The environmental disasters of today’s world are demanding a shift towards more sustainable clothing.
Clothing is essential for our survival. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most unsustainable aspects of our lives. It accounts for almost 25% of all carbon emissions, traditionally grown fibers add pesticides and insecticides to the environment, and processing fibers into yarns requires great amount of energy and water while polluting our air and waterways. Creating a single pair of jeans can take as much as 2600 gallons of water. Producing clothing is very wasteful of fabric, dyes can be toxic, packaging requires a great amount of wood fiber (cardboard) and plastics, and petroleum is used in the making of certain yarns (polyester) and in transportation.
The best ways to reduce the unsustainability of fashion is to either purchase pre-owned garments or clothing from companies who are environmentally conscious and feature quality goods in timeless styles. The greatest danger is in fast fashion that is trendy and poorly made. Rather than purchasing the standard 68 garments per year, purchase fewer, longer lasting items and remember to recycle or upcycle items you no longer want.
There are a growing number of sustainable brands, many affordable, comfortable, and fashionable. You don’t need to sacrifice personal style to help save the environment. Those profiled here are large and small, affordable or luxurious, but all are making sustainability and ethical practices their priority.
By Ellen Rubin
What is Sustainability in Fashion?
Something is sustainable when it can be maintained at the same level indefinitely – that over time the resources necessary for its existence will not be depleted. For clothing, there are many steps that need to be sustainable for that term to be applicable:
- The way the chosen fibers are grown or created – whether animal, plant or chemical/petroleum based, including use of fertilizers, pesticides, feed, and water requirements
- Harvesting – either by hand or machine
- Processing of fibers – dyes used, other chemical and water needs, circular or closed loop processes
- Waste from cutting and sewing
- Accessories and peripherals such as buttons, zippers, and packaging – sourcing and processing
- Transportation from factory to showroom to consumer.
Ethical companies are focused on the treatment of their employees (healthy working conditions and a fair wage) as well as the impact on the environment (reduction of their carbon footprint and minimal to no environmental pollution), and corporate diversity and inclusivity.
Different companies focus on different aspects of ethical treatment or sustainability, so you can find companies that support the causes that are important to you.
Even when a company publicizes their commitment to sustainability, you, as the consumer, have to do your research to differentiate those who truly make ethical and sustainable clothing from those who merely use it as a marketing tool, but don’t back up their claims with measurable action. In other words, they participate in greenwashing.
Organizations, Certifications, and Sustainability Scores
Luckily, there are resources to help you make this distinction. First, you can examine websites. If you dig enough, there is a lot of information there. Because companies use shorthand or mention organizations and certifications, we have a glossary that goes into depth about certifications for ethical and sustainable clothing companies, their processes, and raw material sourcing. These are quick, objective clues that your purchase meets certain sustainability standards for transparency, human, and environmental impacts. Read the glossary here.
There are also some independent, online guides that track sustainability:
- Higg Index developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The index enables brands, retailers and facilities to accurately measure sustainability performance at every stage of the item’s manufacture. Full descriptions are currently available only by subscription, but they’ll be offering an “Open Data Portal” in 2021 to reveal their rankings and facts behind them.
- Remake is a fashion-based, human rights, non-profit organization that has published their inaugural transparency report. Their independent experts integrate publicly disclosed information on a company’s human rights, climate, water, and waste policies. They rate brands on a point system of 0-100 and categorize them as “rock stars,” “wannabes”, or “up-and-comers”. To achieve a passing score (over 50) a company must meet criteria for both worker wellbeing (fair wages, diversity, inclusion in leadership, human rights impact) and environmental sustainability (waste, water, carbon, raw materials, animal rights, and packaging), as well as traceability, and transparency. The entire process from raw materials to finished product is considered. There are some companies that are fast fashion based (usually unsustainable), yet have small sustainable fashion lines. These include: Inditex/Zara, Uniqlo, H&M Group, and Madewell’s eco-denim line. While they produce some sustainable clothing, overall, the company does not rate as sustainable on Remake’s list.
- Good on You rates brands by category – listing them as either “great,” “good,” “it’s a start,” “not good enough,” or “we avoid” – based on their accountability for people, planet, and animals. They also have an app you can download to access the ratings while shopping.
- Fashion Transparency Index (FTI) for 2020 reviewed 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and ranked them according to their disclosure of social and environmental policies, practices and impacts. Each company is scored up to 100% for each criteria, with overall scores ranging from 0-70%.
- Finally, if you are interested in learning how to create sustainable clothing, The Center for the Advancement of Garment Making has classes available.
Brands Scored by Remake
|Brand||Overall||Transparency and Traceability||Maker Well-being||Environmental Sustainability||Sustainable Raw Materials||Leadership, Diversity, and Inclusion|
Brands Scored by Good on You
|United By Blue||It’s a start||4||3||2|
|Nau||It’s a start||5||2||4|
|Everlane||Not good enough||2||3||2|
|prAna||It’s a start||4||2||3|
|Levi’s||It’s a start||4||2||2|
|Gap||It’s a start||3||2||2|
A Brief List of Brands That Embrace Sustainability
Whether you are looking for men’s, women’s, or children’s clothing, accessories, or home products, these companies are good choices for sustainable and ethical clothing. Some of the first, and largest, brands to embrace sustainability started as outdoor or activewear clothing companies. Many were started because their owners spent time outdoors and believed that we needed to preserve the places that we love.
Outdoor, Active & Casual Sustainable Clothing Companies
Patagonia is one of the most highly regarded sustainable companies. They offer casual and adventure/active-wear for everyone. Their clothing is based on classic designs rather than flash fads. They are now offering a resale shop of their gently used clothing as well.
Mission: “We aim to use the resources we have – our voice, our business and our community – to do something about our climate crisis.”
Certifications: Fair Trade, Fair Labor practices include working conditions and environmental responsibility at each step of the supply chain. Bluesign technology since 2000 (they have reduced their chemicals, dyes and finishes), joined the Bluesign system partners in 2007, Partner with American Forests.
Transparency: Footprint Chronicles are listed on the bottom of each product page giving the details of the factory where that product is manufactured. They are rated as a “Rock Star” on ReMake with a 67, and 60% by the Fashion Transparency Index (one of their highest scores).
Fabrications: 100% non-GMO natural fibers including cotton and linen, recycled polyester, ethically sourced certified wools and down. 72% of their products lines use recycled materials. Inks are PVC-free and phthalate-free.
Proprietary Fabrics: Responsibi-Tee® – made from recycled cotton, polyester, and organic cotton. Hei-Q® Fresh odor control reduces the need for frequent washing.
Products: The entire family including kids & babies, packs & camping gear, work wear.
Sustainability: 100% of their electric needs are met using renewable electricity. They will be carbon neutral by 2025.
Giving Back: Patagonia has a self-imposed Earth tax of 1% used for grants to local groups and individuals tackling urgent environmental issues. They donate either $15 of every sale or 10% of their pre-tax profits to environmental initiatives. The company also wants to empower and encourage their customers to become an active part of the solution. They created Patagonia Action Works that will help you discover volunteering opportunities in your community.
Recycling Programs: Patagonia will help you repair your clothing. They also re-purchase their used clothing by giving the customer a credit toward new items. They have a re=sale shop on their site.
Mission: To protect our waterways from plastic pollution. “We prioritize sustainable materials and ethical manufacturing to lead the charge toward better business practices.”
- B-Corp Certified – Named “Best for the World Honoree” for 3 years running. An average impact score for certified companies is 50.9. United by Blue scored 80.1.
- Fair Trade Certified Factories
- GOTS certified organic cotton
- Build LEED Certified stores
Fabrications: Organic textiles (hemp & cotton), and high-tech fabrications that are rugged and have a comfortable stretch. They use vegetable dyes, biodegradable Corozo buttons made from Taua Palm nuts.
Transparency: They have customer reviews on each product page and list all of the factories that manufacture their clothing. They also have an impact report on the amount of trash collected in their Clean Ups (almost 870,000 pounds in 2019).
- Repreve™ – recycled polyester, micro-modal, wool, and Tencel™
- EcoKnit™ – hemp, organic cotton, modal, and yak
- (R)evolution™ – recycled PET from water bottles
- Bison Shield™ – bison fibers either spun into wool-like yarn or used as stuffing for insulation. The fur is discards from the meat industry.
- AllDay Chambray™ – blended cotton, hemp, and yak fiber
- EcoDry™ – moisture-wicking fabric made from organic cotton and recycled polyester.
Products: Entire family, including your pets, plus your home
Giving Back: United by Blue removes 1 pound of trash from the world’s waterways for every product sold. To date, over 3.5 million pounds have been removed. You can find the real-time tally on their website. Their goal is to “prove that a for-profit company could do serious, dirty conservation work.” They have a Clean Up Tour with dates listed on their site. If there isn’t one near you, you can order a DIY Clean Up Kit.
Nau was one of the first companies to prove that high performance clothing could be sustainable. They pride themselves on being innovators and inventors of new fabrications that are high-performing, comfortable, rugged…and totally sustainable.
Mission: “As the first sustainable performance wear brand, the fabrics and processes we needed largely didn’t exist. So we had to create them. To make the world more sustainable, we’re ready to do the heavy lifting.”
Certifications: Bluesign approved and FSC certified fabrics.
Fabrications: The company limits themselves to 10 sustainable fabrics: RWS certified merino and alpaca wools, recycled wool, GRS recycled polyester, closed loop micro-modal Tencel™, Lyocell™, linen, hemp, GOTS-certified organic cotton, and down recycled from old duvets and pillows. Their outerwear uses either a PFC-free durable water repellent or natural waxed cotton canvas to accommodate people with sensitive skin and the environment.
Products: Men’s, Women’s, Unisex, Accessories
Giving Back: One of Nau’s core principles is to “Do more by giving back.” They accomplish this by donating 2% of each purchase to their chosen “Partners for Change” who use community involvement to support both environmental and human causes. Past partners include the Conservation Alliance (protects wild places) and Mercy Corps (empowers people to recover from crisis and improve their communities). They actively use their profits to find sustainable solutions to improve the company.
Tentree is committed to reforesting the planet. For every product purchased they will plant 10 trees. They choose locations based on lost biodiversity or the need for land restoration in Madagascar, Kenya, Senegal, Indonesia, Nepal, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Haiti, or Brazil. All trees planted are non-invasive, indigenous species that are fast growing and multi-purpose. The forests also provide local employment. You can register your trees and track their progress through geotagging photos and GPS coordinates. In addition to being one of the most environmentally progressive clothing brands, they offer great quality clothing that is fun. Their graphics include a Dr. Suess Lorax collection, tree and animal motifs.
Mission: “We believe in the power of small acts, so by empowering everyone and anyone with easy access to sustainable solutions those tiny seeds of change can grow to change the world. #ItTakesAForest”
- Fair Trade
- Fair Wear Foundation
- B Corporation (scoring in top 1% of all manufacturing)
Transparency: All suppliers and partners must sign their Code of Conduct to “ensure that all people who work with Tentree are respected, valued, and feel safe”. They list place of manufacture and all suppliers used on each product page. An Eco Log compares wear, CO2 emissions and waste saved by purchasing their products compared to comparable products. They have independent impact assessments prepared by third party partner GreenStep before putting any new item into production.
Fabrications: Hemp, cork, organic cotton, Tencel™
Proprietary Fabrics: RePREVE™ recycled polyester
Products: Entire family plus accessories. They also emphasize inclusivity.
Giving Back: In addition to planting almost 51 million trees as of December, 2020 (with a goal of 1 billion by 2030), Tentree partners with other companies and offers different packages to become a Climate+ partner. Climate+ rehabilitates ecosystems and provides jobs across the globe. By joining, consumers can offset their non-eco-friendly indulgences. United By Blue is also a Climate+ partner organization.
Outerknown is a casual and active wear company with an understandably surfer vibe. It was founded by 11 time world champion surfer Kelly Slater. The company stresses both ethical and sustainable values.
Mission: “At Outerknown, sustainability is not a marketing slogan or something we take lightly…Sustainability is why the company exists.”
- Fair Labor Certified (even before they produced their first product)
- Fair Trade USA
- Bluesign Certified
Transparency: Items marked S.E.A. means they meet the company’s Social and Environmental Accountability standards. They list all of their suppliers who agree to abide by their Code of Conduct and FLA standards because they believe that “sustainability starts with transparency.”
Fabrications: 90% of their fabrications are organic, recycled, or regenerated. They are working to increase that percentage. They use renewable fibers wherever possible including: organic cotton, hemp, alpaca, wool, and RDS-certified down. Recycled materials include fishing nets, hemp and Econyl® for their swimwear. Buttons are made from either recycled polyester gathered from the oceans or sustainable corozo nuts. The coordinates of where the plastic was harvested is found on the button.
Proprietary Products: Given their interest in surfing trunks, Outerknown has introduced several innovations: Econyl® is made from regenerated nylon from fishing nets, their APEX trunks are made from recycled water bottles, and Woolaroos are made from 100% Australian merino wool. Outerknown has joined with Levi’s to produce WellThread 502 jeans.
Products: Men’s and women’s casual clothing, including selvedge jeans, swimwear, shoes, and accessories.
Recycling Programs: S.E.A. Jeans are made with organic cotton and are sewn by Fair Trade Certified companies in the world’s cleanest denim facility. They are guaranteed for life. “To keep worn or torn S.E.A. Jeans out of the landfill, they will repair, replace, or recycle them for you.”
Giving Back: The proceeds from their “Tides Turn We Rise” t-shirts all go to Ocean Conservancy. They launched a second advocacy campaign with their “It’s Not OK” shirt. They work with their retailers on beach clean-ups. They have partnered with Breitling to incorporate Econyl in a watchband. $1,000 from the sale of each watch is donated to Ocean Conservancy.
Kuyichi is one of the world’s first organic denim brands. This is especially important since denim is one of the worst fabric polluters. Pollution is caused by azo dyes, denim processing and distressing. The founders started this Peruvian company after witnessing the poverty and pollution in Peru. They collaborate with local farmers to create organic denim. Their clothing never goes on sale – they believe they charge a fair price for a superior product.
Mission: Kuyichi is the Peruvian God of the rainbow that brings color and positivity to society. The company wants to do the same with the fashion industry by fixing the system using pure products made from organic and recycled materials made by people who are treated and paid right. They combine social and environmental responsibility.
Transparency: Their suppliers are all listed on the website and must agree to follow the Fair Wear Foundation standards, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and commit to a Transparency pledge. They also maintain a sustainability report on the site.
Fabrications: Locally grown organic cotton, recycled PET, Tencel™, hemp, and linen.
Proprietary Fabrics: Their specialty is GOTS certified organic denim. Their production innovations have saved millions of gallons of water and reduced power usage by using laser washing techniques. Not only is this environmentally responsible, it increases fabric strength by 50% and workplace efficiency by 500%. They use chemical free ozone bleaching and natural indigo dyes.
Products: Denim and casual wear for men & women.
Recycling Programs: In conjunction with the Global Fashion Agenda’s commitment to use more post-consumer recycled denim, they encourage their customers to donate their used jeans. They partner with Blueloop recycling sites to use these to create new jeans.
Ably considers the true cost of your clothing – that’ the price you initially pay plus the monetary and environmental impact of the item. They focus on the cleaning and maintenance of clothing. What makes them unique is that their clothing is protected with a sustainable coating named Filium®.
Mission: To save water and energy by making clothing that needs less frequent laundering through a breathable, protective coating that is eco-friendly and sustainable.
Transparency: The website allows you to calculate how many gallons of water per month you save by wearing their clothing. They estimate loads washed is reduced from 8 to 2, and water usage from 160 gallons to 40 gallons per month.
Fabrications: Cotton is the most common fabric on the site.
Proprietary Fabrics: Filium is nano-particle free and the chemicals used don’t break down to leach into the water system or your skin. It is eco-friendly and maintains fabric’s soft “hand” and breathability, yet is stain resistant. Between perspiration evaporation and fewer stains, clothes need to be washed less frequently. Filium also allows clothes to dry 40% faster.
Products: Full line of men’s & women’s (XS – 3XL) including underwear and accessories.
Giving Back: Ably works with the United Way. The company that produces their Filium donates to groups that are working for healthier communities and a cleaner planet such as: Splash (cleaner water), Carbonfund.org (carbon offsets), and Clean Clothes Campaign (workers’ rights in the garment industry).
Nudie Jeans is a Swedish company that embraces the importance of denim in our lives, knows it isn’t usually a sustainable fabric, and works to create sustainable clothing that we want to wear and repair. “It all starts with a pair of drys.”
Mission: “Nudie Jeans is characterized by timeless design. We want to create timeless and seasonless garments, clothes you want to wear every day and keep over time, garments that last, and garments that can live through repairs.”
Certifications: GOTS, Organic Content Standard 100 (OCS 100), USDA Organic, Fair Trade, FSC, PEFC
Transparency: The site has a Materials index to show the sustainability or circularity of their fabrics. They work with the Higgs Index and Made By’s Environmental Benchmark for Fibers.
Fabrications: Organic cotton, Tencel™, recycled cotton
Products: Fashion for the entire family. They make their jeans (women’s, black, dry, selvedge) in 12 cuts: 3 tight, 3 slim, 5 regular, and 1 relaxed. Shirts come in XS – XXL. The site offers a Virtusize guide to help you choose the correct size.
Recycling Programs: Nudie Jeans wants you to be able to extend the life of your clothing. The company offers free repairs for the life of your jeans at their Repair Shops, Repair Partners, Mobile Repair Station Tour, and Repair Kits. They also offer guidance on how to wash your jeans, a Denimopedia, and user stories.
Everlane’s motto is “Modern Basics, Radical Transparency.” They design business-casual and everyday clothing based on a streamlined, quality driven approach.
Mission: “At Everlane, we are working to do our part by building an ethical supply chain that creates high-quality, low-impact, long-lasting products. We carefully consider our materials and work with our production partners to reduce waste, chemicals, and plastics that endanger our planet’s ecosystems.”
Certifications: Factories are audited yearly in compliance with the California Supply Chain Transparency Act
Transparency: Everlane stresses transparency. The website includes the “true cost” of each product; comparing the actual cost of materials, labor, transportation, duties, and accessories such as buttons, to the competition’s retail price. An interactive map pinpoints where their fabrics are sourced and their factories’ locations.
There has been some negative publicity about their corporate inclusivity and diversity, as well as clothing quality.
Fabrications: 100% linen or cotton, and recycled materials. For example, their reversible puffer jacket is made with 100% recycled polyester and filled with 100% recycled down.
Proprietary Fabrics: ReNew™ will replace all virgin plastic used to make their polyester by 2021. Similarly they use recycled fibers mixed with new fibers for their ReWool™ and ReCashmere™.
Products: Men’s and Women’s clothing including accessories and shoes.
Established Clothing Companies that Have Embraced Sustainability
There are a number of long-established companies that have embraced the need to find sustainable alternatives. Many, like Adidas and Reebok, are in the shoe and sport sectors. Not all companies are completely sustainable; some have started with sustainable lines and are working their way toward including more and more sustainable choices.
prAna was purchased by Columbia Clothing in 2014. While both companies specialize in outdoor wear, prAna adds items specifically designed for swimming, surfing, rock climbing, and yoga.
Mission: Clothing for a Positive Change (C4CP) supports their philosophy of inclusivity, social responsibility, and continual improvement. They want to “outfit our adventures with respect for the planet and its people…We can inspire new generations to thrive and stay active in their own unique way.”
Certifications: Fair Trade Certified, member of the Fair Labor Association, Textile Exchange, Bluesign partner.
Transparency: Source materials are traced from the farm, through processing and production, to end product. They monitor their supply chain carefully for issues such as: forced and/or child labor, harassment or abuse, nondiscrimination, freedom of association, compensation, work hours, healthy and safety, environment, and ethical conduct. They ensure that factory workers are aware of their rights by posting signage in native languages on every factory floor.
Fabrications: Organic cotton, recycled polyester, hemp, Tencel™ modal, sustainably harvested merino wool, RDS certified down.
Products: Men’s & women’s active wear and casual clothing
Giving Back: They support Outdoor Outreach programs for at-risk urban youth and surfing camps for girls.
Levi’s is the original denim, yet the company is embracing the future. They have created several new lines of sustainable by focusing on the manufacturing process and fabrication, as well as exploring recycling and recycled materials.
Mission: “A lot of people throw around the word ‘sustainable,’ so we think it’s important to be super straightforward in exactly how we use it. For us at Levi’s, it’s about making better choices like sourcing more sustainable materials and finding ways to use less water. It’s about making better clothes like WellThread™, our most sustainably designed collection. And it’s about bettering the planet and the communities that share it at every step along the way. We’ve always stood up for what’s right – and creating sustainable clothing is no different.”
The WellThread™ Collection is modeled on the four guiding principles of materials, people, environment, and process. One of those processes is their Water<Less technology. Instead of using the normal 11 gallons of water to prewash each pair of jeans, they use stones. 80% of all their denim products are produced using Water<Less technology. Additionally, the Water<Less collection contains 20% post-consumer waste.
Fabrications: Cotton, rain-fed cottonized hemp and recycled materials such as plastic bottles and other waste materials as their insulation in puffer jackets, Tencel™ Lyocell. They no longer use any PFC’s in their clothing.
Proprietary Fabrics: In partnership with re:newcell, Levi’s, along with Outerknown, has created a WellThread 502 jean made from organic cotton and Circulose™. This new material is made from 50% recycled denim and 50% sustainably-sourced viscose.
Products: The entire family in extended sizing for just about every body type. Levi’s Water<Less
Giving Back: Levi’s sponsors extensive programs to better their employees and communities:
- Terms of Engagement created in 1991 that ensures worker protections at every point of the supply chain.
- Champions of the LGBTQ+ community since 1982.
- Their Worker Well-Being initiative protects the rights of their employees. By partnering with suppliers and local nonprofits in 12 countries, they provide health education, family welfare programs, and financial empowerment to nearly 200,000 workers.
- Levi’s is teaching farmers new methodologies that require fewer chemicals and less water. This benefits the farmers economically and helps fight climate change.
- The Levi Strauss Foundation, founded in 1952, advances not only their worker’s rights, but human rights in general.
- Regarding sustainability, Levi’s is especially focused on reducing water and chemical usage. Their involvement in alliances with others is enumerated on their website.
Recycling Programs: Levi’s created a “Tailor Shop”. It is staffed by experts to help customers extend the life of their jeans with advice about up-cycling or recycling, redesigning and embellishing your clothing. They have found that by extending the use of a garment by 9 months, the carbon footprint shrinks by 30%. Think of the Tailor Shop as Levi’s own Pinterest.
Other Established Brands that are Embracing Sustainability
There are a number of other large brands that have started incorporating sustainable product lines:
- Gap owns Althleta, an athleisure and active-wear brand. Their goal is to use 80% sustainable fabrications by 2020 diverting 38 millions+ water bottles to create recycled polyester. Their H2Eco line of swimwear has diverted 72,264 kilograms of waste from landfills. They are also a B- Corp. The Gap’s sustainability goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050, and eliminate all single-use plastics by 2030. Other Gap brands that embrace sustainability are Intermix and Banana Republic.
- Polo by Ralph Lauren has introduced their Earth Polo line made from recycled water bottles. They further reduce their environmental imprint by using dyes that don’t require water in the application process.
- H&M Conscious features aspects that lessen their environmental impact. For instance, they may use organic cotton or recycled polyester. You are also able to recycle unwanted clothing at H&M stores for a discount applied to new purchases. Overall, H&M reports that is uses 57% recycled or sustainably sourced fibers with the goal of reaching 100% by 2030.
Brands Built Around Unique Fabrications or a Luxury Fiber
Naadam is a luxury cashmere company that you can feel good about, even though cashmere is not usually a sustainable fabric. Their fibers are sustainably harvested and produced in an ethical manner. Their business model includes the ethical and fair treatment of the people, animals, and environment. They offer a wide range of sizes and styles starting at $75.
Mission: To create a sustainable clothing brand while increasing profits for nomadic herders in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. They deal directly with the producers, cutting out all middlemen so they can pay their cashmere sources 50% more than average, all while producing quality, economical clothing.
Certifications: Forest Stewardship Council certified (they use recycled paper) and 100% recycled plastic made with non-toxic chemicals that biodegrades more quickly. Their goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025.
Transparency: Their website has many transparency features. On each product page there are descriptions of the handfeel, breathability, wrinkle-free, odor blocking, weight, care, gauge, and pilling characteristics. They also give a softness scale and the source(s) of the yarn. They provide a Social and Environmental Impact Report on their site.
Fabrications: Virgin Cashmere, recycled cashmere, silk, wool, cotton
Proprietary Fabrics: Their cashmere is hand-combed (vs. sheared) by herders in the Gobi Desert.
Products: Men’s (XS – XL) and Women’s (XXS – 3XL)
Giving Back: Naadam supports the Gobi Revival Fund, a non-profit organization that supports 1,000 herders by providing clean water sources, livestock insurance program, and a park. In an effort to prevent the desertification that often accompanies the cashmere industry, they have fenced off a large area of grassland. Naadam also provides veterinary care for 250,000 goats.
Recycling Programs: They recycle cashmere fibers and mix them with new fibers to create new yarns.
Kotn is a niche company focusing on luxurious Egyptian cotton at affordable prices. They are able to achieve this by cutting out all middle-men. They are a direct trade company working directly with the producers at every step of their supply chain from seed to store.
Mission: To revive the Egyptian cotton industry and improve the lives of the farmers and factory workers. They focus on fair labor practices and collaborative communities to build a strong foundation that will allow the region to prosper for generations.
- All their cotton will be certified organic within the next 5 years.
- Certified B-Corporation
- Use 3rd party auditors to monitor farm suppliers and the factories they use.
Proprietary Fabrics: Gossypium barbadense or extra long staple Giza cotton known as “white gold” from the Nile Delta. The cotton is hand-picked to prevent damaging or stressing the long, fine strands of raw cotton creating higher thread count fabric that is softer, yet more durable.
Products: Casual wear for men, women, and the home
Giving Back: Their profits directly benefit their farm suppliers and their families. They have built, and operate, 7 new schools in areas without access to education. This is especially beneficial for girls who have limited educational opportunities. They have also provided over 690 private subsidies and resources to small farms and impoverished communities. Overall, they have impacted over 30,000 lives in rural Egypt. They also advocate for environmental responsibility and stewardship, and support a local Egyptian NGO to prevent child labor.
Indigenous champions the 1,000 artisans who create their clothing. They still value hand knitting, hand weaving, and machine handknitting to create their clothing and jewelry. They are an ethical and sustainable company.
Mission: “We go beyond fair trade, crafting a supply chain focused on the needs of our artisans. Through economic empowerment artisans are able to improve their own lives, invest in their families, and give work and training to other women in their communities.”
Certifications: Fair Trade, USDA Certified Organic, OEKO-Tex 100, SA8000 , Certified ISO Company, Green America, B-Corporation.
Transparency: The site enumerates their sustainability savings per year: 45,600 pounds of CO2, 13 million gallons of water, and 400 pounds of pesticides.
Fabrications: Organic cotton, free-range alpaca, Tencel™ from a closed loop process, eco-friendly dyes
Proprietary Fabrics: PURE collection uses no dyes, relying on the natural coloring of their alpaca and cotton fibers.
Products: Men’s & women’s, as well as jewelry
Giving Back: Indigenous works toward improving the lives of the producers of their goods, especially the women. They provide free training, year-round work, zero-interest loans for education and equipment, and invest in local schools and communities.
Pact offers affordable, organic clothing for your entire family.
Mission: “To build earth’s favorite clothing company by providing economically priced organic clothing for the entire family while protecting the earth.”
Certifications: Fair Trade USA Certified factories
Transparency: They manufacture their clothing in India to be close to their fabric sources and reduce transportation pollution. Their factories must be both economical and environmentally friendly, yet sweatshop and child labor free.
Fabrications: 74% of their clothes are made from GOTS certified cotton sources in India. Using zero harmful chemicals, they also reduce water and energy usage during production.
Packaging: Their shipping containers are all compostable: boxes are made with 100% post-consumer recycled paperboard and 98% post-consumer recycled materials for cardboard. Even the plastic bag that keeps your clothing safe is made with biodegradable plastic.
Products: Sustainable clothing for the entire family (including babies) and furnishings for your bed and bath
Giving Back: Pact offers their customers the option to offset the carbon footprint of their transportation.
Giving Back through Recycling: “Give Back. Wear Forward.” is their charitable program. They encourage people to ship any brand of clothing back to them to be donated to inspiring nonprofit organizations in need. They’ll even pay the shipping.
Umber & Ochre
Umber & Ochre embraces the field-to-farm philosophy of watching their supply chain and supporting artisans. Their fabrics are hand-woven and naturally dyed. They strive to be both ethical and sustainable.
Mission: “We believe in transparency, sustainability and longevity. Our ethical supply chain supports sustainable practices, fair wages, and the preservation and continuation of traditional craft in small villages. We source natural materials from family-run weavers and environmentally responsible production and practices. We believe in doing our part to preserve the natural world and are committed to exploring and furthering opportunities to help support it. We utilize skillful craftsmanship which results in durable construction and long lasting products.”
Transparency: Each product page lists their materials and the processes that are used to create them. Many include the thread count of the fabric.
Fabrications: hemp, organic cotton, wool, IKAT printing with azo-free dyes, silk.
Products: Men’s, Women’s, Unisex, accessories
Giving Back: They employ artisans in remote Indian villages and use multi-generational, family-run small factories. Many of the artisans are referred to them by word-of-mouth.
Sustainable Clothing Brands for Men
Asket in Swedish means “a person who does without extravagance and abundance.” The company embraces this philosophy by only introducing key pieces to their core collection one at a time. There aren’t seasonal collections, just a permanent collection of around 20 garments.
Mission: “We envision a world free of fast consumption. A world with less clutter, less waste, less smoke and mirrors.”
Transparency: Each web page has a “traceability bar” that describes the garment: where it was milled, manufactured, source of raw materials and trims, and a total traceable percentage. They are also transparent about the true cost of their clothing and each individual component: fabric, hardware, labor, and transportation, as well as the comparable retail price of similar products. They list their current traceability as 81% toward their goal of 100%.
Fabrications: They use the finest natural materials available to make sustainable clothing that will last: merino wool from Australia, Egyptian cotton, organic cotton, linen, and cashmere bought directly from nomadic Mongolian farmers. Linings and zippers are made from recycled materials.
Products: Men’s clothing, underwear, accessories, home products
KnowledgeCotton Apparel is a Danish company that features classic garments with a contemporary twist. They consider water and energy usage, as well as carbon dioxide released in creating their clothing.
Mission: Their credo is “gain knowledge, take action, earn respect” as it applies to people and the environment. “With a thirst for knowledge and a desire to constantly develop and improve at what we do, we can actually make a difference.”
- Certified Carbon Neutral® and their goal is to be 100% carbon neutral by 2025
- Ecocert Greenlife
- GRS – Global Recycle Standard
- OCS – Organic Content Standard
- Fair Trade
Transparency: They list the water, energy and carbon dioxide saving compared to a traditionally made garment. They focus on sustainable production methods.
Fabrications: organic cotton, linen and merino wool, Tencel™, GRS certified recycled polyester
Products: Men’s casual clothing and underwear (They have an extensive size chart available.)
Giving Back: Knowledge Cotton has planted their Knowledge Forest in India as well as fighting against poverty and child labor. They choose a different charity to donate to each Black Friday. In the past, this has included Oceana and the Surfrider Foundations. Feeding America is the charity for 2020.
Sustainable Clothing Brands for Women
Groceries Apparel looks at the entire fashion process – from seed to farm to factory. They support family farms and localized manufacturing. They are especially focused on producing clothing that is as chemical free as possible. This is a great brand for people with sensitivities.
Mission: While the company purchases their fibers from local farmers, they process, dye, and manufacture at their own facilities to ensure a chemical free product. “Vertically-integrated, local, and traceable production maximizes quality, efficiency, and employee pay, and minimizes redundancy, waste, and our carbon footprint.”
Certifications: They use only Fair Trade products and require 100% GMO-, pesticide-, and herbicide-free fibers.
Transparency: You can shop their website depending on fabrication desired.
Fabrications: Organic cotton, eucalyptus, recycled plastic and cotton, hemp, and they use only vegetable dye from herbs and raw plants.
Products: They sell unisex and women’s clothing. Their sizing is inclusive with XS-XL available in slim, classic, relaxed and oversized fits.
Passion Lilie clothing is designed in New Orleans and made in India using ancient wood block printing techniques. The entire process is done by hand. Their fabrics are as unique as they are artistic and comfortable.
Mission: To “help artisans empower themselves by creating dignified employment opportunities. By offering fair wages, safe and healthy working conditions, and long-term employment to artisans in India, these job opportunities lead to sustainable societies and a better world. We are also committed to using eco-friendly materials throughout the supply chain and preserving the artistic and cultural talents of our craftspeople.”
Certifications: Fair Trade Certified, Green America Certified, Ethical Fashion Forum Fellowship 500 Member, part of the Reclaim Collaborative, Carbon Offsets program
Fabrications: 100% non-GMO organic pesticide-free cotton hand printed with non-azo, organic, eco dyes using ancient IKAT dying methods.
Proprietary Fabrics: all original, hand blocked IKAT prints.
Products: Primarily women’s clothing with baby and a limited men’s selection as well as home products.
Giving Back: Passion Lilie not only helps better the lives of the artisans who create their block prints and fabrics, but they have created a program for customers to host trunk shows and raise money for causes they support.
Mara Hoffman is a women’s brand of elegant basics, swimwear, and feminine, colorful dresses.
Mission: “The aim is to design and manufacture our garments with greater care, to reduce our impact, and generate awareness.”
Certifications: They partner with Blue Business Council (protect waterways and oceans), Canopy (support ancient and endangered forests) Earth Matters (improve organic waste processing), Ellen MacArther Foundation, Fabscrap (divert textile waste from landfills), Fashion Positive, Global Fashion Agenda, Nest (inclusivity, especially women), Organic Cotton Accelerator, Queen of Raw, Responsible Packaging Movement, Textile Exchange.
Transparency: There are explicit guidelines for ethics, working standards, health & safety, child or forced labor, freedom of association & collective bargaining, non-discrimination & harassment, material sourcing & traceability, animal welfare, and product safety. There is information on each product page about fabrication origin.
Fabrications: Mara Hoffman prioritizes natural, recycled, and organic fibers. 100% of their swimwear is made using recycled polyester or nylon. They also use GOTS organic cotton, linen, hemp, Econyl™, Repreve™, Tencel™ Lyocell, Modal, Luxe and Refibra™. It is important to note what they don’t use fur, leather, mulesed sheep wool, feathers, or anything on the Restricted Substance List. They look for products that are part of the OEKO-Tex 100 Standard and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals lists.
Proprietary Fabrics: Climate Beneficial™ Wool is created by allowing the land to re-grass from grazing to allow carbon improvement and soil enrichment.
Products: Women’s ready-to-wear clothing and swimwear. They offer extended sizes from XXS – 3XL
Recycling Programs – Garments that don’t pass Mara Hoffman’s inspection are sent to their Renewal Workshop where They are either repaired and sent to their resale shop, recycled, or upcycled.
Eileen Fisher pairs classic styling with luxurious fabrics for a complete and elegant wardrobe. They are committed to sustainability and extending the use of their clothing.
Mission: Making circularity the new standard for sustainability. “Simple, timeless clothes, made with the future in mind. Our clothes are made from the highest quality, most sustainable materials we can find. And if they aren’t yet available? We work with farmers, fabric mills and dye houses to make our vision a reality.”
Certifications: Forest Conservation, Blue Sign Certified, Fair Trade, Certified B Corporation, SA 8000 Standard, follow the Social and Environmental Implementation Guide
Transparency: Each page gives extensive information about where the clothing is made, it raw materials, the model wearing it, and care instruction to extend the life of the garment.
Fabrications: Responsible and regenerative merino wool, cashmere (recycled, silk blended, Italian), velvet, silk, ponte, viscose & fine jersey blend, stretch crepe, brushed terry cloth, organic cotton and linen, recycled polyester & nylon, Tencel™ Lyocell
Products: Women’s clothing with extended sizes including petite (XXS – XL) and plus (also in petite) to 3XL, plus shoes and accessories
Giving Back: Eileen Fisher is especially concerned with human trafficking and modern slavery, and follows a number of initiatives. (See more)
Recycling Programs: Their Renew Takeback program accepted back 1.4 million pieces Eileen Fisher clothing since 2010. Those in perfect condition are cleaned and resold while those that are worn-and-torn are recycled into new designs. Their Waste No More team takes irredeemable clothing, deconstructs them and felts the yarns to create wall hangings, pillows, and accessories.
Amour Vert is a California company that limits the number of pieces they produce to ensure that the highest production standards are met, and that they eliminate excess waste. They produce locally to increase sustainability.
Mission: “We are green love. Our sustainable practices address all aspects of our business operations and the full lifecycle of the garment: the fibers and production processes used, how workers are treated, how it gets to the consumer, and finally—whether it can be recycled or is forced into a landfill.”
Certifications: FSC, OEKO-Tex
Transparency: Each product page has the fabrications listed with an in-depth description of its sustainability.
Fabrications: Partnering directly with the mills, they use Tencel™ Modal made from FSC Certified Beechwood (free of pesticides), merino and recycled wool from Italian and Australian mills, Mulberry silk (OEKO-Tex certified), organic cotton
Products: Women’s plus accessories
Giving Back: Buy a Tee, We Plant a Tree – Working with American Forests®, Amour Vert plants a tree for every tee-shirt purchased. They have planted almost 326,500 trees since opening. The environmental savings adds up to 102,977 tons of CO2 sequestered, 8 billion gallons of water replenished, and 1,236 acres reforested.
Recycling Programs: They use compostable protective bags to ship their clothing and boxes made from recycled materials and soy-ink.
People Tree is a British pioneer in sustainable and ethical clothing for women. They focus on empowering their employees and feature a great deal of handwork: knitting, weaving, embroidery and block printing.
Mission: “To support producer partners’ efforts towards economic independence and control over their environment and to challenge the power structures that undermine their rights to a livelihood….protect the environment and use natural resources suitably throughout our trading and to promote environmentally responsible initiatives to create new models to promote sustainability. To supply customers with good quality products, with friendly and efficient service and build awareness to empower customers and producers to participate in Fair Trade and environmentally sustainable solutions.”
Certifications: First fashion company awarded World Fair Trade Organization product label, GOTS, certified by Soil Association, Fair Trade, PETA approved vegan
Transparency: Product pages list materials, product details, maker (factory name, location, and history), and care instructions.
Fabrications: Organic cotton, brushed velvet made with organic cotton, Tencel™ Lyocell, linen, wool, low impact dyes
Proprietary Fabrics: Blue Planet Collection in conjunction with the BBC
Products: Clothing, jewelry, accessories, underwear for women
Giving Back: The People Tree Foundation was established in 1991 to benefit farmers and artisans through training, technical support and environmental initiatives. They also raise awareness and campaign for fair and sustainable fashion.
Final Thoughts on Sustainable Clothing
The brands profiled are just some of the best and most well known brands for ethical and sustainable clothing. The companies that are embracing this philosophy are growing daily. As always, the power rests with the consumer. It is your choice who you purchase from, and it’s within your control how you care for your clothes, how long you keep them, and what you do after you are finished wearing them. You can choose to purchase pre-owned clothing and recycle to be as sustainable as possible. The companies profiled are just making it easier for you to make good, earth-friendly and ethical choices.
10 Best Sustainable Fashion Brands to Shop in 2020. Prevention, April 20, 2020.
10 Fair Trade Fashion Brands For The Conscious Gentleman. The Good Trade
16 Best Sustainable Clothing Brands for Women 2020. Strategist, New York Magazine. October 27, 2020.
18 Ethical and Sustainable Mens Clothing Companies. Sustainable Jungle.
21 Sustainable and Ethical Clothing Brands for Men. Sustainably Chic, 2020.
23 Most Sustainable & Ethical Fashion Brands for Men. Man of Many, 2019.
Affordable and Ethical Clothing That You Can Feel Good About. Good Housekeeping Institute. April 20, 2020.
Ethical & Sustainable Clothing for Men. The Honest Consumer.
Ethical Clothing Brands for Men That are Worth Checking Out. HuffPost, 2018.
Sustainability, Transparency are ‘Do or Die’ for Fashion. WWD, October 20, 2020.
Supreme, Allbirds, Everlande Among Remake’s Sustainability ‘Offenders’ WWD, November 18, 2020.
Top 43 Best Sustainable Clothing Brands for 2020. July 9, 2020.
The Best Sustainable and Ethical Clothing Stores for Men. Ecocult, 2016
Want to Feel Good About How You Spend? Start With Your Clothes. Esquire, 2019.