As we come to the end of global Fashion Revolution week – which asks brands the seemingly simple question “who made my clothes?” – the complexities and harsh realities of the fast fashion industry are once again in the spotlight.
Research shows clothes are among the items most at risk of being produced through modern slavery in an industry where women make up a staggering 80 per cent of the global workforce.
The environmental cost is high, too. Global textiles production emits 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. To make matters worse, 73 per cent of the 53 million tonnes of fibres used to make clothes and textiles each year are burnt or sent to landfill, according to Fashion Revolution’s latest reports.
But with consumer awareness about how are clothes are really being made on the rise, it’s an exciting time for sustainable fashion.
There is lots of advice for shopping more ethically, from pledging only to buy an item if you can commit to wearing it at least 30 times (a commitment made by Emma Watson) to shopping in charity or vintage shops.
Buying less and buying better is an important one. The reality is, ethical fashion often does cost
more. This reflects the true cost of using materials that are less damaging to the planet, made in factories that are safe to work in, have better eco-credentials and pay fairer wages to their employees. But, as the brands featured here shows, it doesn’t have to cost a huge amount more and a good tip is to sign up to newsletters before you make your first purchase, which usually entitles you to at least 10 per cent off.
Ethics and sustainability are more of a spectrum than a hard line between right and wrong. We’ve chosen brands for who sustainability is at the heart of their business, not a side eco-range within an otherwise unsustainable brand. Searching through sustainable brands to find pieces that match your style can take more time, but this list is a good starting point…
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Redwoods wrap dress: £43, Vildnis
This statement wrap dress combines a casual, feminine silhouette with plunging V-neck and tie-style waistband perfect for those summer days that are right on the horizon. Vildnis’ mantra is “change the fashion industry without changing your style” and it follows through with its contemporary designs. The pieces tend to be fairly relaxed, ranging from jumpsuits to good-fitting jumpers and with the right accessories you can effortlessly switch from a day-to-night look.
Vildnis is great because it works to a triple bottom line – holding themselves accountable to social and environmental goals as well as financial ones. It regularly audits the factories it works with and the founder, Ulla Vitting Richards, is a champion of sustainable materials and workers rights.
Komodo Cassie top: £43.75, Komodo
Fun and flirty, the Cassie top is ideal for pairing with jeans as warm days turn into cool nights. The off the shoulder style fits well and the sleeves have a softly scalloped trim. Komodo has been perfecting its collections of eco-fashion for more than 30 years, now. It has long-standing relationships with family run factories in Bali, Kathmandu and even a solar powered knitwear factory in Nepal – visiting them all regularly.
It lists the sustainable credentials of the chosen materials on the site. This top, for example, is made from Tencel, an award-winning fibre made from tree cellulose that’s farmed on wasteland. It’s bio-degradable and incredibly soft.
Lodi modal high neck tank dress: £38, Know the Origin
This high-neck tank dress dress will undoubtedly become a staple in your wardrobe because it’s so easy to wear and it’s especially good to travel in – modal is a fabric made from the fibres of beech tree that’s both incredibly soft and resists creasing.
As the name suggests, Know The Origin is all about transparency in the supply chain. As well as selling its own-label clothes, Know the Origin stock brands which have a similar ethos to them. Brilliantly, its lists the ethical credentials of each item and can trace a garment from seed to shop. It’s little wonder founder Charlotte Instone was recently listed as one of Forbes 30 under 30 in Europe.
Bee sweatshirt dress: £135, Gung Ho
This is Gung Ho’s signature dress, and we defy you to wear it and not get a slew of compliments. Gung Ho’s aim is to start conversations with its designs and if you’re bored of small talk about the weather, you could always reply: “Thanks, the design is intended to raise awareness about the plight of bees.”
Founder Sophie Dunster’s latest designs are a bold collection which cleverly illustrate the issue of food waste, and before that she beautifully highlighted the problem of ocean plastics.
It goes without saying that materials are sustainably sourced. This sweatshirt was made from 85 per cent organic cotton grown in India and 15 per cent recycled polyester. It was manufactured in Bangladesh at a Fairwear Foundation-certified factory, and embroidered in Oxford.
Monkee Genes oragnic overall dungarees: £65, Monkee Genes
We love these overalls from sustainable denim brand, Monkee Genes. We will be pairing them with t-shirts in summer, roll-necks in winter and statement jewellery on the occasional night out.
Monkee Genes also have an eco wash collection, with jeans made with up to 80 per cent less water than regular denim production. It comes in super-skinny styles and is also a part of the brand’s “affordable ethical” promise, retailing for £50.
It ensures every manufacturer within the supply chain holds a sustainable or ethical certification and pays a living wage.
People Tree Lana Bboderie dress: £37, People Tree
One of the pioneering ethical fashion brands, at 28 years old People Tree is practically a millennial. It has stuck to its principles of fairly and sustainably made clothing as it has grown and with every item listed on its site, it details where the garment was made and the positive impact it has had. People Tree have great sales, so keep an eye out for them, too.
It’s clothes have a timeless quality to them, but more trendy designs are definitely making their way into the collection. This means it might take a bit more time to find something that suits your style – but it’s always worth it when you do. This 100 per cent organic cotton broderie anglaise dress, for example, which has an A-line shape that’s flattering for most body types. It was made by Creative Handicrafts, a social enterprise based in Mumbai that works to empower disadvantaged women.
ECOALF usuahia short puffer jacket: £169, ECOALF
Already, we know we will be living in this puffer jacket as spring turns to summer and probably as autumn turns to winter, too. It’s made entirely from recycled nylon and is water repellent, lightweight but warm. This jacket has a down filling from birds who ECOALF attest are not plucked live.
“Because there’s no Planet B” is this the strapline of this brilliant brand that uses the latest technology to turn recycled materials or materials that have a low environmental impact into top quality garms. This jacket forms part of its Upcycling the Oceans project (UTO), which collects materials such as fishing nets and turns them into fabrics. All workers are paid a living wage and the brand is working towards becoming vegan in 2020.
The tilney beanie: £50, Valentina Karellas
Designer Valentina Karellas creates abstract knitwear from surplus UK-spun yarn. Uniquely, she keeps the loose strands of yarn on her designs to highlight the brand’s zero-waste ethos and the rawness of their knits.
This beanie is made from wonderfully soft cashmere that comes from Mongolian goat herders who use sustainable herding and grazing practices, promote high standards of animal welfare, and work to protect the traditional way of life within nomadic communities.
The popping orange trim contrasts brilliantly against the grey, keeping you stylishly cosy on cooler days and nights.
MUD Jeans straight mimi: £102, MUD Jeans
After years of low slung, tight jeans we can’t get enough of these soft, high-waist, straight (but roomy) Mimi jeans from MUD. Certified carbon neutral since 2016, Netherlands-based MUD Jeans is intent on producing circular denim, with organic cotton being blended with up to 40 per cent post-consumer recycled cotton.
The brand holds an impressive amount of certifications and frequently visits its factories. It doesn’t shy away from problems and is open about the fact that while all have “healthy working environments” it’s working to ensure employees are also paid a living wage – and is in the final stages of this and will be ready to audit again.
MUD also gives customers the option to rent pairs of jeans with its “lease a jeans” concept. A monthly subscription fee of €7.50 (around £6.40) means you can order and wear any pair of jeans for 12 months, after which you can trade them in for a new pair.
Top tip: Mimi sizing is generous, so go smaller if you’re unsure.
Estela-Maria modal jumpsuit: £127.5, Beaumont Organic
Definitely at the pricer end of our ethical fashion collection, but occasionally there’s good reason to splash out and this jumpsuit certainly creates that temptation.
It has a V-neckline and flattering lower back, all-important side pockets and a separate tie waistband. It’s ethically made in Portugal from 70 per cent modal and 30 per cent polyester. The garments Beaumont Organic create promise to last more than one season and survive in the washing machine. As the name suggests, it consciously invest in organic materials.
The brand also work with a transparent supply chain that ensures farmers a better deal plus the factories are in the EU and pay fair wages.
Vegan Punk adult tee: £25, Punks and Chancers
We can’t seem to get enough off slogan tees at the moment, especially when these bold, tongue-in-cheek designs are made from 100 per cent sustainable materials. Founder, Zoe Barry, only works with organic cotton, recycled cotton (from garment industry waste) and recycled polyester (from recycled plastic bottles). Even the printing is done with water-based inks in a studio that was voted Europe’s most sustainable t-shirt and garment printing company, this year. People from the Midlands will especially appreciate the “Yes Bab” range. “Yes Bab emanates a positivity about Birmingham and life! Say yes!,” says Barry.
Pala zuri recycled sunglasses: £85, Pala
Sometimes it’s a case of bigger being better, like with these black, glossy sunglasses that feature a smoked lens. Pala’s whole collection of sunglasses are bright and bold. The company operates on a buy-one-give-one basis – buying a pair of sunglasses means a pair of spectacles is given to a person who needs them in Africa, which enables access to education and improves job prospects.
The sunglasses are made from non-petroleum based plastic in a factory with strong ethical credentials in China. The cases are also weaved from recycled plastic, by women in Bolgatanga where work is hard to come by. Everyone in the supply chain is paid at least a living wage.
The verdict: Sustainable fashion brands for women
Vildnis takes pole position because not only does it offer high-quality sustainable style but it does so in a way that doesn’t break the bank; another of its goals is to make the ethical market more accessible to everyone. This flows through every area of the business, including the fact that it won’t use a model below a size-10 on its website and don’t retouch photos. The clothes are on the generous size, so if you’re in between sizes, go lower when ordering.
Lizzie Rivera is the founder of ethical lifestyle site BICBIM.co.uk
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