Environment

10 Sustainable Fashion Brands That Will Keep You—and Planet Earth—Looking Good

Before you refresh that summer wardrobe, consult our list and spend your dollar where it counts.

In 2013, shoppers were reaquainted with the tragic story of their clothing when a massive factory collapse claimed the lives of more than 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers.

The nonprofit Fashion Revolution, formed in response to that disaster, continues to track the apparel industry’s progress on environmental stewardship and human rights. But four years later, big brands are still not doing enough to disclose their efforts to customers, the organization concluded in a recent report.

Some former corporate bogeymen like Adidas, Nike and H&M are moving in the right direction, but big labels are playing catch-up compared to newcomers and competitors that were sustainable from the start. Before you refresh that summer wardrobe, consult our list and spend your dollar where it counts.

1. Indigenous

Image credit: Indigenous

Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds founded Indigenous over 20 years ago with a big dream and a steep uphill climb. Inspired by the women’s weaving collectives of South America, the pair envisioned a scalable fashion line based on ancient techniques and fair labor.

The company employs around 1,500 artisans working in groups of three to 30, which made quality control and consistency a challenge at the outset. “We’re dealing with a unique production model—it’s diversified, it’s spread out—and we had to create a new systems model,” Reynolds told RSF Social Finance. “That took a lot of time and collaboration and money.”

After years of work, the company’s supply chain runs like a well-oiled machine. Indigenous was among the first in the apparel sector to adopt Fair Trade certification. It now works with over a dozen Fair Trade field organizing teams to source its cozy sweaters and everyday basics for men and women, which are made from organic cotton and other natural fibers.

Image credit: Indigenous

2. Everlane

Image credit: Everlane

Everlane was founded on the principle of “radical transparency”—and it’s not joking. The e-commerce company discloses the true cost of manufacturing and shipping each product, as well as its markup, and customers can explore each of its partner factories online.

Everlane claims to source from “the best factories around the world,” but the label’s surprisingly competitive prices align with its transparent model: A men’s or women’s shirt sells for around $25, while a pair of pants will set shoppers back around $65.

Image credit: Everlane

3. Patagonia

Image credit: Fredrik Marmsater Photography, LLC, courtesy of Patagonia

“When we make a decision because it’s the right thing to do for the planet, it ends up also being good for the business,” Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard wrote in his 2016 book, Let My People Go Surfing.

The 78-year-old nature enthusiast grew his company from a passion project to one of the most successful outdoor gear and apparel brands in the world, with 2015 revenues topping $600 million. But Chouinard’s vision for a company with a net-positive impact never faded.

Image credit: Jeremiah Watt, courtesy of Patagonia

Patagonia is a registered benefit corporation in California and went through a rigorous, voluntary assessment to become a certified B Corp, embedding its ideology within its business model.

The private company switched to 100 percent organic cotton in 1996, and its line makes good use of other sustainable materials like recycled wool, down, nylon and polyester. It was one of the first mainstream labels to offer Fair Trade fashions and now boasts nearly 300 certified styles in its portfolio.

Patagonia uses 100 percent organic cotton and other sustainable materials in its clothing line. (image credit: Jody MacDonald, courtesy of Patagonia)

The firm headed by CEO Rose Marcario also considers itself an activist company and regularly backs environmental causes, donating $10 million in Black Friday profits to grassroots eco groups last year.

4. Reformation

 

 

Summering - it's a verb, and you guys are good at it.

A post shared by Reformation (@reformation) on

Trends change quickly, and modern shoppers expect something new every time they log onto a brand’s website or step into a store. While major fashion labels often reach for environmentally intensive materials and sweatshop labor to keep up, Reformation is out to turn the system on its ears by merging fast fashion and sustainability.

The women’s label uses only sustainable materials, such as vintage and deadstock fabrics. Each piece is made by fairly paid workers in downtown Los Angeles, and its online and retail stores feature new fashions every few weeks.

The concept dreamed up by 30-something entrepreneur Yael Aflalo seems to be working: Supermodel Karlie Kloss invested in the certified B Corp, which also counts it-girls like Rihanna and Taylor Swift as fans.

5. Warby Parker

Image credit: Warby Parker

Warby Parker is known for disrupting the eyewear industry. Its stylish frames, competitive prices and e-commerce-driven model quickly amassed a mainstream following, and the company’s valuation grew to $1 billion in only five years.

But the label’s innovative use of the "buy-a-pair, give-a-pair" business model is arguably what keeps customers coming back. For every pair of spectacles or sunglasses sold, the company distributes a pair to a person in need through its nonprofit partners, totaling more than 2 million pairs to date.

Some fans may also be glad to hear about the company’s growing activist streak: It is one of 1,370 big brands involved in We Are Still In, a pledge to continue reducing greenhouse gas emissions despite the U.S.' abrupt exit from the Paris climate accord.

Image credit: Warby Parker

6. Tom Cridland

 

Get the perfect wardrobe for the summer heatwave at tomcridland.com! #tomcridland #30yearcollection

A post shared by Tom Cridland (@tomcridlandmenswear) on

Americans send over 13 million tons of textiles to the landfill each year. In the U.K., around 30 percent of clothing is worn for less than a year before being landfilled, amounting to 350,000 tons annually, thanks in large part to the fast fashion cycle.

Tom Cridland is another up-and-comer looking to change that. The 27-year-old Londoner founded his label three years ago by outfitting some of the most dapper gents in Hollywood, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Stiller and Daniel Craig. Two years later, he launched his “30-Year Collection” of men’s T-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets that are guaranteed to last—you guessed it—for 30 years.

The line is manufactured ethically in Portugal and Italy, and seeks to "fight fast fashion" while promoting more "sustainable" and "ethical" clothing, Cridland told Fortune last year.

7. Eileen Fisher

Image credit: Eileen Fisher

Sustainability and business ethics are top of mind for Eileen Fisher and her eponymous fashion label. “Ten years ago, I decided to take baby steps toward making clothes that helped versus hurt the planet,” Fisher told Inc. magazine in 2014. “But recently I realized we're not moving fast enough: We have to start sprinting, and actually lead the fashion industry to make these changes now.”

Last year, Fisher and her team adopted a set of bold goals for 2020. The company known for its women’s basics pledged to become carbon negative, create an entirely ethical supply chain with a focus on fair labor and human rights, and “use the most sustainable fibers we can lay our hands on,” among other targets.  

“It’s really about two words,” Fisher told the Los Angeles Times in 2015. “No excuses.”

Image credit: Eileen Fisher

8. Naja

Men will never know the struggle of blowing a week’s pay on undergarments only to see them left threadbare after the first wash. And all of that wasted money does little more than contribute to expanding waste streams and poor working conditions around the world.

Enter an unlikely union between entrepreneur Catalina Girald and “Jane the Virgin” actress Gina Rodriguez. Their eco-minded lingerie and swimwear brand Naja won’t break the bank, and it empowers women workers rather than oppressing them: Naja’s garment factory employs mostly single mothers and female heads of household who receive above-market wages and healthcare benefits.

9. Summerlove

Image credit: Summerlove Swimwear

Most swimwear is made from nylon or polyester, both of which are petroleum products. Summerlove is one of several brands opting for a recycled nylon blend made from discarded fishing nets and other nylon waste. The company claims this simple swap slashes energy use by more than 65 percent while turning waste into resource.

Known for its “$99 eco bikini,” Summerlove’s suits have graced the pages of Sports Illustrated, and they’re all designed and manufactured in California.

10. United By Blue

Image credit: United By Blue

Philadelphia entrepreneur Brian Linton founded United By Blue with one goal: Leverage an outdoor apparel brand to actively improve the natural spaces he knew and loved. His label focuses on relaxed, summer-ready fashions for men and women, and the company promises to remove one pound of trash from American waterways for every item sold.

Over the past seven years, Linton and his team facilitated nearly 200 cleanups and removed an astounding 1 million pounds of trash from waterways. “We do our own dirty work,” Linton told the Philadelphia Citizen. “We decided that by internalizing the cleanup work, we would be able to have a larger impact than if we donated money.”

Image credit: United By Blue

Mark Twain once quipped, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."

That may be so, but with a growing number of sustainable, fair-trade and eco-conscious fashion brands, those clothes can also help make the world a little better.

Mary Mazzoni is a freelance environmental journalist and editor based in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared on TriplePundit, Yahoo Travel, Budget Travel, and many other publications. Follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.

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