Is it just me or do clothes wear out way to quickly? Maybe I’m just hard on them. I dread having to replace them because sourcing ethical sustainable clothing on a budget is no easy thing. Throw in wanting to try things on before you buy and it’s impossible! I continually scoure charity shops for clothing but for some reason I never seem to find anything I like that fits.
I appreciate that everyone’s definition of ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ differs. For most of us it includes no fur! For others it means no animal derived products like wool, silk or leather but even if you’re okay with using animal derived fabric you may balk at mainstream silk which typically involves boiling the silk worms alive when the fibre is harvested.
Even plant fibres can be a tricky area. Bamboo was originally heralded as the wonder fibre but now we hear that farmers in China are clearing native forests to grow bamboo. Couple this with the fact that most bamboo is processed using chemicals know to be harmful to health and you really have to question its sustainability. Currently no certification for organic bamboo exists so if a company is claiming to use it probe deeper!
Cotton has been my go-to fabric for years because i know it’s recyclable and biodegradable. Price has been the main reason that i haven’t move towards organic cotton but as budgets improve it’s something I’m hoping to do.This will help me avoid feeding into an industry where genetically modified (GMO) cotton seeds now account for 95% of the cotton market in India. GMO seeds lock farmers into a never-ending dependancy on a GMO seed supplier, which some are claiming has led to more than 270,000 Indian cotton farmers committing suicide since 1995. Cotton has often been claimed to be the ‘dirtiest’ crop in terms of pesticide usage. Even the GM cotton, which is supposed to be more resistant to pests must be sprayed by chemicals that banned in the west. And if all that wasn’t bad enough child labour is often used at various stages of the cotton production process, and even after the plants have been harvested, the conditions under which workers refine and process the raw cotton can amount to bonded labour. But even if we buy fairtrade or organic we still need to reduce our consumption of cotton as it is a crop that requires a lot of water but is mostly grown in arid conditions. In India alone, a country where 100 million people have no access to safe drinking water, the water used in cotton production would be sufficient to provide 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year.
A new fabric that quite a few of the companies featured here use is Tencel. It is a plant-based fibre that uses raw material sourced from trees grown in sustainable plantations and on land that is unsuitable for agricultural cultivation. Once harvested, the wood is processed into chips, pulped and dried into sheets ready for processing. Next, the sheets are then broken up and dissolved in a non-toxic amine oxide solution, turning into a clear, viscous liquid. The long Tencel fibres are created by forcing this liquid through spinnerets dotted with tiny holes. These are then set in a bath of dilute amine oxide solution before being washed in demineralised water. The entire manufacturing process to produce Tencel takes just 2 hours and it is practically a ‘closed loop’ system with approximately 98% of the amine oxide solvent recaptured and recycled back through the process. A lot of webpages are suggesting that plant based fibres, like Tencel are biodegradable but research into microplastics in our oceans has shown that Rayon – another supposedly biodegradable fibre – contributed to 56.9% of the total fibres recorded by the research team.
I’m undecided about clothing recycled from used plastics. On the one hand it seems like a sensible way to address the mountain of waste we seem to be continuly creating but it seems that breaking a plastic bottle into millions of fibrous bits of plastic might prove to be worse than doing nothing at all. In 2016 researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara reported that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash and that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new jackets. “These microfibers then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans,” according to findings published on the researchers’ website. Gregg Treinish, founder and executive director of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, which oversees the research linked to above, said studies have led him to stop eating anything from the water!
Nowadays a lot of fabric is a blend of synthetic and natural fibres, which to date hasn’t been recyclable because fibres are so tightly bonded in blends as to make mechanical separation impossible and heretofor requiring difficult and environmentally damaging chemical separation. However recently researcher in Deakin University in Autraslia have developed a simple process to separate polyester-cotton fabric blends into their individual components, a major breakthrough for textile recycling
If you’d like to read more on the sustainability and ethics of fabrics the Australian based organisation Good on You has very useful and informative Material Guides on their website. Also 1 million women have an A-Z Glossary on Sustainable Fibres
So I’ll leave it up to you to decide your own definition of ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ and remember sometimes all we can do it make the least bad choice. Here are some companies that caught my eye in my search for sustainable, ethical, Europe-based clothing companies.
Grown is an Irish company that aims to only use fully organic, biodegradable and recyclable products. They make t-shirts from Tencel and organic cotton and they plant a native Irish tree for every t-shirt that they sell. They donate 1% of our annual sales to help protect the environment and to celebrate Earth Day they planted 150 indigenous Irish trees on the grounds of Ballinlough Castle in collaboration with the Body & Soul festival.
Fresh Cuts is another Irish owned ethical clothing brand offering garments for men and women in cotton, organic Cotton, Bamboo, recycled cotton and recylced polyester and rayon. They claim that all of their suppliers are focused on socially responsibility with a zero tolerance policy with regard to child labour, forced labour and excessive working hours, although only some of their suppliers of Fair Wear Foundation, an organisation set up to uphold these policies. The do have the GOTs logo for organic cotton and the Soil Association’s Organic logo on their website. Whether this means that the organic cotton they used is certified is unclear.
Thought (formerly Braintree) is a UK-based clothing brand that aims to ensure that their fabrics and how our garments are designed, made and delivered is carefully considered and done so ethically, with the greater aim of minimising their environmental footprint. They offer clothing in wool, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, recycled polyester, rayon, tencel and modal. The dyes they use are free from Azo (which they say is a harmful carcinogen) and they claim that their finishes are as environmentally friendly as possible. They only source wool from farms that comply with their Animal Welfare policy. Each piece of their collection is made in the same country so never needs to be shipped from place to place and when it is time to transport them they claim to choose a slow option with great consideration for the environment. They’re also a founding member of the Ethical Fashion Forum.
People Tree has been named as the Best Ethical Fashion Brand by the Observer and Best Ethical e-tailor by Cosmopolitan, twice. They are accredited by the WFTO, the Fairtrade Foundation, and the Soil Association. Most of People Tree’s organic cotton also carries the Fairtrade Mark and is certified in India by Control Union (an international Dutch based organic certification body). Their new colours for organic clothing are also said to meet stringent requirements for organic dyes and they explain that although some of our organic cotton products use low impact dyes they don’t carry the mark because the screen print workshop they want to support a small family run business that are working towards meeting the organic criteria. Other garments are dyed using with safe GOTS certified and azo-free dyes. They also have 9 stockists around Ireland.
Nomads offer fair trade clothing in certified organic cotton and non-organic cotton since 1989. They are a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) and the British Association of Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS). A percentage of Nomads profits are used to support TAMWED, a non-profit charity based in south India.
Gundrun Sjoden uses fabrics including organically grown cotton, naturally retted flax, Tencel® lyocell, Lenzing Modal®, silk, alpaca, recycled fibres, vegetable tanned and dyed leather along with wood and rubber. Their manufacturers are certified to standards such as GOTS, Fairtrade and STeP by OEKO-TEX. The company also sell some items for charity.
UK-based Komodo make garments in GOTS certified hemp, meusling-free wool, bamboo, rayon, Tencel, linen, soya and GOTS certified organic cotton. They also use recycled rubber in their shoes. KOMODO is a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum, and their London offices has CarbonNeutral® status. The majority of the factories that they work hold certifications like SA8000 and GOTS or are independently audited by bodies like UL and the company visits them regularly to assess conditions.
Skunkfunk are a German brand that make some garments from recycled polyester, Tencel, organic cotton, recycled leather, linen, ramie or hemp. They claim to work side-by-side with our suppliers, in China and India, to ensure our production complies with international standards. (BSCI, ETI, FLA, FWF, SA 8000 or WRAP.) They reuse 2% of their cardboard boxes from shipments, use bioplastic bags as an alternative to traditional plastic bags and use recycled cotton paper for their tags. In terms of carbon footprint, 90% of their goods are transported by sea freight, 42% of their online store shipments are carbon neutral and their headquarters are 100% powered by renewable energy, certified by Goiener. Conveniently they have a store on 2 Blooms Lane in the Italian Quarter in Dublin 1.
Uk based Rakha’s approach to design and garment making is sustainability, through products made from eco-friendly or repurposed materials which can be bio-degraded or re-cycled, whilst contributing to the development of sustainable communities throughout our supply chain. They aim to work only with green manufacturers, with established environmental management systems, standards and certifications, limiting the carbon impact of our operations. They also aim to use only recycled or bio-degradable materials for our garments and all of their organic or sustainable materials are certified. The fabrics they use include; Woolmark certified Merino Wools , (Gots) certified Organic Cotton, Bamboo, Lenzing certified cellulose fibers, and (Rpet) Recycled Fabrics.
UK based Outsider offers some very stylish well-priced clothing from undyed cotton, organic cotton, hemp and hemp silk, bamboo, merino wool, Tencel, silk and Peace Silk / Eri Silk (made from the spent cocoons of the wild Eri moth and therefore cruelty-free). The company works with three factories, one in the UK, one in India and one in Macedonia and they say that they visit the factories regularly and have ensured the working hours and pay are fair and conditions are of a high standard. They also source their organic cotton in India, so as to minimise transportation and the resulting carbon emissions. No independant certification visible on their website.
UK-based Beaumont Organics is an international ethical ladieswear brand that uses organic, fairtrade and eco fabrics. They use off-cuts where they can for sampling and limit travel to subsideries in other countries to a minimum in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
Based in Bath, England Bibico use 100% natural materials to make garments, including organic cotton. Currently they work with two women’s cooperatives that are both fair trade certified by the WFTO. The cooperatives provide women with training, education and work, empowering them to move themselves and their children forward and out of the world of poverty.
Mudd and Water is an organic clothing company based in Little Waltham, England. They produce clothes which are ethical, organic & sustainable.
Annie Greenabelle was launched in Britain in September 2007 initially as a small website and concession in Topshop, Oxford Circus, London. Now they supply about 6 new lines of reasonably-priced ethical garments a week to Topshop.com who offer about 70 Annie Greenabelle lines at all times. They offer a combination of fabrics, not all of which are natural or recycled but their organic yarn from India is certified and from a factory run by Franciscan nuns who help girls who are deaf, dumb or very poor. The nuns provide a safe haven for these girls to work in and pay them a fair wage along with a lump sum at the end of five years which often helps them set up a home or alternatively a small business of their own. All of their factories comply with the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) base code and all of their cotton jerseywear and knitwear is designed, knitted, dyed, printed, manufactured and distributed in Leicestershire.
All Nancy Dee garments are manufactured in Britain and their fabrics are mostly made from renewable natural sources such as soya, bamboo and organic cotton, or Modal, an man-made material originating from beech wood. Some items are made using up-cycled material that would otherwise be consigned to land-fill. Additionally their patterns are designed to minimise fabric wastage and leftover fabric is used for the following season’s samples, or re-dyed and used for a brand new design and most of their pieces can be machine washed.
UK-based Palava make the most delightful ‘storybook’ dresses and skirts for women and children out of GOTS certified organic cotton in factories in Turkey, Romania, and Lithuania.
Earth Kind Originals have their certified organic cotton and Tencel easywear made in Izmir on the coast of Turkey in a small factory that they have been working with for four years. All workers at the factory are over 19 years old, receive a fair, fixed salary for their hard work and work decent hours.
Living Crafts is a German fair and certified organic clothing brand. Their organic textiles are certified according to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) along the whole value creation chain. They say that they also pay attention to the working conditions of the producers and to fair trade and the company is an official member of the Fair Wear Foundation . They offer a range of clothing for men, women and children, including underwear and some homeware made from organic cotton, organic wool, organic linen or silk.
Patagonia is a high-street and online outdoor clothing company that sell clothing and accessories made from recycled soda bottles and organic cotton printed with PVC- and phthalate-free inks.
On their website they give details on how they work with factories and mills to ensure ethical work-practices, good working conditions and processes that are less harmful to the environment. They say they are particularly invested in protecting migrant workings and guarding against child labour and human trafficking. The company also gives 1% of their sales to support environmental organizations around the world.
In an effort to help people move away from the idea of disposal fashion Patagonia launched their ‘Worn Wear’ campaign. They believe that one of the most responsible things that a company can do, is make high-quality stuff that lasts for years and can be repaired, so you don’t have to buy more of it. The ‘Worn Wear’ program celebrates the stories behind clothes, keeps gear in action longer and provides an easy way to recycle Patagonia garments when they’re beyond repair. Patagonia employs 45 full-time repair technicians at our service center in Reno, Nevada, which completes about 30,000 repairs per year. They’ve also teamed up with iFixit to create care and repair guides so customers can repair themselves.
There is tons of information on the Patagonia website about the ethical and sustainable way they do business. I found the Environmental Assessment of Materials in Clothing particularly interesting. It talks about the reality behind some fabrics that are being sold as green.
Rubymoon is a UK-based swimwear company offering products made from plastic salvaged from the oceans. 100% of the net profits generated by RubyMoon are lent out as small loans, through lendwithcare.org, to empower women entrepreneurs in eleven nations. Also RubyMoon uses ECONYL® nylon yarn recycled from old fishing nets and other waste material and Xtra Life Lycra, a chlorine resistant fabric durable that lasts for more than 100 hours of exposure. RubyMoon swimwear is validated to produce 42% fewer emissions compared to other high street swimwear by The Princes Accounting For Sustainability Project conducted by Ecodesignbloom.com. In addition RubyMoon claims that all of their products are manufactured in an ethical and transparent supply chain. You can buy their swimwear from the RubyMoonSwim etsy store
Finisterre is a UK-based company that promises innovation built to last from responsibly sourced fabrics and factories while developing relationships with people they believe in. In 2005 the company decided to place wool at the centre of Finisterre’s fabric development. They forged a relationship with Lesley Prior, a small UK-based farmer of Bowmont Merino sheep. Once the sheep are sheared, they transport and hand deliver the bales of fleece to the spinners in Yorkshire, where it is scoured, combed and spun into yarn. It is then dyed and knitted into jumpers and beanies in Scotland. True to their philosophy of building things to last the company offers a repair service on their jackets. They also offer swimwear made from ECONYL®, a nylon yarn recycled from old fishing nets and other waste material and they donate 10% of profits from the sale of ECONYL® swimwear to Surfers Against Sewage, an environmental charity protecting UK waves, oceans and beaches.
Rapanui was started in a shed on the Isle of Wight with £200 by brothers Rob & Mart. The products they design and produce are made from organic cotton, recycled PET bottles or British Wool, using low waste printing technology in an ethically accredited, wind powered factory. Their products can be traced from seed to shop and they give credit notes to anyone who freeposts one of their garments back to them at the end of its life. The also support employement for residents of the Isle of Wight and have made their supply chain open-access so that anyone can build a businesses using their tech and supply chain, for free.
Mud Jeans don’t sell jeans, they rent them! And when the jeans have reached the end of their life they recycle them in factories in Spain or Italy. You can watch how they recycle the old jeans here. They’ve also managed to remove the need for damaging chemicals (potassium permanganate) in the treatment of jean fabric. Instead they use a laser and ozone, which is converted back to ordinary oxygen before being released back into the environment. Also the companies claim that using Ozone over chemical bleaching or stonewashing reduces the number of washes and rinses down from the standard 6-7 to 2-3, and that this new techniques results in stronger jeans because the yarns are damaged less than it would be by the manual brushing employed with the traditional sandpaper and potassium permanganate technique. The fabrics they use contain at least 98% of cotton, they only use printed logo’s, use hangtags made out of recycled paper and buttons made out of recycled cottonon their knits. The company also avoid polybags in their packing and only use send out its products with RePack, a returnable and reusable packaging. The company doesn’t appear to be certified as Fair Trade but there is an audit report ofone of it’s factories in Tunisia available on its website.
Currently ranked the UK’s most ethical menswear brand by Ethical Consumer Magazine, THTC is a clothing label that produces eco-friendly, politically conscious street wear from hemp, carbon-neutral organic cotton, and recycled salvage plastic fibres. They also resell organic cotton from Stanley & Stella, who are members of the Fair Wear Foundation – an organisation that helps ensure that garment workers are paid a fair wage. All of their cotton garments are GOTS certified, and their company is ranked in the Responsible 100; an index of socially and environmentally responsible companies in the UK.
Most of Lost Shapes t-shirts and sweatshirts are from the EarthPositive range by Continental Clothing. EarthPositive Apparel is 100% organic with 90% Reduced CO2, and Fair war Foundation approved. The company also prints on Continental Clothing’s Salvage range – sweatshirts and t-shirts made from recycled organic cotton and recycled polyester. Some of their tops are made from Tencel fibre made from eucalyptus fibre, while others are produced by the trade company Stanley and Stella clothing, who use only Fair Wear certified organic cotton, or other sustainable fabrics such as tencel or recycled polyester. They ink used by Lost Shapes does not contain CFC’s, HCFC’s, aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile solvents, lead, heavy metals or any toxic chemicals , and is suitable for vegans. And as they do not use photo emulsions for their screens they are also able to do away with the need for solvents in the cleaning process. They also provide plastic free packaging, all of which is recyclable, and most recycled.
Kuyichi make garments from GOTS certified organic cotton, recycled cotton and recycled polyester. Kuyichi has joined Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to improving labour conditions for garment workers around the world.
Silverstick make long-lasting adventure clothing from GOTS certified organic fabric dyed with azo and chlorine free clothing dyes and made in an accredited factory in Portugal.
Wales based Howies offer casual clothing made from organic cotton and recycled polyethylene.
Boho City is a UK company specialising in fair-trade dresses. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of information on their website and no evidence of independent vertification of the ethicacy of their garments.
Established in 2013 by Paola Masperi, Mayamiko is a collection of clothing, accessories and homewares , ethically made in Malawi from bold traditional African printed cotton, known locally as chitenje, as well as other fabrics from neighbouring African countries, all sourced at the local market. They also have batik and dip dye cotton, hand dyed especially by a local craftsman and rebirth, a fully up-cycled capsule collection, that gives new life to pre-loved reclaimed fabrics.
For higher end clothing check out Wicklow based, Sophie Rieu , an award-winning eco and socially responsible ready-to-wear fashion label based in Ireland by French designer Sophie Rieu. She is passionate about using ethically-sourced natural and organic fabrics.
And for ethically made silk tops check out Irish owned Ethical Silk Company. As far as I’m aware they are the only company offering silk made without silk worms being boiled alive as part of the process.
Monkee Genes offer organic jeans from Indonesia, ethically produced jeans from Turkey and grassroots jeans made in England.
Seasalt Cornwall were the first fashion company to have garments certified by the Soil Association. Not everything they sell is organic but they have become one of the UK’s largest sellers of organic cotton. Unfortunately the website doesn’t allow you to filter so you just see organic clothing.
All Riot make political statement t-shirts that are Wrap certified and made from textiles that comply with the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, which certifies that the textiles were tested for harmful substances and were found to be made in environmentally friendly conditions. They do not however offer organic cotton. In addition to OEKO-TEX standards, they also use environmentally friendly inks in our London brand HQ.
Epona make leisure wear using Fairtrade certified cotton.
The White T-shirt company offers plain t-shirts – ironically in lots of colours – made from GOTS certified organic cotton.
The Hemp Store offer a range of clothing made from hemp, organic cotton, Tencel, rayon and bamboo.
The Hemp Shop also offer clothing made from 100% hemp or hemp blended with other fabrics.
Chandni Chowk sell handprinted and hand-dyed Indian styled clothing, all of which is sais to be fair-trade and some of which is said to be organic cotton, although no certification is mentioned on their website.
Namaste Cothing claims to sell clothes that have been made fairly but it doesn’t appear to be accredited as such by any independant organisation, although it says it is recognised by BAFTS, the British Association for Fair Trade Shops as a fair trade importer. Their products are printed with azo-free dyes and they say that many of their products are made entirely from recycled materials.
Mossberry Clothing is a UK company that claims to sell only products that are manufactured ethically and have the lowest possible impact on our environment. Their current collection includes tops and dresses in block-printed fabrics from Anokhi in India, organic cotton wear from Ideo in France and chic evening dresses from Les Fees de Bengale, and organic cotton children’s clothes from La Queue Du Chat. They say that their packaging is recycled, recyclable or biodegradable, that they are Ethical Junction Members and in the Book of Green (whatever that is!). They vow to visit their manufacturers every year to ensure their ethical standards are maintained but there is no sign of independant verification or certification on their website.
During my research i found a few online ‘department stores’ specialising in ethical products, including fashion. They includes
- Spirit of Nature who stock Peopletree, Nancy Dee, Thought, Patagonia, Nomads, Komodo, From and
- Maude & Tommy is a fairtrade store in North Yorkshire, England that stocks Nomads, Privatsachen, People Tree, Out of Xile and Komodo
- Natural Collection stocks Thought, Braintree, Nomads, Patagonia, People tree, Nancy Dee and Asquith
- The Natural Store stocks Kommet, Fabryan, Kiab, The White T-shirt Co, Environmental Justice Foundation, Edun, No Balls, Bam Bamboo, Ruby Moon and Silverstick
- Frank and Faith stock Nancy Dee, Asquith, Braintree, Patagonia, Thought, Nomads and Komodo.
- The Eco-Edit on Asos allows you to search for ‘ethical’ products, including their fairtrade label Asos made in Kenya and some organic cotton pieces. Unfortunately their definition of ‘ethical’ is broad and you can’t refine the search based on your own particular ethics.
- The Ethical Superstore stocks All riot, Asquith, Komodo, Matt & nat, Nancy dee, Natural collection select, Nomads, Onyx & green, Pachamama, Patagonia, People tree, Silverstick and Thought (formerly braintree clothing),
- Fashion Concience stocks a huge range of ethical clothing brands, which you can filter based on your ethics, although what they consider ‘ethical’ is quite broad. They also have their own range FC select.
- Fab Organics is an online department store that offers clothing in bamboo, hemp, and organic cotton items. Brands include German brand Living Crafts (see above) and the confusingly-named American brand Ethos Paris, German company Madness, and American brand Blue Canoe
I also came across some useful additional resources;
- Ethical Fashion Forum’s searchable database of clothing brands. You can search by category, country and / or ethics. I found it particularly useful if you’re looking for something specific.
- The Good Shopping Guide uses a traffic light system to rate the performance of a number high-street brands against a range of ethics . The top three brands were People Tree, Sea Salt and Fat Face.
- The Good on You App helps you find brands to suit your ethics. They’re an Australian based company so i’m not sure if it’ll be of much use to us here in Ireland.
- Finally if you need more info on why we need to move towards sustainable clothing you’ll find plenty of book recommendations from Fashion Studies Journal here
- And for the latest news on sustainable fashion read the Centre for Sustainable Fashion’s blog
Finally buying sustainably is only part of the equation, making your clothes last as long as possible is another. Not only does the website Love your Clothes have guides on how to buy the best quality, they also have tips on how to care and repair your clothes
PS – I’ll debated whether to include sleepwear or underwear in this but I thought it’d make the post too long. I’ve finished my post on ethical sustainable underwear and i’ll do a post on ethical sustainable sleepwear at some stage in the future.