Buy less chose well; that’s the concept that completely transformed my wardrobe in 2018. Over the past year I decided it was about time to come to terms with how my toxic shopping habits did not align with my personal values. I want to live in a world that puts people and the planet before profit. Unfortunately, fast fashion supports the exact opposite.
I launched my 5-step sustainable style challenge last January, as my New Year’s resolution more or less, and I’m happy to say it was one I actually stuck with. What started as a way to re-think the way I shop led me to explore much bigger topics like, consumerism and capitalism. I’ll save that discussion for another time.
Of course we can’t simply just shop our way to a better world, but supporting brands with a sustainable and ethical track record is an excellent start.
I truly thought I would have to sacrifice my style for sustainability, but I’m happy to report I was wrong.
What is Ethical Fashion?
You might be new here, in which case I’ll first give you a little briefing on ethical and sustainable fashion. Although these keywords are used interchangeably, there are a few key distinctions.
Ethical fashion focuses on the treatment of people (and animals if you are vegan) with the utmost ethics. Usually this means ensuring that brands pay workers a living wage with benefits and sustainable employment, and making a positive impact on the local community.
Ethical fashion is: Supporting the work of local artisans, who are paid fairly for their work.
Ethical fashion is not: Ripping off designs of artisans or indigenous people, unsafe factories, pushing communities off of their native land.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
However, ethical fashion is not necessarily sustainable. This is because an item may be hand-made by a local artisan, but that doesn’t mean it was made with the environment in mind. Stay with me here.
Sustainable fashion meets the triple bottom line of sustainability: people, planet profit. So a truly sustainable company should meet the standards of ethical fashion, as well as additional standards of using sustainable fabrics and best practices.
You’ll hear a lot of companies throw around eco-friendly and green fashion, but I would argue this isn’t the same thing. Some of these companies use fabrics like polyester (basically chemical plastic), cotton (a huge water consumer, unless organic), and bamboo (which actually isn’t sustainable). Others are just using the sustainable language while still not improving labor practices or being transparent about their carbon footprint. #greenwashing2019.
If you’re just getting into this realm of conscious fashion, I know it can hard to imagine WHAT exactly sustainable and ethical clothing looks like. I definitely wish I knew of some of these brands sooner, and I think they are trail-blazers changing the status quo within fashion.
Sustainable and Ethical Clothing
People Tree is one of the original pioneers in fair trade and sustainable fashion scene. Since the 1990’s, the brand has supported local farmers and artisans as a form of fair trade. They are the first fashion company to be rewarded the World Fair Trade Organization production label.
People Tree only uses certified sustainable tencel and organic cotton, and their production process is carbon neutral. They offer a selection of basic tees, jeans, sweaters, and leggings.
(Shop People Tree Products here.)
The first time I came across this store was during a girl’s trip to NYC, and the spiral rainbow staircase was the last thing I’d imagine in a store that’s sustainable.
Monki is actually based in the UK with stores across Europe, and they have a separate line called “Monki Cares” that uses Organic Cotton and Recycled Polyester.
Monki is amazing for affordable and versatile pieces like tops, bodysuits, and jeans (all made of 100% Organic cotton). I also got this teddy coat from Monki that is extremely cozy, and happens to be made with recycled polyester.
(Shop Monki clothes in the U.S. and Europe here.)
Asos Eco Edit
When in doubt, go the ASOS Eco Edit route. Asos in a major online retailer that as a whole, isn’t that sustainable unfortunately. But unlike other fast-fashion brands, Asos’s line actually has some pretty sustainable practices. Most of their swimsuits are made from recycled yarn. They are beginning to source organic cotton and part of the Better Cotton Initiative. They are working with local artisans in Africa for many of their products. They also sell 36 other brands in the Eco Edit, including People Tee and Monkey.
I’m actually quite impressed that Asos recently held a conference for the future of fashion, calling upon brands to be more inclusive and sustainable. This past year they donated their clothing scrapes to make sanitary pads for women in Africa.
(Shop Eco Edit Swimwear and clothing here.)
I’m impressed by Levi’s ability to stay relevant through the decades, and I’m equally impressed with their sustainability practices. To start, Levi’s philosophy is to sell their jeans as an investment, instead of disposable.
Secondly, the company is also a member of the Better Cotton Initiative and is leading the way in making denim production consume less water. Levi’s provides many workers with a living wage, but is still cleaning up their supply-chain.
(Shop all Levi’s apparel here.)
Dresses and skirts
(Shop Reformation dresses like these here.)
If there’s any brand that is a testament of my personal style, it’s reformation. This California-based company started as an online retailer and then opened up shops across the U.S. Their clothing is the ultimate cool and conscious aesthetic, worn by celebrities and sustainability nuts alike.
The brand makes all of their clothing within the U.S., from sustainable materials such as modal, tencel, and organic cotton. Also, all of their workers are paid a living wage with benefits (many of which are also women of color). They are a go-to for brides-mate dresses, vacation dresses, swimwear, and jeans. I find the prices to be a bit much for some items, but I really love the Ref Jeans line. I also recommend checking out their sales in August and December for the best deals!
I’m so happy I found Maya Miko using the GoodonYou app, because it is now one of my favorite brands. Maya Miko is a UK-based online retailer that works with artisans all over the world, mainly using dead-stock fabrics. All of their prints and designs are fierce and bold, made for the women that will wear them.
I find their items to be reasonably priced for their quality, and they were even able to offer fast shipping here to me in Croatia.
Amour Vert, or love green, is an U.S-based clothing store great for basics and wardrobe staples that will last you for years. This brand uses certified organic and sustainable fabrics, such as organic cotton, modal, and silk. Then even plant a tree for every t-shirt you purchase!
They also provide sustainable employment and leadership opportunities for women, particularly women of color.
The prices can be a little steep, but there are frequent seasonal sales. I am obsessed with how comfy and versatile Amour Vert dresses are!
(Shop Amour Vert dresses and basics here.)
Patagonia was one of the first active and outdoor brands to really take a stand against climate change. They first started making waves when they boycotted black Friday and started the #optoutdoors campaign. And as it turns out, their clothes are actually quite sustainable as well.
Patagonia makes durable clothing meant to last, and sources materials made from organic cotton and recycled fabrics. They also are known for having excellent labor conditions, implementing fair labor practices and paying workers a living wage.
(Shop Patagonia active and outdoors wear here.)
Move over Lululemon and Nike… there’s a new girl in town! Why it took me so long to come across Girlfriend Collective pains me. The Seattle-based company up-cycles plastic water bottles into active wear for all sizes. They are best known for their matching tops and yoga pants that come in a range of drool-worthy colors.
Girlfriend’s commitment to slow fashion and making comfy clothes for women of all sizes landed them in the pages of Vogue and Business Insider. They make all their clothes in small batches, so I’m still waiting to get my hands on a pair in plum!
You can also buy Girlfriend yoga apparel at Nordstroms!
It’s rare that I come across a versatile and cute walking shoe. Especially since I have chronic back pain and travel so often, cute but uncomfortable shoes really don’t cut it for me. My friends at Ethical Writers Coalition recommended Allbirds for their comfort as well as their sustainability.
This California-based company is a certified B Corporation that sources natural materials such as certified ethical marino wool and tencel fibres. Also, all their laces are made of recycled bottles!
I wear my tree runners all the time when I travel, run errands, or walking, and they are so fabulous!
(Shop Allbirds men’s and women’s shoes here.)
Able Local + Global actually carries clothing and accessories, but it’s their shoes that truly hit it out of the park. For the longest time I’ve been looking for heels and sandals that are fashion-forward, sustainable, and somewhat affordable. Many of their products have cute cutout styles that are still functional and comfortable.
All of their shoes are handmade, mostly in Peru, and the company actually publishes all of their worker’s wages online for transparency. They also do this to ensure fair trade for artisans and particularly women.
I’m dying to get my hands on a pair of their block heels!
The sandy brown tones of the Nisolo collection are a worthy investment in any capsule wardrobe. The Nashville-based company makes a variety of booties, mules, and sandals that made from sustainably sourced leather.
They pay all their workers a living wage with full-time employment. I have not purchased their shoes yet, but I know their shoes have a reputation for being durable and comfortable.
Once I can afford a pair of head-turning Brother Vellies, I’ll know I made it in life. Brother Vellies is where artisanal African footwear meets NYC luxury fashion. Founded by Aurora James, she started the company to provide sustainable employment to artisans in South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Morocco.
Their shoes are made out of dead-stock fabrics, and they use vegetable dyes instead of harsh chemicals, bad for your skin and the planet. One of my best friend’s from college actually works here. So yeah, basically I’m adding this to my resume.
Obviously this is not the end all be all list of sustainable and ethical clothing brands. I recommend browsing the Good on You App, as well as the Good Trade.
Are there any other brands you think I should check out?
*disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a commission on any item you purchase via my custom links that help me run this blog.