The fashion industry has more than a few dirty secrets.
In 2019, the UN reported that producing a single pair of jeans required 2,000 gallons of water, and that a garbage-truck-sized pile of textile waste is hitting landfills every second. Fast fashion—trendy clothing produced cheaply—is a major culprit, often contributing not only to environmental damage but also terrible labor practices.
With consumers waking up to the sobering stats, many are now demanding that brands do better—and they’re doing so with their dollars. We recently reported that consumers now seek out brands with clear sustainability missions and make purchase decisions accordingly. For clothing brands, sustainable practices are no longer a nice-to-have.
With consumers waking up to the sobering stats, many are now demanding that brands do better—and they’re doing so with their dollars.
More and more companies are taking responsibility through implementing fair labor practices, using sustainable materials, and offsetting impact, among other actions, to meet customer expectations.
What does it mean to be a sustainable clothing brand?
Generally, being considered a sustainable business means that care for humans, animals, and the environment is considered at every stage of the supply chain, from how materials are sourced to what happens at the end of a product’s lifecycle. This includes actions like ethical sourcing, safe working conditions, water conservation efforts, offsetting impact, and giving back.
Consumers are now seeking out a sustainability statement that includes where and how clothing is made.
The best sustainable clothing brands are those that are transparent about their business practices. Consumers are now seeking out a sustainability statement that includes where and how clothing is made. Certifications like B Corporation (or B Corp), Fair Trade Certified, and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) instill trust in consumers who can be confident that claims are vetted by a trusted third party.
40+ sustainable clothing brands to inspire you
If you’re a consumer looking to support brands doing good, or you’re a clothing brand owner aspiring to be more sustainable in your business practices, this list is for you. We’ve pulled together some best-in-class examples of sustainable clothing brands using Shopify and selling eco-friendly menswear, vegan footwear, vintage fashion, recycled swimwear, and everything in between.
1. Ethically made clothing brands
Ethical clothing brands have a commitment to ethics all the way down the supply chain. They care about fair wages, local production, ethical sourcing of raw materials, and safe working conditions.
- Outerknown has had a commitment to fair labor practices and the welfare of its workers from day one, with oversight from Fair Trade USA. The company also uses materials that are organic, recycled, or regenerated.
- Public Myth produces its activewear in a local factory in Vancouver, Canada. This ensures the company can closely monitor working conditions and ensure staff are paid and treated fairly.
- Beaumont Organic partners with trusted factories in Portugal and the UK that share Beaumont’s belief that workers should be paid fairly and work reasonable hours. And most of the brand’s pieces are made using GOTS-certified organic cotton.
- Kirrin Finch’s founders seek out manufacturing partners that align with their values and demonstrate ethical manufacturing practices.
2. Clothing brands that use organic materials
Along with commitments to ethical labor, these brands are making a positive impact by using cotton that has been produced without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers—both of which can contaminate water sources and do harm to the people and wildlife that depend on them.
- KOTN works directly with family-run farms in Egypt to source its organic cotton ethically.
- Pact’s organic cotton is GOTS certified and dyed with chemical-free dyes in its Fair Trade factories.
- OrganicBasics uses not only organic cotton in its clothing basics but other sustainable fabrics, like Lyocell and recycled wool.
3. Leather alternative and cruelty free clothing brands
Animal agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and the chemical-laden process of curing and tanning leather uses a massive amount of energy, water, and resources. Consumers have been delivered a confusing amount of information, with leather proponents arguing that plastic-based alternatives are equally damaging.
Much R&D in the past few years, however, has revealed a happy medium: “leather” made from plants. Bolt Threads was an early innovator in mushroom leather, partnering with brands like Stella McCartney.
- Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather is an Italian-made footwear brand that uses a leather alternative derived from apple waste from the fruit juice industry.
- MoEa produces sneakers with “leather” made from corn, pineapple, cactus, and more.
- Duffle&Co also uses a mix of pineapple leather and organic cotton to create its leatherlike handbag line.
4. Upcycled apparel brands
What’s even better than producing sustainable fabrics? Using materials that already exist and otherwise may have gone to the landfill. These clever brands have reworked pieces that normally would be considered garbage to create something new.
- Psychic Outlaw makes handcrafted and bespoke pieces like bomber jackers and midi-skirts using vintage quilts, tablecloths, and bandanas.
- Frankie Collective’s “reworked” collection transforms vintage sportswear and streetwear into new pieces.
- Pantee produces its undergarment collection using deadstock fabric (overproduction waste from the fashion industry).
5. Clothing rental brands
Another sustainable practice, popularized by the massive fashion brand Rent The Runway, is helping to eliminate overproduction. Buying a dress for a single occasion is wasteful, and high-end pieces often are price-inaccessible. Other fashion rental brands have popped up in RTR’s wake, renting the same dress to multiple consumers and combating overconsumption.
- The Fitzroy is a Toronto boutique offering short-term rentals of designer going-out dresses for well below the price of buying.
- Rotate offers peer-to-peer clothing rentals in select cities. The brand's customers can make extra money renting pieces from their own closets to other users in the area.
- Taelor is another subscription-based brand, serving the menswear industry. Subscribers have access to professional stylists and can borrow eight shirts per month.
6. Clothing exchange and recycling programs
Fashion brands that are truly end-to-end sustainable are thinking beyond the wearable life of their products. Some offer items that can biodegrade and others, like these brands, incentivize the return of worn items so they can be resold, reused, or recycled into new items.
- Nice Laundry partners with 2ReWear to collect old socks from its customers (via a free shipping label that arrives with every order). Those socks are then given new life as textiles or home insulation.
- Londre Bodywear also offers a recycling program that accepts old swimsuits (shipping paid by the brand) to recycle into new goods.
- Swap Society operates on a trade-in model, offering “SwapCoin” for donated pieces that can be used to buy other gently used items in the brand’s online store.
- Jackalo is a kidswear brand with a commitment to creating long-lasting pieces. It will even take back gently used outgrown items through a trade-up program that resells them and gives the original customer a discount on future purchases.
7. Fashion brands committed to safe production processes
There is a human cost to dirty and unethical production practices. Some corporations have used loopholes to bypass environmental and disposal laws to manufacture more cheaply. This has resulted in numerous examples of contaminating the water supply of entire communities or harming wildlife habitats. Brands that care about sustainable practices should be mindful of what they are putting into—and taking out of—the environment.
- Seek Collective recognizes that garment dyeing can be a harmful process, both for workers and the environment. That’s why it works with only safe and natural dyes derived from sources like vegetables, minerals, and flowers.
- TOBEFRANK is committed to transparency in its water consumption and in taking actions to both reduce it and to support projects and charities that bring clean drinking water to communities in need.
- Five12 partners with a local water conservation organization, donating a percentage of profits to the cause. Products in the brand’s Water Conservation collection are made with a fiber that requires less water to produce.
8. Brands that give back
Despite best efforts, most companies will contribute to some amount of negative impact on the planet, whether directly through material consumption or indirectly through shipping emissions. Offsetting is a way brands can own up to their impact. Many do so through contributing to carbon offsetting or giving back.
- No Nasties invests in carbon-offsetting projects like solar and wind power to help neutralize the brand’s footprint. Its “For the Planet” page shares a transparent snapshot of the company’s impact.
- Alivia is committed to ethical production, manufacturing much of its collection locally. It also gives back to the communities that inspired the brand, partnering with organizations that provide meaningful employment to those with autism.
- Gandy’s International founders Rob and Paul Forkan turned their own grief into a mission to help others. Their sustainable clothing brand was created in tandem with a foundation that provides meals and school buildings to children in communities of need.
9. Vintage and secondhand clothing brands
Similar to upcycled clothing brands, vintage businesses take the old and make it new again. Vintage clothing is inherently sustainable because it requires no new resources and doesn’t contribute to the production waste or impact typical of new clothing manufacturers. Successful vintage clothing brands are those that find a niche, whether honing in on a specific decade or altering outdated styles.
- Fyre Vintage is a curated collection of vintage picks based on the owner’s keen eye for style, mixed with pieces she’s reworked herself.
- DURT focused on the Ireland market, where such brands weren’t commonplace. The founders sell branded streetwear and usable pieces from unwearable damaged clothing remade into bucket hats.
- Adored Vintage focuses on a romantic aesthetic with a creamy color palette and lots of florals and lace. Vintage pieces are mixed with new, and any flawed or damaged returns are sold at a discount, with profits supporting charity.
10. Clothing brands that use recycled materials
Much innovation has been poured into the problem of waste. As an island of plastic swells in the Pacific Ocean, we can no longer ignore the impacts of making more. Now, waste like plastic bottles and used fishing nets are being spun into new fabrics, diverting the original product from the landfill and into something usable again.
- Narah Soleigh’s swimsuits are made with fabric scraps, industrial plastic, and abandoned fishing nets woven into a regenerated nylon and sewn in solar-powered factories. The company also produces other clothing made from organic cotton.
- Fair Harbor has, to date, recovered more than 26 million plastic bottles from the ocean, upcycling them into fabric for its beachwear line.
- Swedish Stockings produces its panty hose from post-consumer nylon waste. The brand also offers a recycling program, partnering with other companies to turn customers’ old stockings into industrial tanks and fiberglass furniture.
11. Fashion brands built for a lifetime of wear
Fast fashion’s biggest failure is arguably how disposable its output is. Made cheaply, these pieces deteriorate quickly and necessitate more buying. One solution to this is producing (and buying) clothing meant to last—the upfront cost is higher, but is comparable to buying multiple fast fashion versions over time.
- Darn Tough’s promise is built into its brand name. The company tackles sustainability by ensuring that less textile is hitting the landfill by producing high quality socks and guaranteeing them for life.
- HOI BO’s handmade bags are “inspired by the strength and structure of workwear,” and the timeless styles mean you’ll use them for life.
- Encircled is a B Corp and locally manufactured brand that focuses on “capsule wardrobes” and pieces that can be worn in multiple ways—meaning you need fewer pieces in your closet.
12. Clothing brands with sustainability certifications
Sustainability certifications are a signal to customers that they’re not being duped by greenwashing. Most of the reputable certifications are managed by bodies that have third-party oversight of brands that hold them. And some, like B Corp, Fair Trade, and 1% for the Planet are widely recognized by the public as a symbol of authenticity.
- Wuxly is an animal-free outerwear brand founded by a pro-football player and made for Canadian winters. The company has achieved certification through B Corp, an organization that measures companies’ social and environmental impact.
- The Classic T-Shirt Company makes high-quality organic cotton basics. The brand went one step further in ensuring its materials were sustainable, choosing only GOTS-certified sources.
- Vege Threads is an Ethical Clothing Australia–accredited brand. To gain accreditation, businesses need to meet ECA’s standards for the treatment and fair pay of garment workers. The brand is also a 1% for the Planet member, donating a portion of profits to non-profit organizations.
13. Carbon neutral or climate neutral clothing brands
To become carbon neutral, a company must remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as it produces. To do so, they need to have a detailed accounting of their carbon footprint and take appropriate action to reverse it.
- Good Krama takes steps at the outset to reduce its carbon output, then calculates the unavoidable carbon impact (shipping, energy to power the machines) and balances it through purchasing carbon offsets.
- Zorali similarly works to minimize its carbon footprint and offsets the rest. The brand is Climate Neutral Certified.
- Thesus currently offers carbon-neutral shipping, and the sustainable footwear brand is working hard to achieve its goal of climate neutrality by December 2022. Go, Thesus!
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Go green or get out
When you’re building a clothing brand, sustainability should be baked into your mission and business practices from the get-go. It’s no longer an option—it’s what customers demand. Established businesses can find inspiration from this list to make impactful changes, whether it’s sourcing better materials, giving back, or improving working conditions. Even small steps in the right direction can lighten your footprint—and meet customers where they are.
Sustainable clothing brands FAQ
What is slow fashion?
Think about what defines fast fashion: high output, speedy production, low-cost materials. Slow fashion takes the opposite approach, not sacrificing care for humans and the environment for the sake of speed and cost cutting. It approaches fashion from the perspective of doing no harm and leaving no footprint—and sometimes that takes longer.
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is the practice of brands and companies claiming to be more environmentally conscious than they are. It refers to a disconnect between the promises a company makes and its actions. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy with green terminology more widely understood. Greenwashing can erode consumer trust, so be transparent and own your impact.
How can a sustainable clothing brand earn certifications?
Each organization responsible for granting sustainability accreditation will have its own set of rules and standards. The more you know about your supply chain and the closer you are to it, the more you’ll be able to control the impact they have to meet these standards. Usually, organizations will have a clear application process or form on their website.
How can fashion brands be more sustainable?
There are a number of ways fashion brands can be more sustainable. A truly sustainable business considers impact at every stage in the supply chain, from sourcing to shipping. Start small to get there by doing an audit of your business practices and identifying the biggest areas for improvement. Simply switching to biodegradable shipping materials or donating proceeds to offsetting projects is a step in the right direction.
How do you start a sustainable clothing business?
tarting any clothing business requires many steps, from identifying your niche and audience and determining business model (handmade, factory produced, resales) to developing your brand and setting up your online store. Sustainability should be top of mind in the decision making at each stage. Ask questions like: Do the factories you work with treat workers fairly? Is your fabric sustainable? How will you ensure transparency?
Feature image by Pete Ryan