water system. And that phrase is emblazoned on its chest.
Our Favorite Item: Recycled Cotton Rugby Shirt
If you’re looking for ethically sourced organic cotton essentials, then you won’t be disappointed with Pact. All of the brand’s products are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and produced in Fair Trade Certified factories that ensure safe and healthy work conditions. Pact lives by its company’s mission: to build earth’s favorite clothing company using only organic cotton free of harmful chemicals and produced by using 81% less water.
Here’s a pair of comfy boxer briefs, free of any toxic chemicals and made from a blend of organic cotton with a pinch of elastane for the perfect amount of stretch.
Our Favorite Item: Pact Boxer Briefs
Luxury denim brand Frame launched its first sustainable denim collection in 2019, and it’s been creating sustainable fashion ever since. Each season brings a new capsule collection of sustainable tops and bottoms. They use a mix of organic cotton and recycled polyester materials for their jeans, recycled cashmere for their cashmere wool products and responsible leather.
This classic cut mid-rise slim fit jean is created with a mix of organic cotton and degradable stretch yard, meaning these jeans will break down completely once it reaches the end of their lifespan.
Our Favorite Item: Frame L’Homme Slim Degradable in Agecroft Destruct
Sneaker brand Veja launched in 2005 to create footwear made of ecological materials sourced from ethical farming practices. Its products use a variety of sustainably sourced materials, including organic cotton, Amazonian rubber and other reconstructed materials produced from recycled plastics and polyester —and its website even features a visual breakdown of materials, production cost and the company’s CO2 emission. This training sneaker is as comfortable as it is stylish, providing substantial support for any athletic-related activities.
Our Favorite Item: Veja Impala Jacquard
10. Filippa K
Founded in 1993 in Stockholm, Filippa K has taken the elegant Scandinavian design for which it has become known and committed to ambitious sustainability targets by 2030. Among their goals is to use only sustainable and recyclable materials and to have full supply transparency and fair working conditions for everyone in the supply chain. Using blockchain technology to bring transparency to the production of their garments, an impressive 10 pieces now have 100% full tractability — a key step in the progression of a modern, climate-conscious company. You can see Filippa K’s sustainability reports for the previous years online, too.
These slim-fit trousers are made from pure organic cotton.