The movement of sustainable fashion has been on the rise during the past couple of decades. People are becoming more and more aware that fast fashion is one of the main contributors to the worldwide pollution. As we have discussed in our article Pollution within the Fashion Industry, the production of synthetic fibers, the uses of energy, dumping toxins into rivers and air and exploiting children and people from economically poor countries have been the main reasons for criticism of fashion world.
The production of synthetic materials have tripled since 2000s and now you can only depend on recycled and vintage clothing items if you want to be sure that you are getting the bio degradable and free of toxins materials. In the past, the main materials were natural: wool, silk, and cotton. Today, they have been replaced with polyester and nylon. In this article we are going to introduce you to the main difference between synthetic and natural fibers and we will also introduce you the best sustainable fashion brands if you want to contribute to the fight for our planet and health. If this sounds interesting, please keep on reading!
Synthetic Fibers vs. Natural Fibers
The ability to buy clothes online from anywhere in the world and the increase in population has also created a demand for the amount of clothes produced each year. As you can guess, the companies have come up with ways to produce cheap fabrics that would be made in a quicker and easier way than the natural ones such as silk and wool.
That is how we got polyester, probably the most popular and used fabrics in the world. It is a mixture of petroleum, coal, air, and water. It is non-biodegradable plus the production of this material is polluting our water systems because it is made of micro plastics that are shredded, dumped into water when washed and end up in oceans, fish, and in our bodies in the end. This fabric dries quickly and it does not get wrinkled like cotton, but it is definitely not comfortable on the skin which results in people dumping it quicker than they would any natural material. Another non-biodegradable material is nylon, but you can also find rayon, acetate, vinyl and artificial leather in stores. Most of them are carcinogenic, non-sustainable and toxic for the environment.
Natural clothing materials:
- Cotton / organic cotton
- Ramie – made of a flowering plant
- Denim – made of a sturdy cotton
- Jute – made of vegetable fiber
Synthetic clothing materials (made of petrochemicals thus non-biodegradable):
You should also take into consideration that even though organic cotton and bamboo have been promoted widely as eco-friendly materials, it is very time-consuming to make and weed organic cotton, plus the process of turning bamboo into fabric is the same as the one creating rayon. That is why some manufacturers cheat the customers by labelling the items only as “bamboo” instead of “rayon bamboo” so you should be careful.
Speaking of wool and leather that is made of sheep and cattle, even though these materials are natural and comfortable and warm on the skin, these animals are releasing toxic gases into the air and the increased number of them is considered a way of pollution as way.
What Is Ethical or Sustainable Fashion?
While fast fashion refers to the cheaply made clothing that can accommodate those who are not able to afford better materials, the ethical or sustainable (somewhere even the term “slow fashion” is used) is the complete opposite. It advocates not only the production of natural products but also the sourcing and processes – the people and environment affected by it.
Basically there are five main issues that sustainable fashion is trying to address and they are:
- Water usage: the companies are throwing huge wastes into rivers thus killing the fish and animals in them. They are also polluting the water so people can’t drink it or use it for agricultural purposes. It has been reported that people who are living in the area of these polluted rivers have been diagnosed with cancer more frequently. The problem is that these companies need huge amounts of water for the production of chemicals that are creating these fabrics.
- Toxic chemicals: as we mentioned above, the companies use water to create chemicals that are 99% toxic both for the environment and beings. Even the dyes that are used can be hazardous both for the customers and the people who create the clothes.
- Waste is the third issue. Synthetic clothes are thrown out more often than the natural ones because they can’t be recycled and second-hand stores do not need them because there is always a huge volume of clothes everywhere.
- Short lifecycle: customers are regularly updating their wardrobes and appetites because they just can’t have enough – brands are always launching new trends and new styles. On the other hand, one of the goals of sustainable fashion is to use fewer things that last longer.
- Agriculture: even natural materials such as cotton are made by using pesticides in order to fasten the production process. These pesticides are not only harmful to our bodies but for the wildlife area affecting the farmers, workers, animals, and corps.
Some of the Best Sustainable Fashion Brands
There are different brands that tackle some of the issues regarding the pollution that we mentioned above. However, even though it is believed that there is no such a garment that is 100% eco-friendly because the productions we have today have at least one negative impact on the environment, there are brands that do make a difference.
Alternative Apparel, Inc. is an American brand founded in 1995 that uses sustainable packages plus it follows strict ethical standards for their clothes. The main material they use is recycled cotton and other recycled materials. Since the brand believes that packaging and distribution also contribute to waste, they only use the oxo-biodegradable mailer bags. All of their factories are WRAP-certified, and all of them adhere to Fair Labor Association guidelines & workplace code of conduct.
- Organic cotton
- Post-consumer recycled polyester
- Eco-friendly packaging
- Low-impact dyes
If you are looking for hoodies, T-shirts, and leggings, this brand might be the one for you. All of their pieces have a vintage look but they are also timeless so you can wear them whenever you want. The best part about this brand is that it offers affordable prices that start at $10 and go up. They prove that organic cotton can be accessible to everyone.
Levi Strauss & Co. or simply known as Levi’s is an American brand of denim jeans. It was founded in 1853 by a German immigrant Levi Strauss. At the height of the California Gold Rush, Levi realized that hard-working people needed garments that are durable and would not tear apart easily. He and tailor Jacob Davis came up with denim in 1873 which are today known as “blue jeans.”
The brand is using as little water as possible for the process of making their jeans. To make one pair of jeans you need over 2 thousand gallons but Levi’s uses 96% less.
- Water< Fewer innovations
- Better cotton initiative
- Screened chemistry program
- Tencel™ & Lyocell
- Authorized vintage recycling
The Pact is an American leading brand of organic fashion. All of their garments are certified organic by GOTS and they also like to call them guilt-free. This means that the whole manufacturing process follows the organic guidelines. If you wonder about the process regarding wages and working conditions, they have got it covered too – they are Fair Trade Certified.
They make the clothes for the whole family, mostly of organic cotton. Whether you are looking for hoodies, shirts, dresses, pajamas, they have almost everything. Soft and comfortable to wear, plus affordable. A perfect organic brand!
- Fair Trade Certified
- GOTS certified
- Guilt-free fashion
- Organic cotton
Everlane is an American clothing brand that sells primarily online a few stores in SoHo and San Francisco and is famous for advocating transparent pricing. The company found a factory in Vietnam that recycles 98% of the used water for denim manufacturing. They also pledged to ban virgin plastic by 2021 and recycle synthetic fibers into recycled components.
Everlane sells everything from outwear to footwear and accessories, and the brand received media exposure after a few celebrities, one of them is Angelina Jolie, were spotted wearing some of their items.
- Radically transparent
- The ethical approach to factories (each factory is given a compliance audit to evaluate fair wages, reasonable hours, and environment)
The Conscious collection by H&M contains affordable pieces that start at $10 and they are made of recycled materials. The best part about this is the campaign that allows customers to bring their own old clothes to get them recycled while also getting a discount to buy something new. The brand wants to ensure the clothes won’t end up in a landfill so you can bring even torn items.
H&M says that they use 57% of recycled and sustainably sourced materials and their goal is to reach 100% by 2030. You are probably aware of this brand so you know that they have a store almost anywhere in the world and offer a wide range of models, footwear, outwear, even makeup and perfumes.
- Recycling old clothes and giving discounts to customers who bring them
Eileen Fisher founded this brand in 1984 with only $350 that is today one of the leading luxury brands in the world. It is still a privately held company that emphasizes sustainability, considering the fact that more than 70% of the cotton used in their clothing is organic cotton.
Since this is a luxury brand the items can be pricey but the good news is that the brand buys back their clothes and resell them as long as they are gently worn – which means that you can get them for a lower price and they will still be in great condition. But if the clothes are not good enough to be resold, they use special felting techniques and turn their garments into art.
- More than 70% of organic cotton
- Reselling gently worn garments
Karla Gallardo founded Cuyana alongside co-founder Shilpa Shah in 2011 in the US. The concept of this brand is “fewer, better things” which means if you buy fewer clothing items of great quality then they will last and never go out of style. The brand is known for its tote bags but also classic clothing pieces. The items are pricey but if you really want something of good quality, then this is it.
Cuyana also takes into consideration factories that are close to raw materials. For example, they are using a factory in Peru that makes alpaca sweaters and a factory in Turkey that makes cotton shirts.
The name of this brand means “Green Love” in French and it describes it perfectly. It is committed to making sustainable and versatile designed clothing and they also produce only small quantities in the US in order to avoid waste. Another thing that makes this brand amazing is the fact that whenever you buy a tee – they plant a tree. They do it in collaboration with American Forests® and have planted more than 200 thousand trees in Northern America.
- TENCEL™ Modal - made from FSC-certified forests and is free of pesticides, it is biodegradable and soft
- Certified Organic Cotton – without any pesticides, herbicides or insecticides
- TENCEL™ Lyocell – made from sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees
- Planting trees
This brand is a pioneer in sustainable Fair Trade fashion, it was founded in 1991. Its main focus is on ethics and trade and they make sure their workers have good wages and proper working conditions. You can buy anything you need for your wardrobe because they offer a wide range of items.
- Fairtrade Certified Cotton and Organic Cotton
- Merino Wool
Patagonia is an American brand that focuses on selling outdoor clothing. It was founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, an experienced rock climber. Patagonia sends 1% of its total sales to environmental groups and sometimes even contributed 100% during the Black Friday sales. Patagonia also recently decided to use only 100% traceable down so as to ensure that the birds it comes from hadn’t been forcefully fed or live-plucked. The same applies to wool principles. They also offer a Worn Wear section on their site where you can purchase used clothing for cheaper prices.
- 100% traceable down and wool
- Environmental activism
Manduka was founded in 1997 and it is a clothing brand that is for yoga lovers because it offers everything from yoga mats to yoga leggings. Manduka uses organic cotton certified by GOTS and recycled materials certified by GRS. The interesting part is that they even managed to create the so-called Essential Leggings that are made entirely of recycled water bottles. They actually perform well when it comes to moisture and stretching.
- GRS certified materials
- GOTS certified cotton
To sum up, we have talked about the most famous sustainable fashion brands that work against the pollution of fast fashion. These brands promote sustainability, less waste, natural materials and above all – recycled and sustainable fabrics.
We have also talked about the basics and differences between synthetics and natural fibers and how dangerous the first could be. If you are interested in contributing to the fight against the worldwide pollution and human and animal exploitation, then we hope you will find the items you want among these brands.
Which sustainable brands do you prefer? Are there any brands that we have not mentioned that you would like to add to the list? Thanks for reading!