Sustainable fashion is a major buzzword these days. Consumers care; they’re more conscientious than ever of how and where their favorite products are made. They’re increasingly likely to get behind sustainable fashion designers and responsible fashion brands.
But let’s back up a minute. What is sustainable fashion, exactly? The truth is, there are numerous aspects to consider in sustainable fashion—many of which might not immediately come to mind.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase “sustainable fashion”? More than likely, you envision organic cotton basics or pieces made from bamboo-fiber fabrics in earthy, outdoorsy tones. Sure, that’s one possible type of sustainable fashion. But responsible fashion practices extend far beyond the final product. In trying to understand sustainable fashion, it’s important to consider both the environmental and socio-economic impact throughout the entire lifecycle of the product.
How is the product material sourced? Is it organic, responsibly-sourced, recycled, or even up-cycled? What type and volume of waste is generated in making the material or making the resulting apparel and accessories? Are toxic byproducts released into the environment due to color dyes or other manufacturing processes? How much water goes to waste creating cool denim washes?
What about the conditions for people working in the factories and all along the supply chain to create a brand’s products and deliver them to your door? Are they exposed to toxic byproducts? Are they paid fair wages, provided a healthy work environment, and treated with respect?
Is the product a “fast-fashion” item, meaning inexpensive yet likely to last only a single season? Or is it something you’ll wear for years, due to timeless style and quality manufacturing? Does the brand churn out new styles every week, or do they focus on a limited collection of high-quality pieces? Does the brand implement a post-consumer reuse or recycle program?
With all these touchpoints to consider, it’s tough to find a brand that does it all. But many do make a significant commitment to sustainable fashion initiatives and should be lauded for their efforts. Here are 10 brands that are doing good, from big names to newcomers, high-end labels to affordable fashion, and even consignment and rental options.
A pioneer in sustainable fashion, Stella McCartney makes luxury items with limited impact on the environment. The designer’s sustainability initiatives are broad ranging, from using organic cotton, ethically sourced wool, and recycled textiles, to employing regenerative and restorative production methods. As a life-long vegetarian and animal lover, McCartney also avoids leather and fur in her designs. Her commitment extends to advocating for the rights and conditions of workers all along the supply chain. She relies on a tool called the Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) to help navigate environmental impact in every aspect of her business.
Eileen Fisher is one of the original heavy hitters in sustainable fashion. As a certified B Corporation, the company voluntarily sets a high bar for social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Aiming for a truly circular business model, Fisher focuses on environmentally-friendly source materials and dyes, ethical production processes, and renewable end results. With a focus on timeless, comfortably-chic neutrals and quality fabrication, Eileen Fisher apparel is made to last through years of use and changing trends. Via the Renew initiative, the company also buys back and resells Fisher’s own designs. If the garments are too worn, the fabrics are repurposed into beautiful works of art.
With its flirty, feminine aesthetic, Reformation hardly looks the part of an environmentally-focused brand. Take a look at any item on the brand’s site, however, and you’ll see a sustainability rating (known as the “Refscale”). The scale shows the carbon dioxide, water, and waste savings tallied in the production of each individual garment. Additionally, Reformation focuses on sustainable fabrics, including deadstock (discarded excess fabric from textile mills and garments factories) and repurposed vintage clothing.
Amour Vert backs their sustainability message with direct action. For every tee purchased, they plant a tree (and add-on trees are available for just $1). Nearly all of their products are produced within a few miles of their headquarters in California, cutting down on carbon emissions. And in addition to using environmentally-friendly fabrics, their designs are produced in limited quantities to eliminate excess waste.
The ultimate tree hugger of sustainable fashion, Tentree plants a whopping 10 trees for every piece of apparel purchased. Thus far they’ve planted more than 30 million trees, with a goal of planting one billion by 2030. The brand’s outdoorsy aesthetic pairs perfectly with their environmental consciousness, offering casual fashion “for those who identify with the outdoors, but are not defined by them.”
Pact is committed to providing GOTS-certified organic cotton garments at unusually affordable prices. The soft, simple staples include everyday designs for the entire family, and even PJs and intimate apparel. The brand’s Give Back, Wear Forward initiative encourages customers to repack and return their Pact shipping box with clothes they no longer wear, which are in turn donated to those in need.
Founded on the premise that “style doesn’t need to be precious, or dry-clean only, or exclusive, or uncomfortable, or destructive,” Epoque Evolution offers a one-wardrobe-does-it-all option. The idea is that a few high-quality, low-maintenance basics tick nearly every box—especially when it’s time to pack fashion and function together in a single suitcase. Sustainable, organic, upcycled, deadstock, and post-consumer waste recycled fibers feature prominently in the brand’s designs.
One of the surest ways to support sustainable fashion ideals is to reuse gently-worn garments. thredUP is a curated high-end secondhand shop, where you can buy fresh fashions at a fraction of the original cost, and sell the items from your closet that no longer suit your style. In addition to their extensive online operation, thredUP runs a non-profit organization that supports individuals and organizations with a similar commitment to sustainability.
Another proponent of a circular economy, The RealReal started as one woman’s luxury consignment startup and now boasts four retail stores and a booming online business. The company even created a custom calculator to measure their environmental impact. As of this writing, the tally stands at 608 million liters of water and 13,300 metric tons of carbon saved.
The sharing economy certainly has a place in sustainable fashion, and no one does it better—or more beautifully—than Rent the Runway. A “closet in the cloud” filled with a dizzying array of stylish apparel and accessories, Rent the Runway offers options ranging from one-time rentals to monthly multi-outfit memberships. Dry-cleaned garments are delivered in returnable plastic bags, which are later recycled into innovative building materials.
If you’re curious about more of your favorite fashion brands and how they rank in regards to ethical practices and sustainability, Australia-based Good On You is an intriguing resource, The organization gives in-depth insight into how numerous brands work to protect people, animals, and the planet.
What are some of your favorite sustainable fashion initiatives? Educate us all by giving them a shout out in the comments below!