Dismiss it as a buzzword, but sustainability in the fashion industry is here to stay. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, 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, “73 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.”
So, although the sustainability push is a recent development, it is only as a result of accepting the current climate crisis as fact and the slow, drip-feed realization that fashion is one of its worst offenders. Below, we’ve highlighted 16 brands doing sustainability right — plus fashion picks from each brand we stand behind. Shop our picks, below, and read about what these brands are doing to keep their sourcing and production ethical and sustainable.
But first, let us answer a few pressing questions:
What Does Sustainability Mean in the Fashion Industry?
The most commonly cited definition defines sustainable development as development that, “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Meaning, economic growth isn’t the result of plundering natural resources for later generations to be left without. This naturally invokes practices of recycling, biodegradability, focus on sustainable localized production, carbon off-set for shipping emissions, efficient water use, a focus on adding skills to workers and green energy use. It invokes a symbiosis of nature and mankind.
This does present the opportunity for brands to posture as green, reaping in the marketing benefits this brings in without truly committing to action. There is an excellent guide here which is useful for navigating this brave new green world of white lies.
Do Consumers Care About Sustainable Clothing?
Despite notions that consumers are unaware of the issues, or too lazy to find alternatives (or simply don’t care), there is evidence to suggest consumer hunger for change is beginning to mount. From the same BCG report cited earlier, analysts found that “75 percent 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 percent 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, demand for sustainable clothing is there and it’s proliferating each day.
Is Sustainable Clothing 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.” Some well-known and sustainable brands like Patagonia, All Birds and Veja were left out of this list because of the plethora of exciting brands forcing their way into the market. We wanted to emphasize brands that are striving for ethical, sustainable production, but who are, in equal measure, creating truly desirable clothes.
1. Stella McCartney
Stella McCartney is an industry leader when it comes to ethical and sustainable fashion while remaining wholeheartedly luxurious. The “World of Sustainability” section on the website is a rigorous account of a company’s pursuit of sustainability. They cite their use of re-engineered cashmere, fur-free-fur, recycled nylon and polyester, organic cotton that enriches rather than depletes the soil and high-quality animal welfare wool. As for social sustainability, they aim for “a positive impact for everyone that we depend on and for those who depend on us in return” and are achieving this by giving a fair living wage and using high-skilled, local professionals. Finally, they use a tool called Environmental Profit & Loss developed by Kering to measure environmental impact and see specifically what materials are causing most environmental degradation, helping inform future supply chain decisions and alter current choices.
As for our pick from Stella McCartney, we loved this updated baseball jacket. The bold stripe that borders the collar is echoed on the ribbed wrist and waistbands. One sleeve is emblazoned with a graphic black and yellow patch. It’s this attention to detail, how color is echoed yet separated that makes McCartney’s styles stand apart from the pack. It’ll add a dash of fashion flair to the most basic of outfits; a tee and jeans.
Editor’s Pick: Stella McCartney Graphic Patch Jacket
2. Asos Design Circular Collection
If you ever thought that fast fashion didn’t have a conscience, think again. Back in September 2020, Asos Design in collaboration with the UK Centre for Sustainable Fashion released their first 20-piece unisex sustainable collection. The idea of circular design is to consider the entire lifecycle of a garment. So, each fashion or accessory piece that makes up the brand’s first sustainable collection is made or “remade” from other items. Asos’ design team created the items utilizing minimal waste, recyclability, usability and durability. The result was a unisex collection imbued with ’90s flair.
Made with a zero-waste design, not a scrap of fabric was misused in creating these nylon pants. These unisex pants were specifically designed to be remade when they’ve worn out their welcome, which means they’re recyclable.
Editor’s Pick: Asos Design Circular Collection Combat Pants
3. Christopher Raeburn
Christopher Raeburn is a well-known fashion designer that, in 2010, paved the way for the convergence of high-fashion and sustainability while remaining desirable. 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 aim is waste reduction. This jacket is made from recycled nylon ripstop and recycled PET plastic bottles.
Editor’s Pick: Christopher Raeburn SI Quilted Jacket
4. Yatay Neven
The brand launched in 2018 after two years of research & development and came to market with a mission “to go beyond the simple usage of some sustainable materials [and] to realize a high-end sneaker as eco-friendly as current technology allows.” That means their product development is continually being tinkered with as green technology improves. Yatay sneakers are PETA-approved and for each pair sold, a tree is planted thanks to the partnership with One Tree Planted.
Their website features a clear, concise visual breakdown of each material and gives a ‘sustainability percentage.’ For example, the outer material uses 50% bio polyols and 25% recycled polyester, making it 75% sustainable. The hemp laces, naturally are 100% sustainable. The packaging is made from five recycled plastic bottles and so is 100% sustainable too. And even aside from all the information above, these Low Birch sneakers in white just look good.
Editor’s Pick: Yatay Neven Low Birch White
5. Thrills Brunswick
It began as a custom motorcycle shop in Byron Bay (a surf utopia on the Gold (East) coast of Australia) and after committing to reducing environmental impact, they developed a cult following. Thrills uses green energy, supports renewable energy production, enacts sustainable water use and recycles where possible. They also use organic cotton and hemp, which is free of pesticides, herbicides and requires no fertilizer. They are stocked by the sustainable answer to Mr. Porter or Nordstrom, buho.com, and this particular shirt slots into their defined categories of locally made, ethically made, sustainable and gender equality.
Editor’s Pick: Thrills Brunswick Tropical Solitude Bowling Shirt
6. Atelier & Repairs
By far and away one of the coolest, most stylish and most sustainable clothing brands you are likely to lay eyes upon is Atelier & Repair. Their company has a policy of no new production. All clothes are obtained through transforming existing pieces, specializing in jeans and denim. “Our flexible, non-traditional product life cycle process allows us to source quality and reclaimed apparel, textiles and trims to re-create the forgotten and the ordinary into well-made, long-lasting goods.”
The most exciting feature that they offer is a full-customization service. You can send your own clothes (or take it to a store) and ask the specialist designers to give it a re-imagining or reworking of your choice. Alternatively, you can choose from their reclaimed stock and start the process from scratch. The brand new and totally individual piece will be ready for your renewed enjoyment in no more than three weeks.
Editor’s Pick: Yatay Neven Low Birch White Atelier & Repairs The Detroit
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 for and the practices used are ethical. In addition, the breakdown of the price of a product is laid bare to the consumer on the website, so they are opting for a more open, honest approach to business. To come up with an answer to the problem of sustainability, you first need to know the specifics of the question. That’s why transparency is a good step forward. However, The Fashion Law has pointed out, no factories are actually named by Everlane. This is either a business specialty protectionism, of custom-developed materials, etc., or a failure of transparency.
As for materials, the piece we’ve chosen is a shirt made from GOTS-certified organic cotton, which is cotton that has gone through the grueling process of environmental certification to ensure every part of the manufacturing method is environmentally friendly.
Editor’s Pick: Everlane Men’s ReCashmere Beanie
8. Filippa K
Founded in 1993 in Stockholm, Sweden, Filippa K have taken the elegant Scandinavian design they’ve become so well-known for and have begun shining it through a sustainable lens in recent years. They have committed to ambitious sustainability targets by 2030. Here are some of the standouts: (i) use only sustainable and recyclable materials, (ii) have full supply transparency and (iii) good and fair working conditions for everyone tied to the supply chain. But if it is tractability you are interested in, Filippa K are front runners. They use 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 their sustainability reports for the previous event years online too.
These pants Filippa K are made from pure organic cotton. They have front and back crease marks adding a deft touch to these relaxed-fit pants.
Editor’s Pick: Filippa K Terry Cotton Trouser
The founder, Brendon Babenzien once worked at Supreme, but broke off to create Noah, a brand that takes a stand against many of the appalling practices of the fashion industry. They donate a proportion of their profits to causes they believe in, speak out on issues and give a voice to organizations and people they care about. This T-shirt is literally garbage. It is made from 100% recycled cotton, as they say, it “makes great use of what would otherwise be thrown away.”
Editor’s Pick: Noah Recycled Cotton Tee
Run by an unnamed collective, Pangaia calls themselves a “materials science company” that combines sustainability with tech to create a core group of sophisticated loungewear (beloved by Justin Bieber and Kim K) 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 creating tee shirts from a blend of seaweed and cotton, lab-produced pigments made from flower DNA, and biodegradable polyester. Each step of production follows a limited carbon footprint.
Pangaia’s offerings go literally from head-to-toe, everything from sneakers, to coats, to beanies. You can pre-order their recycled cashmere collection of loungewear and beanies now ($225 – $265), items will be delivered after April 1, 2021.
As for our pick from Pangaia, their upcycled rugby shirt is the newest edition to their 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.
Editor’s Pick: Pangaia Recycled Rugby Shirt
11. Bellemere New York
Cashmere is a luxury fabric that unfortunately doesn’t have a history of sustainability or animal kindness. Susan Honstetter is the force behind Bellemere New York. After moving to Switzerland, she decided to create a cashmere brand that was sustainable, kind to the animals and had a limited footprint. Today the company has international certifications from The Responsible Wool Standard, The Good Cashmere Standard and with The International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare (ICCAW). Their line is designed in the factory and then shipped out to clients, thereby reducing their carbon footprint.
Fabrics are chosen for their items only if they are 100% natural, are sustainably sourced and soft to the touch. Bellemere New York uses 100% merino superfine wool, cashmere, tencel, wool and a cashmere and cotton blend. The goats that are used for their cashmere items come from a 100% cruelty-free operation. When it is time for the cashmere to be collected, the goats only have their undercoat gently brushed by their herders. The goats’ topcoats are left alone, which provides them with protection against the environment. That enables the goat to not only undergo a painless hair removal but also allows them to live a comfortable and safe life in the mountains.
We chose their worsted cashmere crew neck sweater for its subtle luster and incredible softness. And because the sweater has a slim fit and is as versatile as all get out. It’s easy to wear under a hoodie, or if the occasion arises, a blazer. It would look just as dandy by itself, or worn over a tee.
Editor’s Pick: Bellemere New York 100% Worsted Cashmere Crew Neck Sweater
Coalatree is an eco-friendly company that brews sustainability in all its goods, be it clothing or camping gear. We mention the word “brews” as we covered the recent launch of their Evolution Joggers and matching hoodies that were created from three cups of recycled coffee grounds and 10 plastic bottles per item. They also offer button-down shirts created from recycled coffee grounds as well.
Coalatree first started out as an organic farm in Colorado, and by 2010 they launched their first line of clothing. They believe in creating sustainable goods, and partner only with bluesign factories, which are factories that are aligned with the bluesign philosophy, utilizing the best practices to minimize harm to the environment and people.
We decided to highlight Coalatree’s Whistler Windbreaker as it’s virtually indestructible. Made with their own revolutionary HiloTech Self-Healing material, should the windbreaker every rip or tear, rub your fingers over the spot, and the fabric magically reknits itself. You’ll never need another windbreaker again.
Editor’s Pick: Coalatree Whistler Windbreaker
13. Private Policy
The young brand was a 2019 CFDA Award finalist and in a seriously short time, has seen their wares worn repeatedly by Kendall Jenner. They smoothly incorporate activism in their unisex designs; last fall’s fashion show’s theme was an indictment of the pharmaceutical market. Designed by SiYing Qu and Haoran Li, classmates who became business partners, the designs have a downtown vibe and a sustainable core. Each season they create a sustainable collection. This past season’s comprised of 14 pieces for both men and women they’re all — the pieces, that is — completely biodegradable.
Made for everyone, this multi-pockets jacket has been created with Italian nylon that’s 100% biodegradable. A fashion first, this is a high-end jacket, with enough pockets to carry anything you can think of, that can be completely recycled.
Editor’s Pick: Private Policy 100% Biodegradable Multi-Pockets Jacket
The Spanish fashion brand with tons of personality has taken the leap into sustainability this year. Not only has Desigual stopped creating a print magazine, they’ve now opted for a more eco-friendly digital model, they have also just launched their first eco-friendly sustainable collection. There is a brand new “Love the World” sustainable collection for men and women. All the pieces are comprised of organic, eco-friendly and recycled fibers. Desigual has promised to become very sustainable. They’re aiming to integrate over 30 percent sustainable fibers by the end of this year, and 50 percent sustainable fibers in all of their designs by the end of 2023. The company plans to use 100% sustainable cotton in all of their designs by 2025 and are in the process of creating transparent supply chains.
Made with 100% organic cotton, this slim-fit long-sleeve button-down is from their first “Love the World” sustainable collection. The curved-hem shirt sports fanciful creatures mixed in with landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate bridge that seem to float over map outlines.
Editor’s Pick: Desigual Slim-Fit Map Shirt
Luxury denim brand Frame launched their first sustainable denim collection in 2019, and they’ve been creating sustainable fashion for her and him 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 recycled polyester, organic cotton and elastane for stretch. Done in a vintage blue wash, it has five pockets and a zipper front.
Editor’s Pick: Frame L’Homme Hopper Jean
Phipps International was started in 2017 by Spencer Phipps who previously worked as a menswear designer at Marc Jacobs in NYC and Dries Van Noten in Antwerp. The company was founded on the principles “of respect and curiosity for the natural world.” They developed these principles into “the concept of sustainability and environmental responsibility in the realm of style.” The brand has garnered praise in its short existence, culminating in recently becoming a finalist of the 2019 LVMH prize. This shortlisting was largely thanks to his careful approach to responsible and sustainable manufacturing.
These sustainable practices include using factories and producers certified by GOTS (or other environmental certification organizations). Many of these factories are in Portugal which is required by law to recycle their waste appropriately, re-use treatable water, use alternative energy as much as possible and follow fair trade labor practices.
If there was ever a time to indulge in loungewear that will take you around the block and back again, we love these truly comfortable organic cotton ones from PHIPPS. They could be worn with either a chunky sweater and work boots or a long sleeve tee and slippers.