Have you ever come across that oft-thrown around fashion advice, “Never get caught wearing the same outfit twice?” Well, we’re here to tell you why that’s bad news for the environment.
If you don’t know it yet, the fashion industry is one of the major contributors to global waste production and microplastic pollution. Here’s a quick rundown of its environmental impact:
- The clothing and textile industry is responsible for sending 92 million tons of solid waste to landfills every year
- It produces more than 20 percent of the world’s wastewater—a kilo of cotton takes about 10,000 liters of water to produce
- It generates 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, beating out both the shipping and international flight industries in terms of carbon emissions.
As a consumer, there are plenty of ways you can be more ecologically conscious in terms of your wardrobe choices. One of these is by not falling prey to fast fashion—the term for mass-produced, cheap clothing sold in popular retail stores.
Not only is fast fashion ethically questionable (majority of big clothing brands outsource their production to third-world sweatshops that pay below minimum wage and employ workers under pitiable working conditions), it’s ecologically irresponsible too. Fast fashion basically promotes a “throw-away” mentality, where perfectly wearable clothes are worn only for one season and tossed out the next.
Thankfully there are plenty of clothing brands that are going against this trend. Here are ten ecologically conscious clothing brands that, beyond making profit, actually do care about and are doing their best to minimize their environmental footprint.
1. Levi’s: Using Technology to Make “Green” Blue Jeans
Known for: timeless, durable denim wear; giving the world the iconic 501 Jeans
What’s to love
- The brand takes worker welfare seriously, becoming one of the first clothing companies to have a workplace code of conduct to ensure labor standards
- Levi’s has plenty of initiatives in place to reduce its impact on the environment, which include using less water to make its denims and cutting out harmful chemicals in its dyeing process.
Here’s a not-so-fun-fact: The entire process involved in making a single pair of jeans wastes about 2,000 gallons of water—that’s enough water to fill 25 bathtubs. Levi’s is one such company that has taken active steps to reduce waste in its jeans production.
In 2019, the denim giant announced that 67 percent of Levi’s clothing products were made using its Water<Less™ process, which reduces the amount of water typically used in denim finishing to 96 percent.
Levi’s also partners with the environmental nonprofit Canopy to help ensure that it sources only sustainable forest-based products to make its apparel. It has actively reduced its environmental impact by using fibers from post-consumer content to create some of its denim products.
In 2012, Greenpeace called out Levi’s for its cloth-dying process that has contributed to water pollution, particularly in Mexico. Levi’s proactively took action on this issue, reporting that its manufacturing processes now require the use of fewer chemicals. Levi’s additionally promised to completely eliminate its use of hazardous chemicals by 2020.
In terms of worker welfare and fair labor practices, the denim giant has also taken steps to ensure that the rights of people working across its supply chain are respected. It came up with its Terms of Engagement in 1991, cementing its commitment to ethical production practices.
You can read the rest of Levi’s sustainability policies commitments on their website here.
2. Polo Ralph Lauren Turns Plastic Bottles into Clothes
Known for: colorful cotton mesh polo shirts embroidered with the brand’s signature polo player logo
What’s to love
- One of the few big-label companies to enforce sustainable practices across all stages of production via its global citizenship and sustainability strategy
- It’s boldly pledged to use recycled plastic bottles in majority of its products by 2025
It’s easy to dismiss some big brands’ green campaigns as mere gimmickry, or an attempt to ride the eco bandwagon, but not Polo Ralph Lauren.
In 2019, the iconic American fashion company showed that it was serious in its commitment to sustainability with the launch of “Design the Change,” Ralph Lauren Corporation’s Global Citizenship & Sustainability strategy. To send the message that their sustainability game is indeed strong, Ralph Lauren appointed its first chief sustainability officer, Halide Alagöz, to help hold and guide the company to its sustainability goals.
Two bold steps Polo Ralph Lauren has taken in a bid to curb its environmental footprint include pledging to recycle 170 million plastic bottles across all of its products and reducing water usage by 20 percent by 2025.
Polo Ralph Lauren’s Earth Polo is one product of their commitment: each piece is made with an average of 12 plastic bottles and is dyed via a completely waterless process.
3. PAPER London: Giving Discarded Fishing Nets a Second Life
Known for: bold, colorful palettes and decidedly feminine silhouettes
What’s to love
- The fashion brand proves that having a “sustainable” label doesn’t mean compromising style (no wonder it’s being worn by the likes of Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson, and Margot Robbie).
- Aside from using recycled materials in its swimwear fabrics, the company has also announced plans to go plastic-free
In your quest to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, you may have resolved to eating more fish instead of beef and other red meat. Here’s a sobering news flash: the commercial fishing industry is actually responsible for 50 percent of plastic waste floating in the ocean. Majority of these are discarded fishing nets that, aside from taking more than half a millennia to decompose, also pose a deadly threat to marine life.
Here’s where PAPER London comes in: the British brand’s PAPER Swim collection features swimwear pieces made from recycled ghost fishing nets. The brand claims that aside from being eco-friendly, “this innovative fabric also protects against the sun’s rays, offering the equivalent UV protection of an SPF50 sun cream, and is twice as resistant to chlorine and greasy lotions than other swimwear fabric.”
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4. Patagonia: Outdoor Clothing Company with a Conscience
Known for: high-performance climbing, skiing, and surfing gear and sportswear
What’s to love
- Patagonia’s aggressive pro-environment advocacy truly sets the bar for all sustainable clothing companies
Patagonia is known as one of the first clothing brands to actively reduce its environmental impact, and it continues to do so today.
For starters, the outdoor clothing and accessories brand uses mostly recycled materials: it repurposes discarded bedding and cushions into insulating material for its jackets and uses durable polyester created from plastic soda bottles.
Aside from using recycled wool, Patagonia also uses reclaimed denim and fabric made from 100 percent organic, fertilizer-free, and fair-trade certified cotton. Not only that, Patagonia also makes sure to reduce waste and eliminate excess packaging at all stages of the manufacturing and production process, staying true to its mission to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
5. Cuyana: Timeless Pieces Designed to Last
Known for: high-quality women’s apparel and accessories
What’s to love:
- Its streamlined production process—having production facilities in the same area its raw materials are made—significantly cuts on carbon emissions from transport
- When you shop, Cuyana gives you a bag you can return with clothes you no longer use to give to women’s organizations
The old saying “Fashion fades, style is eternal” may perhaps be the guiding principle behind this women’s premium essentials brand that champions slow fashion.
Unlike most clothing brands, Cuyana doesn’t buy into the rapidly changing season’s trends. Rather, it cultivates a “fewer but better” philosophy in curating your wardrobe pieces, turning out classic designs that won’t go out of style anytime soon.
While it may not be as affordable as other clothing brands, Cuyana aims to give its clients their money’s worth by using only high-quality materials sourced from all over the
world. It works with small family businesses in Europe, South America, and Asia and carefully selects its suppliers for their expertise and craftsmanship.
As for being an eco-friendly clothing brand, Cuyana works toward reducing its carbon footprint by selecting factories built near where the raw materials it uses are sourced. It also actively educates customers on use and clothing care in order to maximize the life span of its products, and its stores also offer clothing repair services as well as refresh services for leather accessories.
6. ThredUP: Breathing New Life into Old Clothes
Known for: selling a wide range of clothing and accessories brands at thrift-store prices (including sustainable brands)
What’s to love
- It promotes less waste and a circular economy by giving used clothes a second shot at life and keeping them from being landfilled or incinerated
While it technically isn’t a clothing brand, this virtual clothing marketplace is a haven for those who are into thrifting.
Bought a cute dress online only to find out that it’s two sizes too small? Instead of sending it to the dumpster (or burying it in your closet to never find the light of day again), you can send it to ThredUP instead. As an added bonus, you’ll get paid if someone buys it.
Basically ThredUP buys used, like-new clothing and accessories and sells these online at bargain prices. It carries hundreds of clothing, shoes, and accessories brands for men, women, and kids.
Whether you’re here to score some cheap finds or are consciously trying to lessen your eco footprint by opting to buy used instead of brand-new, buying at ThredUP is definitely a win-win for you and the environment.
7. Stella McCartney: Making Cruelty-Free Clothing Cool since 2001
Known for: fur- and leather-free clothing and accessories line
What’s to love
- Stella McCartney continues to champion for environmental sustainability, using organic and recycled materials for majority of her clothing pieces
Stella McCartney has stayed true to her vegetarian and animal-loving roots by extending her advocacy to her clothing line, which has been cruelty-free since it launched in 2001.
The eponymous British fashion label, which has partnered with big names like Adidas (even collaborating with Taylor Swift for a clothing and accessories line), uses only vegetarian leather, doesn’t use real fur, and doesn’t test its products on animals.
Stella McCartney also uses sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, recycled nylon and polyester, and re-engineered cashmere (which it claims doesn’t have as high an environmental impact as virgin cashmere).
8. Mara Hoffman: Bold Prints, Small Carbon Footprint
Known for: clothes featuring bold, geometric patterns with a decidedly feminine touch.
What’s to love
- As much as possible, the brand uses recycled and organic fabric and materials
- It ensures that the people it works with are paid fairly and treated with respect and dignity
Being a mother truly changes your perspective on life. That’s exactly what happened to the woman behind this New York-based luxury clothing label.
Mara Hoffman made the bold move toward embracing sustainable fashion after giving birth to her son and realizing that the traditional way of making clothes and doing business would have to change, otherwise it would be up to the next generation to clean up.
Mara Hoffman currently partners with several environmental and social nonprofits that help ensure the brand remains true to its commitment of being eco-friendly and socially responsible. One of these is Fabscrap, an organization that helps keep clothing scraps from landfills by giving them a second life.
9. Everlane: Eco-Friendly Clothing Need Not be Expensive
Known for: its “radical transparency” approach, letting customers in on who makes its products and how much profit it actually makes from each item
What’s to love
- Everlane’s purposely “un-trendy” style makes its clothes wearable across all seasons
- Its high-quality products are competitively priced, responsibly sourced, and ethically made
Most of the brands on this list are in the premium luxury range. Everlane is a refreshing change, offering ethical, responsibly sourced, and accessible clothing that won’t break your wallet.
Everlane, which is famous for its “modern basics” design aesthetic, is also known for its “radical transparency” philosophy. The company is upfront about where it sources its materials, who makes its products, and how much each item it sells costs—from labor, materials, transport, to duties.
Another thing to love about Everlane is how it keeps its costs down by doing away with ridiculously high retail markups. For a fraction of the price, you get durable, high-quality clothing pieces that will outlast the changing seasons of fashion.
10. Outerknown: Style Meets Sustainability
Known for: durable, eco-friendly performance clothing
What’s to love
- Outerknown’s no-compromise “sustainability or nothing” approach to making its products makes it a genuinely eco-friendly clothing brand
“Sustainability is everything” is Outerknown cofounder Kelly Slater’s bold pronouncement on its company website. And what it’s accomplished so far since the brand started in 2015 has been nothing short of outstanding.
So far it’s managed to use 90 percent organic, regenerated, and recycled fabric in its products (including its popular line of men’s trunks, which are made from 100 percent recycled polyester from plastic bottles).
Aside from practicing sustainability, Outerknown also ensures that the people helping make its clothes are paid fairly, partnering only with suppliers from countries such as Peru, Sri Lanka, and Mexico that are either FLA (Fair Labor Association), Fair Trade, or Bluesign certified.
Now that you know how much your fashion habit costs the environment, it’s time to make more conscious decisions about what you put on you. Before you buy (even if it is from an eco-friendly clothing brand), think long and hard about whether you really need to add another item of clothing to your wardrobe. Remember, these products still consume the Earth’s precious resources, so your best bet is always to refuse, reuse, or repurpose.
But of course, if all signs really point to buy, then at least you’ll feel a whole lot better knowing that you made the ethical and environmentally wise choice.
And lastly, don’t be one of those people who swear never to get caught wearing the same article of clothing twice. That’s just plain outdated fashion advice—and it’s not doing the Earth any good too.
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