And while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly clothing” — i.e. all garments have at least some negative impact on the environment — there are brands working diligently to help make a difference. The Good Housekeeping Institute’s Textiles Lab worked with an environmental consultant and used our fabric expertise to break it down for you, finding top brands that are addressing environmental and social concerns. We’ve selected these picks based on style and sustainable features, but first, here’s what you need to know about sustainable fashion and ethical clothing.
While "fast fashion" describes clothing that is cheaply made and intended for short-term use, "sustainable" (or "ethical") fashion is the opposite. It takes into account the full lifecycle of the product — from the design, sourcing, and production processes — and looks at everyone and everything being affected by it, from the environment, to the workers and communities where it’s produced, to the consumers who purchase it. It’s a complex issue and there isn’t one brand that’s currently capable of tackling everything, but right now there are five main issues being addressed in the fashion industry:
1. Water usage: The demands for fresh water for drinking and agriculture is far surpassing what’s available. Yes, the Earth is covered in water, but most of it is unusable salt water or has been polluted. As a result, some brands are now looking at the supply chains to see how they can cut back on how much water they're using.
2. Hazardous chemicals: Dyes and finishes from the production processes are dangerous for the workers, plus they get into the community water sources. These chemicals may not affect the consumers, but they’re a problem for the people who make clothing and those who live in areas where it’s produced. Fashion and outdoor brands are now tasked with coming up with new ways to address dyes and finishes for features like wrinkle-resistance and water-repellency.
3. Short lifecycle: Stores are constantly launching new designs and consumers are regularly updating their wardrobes. The biggest goal in sustainable fashion is to buy less and use things longer. To make clothes last, there are platforms for closet-sharing, brands that promote buying used clothing, and simple yet durable styles that you can wear over and over again.
4. Waste: On top of having a short lifecycle, there needs to be a way to create less trash by making products useful again once they’ve run their course. One way is to repair garments (i.e. mending holes in jeans and replacing worn soles of shoes) while another opportunity comes from using recycled materials in apparel.
5. Agriculture: Natural fibers like cotton are often grown using pesticides and treatments that are harmful to the farmers, workers, and wildlife in the area. There are now more options for organic cotton, linen, and other fibers available, which also use less water than the conventional growing methods. Plus, brands are looking at being organic throughout the production process – not just the growing of the crop, which is only the first step.
The most sustainable fabric is one that’s previously been used; anything new that has been produced – regardless of what material – has a negative impact on the environment. After that comes fabrics made with recycled material. Most commonly you’ll find polyester made from recycled water bottles. Just make sure you’re looking for specific details, like "100% recycled polyester" (some brands might market it as “made with partially recycled materials” when it’s really only a small portion).
Lastly, fabrics made with sustainable fibers are better than conventional ones, like organic fibers that use less chemicals and water, or Tencel that’s safer for workers and has less waste.
Yes! Buying something used is more sustainable than anything new, so it’s automatically going to cost you less. This doesn’t mean you have to shop at Goodwill, and it’s actually becoming a trend: The fashion industry calls it “recommerce.” Sites like eBay, thredUP, and Poshmark make it easy to swap out your clothes, and brands like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia are even selling pre-worn garments from their own labels.
Just be cautious that you don’t use the cost-savings as an excuse to buy more since that'll take away from it being a sustainable purchase. That being said, if you’re going to buy new sustainable fashion from brands that follow ethical practices and give fair wages, use organic fibers, or create more durable items, you may end up paying more – but these garments are meant to last longer.
Different brands focus on combating various issues in the fashion industry – some just one, while others are tackling multiple. Read on to learn more about brands we love that are creating the best options for ethical clothing and accessories.
From growing the cotton to dyeing and finishing, it takes over 2,000 gallons of water just to make one pair of jeans. Levi’s focuses on the finishing processes to remove water wherever possible with its Water<Less collection, which it says uses up to 96% less water to make.
And because Levi's is such a big player in the denim industry, steps like this can actually have an impact. On top of that, the brand publicly shares its in-depth sustainability commitments throughout the product lifecycle.
For casual closet staples like T-shirts, hoodies, leggings, and more, Alternative Apparel focuses on using organic cotton and recycled materials. The pieces have a worn-in, vintage look that’s timeless so they won’t go in and out of style.
The brand also uses more sustainable packaging and low impact dyes, and it follows strict ethical standards for the factories it sources from. And it’s not just for women: there are also styles for men and kids.
All of the cotton garments from this brand are certified organic by GOTS, so you know the entire manufacturing process follows organic guidelines. They’re also Fair Trade Certified, which looks at ethical factors like wages and working conditions.
The clothes themselves are mostly soft and comfy staples that you can wear every day, but there are also pajamas and underwear so you can opt for organic 24/7. This one also makes clothing for the whole family, including men, kids, and baby.
This brand focuses on ethics and transparency, showing its markup process for each garment and showcasing factories to give an idea of where it sources from. It claims every factory gets audited and scored during the selection process.
There isn’t a clear impact from an environmental perspective, but the styles are good-looking without being super trendy so you can wear them year after year (i.e. you don’t have to buy more and create waste). Everlane sells everything from clothing and outerwear to footwear and accessories, plus styles for men.
It’s not a clothing brand itself, but the website buys and sells women’s and kids used clothing that’s in like-new condition with lots of life left in it. The retailer closely inspects second-hand garments before selling them, so you know you’re getting garments that are in great shape.
Buying used clothing is more sustainable than anything new, and on top of that you’re getting top fashion brands for a fraction of the cost. You can also send your unwanted clothing and the brand will either buy it or consign it for you. Anything that it doesn't accept gets repurposed or recycled.
Each item in the Conscious collection has an aspect that lessens its environmental impact, like organic cotton or recycled polyester. The best part is that the styles start at just $10 so you don’t have to spend a fortune on sustainable fashion.
You can also recycle your unwanted clothing at H&M stores for a discount to buy something new. Even if it’s torn up and can’t be reworn, the brand makes sure the clothes are used for something else and won’t end up in a landfill. The H&M Group parent company says overall it uses 57% recycled or sustainably sourced fibers, with a goal to reach 100% by 2030.
This luxury brand is a leader in sustainable fashion and takes a full lifecycle approach: It looks at everything from the fibers, to the dyes and finishes, to ethics during the production process, to repairs and waste at the end of the cycle – and the list goes on.
The garments can get pricey, but under the Renew website, the brand buys back and resells its own label’s gently worn clothing so you can get it for a lower price in excellent condition. If the clothing isn’t good enough to be resold, it'll turn the fabric into art using special felting techniques.
The concept behind the brand is “fewer, better things” – meaning if you buy good stuff that’ll last and not go out of style, you won’t need to buy as much. It’s mostly known for accessories like its versatile tote bags, but it also sells timeless clothing. And while it’s not cheap, there’s great value for the amount of use you’ll get from its garments.
The brand also manufactures in a mindful way, choosing factories that are near the raw materials so there’s less traveling involved and sourcing its items where there’s the most expertise, like cotton shirts from Turkey and alpaca sweaters from Peru.
This brand calculates the environmental footprint based on the carbon dioxide emissions, water usage, and waste produced in what it calls the “Refscale” to help understand the impact of each garment.
For each item listed on the website, you can see the savings for these areas (though unfortunately it doesn't tell you the total amounts used). The styles are fashionable enough that you’d never suspect they’re from a sustainable brand and they’re available in extended sizes 0 through 24.
To avoid waste, this brand says it makes smaller quantities in the US (though it still does have a sale section on the website). It sources fibers from all over the world and focuses on choosing more sustainable options when possible, like organic cotton and Tencel.
The designs range from basics to more stylish pieces and there are a few baby styles available as well. On top of that, the company plants a tree for every tee that’s purchased, with over 220,000 trees planted so far. You can even opt to have an extra tree planted for $1.
With a main focus on ethics and fair trade, this UK brand promotes good wages and working conditions for the people making the clothes. In fact, it’s Fair Trade Certified so you know the supply chain has been inspected against strict standards.
It also opts for materials like organic cotton, Tencel lyocell, and low impact dyes during production. You can buy everything you need for your wardrobe from this brand, from tops and dresses to undergarments, sleepwear, and activewear.
This newer brand puts a lot of thought into how and where it makes its clothes. For starters, it tries to use more sustainable materials wherever possible or buy from mills with ethical practices like waste management. It even uses waste from other companies’ production processes to make shirts, and it only uses fabrics that don’t need to be dry cleaned. Not to mention, the upscale athleisure styles are perfect for traveling because they pack nicely and don't wrinkle easily.
This outdoor brand is widely recognized as one of the best in ethical clothing. On top of using more sustainable materials when it can, it helps you repair your clothes and gear to make them last longer, and it has collections that are Fair Trade Certified and Bluesign approved (which means the supply chain is closely monitored to make sure it’s safe for the environment, workers, and consumers).
Patagonia also buys and resells its own styles, so you can get credit for bringing in your old Patagonia clothing or buy something pre-owned for a lower cost.
Columbia also looks at the full supply chain to improve its sustainability, but what makes it stand out from other brands is the innovation in the production process. Its Outdry Eco jackets are made from recycled water bottles, use no dye to save over 24 gallons of water per jacket, and has a water-repellant finish without PFCs that are known to be harmful to the environment.
The brand also says over half of its vendors are Bluesign certified, meaning they are more efficient with water, energy, and waste, and follow strict safety requirements.
Right now, this athleisure and activewear brand says that 60% of its products are made with sustainable materials, either using fibers like organic cotton, recycled polyester, and Tencel or producing the garments in an ethical factory, like ones that are Fair Trade Certified. The goal is to have this number at 80% by 2020. On top of that, the company is B Corp Certified, meaning it meets strict social and environmental standards. We’re also big fans of this brand’s performance; it consistently does well our Textiles Lab’s tests.
10g Cotton Work Glove
Yogis are obsessed with this brand that makes everything from yoga mats to workout clothing (including men's and women's). The sustainability focus is mainly on the fabric: It uses organic cotton certified by GOTS and recycled materials certified by GRS. We especially love the Essential Legging, which is made in part from recycled water bottles and performed well in our Lab’s moisture wicking and stretch recovery evaluations. Our testers also said it felt soft, fit well, and was flattering, proving you don’t have to sacrifice performance for a greener material.
Knitted Protective, Knitted Flame Resistant, Muti-Functional Workwea - Harmony,https://www.harmonyfr.com/