Whether it’s composting or using recyclable and refillable beauty products, there are many things we can change in our daily routines to live in a more earth-friendly way. One way you can cut down on your environmental impact is ditching fast fashion and instead shopping sustainably. But it’s not as easy as you might think. Sustainability has become somewhat of a marketing ploy for many companies; that’s why we talked to experts to figure out what brands are actually sustainable and what you should look for when trying to make the switch to sustainable fashion.
What is sustainable fashion?
So what exactly does sustainable fashion mean? “Sustainable fashion usually means eco-friendly practices in the fashion industry, referencing the approach of designing, producing and consuming clothes that respect the planet by causing little to no damage, and therefore sustaining the environment,” says Katrina Caspelich, the director of marketing for Remake, a nonprofit fighting to end fast fashion. “At Remake, we define this term holistically by looking at both the planetary and human impact, defining sustainable fashion also as the industry’s practice of sustaining the healthy lives of the people who make our clothes through living wages, safe work conditions and maker well-being.”
But before you even research clothing brands for eco-friendly practices, know that wearing what you already have or buying secondhand is the most sustainable thing to do. “The best way to practice sustainability is by shopping your closet before purchasing anything new,” says Caspelich. She also recommends checking out vintage, rental and consignment stores or “shopping” your friends’ closets before you buy brand-new clothes.
If you’ve exhausted all those options and still want to buy new, the good news is that there are tons of brands taking initiatives to make more sustainable clothes, whether that means using recycled materials, lowering carbon emissions in manufacturing or paying workers fair wages. However, Caspelich says you can’t always trust brands that claim to be eco-friendly. “Where many individuals wish to make meaningful change in their purchasing choices, marketing heads of fashion companies use greenwashing, manipulative tactics to make sales, without doing the hard work of running a truly sustainable company,” she says.
Avoiding these marketing ploys and giving your money to companies that are actually taking strides to become sustainable can sometimes be hard, but Kimberley Smith, chief supply chain officer at Everlane, has a few tips to help you find well-intentioned brands.
“Consumers should look for brands that put an emphasis on transparency in their supply chain. There is no regulation of the word ‘sustainable fashion,’ and in an industry that is already opaque, some brands can be dishonest about their environmental impact,” says Smith. “It’s also important to keep an eye out for partners and standardized certifications that can support sustainability claims. For example, The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for organic cotton, Global Recycled Standard (GRS) for recycled products, the LEED certification for reduced energy consumption in factories or Bluesign for chemical and environmental management.” It’s also good to look for Certified B Corporations, which meet a strict set of standards measuring a company’s environmental impact.
Elizabeth Cline, author of “The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good,” echoes many of Smith’s tips. “Keep in mind that the vast majority of fashion’s impact happens in manufacturing, so the area where brands are doing the most work to be green is in the materials,” she says. “So to choose a more sustainable option, start by looking more closely at the fabrics brands are using.” Cline also says to remember that sustainable fashion goes beyond brands. “You don’t have to buy anything to be involved. Resale, shopping thrift, caring and mending the clothes you already have and throwing a clothing swap with friends are all easy ways to be green and fashionable. What’s more, sustainable fashion often starts with a shift in mindset.”
As you can see, there’s a lot of research to do when making the switch to sustainable fashion. But if you don’t want to spend hours digging through the “About” sections of dozens of brands, there are resources such as Remake’s Sustainable Brand Directory and the site Good On You, where you can search for specific brands to see their environmental impact.
To give you a head start, we’ve compiled a list of sustainable clothing and shoe brands that put sustainability at their forefront, some of which come recommended right from our experts.
Caspelich recommends Girlfriend Collective as a great option for activewear, bras and underwear as well as a few outerwear pieces. The brand uses 100% recyclable packaging, and all of its clothes are made with eco-friendly materials, whether it’s with fabric made out of recycled water bottles and fishing nets or a fiber made from waste from the cotton industry. We’ve tried some of Girlfriend Collective’s leggings in the past and absolutely loved them. You can learn more about Girlfriend Collective’s sustainability efforts on its site here.
Available in six colors, these ultra-high-rise compressive leggings also have double side pockets for maximum functionality.
Whether you're headed to the tennis courts or you just want something comfy for running errands, this sport skort has a flattering form fit that still allows for flexibility.
This longline and full-coverage bra is great for medium-intensity workouts or to sport as a top on its own.
Caspelich and Cline both recommend Outerknown, which is a fantastic brand for simple clothing basics such as shirts, shorts, sweaters, jeans and more. Ninety percent of the fibers the brand sources are organic, recycled or regenerated, and 100% of its trunks are made with recycled or renewable fibers. Read more about Outerknown’s sustainability here.
These trunks are a Kelly Slater signature and have been developed and tested by the 11x World Surf Champion.
Made of an organic cotton and linen blend, this shortal is perfect for warmer weather.
With more than 1,000 5-star reviews, buyers love the warmth and versatile wear of this blanket shirt.
Everlane is perhaps one of the most popular sustainable fashion brands, and for good reason. The brand’s commitment to transparency allows consumers to research the ins and outs and find that 97% of Everlane’s apparel materials containing polyester and nylon are now made from certified recycled fibers, 100% of its virgin plastic shipping bags are now made from either 100% recycled plastic or FSC-certified paper and its jeans are made in a LEED-certified factory that recycles 98% of its water. Learn more about Everlane’s sustainability here.
Polished-looking pants that are comfy enough to nap in? Made of wrinkle-resistant double knit fabric, these pants are perfect for supporting you on long, busy days.
With a pair of versatile recyled leather sneakers like these, you’ll never have to worry about what shoes to pair with your outfit. Plus, Everlane works hard to make these some of the lowest-impact sneakers on the market.
Bomber jackets are the trend to hop on (again) this spring. Available in five versatile colors, this bomber features a two-way zipper and is made from a recycled, water-resistant polyester blend.
Another brand approved by Caspelich and Cline, Nudie Jeans uses exclusively organic, fair trade or recycled cotton, which consists of 93.8% of all the fibers used in its clothing. The organic cotton Nudie Jeans uses is also certified by GOTS, the Organic Content Standard 100 or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), depending on the origin and supplier. Read more about Nudie Jeans and its sustainability efforts here.
An easy, breezy dress, this gingham print number is great for bridging the fall to spring transition.
Made of indigo-dyed rigid denim, these pants are meant to live through six months of daily wear before their first wash.
This single-breasted woven cotton twill coat is an elegant addition to any wardrobe.
Caspelich also recommends Organic Basics if you’re searching for basics such as shirts, sweaters, underwear, bras and more. The brand puts a heavy focus on working with certified factory partners, and you can even look at each individual factory it works with. Plus, it only uses natural, renewable, recycled, biodegradable and/or low-impact textiles. You can read more about the details of Organic Basics here.
Made of 100% organic cotton, this tee comes in 12 colors and prints.
This super-soft, French terry hoodie can also be paired with matching sweatpants for a fully coordinated look.
These unisex shorts are made of a softer-than-silk, eco-friendly wood pulp fiber called Tencel. Perfect for wearing as pajamas or as a cool loungewear set.
Cline also likes Reformation, another big name in sustainable fashion, thanks to its chic style and commitment to sustainability. The brand is certified as carbon neutral by Climate Neutral, with the goal of becoming climate positive by 2025, and even provides environmental impact reports so consumers can stay informed about its efforts. Check out more about Reformation’s sustainability here.
This fitted, cropped top gives a simple but striking shape that elevates your basic tank top. And it comes in seven colors so you can find the one that best fits your wardrobe.
Snag that "it girl" look with these slouchy jeans.
Available in four stunning colors and prints, this is the perfect dress for looking sleek and chic at your next event.
Another expert-approved option for jeans, Caspelich and Cline both recommend Mud Jeans since its jeans contain up to 40% postconsumer recycled denim and are made with 581 liters of water per pair, compared to the industry standard of 7,000. For more info on Mud’s circular denim process, check out its website. Buyers in the U.S. should also be aware that Mud Jeans is based in The Netherlands, so plan to cover international shipping costs when you order.
These Goldilocks jeans are not too tight but not too loose, with a classic design that features a mid-waist and a tapered leg.
Keep 'em long or roll up these relaxed fit shorts, which are perfect for summer strolls and sunnier days.
This flared jacket has wide cuffs and a wide hem to give a unique twist to your standard denim jacket.
Patagonia is a popular brand in the outdoor scene, and while you might just recognize its puffy jackets and iconic fleeces, you may be surprised at how sustainable the brand is. Patagonia uses Fair Trade Certified factories and sources most of its fabrics from sustainably produced materials, and comes recommended by Caspelich and Cline. Take a deep dive into Patagonia’s sustainability and activism efforts on its site here.
On those hot, humid days where you just don't feel like getting dressed, you can reach for this breezy island jumpsuit for a cute and comfy look.
Available in eight colors and sizes XXS to XXL, this lightweight fleece is great for casual wear or for layering during your outdoor outings.
Adventure anywhere with this 8-liter sling pack, which is big enough to keep all your essentials close by, plus room for a few extra additions.
Cotopaxi is another outerwear brand recommended by Caspelich, as it’s a Certified B Corporation and puts 1% of its revenue toward addressing poverty and supporting community development. It puts a lot of emphasis on only using fair, sustainable working conditions, and each year provides targeted grants to nonprofits. To learn more about all of Cotopaxi’s efforts, check out its website.
These ripstop pants are great for those with an active lifestyle who never know what the day might throw their way.
Now in a trendy cropped fit, this jacket is a twist on Cotopaxi's classic windbreaker and provides weather resistance without sacrificing mobility.
This durable and lightweight repurposed nylon pack is great for day hikes and comes in a one-of-a-kind colorway for each buyer.
Naadam has been one of our favorite brands for a while now, thanks to its luxurious cashmere sweater that’s only $75. However, there’s a lot more to the brand, including a commitment to transparency and sustainability. It works directly with herders in Mongolia to pay them a fair wage, and in 2019, 100% of the materials it used came from renewable or recycled sources. You can read more about Naadam’s efforts and even dive into its Social and Environmental Impact Report here.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a cashmere staple for $75 anywhere else online. This classic cut one from Naadam currently comes in more than 12 colors.
This polo cut cashmere long sleeve looks great with jeans, slacks or even sweatpants.
With a subtle twisted back, scoop neckline and all-over ribbing, this midi dress is also made of material from sustainably sourced tree pulp.
Another Certified B Corporation and a brand Cline recommends, Eileen Fisher is a great option for fashionable clothing, shoes and accessories. Its website details the many facets of its sustainability efforts, including using organic materials, working with fair and ethical factories and tracing its supply chain.
Clean and crisp, this square neck dress is a great piece for creating a cool summer look.
Good basics should never be overlooked. Layer this tank for seasonal wear or sport it on its own during warmer months.