Do you know where your clothes come from? Who made them? And in what conditions?
It’s a sad side effect of the world’s insatiable taste for fashion that ethical, sustainable production all too often falls by the wayside. Supply chains are often obscured, leaving you with little idea of how your clothes got from the factory to your wardrobe, and how big of an environmental footprint they made on the way.
But there are an ever-increasing number of brands looking to change that, rather focusing on “slow fashion” – that is, pieces that you’ll keep for years, not just a season. And what’s more, sustainably sourced materials, such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo, will provide that longevity, as well as those soft, durable, breathable qualities you need. Many of them are biodegradable, cutting down on landfill waste, and avoid the need for use of harmful chemicals in the production process. What’s more, many of the brands we’ve included have transparent supply chains – some even have maps on their website showing the exact route your clothes have taken.
There are many different organisations that recognise sustainable production, such as the Soil Association and Fair Trade Foundation – and while not every brand we’ve listed is certified, each one follows strict ethical guidelines.
We’ve picked out some of our favourite brands, giving you a little bit of background on each. We also personally tried out some stand-out pieces from their collections, to make sure the quality was as good as claimed.
Formerly known as Braintree Clothing, this brand started life in Australia before relocating to north London. With ranges for both men and women, it champions the use of four main fabrics – bamboo, cotton, wool and hemp – all of which are kind to the environment, and exhibit everything you want from clothing, such as durability and comfort. All of Thought’s pieces are made from start to finish in the same country, reducing the impact of shipping, and the brand is a founding partner of the Ethical Fashion Forum. Its menswear collection is sophisticated but casual, and we’re particularly fond of its bold shirt prints.
IndyBest pick: Olive Branch Hemp Shirt: £44.90, Thought
We’re big fans of the olive branch print on this shirt, which is made from a mix of hemp and organic cotton. It fits loosely and the material is comfortable but not too heavy – ideal for any summer jaunts. Available in sizes S-XXL.
People Tree is one of the biggest names in sustainable clothing, with more than a quarter of a century’s experience in the sector. All of its producers, dotted across 13 different developing countries, follow fair trade guidelines – for example, it avoids the use of azo dyes (which are commonly used elsewhere but become toxic once they degrade). The women’s collection is much larger, but there are still some great pieces to be found within the small yet varied menswear section, which is limited to tops and bottoms.
IndyBest pick: Cole Corduroy Shirt in Black: £59, People Tree
Ain’t no shirt comfier than a corduroy shirt, and that’s why we’ve chosen this. Its weight and thickness means it’s best-suited to colder weather (and who knows how long it will be until summer finally shows up?). It’s made by Creative Handicrafts, a Mumbai-based social enterprise that aids disadvantaged women. Available in sizes S-XL.
“We’re not trying to work towards sustainability, our business is built on it.” So reads the Rapanui website, and they mean it literally – the brand’s Isle of Wight factory is wind-powered. It focuses on technology to cut down on costs, both financial and environmental, such as its own low-waste printing process. Each item on the website is accompanied by an interactive map, showing the path it has taken across the production process. The best of Rapanui’s collection comes in the form of its fun, eco-minded T-shirt prints (“Drop seeds, not bombs”, and the like).
IndyBest pick: Choose Love T-shirt: £19, Teemill
With a twist on the fashion designer Katharine Hamnett’s “Choose Life” slogan from the Eighties, around a quarter of the proceeds of this T-shirt go to the charity Help Refugees, which provides emergency aid and support to people affected by the refugee crisis. The T-shirt is printed on 100 per cent organic cotton, and is available from Rapanui’s Teemill platform – check their own website out for the rest of the range.
This Cornwall-based clothing brand is constantly striving for greater sustainability – by the end of 2017, it hopes to be entirely free of water-polluting fluorocarbons, which are often used for waterproofing. Organic and recycled fabrics are used throughout its range, and if your clothing becomes tatty or damaged over time, you can send it in to get repaired. The best way we can think of describing is the Finisterre range is “proper outdoorsy” – from chunky merino wool knits to storm-ready jackets.
IndyBest pick: Portland Hoody: £65, Finisterre
We like this hoody, which is made using 80 per cent merino wool, because of its versatility. Its lightweight fit means it’s good for to wear over a T-shirt when it’s not quite summer, and thin enough to layer up with when we’re deep in winter. Knitted and manufactured, it avoids the wool removal process of mulesing, which is condemned by animal welfare charities.
A newcomer to the scene, Absolutely Bear was founded in London just last year. All of its suppliers are members of the Fair Wear Foundation, which works to ensure garment workplace conditions are up to scratch, and a number of its pieces use organic materials. It also has two charity partners, to which 10 per cent of its profits are given. As you’d expect at this point, the menswear range isn’t huge, but each of its relaxed, pleasingly simple designs feature the Bear logo.
IndyBest pick: Oakley Organic White Cotton Polo Shirt: £30, Absolutely Bear
If you’re after something that keeps things simple, go for this polo. It’s made from 100 per cent organic cotton, meaning it scores highly for both durability and comfort – as you’d expect. The Bear logo features prominently in most of the range, but here it takes a supporting role, with a small embroidering on the left chest.
All of Howies’ T-shirts, sweatshirts and jeans are made of organic cotton and, as the Welsh brand puts it, “no silly stuff”, such as water-polluting dyes. There’s plenty made of the eco favourite, merino wool, too. Its range is a mix of lifestyle and active clothing (specifically for running and cycling). A few pieces may err closer towards function than style, but that no-nonsense approach often works in its favour.
IndyBest pick: Endicott Merino Wool Shirt: £65, Howies
Quite frankly, we’re not sure we’ve worn many shirts comfier than this one. It’s made of a merino wool blend, which means you get all those great qualities – softness, sweat-wicking, durability and, for those of you with an aversion to ironing, it doesn’t crease. It has a relaxed, slightly fitted look, and is available in either “pirate” (forest green) or bronze green. Be sure to check out Howies’ Winston jacket too, which is ideal for battling the great outdoors.
If you’re just going to do one thing, you’re going to have to do it well. And that’s what this brand strives to do – in fact, it wants to make the “perfect” white T-shirt, all while using sustainable, eco-friendly materials and production techniques. Its organic cotton supply meets Global Organic Textile Standards (Gots), ensuring environmental and social responsibility, while its supply chain is fully traceable. Not satisfied with just white T-shirts, the brand has branched out (slightly), now offering different colours, neck styles and sleeve lengths. You can even “Tailor Your Tee”, adjusting measurements to fit your body.
IndyBest pick: Relaxed Short Sleeve Round Neck T-Shirt: £34, The White T-Shirt Co
The first thing you notice about this shirt is the softness, both when you hold it and then put it on. It’s all thanks to the 100 per cent organic cotton used to make it. We chose the relaxed fit (a closer-fitting version is also available), while there are variations on the neck design (crew, round or V-neck), with different colours and sleeve lengths also available. We can tell that ours is going to become a wardrobe staple.
Last year, Patagonia donated all of its Black Friday profits to grassroots environmental charities, and all year round it donates one per cent of sales. It has a fully transparent supply chain (you can browse a map online), enacting regular checks on labour conditions in its factories, to ensure each one is up to scratch. Its range, which features both robust outdoor clothing to more relaxed lifestyle pieces, uses a range of recycled, low-impact materials.
IndyBest pick: Men’s Torrentshell Jacket: £100, Patagonia
The materials used in this waterproof jacket are approved by Bluesign, an organisation which works within supply chains to make sure things are safe in every sense – for workers, for the environment and for consumers. The fabric here is made using 100 per cent recycled nylon, meaning it’s lightweight but durable. It can either be used as an outer shell during warmer weather, or as a top layer. It’s available in a number of colour schemes and in sizes XS-XXL.
London-based Komodo has been championing the use of organic fabrics – chiefly cotton, hemp, bamboo and tencel – since the early Nineties. The brand spends at least two months a year at each of its factories in Kathmandu, Bali, India and China – all of which are subject to a strict ethical code of conduct. It has Gots certification, and is a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum. Its relaxed, sophisticated menswear range is one of the biggest on our list.
IndyBest pick: Palermo Tencel Shirt: £80, Komodo
Tencel is a bio-degradable fabric made from regenerated wood cellulose, and it’s what makes up this smart-looking shirt. Its fairly loose fit and breathability means you can wear it out on all but the hottest of days. It’s available in two colours and from sizes S-XL. We think it looks best in light denim.
This Danish menswear brand was founded by a father-son duo in 2008 and focuses heavily on the use of organic cotton, with a host of other sustainable materials to be found elsewhere – it aims to have recycled 4.5 million plastic bottles by 2020 in order to produce its polyester fabric. The collection is split simply into two sections – one for “your top half”, and the other for “your bottom half”. The whole thing ranges from smart blazer and shirts with elaborate prints to relaxed jogging bottoms.
IndyBest pick: Peacoat Slim Fit Shirt: £67.99, Zalando
If you’re looking for a smart-looking shirt to take you into summer, we’d recommend this one. Its slim fit means it will work as part of a more sophisticated outfit but the all-over floral print adds some flamboyance. Made from 100 per cent organic cotton (and Gots-certified), it’s extremely soft and comfortable to wear.
We loved the pieces we tried from all the brands on this list, and think they cater to most tastes. We particularly liked the supremely comfortable shirt from Howies, while the design and composition of the olive branch shirt from Thought was a winning combination.
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