By Aaron Howes in Fashion Apr 27, 2017
Everyone in the fashion supply chain is responsible for its impact on the planet, from designers and manufacturers to retailers and consumers. The Care Label Project, launched by AEG, is a global initiative connecting these players and encouraging them to execute positive changes towards an ethical fashion industry.
Its primary focus is on breaking non-sustainable garment care habits, but as part of its mission, it’s has partnered with Fashion Revolution to examine a garment’s entire lifecycle—from design to aftercare—and understand where key parties can make improvements.
Fashion Revolution Week marks the anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse on April 24, 2013. The incident killed over 1,000 people and injured thousands more at a garment factory in Bangladesh. Fashion Revolution challenges people to demand greater transparency in the fashion industry and to question where clothing comes from. Its manifesto is clear cut: “We want to unite the fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased so that what the world wears has been made in a safe, clean and fair way.”
But as the Care Label Project rightfully highlights, we as consumers have a big role to play after purchasing clothes too; according to WRAP the way clothing is cared for contributes 25% of its carbon footprint. As well as saving energy and water, better aftercare could extend the life of garments, decrease the demand for new clothing and reduce non-sustainable production rates. So how can you make your clothing last longer and become a more ethical consumer of fashion?
With the Care Label Project and Fashion Revolution’s help, we’ve formulated four foolproof tips to help you on your way to building a more ethical and sustainable wardrobe: investing in quality clothing, rethinking care habits, utilizing modern washing technology, and restoring, reusing and recycling old clothes.
1. Invest in Quality Clothes
People tend to choose instant gratification over long-term satisfaction. An item of clothing from an affordable, non-sustainable high street retailer instantly gratifies the customer by appearing to save money and making them temporarily look in-the-know. Little thought is given to how long the garment will last, when it will cease to be on-trend and when the buyer will no longer wish to wear it. Trend-led, fast fashion retailers don’t want people to think about these things because they challenge their business models and would ultimately lose them money. But by being more considerate about purchases, we invest in clothing that saves money and the planet in the long-term.
Luckily, it’s no longer necessary to compromise unique style for the sake of sustainability as more and more brands begin to take a conscious approach. Ethical and sustainable manufacturing techniques could become the norm as we approach an environmental tipping point, and these labels could be on the cusp of change. Some such industry leaders contributed to the Care Label Collection encouraging sustainable behavior at every stage of a garment’s life cycle — from manufacturing to washing. Buying from these transparent brands means knowing where your clothing comes from and investing in something that will last.
The key is to think more long-term, buying fewer higher quality clothes that will endure time, wear and trend shifts. Look for natural fibers such as cotton, wool and linen made from organic textiles or renewable materials. Opting for more timeless garments can help, but even when buying of-the-moment pieces, a quality investment from a sustainable brand has more chance of earning something back should you wish to get rid of it.
2. Rethink Washing Habits
The Care Label Project’s primary aim is to change the way clothing is cared for because, as mentioned, 25% of a garment’s carbon footprint comes from the way it’s cared for. More sustainable garment care helps clothing to last longer and, in turn, decreases environmental damage. The Care Label Project offers three crucial pieces of advice in its Modern Care Guide: wash less, wash at lower temperatures and only dry clean when essential.
Washing less and at lower temperatures reduces the energy and water used and extends a garment’s lifespan by gently preserving fabrics. This is important because the longer clothing lasts, the less often it has to be replaced, and global textile consumption has more than doubled since 2000 (it’s expected to increase three times further by 2050). According to EURATEX, the textile and clothing industry has the second biggest impact on the environment, and it’s no surprise considering every kilo of textile produced uses at least one kilo of chemicals. So if we’re consuming less, we’re reducing the environmental impact.
Consider airing clothes out or steaming instead of washing them, and when you do wash, only wash full machine loads. Modern machines will adjust the cycle with the weight of the load and, contrary to the instructions on most care labels, you can clean garments at 20 to 30 degrees below the specified maximum temperature to save energy. Lower temperatures will help maintain the shape and color of jeans, while tumble drying outerwear reactivates protective layers and helps retain water repellency.
Dry cleaning uses damaging chemicals that negatively affect fabrics, the environment and skin. Regular modern machines can wash clothes that many people would only dry clean without using these chemicals. Silk, for example, can be washed on a gentle cycle and steamed to reduce wrinkles. This brings us onto our next tip: the need for better washing technology.
3. Better Washing Technology
Innovations in technology have been key to utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, but they’re also important when it comes to more ethical washing habits. A modern washer can save 80% more energy compared to one that is five years old and 60% simply by dropping the temperature from 40 to 30 degrees. Yet the Care Label Project told us that the majority of people aren’t optimizing their garment care in this way and over a third of people have never changed their laundry habits since they were first taught them.
AEG’s modern machines automatically adjust cycles for gentler drum movements, tailored temperatures and improved drying cycles that protect fabrics, reduce textile damage and maintain textures. AEG’s SensiDry technology, for example, reduces the drying temperature by almost half which reduces damage and wear, and helps maintain fabric texture. This extends a garment’s lifespan and could decrease the demand for more textiles.
These machines and tailored cycles also use less water and energy. AEG’s SoftWater Technology optimizes the water entering the drum to work at maximum efficiency, even at the lowest temperatures. It maintains colors and prevents fading while also keeping fabrics soft and in-shape. ÖKOMix Technology also guarantees an even washing and drying process, premixing detergents and softeners to maximize effectiveness. At the end of the day, however, everything is temporary; tastes change, colors fade and little holes become big holes. So what’s next?
4. Repair. Reuse. Recycle.
At this point, it might seem logical to throw clothing in the garbage, and as a consequence, more than one million tons of textiles are thrown away every year. In reality, a garment’s lifecycle is far from over, and even when it is, the garbage isn’t the place for it.
A WRAP survey suggested that extending a garment’s life by just nine months could reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20 to 30% each. One way to do this is through restoration: patching holes, installing new zippers, sewing new buttons or simply customizing. Some brands such as Blackhorse Lane Ateliers and Patagonia offer to repair damaged clothing, and the latter has video repair guides with step-by-step instructions on repairing clothing at home.
But what about when something just has to go? Perhaps it’s no longer the right size, or you’re just absolutely sick of it. Well, as the old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Whether it’s a friend, charity shop or online bargain hunter, someone out there will take it off your hands. And should it be so beyond repair that no one could possibly want it, head to a recycling station to disposed of it and for all.
21 Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Brands Actually Worth Buyin
Think of the fashion world as the film Zoolander. Now think of widespread production practices as Ben Stiller’s character, Derek Zoolander.
Now think of sustainable fashion and ethical clothing as Owen Wilson’s character, Hansel. It’s so hot right now. And not without good reason, to be honest. In case you didn’t get the memo, our planet is basically breaking, and it turns out that a lot of it is down to the way we make stuff.
It’s this dynamic of “trendy through necessity” that makes sustainable fashion such an interesting area right now.
On the one hand, there are undoubtedly designers out there exploring ethical clothing because it makes them look good – that’s how trends work, after all – but there’s loads of other labels exploring new and pioneering techniques now because it’s more than likely that they’ll eventually become the norm if society wants to continue living as comfortably as we have up to now.
I recently discussed this in the context of adidas’ explorations in sustainable fashion and the question of who is leading who.
But what this interplay ultimately creates is a wide field of brands creating ethical clothing from different starting points, which means that you can dress ethically and still look good, or look good and still dress ethically. With that in mind, here’s a selection of some of the best sustainable brands out there making product that just might help us stop killing polar bears.
There are plenty reasons for New York label Noah to be getting attention, and being founded by former Creative Director of Supreme, Brendon Babenzien, certainly hasn’t done any damage to the label’s profile.
The brand’s roots in skateboarding, punk and nautical culture has created a unique and exciting identity at a time when so many other brands seem to be imitating everybody else, but their passions are more than surface level.
Babenzien makes no secret of the values he wants his brand to represent; they’ve released product to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement, written extensively about issues like pesticides and ocean pollution, and are constantly working to manufacture their product using sustainable practices.
The reverse of the care label on each of their garments even features a fact about the damage humans are doing to the ocean – most recently, that there are over 500 “dead zones” in the world’s oceans; areas where pollution has made life completely unsustainable.
Simple name, simple product, simple pleasures. Brainchild of Gail and Lonny Richards, Organic Threads is a sustainable brand that produces one thing and one thing only: socks made from 100% organic cotton grown and manufactured in the USA.
They’re so proud of their fabrics that they don’t even dye them, resulting in beautiful, earthy tones that I promise will go great with whatever the on-trend color palette du jour happens to be.
Word of warning though; don’t visit their website unless you want to feel like you’ve been shot through a wormhole back to 1997. Spare your eyes and grab a pair from Kinoko.
You don’t have to look at Scandinavian denim brand Nudie Jeans’ laid-back, surfer vibe for long to figure out that they’d probably align themselves with ethical clothing, but they’re doing a lot more than putting waves on the back pockets of their jeans.
They manufacture all of their product with 100% organic cotton (using 91% less water than traditional methods in the process), they pay everyone in their supply chain a living wage, they recycle and resell second-hand garments, and they perform unannounced checks on their factories and suppliers to make sure everyone is keeping to their high standards – and they even publish these reports online for everyone to see.
One of the world’s most famous and respected outdoor brands, Patagonia put in a lot of work to show their love of the natural world is about more than rain jackets and fleeces – and it wasn’t always that way.
They openly admit that they haven’t gotten everything right in the past, and they’re now working hard to try and put that right, making sure their product is safely and ethically produced, revising their entire supply chain to reduce the environmental impact of their production, and providing their workers with health insurance, paid maternity and paternity leave and subsidized childcare.
They’re even trying to discourage their customers from buying more product by offering to restore Patagonia product to good as new with their Worn Wear program. Sometimes it’s nice not to be sold anything.
Started by 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, Outerknown comes from a similar spirit to Supreme; a bunch of surfers who wanted to dress the same way they always had, but look a bit more grown up and stylish.
They build on this, however, with a pure premise of challenging the norms of the clothing industry and pursuing strictly ethical, sustainable production.
100% cotton T-shirts, fair-trade suppliers, even turning reclaimed fishing nets into nylon board shorts, Outerknown effectively turns surf culture’s love of the ocean into a sustainable brand that lives by that very same ethos.
Hailing from the spiritual home of all things progressive and eco-friendly – Portland, Oregon – Nau is a sustainable fashion brand that makes a range of casual and outdoors clothing with an ethical touch.
Organic cottons, recycled polyesters and PFC-free waterproof treatments ensure their product is environmentally-friendly, and they donate 2% of every sale to a number of partners, helping to fund a range of initiatives across the world including People for Bikes and Mercy Corps.
Buying ethical clothing is one thing, but what about the stuff you’re putting on your skin? In recent years we’re becoming more aware that a lot of skincare and beauty products are loaded with harmful chemicals that might be less than good for your body, and people are looking for clean, sustainable alternatives.
Haeckels is a small skincare brand from the town of Margate on the southeast coast of England who create perfumes and skincare products from locally-sourced ingredients such as pine trees, roses, chalk and blackberries, but most interesting is their range of seaweed-based products.
One of just two companies with a license to harvest seaweed from the English coast, Haeckels are committed to their environmental responsibilities, maintaining the health of the coastline, using glass packaging wherever possible to avoid harmful plastics, testing all of their products on themselves and meticulously documenting their practices – they can even tell you the day ingredients were harvested, the weather on that particular day, and the precise location the ingredients came from.
They’ve already been picked up by tastemakers like Goodhood, colette and Open As Usual and, on a personal level, since buying their facewash on a whim a few months back I have the complexion of a Roman goddess. Recommended.
Portland brand Olderbrother have set their sights on injecting a laid-back attitude and playful aesthetic into sustainable fashion, using progressive production practices to create ethical clothing for men and women that won’t do damage.
Everything is dyed with natural dyes and produced with carefully sourced materials, and their Hand Me Down series re-dyes and recycles old garments to create unique, one-of-a-kind pieces with a conscience. I know, it’s all very Portland, but it’s also very, very good.
With their distinctive “V” branding and understated designs, you’ve probably already encountered Veja’s shoes countless times, but they’re also one of the most committed labels in sustainable fashion right now.
The French footwear brand uses organic cotton and sustainable natural Amazonian rubber to make their shoes, and refuses to work with any leather manufacturers from the Amazon, where cattle farming has been a major contributor to deforestation.
On top of that, they use airtight stock management procedures to avoid overproduction and waste. Not only that, their leather-free vegan models are slick as hell as well, so why not leave the cows out of it for once? Huh? What you got against cows? What did they ever do to you? Leave the cows alone! Alright? Alright.
As anyone living down on the Cornish coast will tell you, surf culture in the UK is pretty far removed from the tropical shirtless stereotype that’s propagated through the media (the long blonde hair is still pretty accurate, though).
If you want to ride waves over here, you’re gonna want to dress for the elements. Much like Kelly Slater’s Outerknown, Tom Kay’s Finisterre has been producing clean, functional outdoors apparel since 2002 with a firm focus on ethical clothing production wherever possible.
They use recycled fabrics in a lot of their clothing right down to the insulation filling, as well as biodegradable treatments and finishes to ensure that when their clothing inevitably returns to the earth, it takes nothing but the good stuff with it.
And when it comes to more challenging products such as wetsuits and technical gear, they’re committed to making sure their product is built to last – buy it once, wear it, and keep wearing it. But if you’re going on a surfing trip in Cornwall, for the love of God please wrap up warm. I’ll only tell you once.
Fall back #menswear, it’s time to get ethical. Clothing is becoming increasingly easy to make sustainable and environmentally friendly, but when it comes to leather shoes, sustainable brands have to think a bit smarter.
Since 2011, Nisolo has been working with select manufacturers in Mexico, Kenya and Peru (where they have their own production factory) to produce quality leather shoes with sustainable, ethical practices.
Workers are paid a decent wage and wherever possible the brand eschews harmful chemicals, opting for vegetable tanning processes over chemical treatments, for example. At $190 for a pair of handmade penny loafers, you’d be crazy not to.
As anyone who lives in Berlin will tell you, when Germans get behind a political cause they can get pretty passionate about it. Enter ethical clothing label Bleed, named for their anti-animal cruelty product underpinned by the tagline “We bleed for nature.”
Seriously though, these guys don’t mess around when it comes to their principles, meticulously detailing the background to each of their materials – using cork, for example, as an ecological and sustainable leather alternative – and collaborating with the likes of Liquid Surf and PETA to keep our oceans clean and our animals healthy and happy.
Everything Bleed produces is 100% vegan and very reasonably priced, so you can rest assured that you’re protecting that other precious, endangered species – your credit rating.
Between their straight-to-the-point brand name to the opening line of their “About” page – “The fashion industry is a dirty bastard.” – there’s not much else to say about Organic Basics.
Looking at the industry-wide push to create sustainable fashion, the Danish label noticed nobody was putting in the work to create ethical clothing when it came to the pieces you put on without even thinking; underwear, socks and undershirts.
The result is a simple collection of sustainable fashion basics for him and her in clean black and white color palettes, and their range of subscription packages means you even have the option of getting a fresh delivery of clean-conscience undergarments to fit your schedule. So you’re on a first date.
You buy organic groceries? Not bad. You only buy vegan sneakers? They’re impressed. But you’re packaged in ethical underwear? That’s the panty dropper. Scratch that – the ethical panty dropper.
Born from personal passions, Joe Lauder started out producing classic ’60s-style skateboards a few years back, and some unexpected press led him to creating the sustainable brand Satta.
Fast-forward a few years and the South-London brand is producing everything from clothing and skate decks to incense with a heavy focus on ethics, organics and sustainability.
With its laid-back aesthetic and touches of spirituality, the brand has been a hit in its home city, being picked up by the likes of Kinoko, Goodhood and Slam City Skates. The incense, however, is particularly solid.
You: a bulk pack of Nag Champa incense sticks. The guy she tells you not to worry about: Satta’s white sage incense bundles, sustainably harvested from the coastal mountains of California. There’s levels to this aroma game, friend.
Knowledge Cotton Apparel
Hailing from Denmark, Knowledge Cotton Apparel is a casual menswear brand that pursues ethical clothing production with two primary focuses: 100% organic cotton and recycled PET polyester.
PolyEthylene Terephthalate is the oil-sourced plastic used to manufacture most plastic bottles, and its environmental impact is about as ugly as its spelling.
Knowledge Cotton Apparel endeavors to produce as much of its collections using organic cotton and recycled PET as possible, and their clean, understated aesthetic makes them a perfect option for anyone looking for some new wardrobe staples.
Founded in 2007 in Cologne, Germany, Armedangels is a sustainable fashion brand pursuing ethical practices throughout its production chain, using organic fabrics like cotton, wool and linen as well as recycled polyester, and working with organizations such as the Fair Wear Foundation to ensure everyone from their design team to their farm workers are paid a fair, living wage for their labor.
They’ve got a comprehensive product offer for both men and women, available at a price that won’t break the bank. Ball on a budget, with a conscience.
Founded in 2005 by Ali Hewson, EDUN is a New York-based women’s fashion label rooted in promoting production and trade across the African continent.
Through a multi-pronged approach to ethical clothing, the label works closely with manufacturers, artists and local communities to strengthen trade and create lasting business ties with African creators in the fashion world.
In recent years, EDUN has received investment from LVMH, so hopefully the approach will pick up across the wider high-fashion world.
Already firmly established in the Scandinavian fashion scene for their clean and understated menswear and womenswear designs, Swedish brand Filippa K is now making commendable progress as a sustainable brand through a number of groundbreaking initiatives.
First up, their Front Runners collection offers a range of pieces that are heavily scrutinized from material sourcing and production to destruction and disposal to create truly sustainable fashion pieces, the latest chapter exploring recycled wool garments blended with durable recycled polyester constructed without the use of any dyes.
Even more interesting is their Lease initiative, a service which allows customers at a number of Filippa K’s Scandinavian and European flagships to rent a garment for 4 days at 20% of retail price with all cleaning costs included.
It’s a two-pronged attack on modern consumptive practices; look fresh every week without breaking the bank, or buy something sustainably produced that you know will last a lifetime. Smart.
Designed and produced in Los Angeles, Jungmaven is an ethical clothing brand with one basic objective at its core: hemp.
More environmentally friendly than traditional fabrics like cotton, hemp is a wonder-plant in more ways than one, requiring less water to grow and absorbing carbon back into the earth, helping to regenerate soil.
In its fight to promote the plant, Jungmaven produces a wide range of 100% hemp garments alongside a number of hemp-cotton blend pieces for those of us still transitioning to the hemp life. You’ll get there eventually.