Sustainable processes are kinder to the environment – after oil, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter – and to the people involved in the production process.
“Fashion holds a mirror up to society, showing what’s going on in economic, cultural, social and environmental terms,” says Professor Dilys Williams from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion.
“It is also implicated in some of the biggest environmental and social challenges that we face globally including climate change and modern slavery.” The centre is ensuring its graduates understand the task in hand and the need for an alternate plan for the future.
Organic cotton, favoured by many of the brands in this list, is grown without the use of harsh pesticides and fertilisers and uses less water than the non-organic process. Look out for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the Soil Association, the UK’s certification body or Oeko-Tex, which checks processes for harmful chemicals, to assure the fabric has come from approved sources.
Brands increasingly make garments from eco-friendly fabrics, such as Tencel, made from the wood pulp that can be recycled in a “closed loop process” with no more chemicals added. Hemp, bamboo and the likes of recycled cashmere, denim and PET also tick the sustainable boxes.
Chemicals that can harm the environment and cause skin irritation are cut out by many sustainable brands. Commonly used azo dyes are one example, likewise fluorocarbons in waterproof clothing.
Brands will use recycled materials where possible and encourage shoppers to buy less, repair pieces and recycle them at the end of their life.
On the ethical side, the companies we’ve included here go the extra mile to ensure the people working to produce the raw materials and clothes have a safe working environment, fair wages and help invest in local communities. Transparency in the supply chain is key. Some of these will be accredited by the likes of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) or equivalent.
We’ve checked out the sustainable and ethical credentials of all the brands on this list. Clearly, not all can do everything and the companies here are at different stages in their move towards sustainability. It may be the whole collection that is sustainable or ranges within it.
People Tree has put an emphasis on fair trade practices since it started out 25 years ago. It supports producers in the developing world across its processes and is a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation. Clothes are made from environmentally friendly fabrics like organic cotton and wood-pulp-derived Tencel. The vibe is relaxed pieces for every day with a fashion edge – it has done some high-profile collaborations over the years, including with Emma Watson.
Cornwall-based Finisterre is inspired by the sea and the lifestyle that goes with it. Its mission is to make long-lasting, quality clothes that have a minimal impact on the environment. So, lots of the fabrics have recycled or recyclable elements – including a swimwear line made partly from discarded fishing nets – and Finisterre uses GOTS-accredited organic cotton in some ranges. Shoppers are encouraged to get pieces repaired or recycle them when they’re worn out. As you’d expect from a seaside-based brand, the aesthetic is relaxed and as well as looking cool, pieces work for the weather, particularly the collaboration with the RNLI, made up of tough weatherproof jackets, chunky lambs’ wool and merino kits, and layerable sweats.