I have always found fashion to be a source of individuality and self-expression. I remember on my first day of preschool, my mom insisted I wear a dress when all I wanted was to don my overalls and Tweety Bird T-shirt. As a result, I spent the entire morning crying while the rest of the kids were happily playing Simon Says. It was clear growing up that letting me wear what I wanted made me a more agreeable child. In fact, wearing what I want makes me a more agreeable adult. If I am feeling a bit off, the power of a good outfit can do wonders. (Please comment below if you are also one of these people. I would really love someone to validate me.)
Much similar to interior design, how you express your personal style is powerful. It’s art. But, as many of us know, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world (behind oil) and a huge eco enemy. Some fast facts:
- According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it is responsible for one garbage truck of textiles wasted every second, and 92 MILLION TONS of solid waste dumped in landfills each year. This includes discarded clothes that consumers buy and get rid of (the average American discards 68 pounds a year), as well as unused fabrics and textiles from companies who make more than what they end up using.
- In 2017, it was reported that in 2015 alone, the fashion industry consumed 79 billion cubic meters of water—enough to fill 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools and that figure is expected to increase by 50% by 2030. To put it into perspective, it takes 2,720 liters of water to make a single T-shirt.
- The industry is the second biggest polluter of water, after the agriculture industry, polluting 17-20 percent of global fresh water.
- The total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production currently stands at 1.2 billion tonnes which is more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
My own contribution to the problem comes to mind often as someone who seemingly came out of the womb drawn to the glamour of clothes. In my lifetime, I’ve discarded countless clothes, many of which were worn a handful of times only to be promptly stored in the back of my closet for years, before eventually meeting their fate at a local Goodwill, or perhaps more accurately, a local landfill. So, I will be the first to admit that when the topic of sustainability in fashion comes up, it only takes a few minutes before my head starts to spin. What exactly is sustainable fashion? Isn’t all fashion technically unsustainable because it produces so much waste? According to Green Strategy, there are seven forms of sustainable fashion, and ideally every time a new garment is produced, all forms of sustainability should be combined, but the industry has a long way to go.
As individual consumers, just as it applies to design, buying vintage, second hand, and thrifted is the most sustainable option. Another solution I hear often is to simply buy less. The purchasing power of us as consumers is just that: power. So even (and perhaps, especially) in our non-purchases, we are exercising our power and taking action to shift the paradigm of the industry. That said, it is not lost on me that the financial ability to actively choose what you buy and in turn what companies you support is a privilege. For those of us that have the opportunity to exercise that privilege, being mindful is not just important, it is necessary. Our choices matter. I think it is common to think that someone else will fix the problem. It can feel as if the problem is so far removed from our daily lives, which makes it difficult to take action, meanwhile, so many parts of the world are witness to the negative impacts of the industry every day.
Are you still with me? I know this is a tough subject, none of us are perfect, and the world is full of issues that deserve attention. I get it. But as trivial as the fashion industry can appear, the fact is that clothes are a part of our everyday. We live our lives in them and while it might seem daunting to reverse the impacts of the industry, shifting our habits as individuals is fathomable. Okay, so where do we start? How can we begin? By buying second hand (when possible). By purchasing quality pieces that will last over buying fast fashion in quantity. By supporting brands that recycle, reduce their waster waste, pay their employees livable wages, provide safe and fair working conditions, make efforts to carbon offset, and donate to sustainable charities. By buying from small businesses who treat people and the earth better, we take action to shift the practices of the industry.
Without further ado and before I talk (write?) your ears off (too late?), let’s get to the brands that are striving toward sustainability:
What They’re Doing Right: Everlane is a brand that I stumbled upon via the constant efforts of Instagram to sell me things I don’t (really) need. A sponsored ad popped up and I took the bait. Turns out they are a really good company with practices focused on quality and economy. They source really good materials and factories to make timeless “basics” like Grade-A cashmere sweaters, Italian leather shoes, and Peruvian Pima tees. Their clothes are meant to be staples in your wardrobe with a long life. The factories they use are given a compliance audit to evaluate factors like fair wages, reasonable hours, and the environment. The best part?? They believe customers have a right to know how much their clothes cost to make—from materials to labor to transportation—and selling them at fair prices, minus the traditional retail markup. By doing so, they produce quality clothes that last at accessible prices, thus reducing the need to buy from the big guys.
What They’re Doing Right: ABLE considers themselves a lifestyle brand focused on ending generational poverty through providing economic opportunity for women. They are also doing something that is kind of revolutionary: publishing their employee’s wages (and not just the average, but their lowest paid). Here is a not so fun fact: the products we enjoy are most often made by women who are severely underpaid and can’t meet the basic needs of themselves or their children. So, ABLE is striving to be completely transparent about wages in hopes more companies will follow suit. By supporting brands that pay fair wages, we can begin to stop contributing to the inhumane practices of big corporations, who mass produce.
What They’re Doing Right: Kotn’s namesake authentic Egyptian cotton is grown in only one place in the world, the Nile Delta. It is finer, softer, and more breathable than any other cotton. Apparently, since 2001, there has been a 95% decline in demand from big corporations that opted to go with cheaper options. SO, to help rebuild the industry from the inside, they work directly with cotton farming families in Egypt. Think of it as “farm-to-table, but for your clothes.” As a B-Corp certified company, their responsibly-run operation employs locals, securing their craft and their livelihood. By scrapping the middleman, they ensured a fair wage for them, and an honest price for the consumer. OH, and top it off they partnered with pro-literacy organizations on the ground in the Nile Delta to help end child labor practices.
What They’re Doing Right: Los Angeles-based company Whimsy & Row uses deadstock fabric (a.k.a. excess and leftover fabric) from other brands who buy more than they end up using. These are the fabrics that often get lost in a huge warehouse and eventually end up in landfills. Instead, they take these fabrics and turn them into lovely and classic silhouettes. Their styles are meant to be versatile, statement pieces in your wardrobe and are designed to last.
What They’re Doing Right: Vetta makes capsule wardrobes, responsibly produced with fabrics that are sustainable, mostly Tencel or deadstock fabrics. At this point, I’m sure most of you know what a capsule wardrobe is, but in case you aren’t sure, it refers to a collection of a few essential, classic items that are meant to be super versatile and easily paired with other statement pieces (a cool vintage jacket, perhaps). Anyone can create their own capsule wardrobe, but Vetta makes it pretty dang easy with their timeless styles, many of which can be worn multiple ways or are convertible (like that cute white top up there). Also, their poly bags, tissue paper, and inserts are made from 100% recycled materials, and boxes are made from 90% recycled and 10% FSC certified materials.
What They’re Doing Right: Doen’s brand ideology focuses on embracing a fewer but better mentality in regards to consumption. They create quality, timeless pieces to ensure that they can be worn season after season, and let me tell you, their stuff is BEAUTIFUL. They believe clothing should not be viewed as disposable, so much so that they encourage secondhand sales of their clothes via resale and consignment retailers. (There are brands/designer that would never do this, and in fact some have been known to burn extra stock to maintain the exclusivity of their product. It sucks). Doen also uses 100% recyclable packaging and their eco-shippers include a minimum of 90% post-consumer content.
What They’re Doing Right: This may be upsetting to hear for the people out there who love denim (me). Traditionally, to make a SINGLE pair of jeans, 1,500 gallons of water are used. That is SO much water. Boyish jeans use 1/3 the amount of water and they recycle the water they do use so no water is polluted in the process. They work with factories that have fair, safe, and healthy working conditions and that suppliers meet their standards for social responsibility as well as safe, non-toxic, and better materials by auditing their factories with third-party auditing companies.
What They’re Doing Right: Christy Dawn is another company that exclusively uses deadstock fabric to create timeless pieces and their practices are rooted in creating quality pieces that will last. I am quite literally obsessed with their sophisticated Little House on the Prairie vibe and am dying to one day buy this dress. In order to create such gorgeous styles, they pay a premium for the most talented seamstresses in Los Angeles, all of whom are paid a competitive wage and receive health benefits.
What They’re Doing Right: Raven + Lily is a fair trade brand that specializes in uniquely beautiful leather bags, jewelry, and home accessories. They work with over 1,500 women artisans and give fair trade wages and access to safe jobs, sustainable incomes, healthcare, and other tools they need to thrive. I am very into their jewelry, which is surprisingly super affordable. I just bought this necklace and am really excited to wear it with my favorite black jumper. Oh, and you can feel good about your purchases because every purchase of a Raven + Lily product helps fund microloans to female entrepreneurs in partnership communities.
What They’re Doing Right: Girlfriend Collective makes leggings, sports bras, and other workout clothes from recycled water bottles. Yep, this is a thing and it’s fantastic. If you go to their site they go into all the nitty gritty details of how the bottles are collected, broken down, and made into fabric. Also, they have a wide range of sizing (XXS-6XL) which has less to do with sustainability and more to do with inclusivity (which is SO important). A few of us here at EHD use their leggings exclusively and we love them.
What They’re Doing Right: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention VitaminA Swim. You all know that that suit right there is Emily’s favorite swimsuit she has ever bought. It is the swimsuit to end all swimsuits. So, not only do they do swimwear right, their sustainability efforts are impressive. Founder and designer Amahlia Stevens spent three years developing EcoLux™, the first premium swim fabric made from recycled nylon fibers. In fact, all materials used are certified to meet the global Oeko-Tex standard for safe textiles and by partnering with One Planted Tree for every dollar donated, a tree is planted.
What They’re Doing Right: Rothy’s is another brand that makes its product from recycled water bottles. Music to my ears. So far, they have repurposed 20 million water bottles, and counting. Their shoe boxes are strong enough to be shipped alone, which means no box-in-a-box shipping. Question: WHY DOESN’T EVERY COMPANY DO THIS? And for every mile they ship, they use Carbon Fund to offset the carbon emissions. Also, their vegan and biodegradable shoe boxes are made from 85% post-consumer recycled materials. Both the cards and the box are 100% recyclable, and the box is resealable so no tape is needed during the returns process. I felt like they were a good brand to end with because all that they are doing is seriously amazing and more sustainable than most.
Alright guys, we finally made it. But before I go, since we are talking about what we can do as individuals, I wanted to share a few tips on recycling clothing:
Instead of donating old clothes to Goodwill or Salvation Army, (which will likely end up in landfills simply because the sheer volume they receive is too much to sell) try selling your used clothes online. This ensures your clothes will have a longer life. I use Depop, but there are also others like ThredUp that do much of the work for you. For more high end/designer pieces, you can send to The Real Real to sell for you. Selling your clothes directly to someone will always yield better results and will decrease the likelihood of it ending up in landfills.
You can also get together with friends and organize a clothing swap. Bring all your clothes you are planning on giving away and have your friends do the same. You will likely get some great additions to your wardrobe without spending any money OR producing any waste.
Okay, that is it, I promise. What are some other sustainable brands that you love? Do you have any other tips, tricks, or general tales to share? Tell me everything.