The fashion industry is the second largest contributor to industrial pollution, second only to the oil industry. Every year, the fashion industry produces 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, which is unsurprising when you consider statistics such as the 70 million barrels of oil used each year to produce polyester, the world’s most commonly used clothing fibre, and that a quarter of all the chemicals produced in the world are used by the fashion industry.
We live in fast fashion times, meaning that our clothing is often bought one season and discarded the next. According to Forbes, “fast fashion garments, which we wear less than five times and keep for 35 days, produce over 400 per cent more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year.”
Most of us are aware of the rapidly declining state of our climate and environment, and many of us wish we could do something about it. Buying and wearing sustainably produced clothing would be one way to reduce your environmental footprint, but it’s hard to imagine a sustainably sourced outfit without picturing an aging hippie in a hemp kaftan, recycling their tea bags and making culturally-appropriative dream catchers out of toilet paper rolls. While most of us care about the environment and want to do our part to prevent a global eco-disaster, we also don’t want to compromise on looking decent, either.
Well, we’ve got you covered. Now you can have your cake and eat it, too: here’s how to compile a sustainable outfit from head to toe, and still feel good about leaving the house. Put down that kaftan and read on.
We’ve already told you about Veja, the most ethical sneakers in the world, made from sustainably-sourced, recycled materials that still look good on your feet. Every single step of their manufacturing considers ethics and sustainability, from their collective of Brazilian rubber tappers to the electricity provided to to their head office in France.
German brands shine in the sustainable footwear field – Lunge combines function, style and sustainability in their range of running shoes, and although ekn’s Bamboo Runner is something of an acquired taste design-wise, it’s sustainability cred isn’t in doubt, as it is handmade from from a plant-based, recycled neoprene upper, with laser-cut veg-tanned leather.
For a classic Chuck Taylor-style sneaker, with more exciting colorways and no guilt about where it’s come from, you can’t go past Ethletic. All their materials are sustainably sourced, their manufacturing process is Fair Trade certified and, to top it off, they use absolutely no animal products.
Ahimsa’s collection veers towards the preppy and safe, with sensible loafers, Chelsea boots and simple sandals, but these styles are great if you work in a more corporate environment and need relatively sensible shoes for a casual Friday. Also produced from vegan and sustainably sourced materials, Ahimsa’s shoes are all made by hand in Brazil.
Underneath your ethical kicks you can also wear ethical socks, with Minga Berlin making simple socks in fun designs and colourways. Their socks are manufactured in Europe and are completely green, fair-trade and organic.
Trousers, Shorts and Skirts
Founded in 2014, Dusseldorf-based Wunderwerk is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) Certified, and has a great selection of solid, classic basics, with cool prints and designs for both genders. They feature a variety of looser styles and fits for women, which is a relief for ladies who are sick of skinny jeans.
Kings of Indigo (KOI), based out of Amsterdam, make jeans with natural indigo. They are 90 per cent GOTS Certified, and use a variety of recycled materials. Their jeans come in a great range of washes and styles available across both men’s and women’s collections, and at reasonable prices. Their men’s collection is much closer to an Abercrombie aesthetic, but their women’s collection is strong, particularly their dresses, skirts and trousers.
Another strong contender in the sustainable denim field is UK-based Monkee Genes. With more traditional designs than KOI and their collection limited to jeans, Monkee Genes are organic and sustainable. They boast a range of shapes available across both men’s and women’s collections. As a bonus, their “Made in England” collection supports a local economy in England’s Lake District.
Sustainably-minded men should check out Knowledge Cotton Apparel, a Danish brand run by Mads Mørup. The collection draws on its Scandinavian roots, using a muted palette, with many of the simple designs featuring an owl motif. It’s sensible, quality menswear, with knits and jackets tidy enough to wear to work. Pair their trousers with some Ahimsa derbies and that’s your lower half sorted for a smart casual office.
Shirts and Hoodies
Kowtow, a label based out of Wellington, New Zealand, produces beautifully designed womenswear from 100% certified fairtrade and organic cotton. All their dyes are also 100 per cent GOTS certified. As well as a full collection of knits, dresses, trousers and tops, they have a “Building Blocks” collection, featuring high-quality, sustainably-sourced basics with a twist, and an emphasis on classic, versatile design.
Munich-based couple Philipp and Caroline created Phil & Lui, a GOTS certified collection of mostly unisex T-shirts, tank tops and sweaters. Drawing on earthy tones and vintage washes, their collection tends towards a California surf-side look without going as far as tie-dye. You could pair a Phil & Lui teewith some Monkee Genes and have a solid outfit for your daily urban adventures.
For the most essential of essentials – a great white T-shirt – turn to MeyStory. A family business that has manufactured underwear in southern Germany for almost a century, they’ve developed a unisex white tee made from the finest organic Pima cotton, sourced sustainably from Peru. MeyStory are also Blue Sign certified, a Swiss certification for sustainably produced textiles.
Mela Wear creates simple men’s and women’s hoodies and T-shirts, available in a range of colors. Much like Veja, every step of the Mela manufacturing process is ethical: their organic cotton is grown, harvested, woven and tailored sustainably, as well as under Fairtrade certified conditions in India. Mela works closely with their Indian partner brands to ensure that these standards are upheld.
You can also keep yourself warm and guilt-free in a Save the Duck “down” jacket. Instead of the goose and duck down traditionally used to fill jackets, Save the Duck lives up to its name and eliminates animal products from its production lines. A great alternative to Patagonia or the North Face, they’ve replaced goose down with Plumtech, their signature polyester fibre. Their men’s and women’s collections features a range of jackets and vests in popping colors, including a couple of reversible options.
Accessories and Extras
For an alternative to fast-fashion produced “leather” products that will crack and fade after a handful of uses, check out Ondura. Founded by former carpenter Leens Jan Ondra, these leather goods are solidly made, and Ondra emphasizes the unique patina that each product will develop with use and time. If you’re after a durable, classic leather wallet or belt, you need to check these out.
German company Kerbholz creates beautifully-crafted sunglasses and watches from three key natural materials: wood, acetate and slate. Both their acetate and wood are sourced through certified sustainable forestry, and slate is used in thin veneer layers on their sunglasses. Kerbholz’s range of both optical and sunglasses designs are classic and cool, and nearly completely customizable, as you can choose almost any combination of color, shape and material.
Their watches also feature interchangeable watchbands. With a focus on the feel and warmth of the materials they work with, they also support reforestation projects, planting a tree in Central America for every wood or acetate product sold.
Mela Wear, mentioned above, also produces the Ansvar rucksack; a simple, durable, backpack that’s a great alternative to Herschel or Jansport for the sustainably-minded urban commuter. In your Ansvar rucksack, you can carry a beautifully-designed Dopper water bottle, manufactured in the Netherlands with the mission of reducing single-use water bottles, increasing plastic recycling and using the proceeds to fund clean water projects where they’re most needed.
Thanks to the brands above (amongst an increasing number of others), looking good and staying on-trend is no longer incompatible with living sustainably. The great thing about most of these brands is that they are no more expensive than other “quality” brands out there, with the added benefit of supporting sustainable and fair-trade businesses.
For more sustainability news, O’Neill footwear is creating sandals from repurposed Indian palm leaves.
- Words: Fern Seto
- Consultation: Kay Plonka
- Lead image: Knowledge Cotton Apparel