By its very nature, the fashion industry is unsustainable. From the affordability of clothing and putting profits before quality, people and our planet, to the overconsumption culture that leads many of us to believe we need a new outfit whenever we leave our homes, at its very core fashion has an ethical and environmental problem.
These issues associated with the industry are well documented. According to the McKinsey report, globally, people consume upwards of 100 billion clothing items a year, while textiles are said to be the world’s second biggest polluting industry, responsible for 92 million tonnes of waste annually. And the problems don’t stop there.
On a social level, many garment workers spend their hours in unsafe conditions and remain mired in poverty owing to the fast-fashion business model of churning out cheap clothing lines at an inordinate rate.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) put forward several recommendations in its Fixing Fashion: Clothing consumption and sustainability report, which the government rejected. Points of note included the concerns of child labour, prison labour and forced labour.
It is no secret that garment workers in countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia face unsafe conditions, with many brands ignoring illegal subcontracting and forced and unpaid overtime practices. The solution seems simple – brands must pay workers a living wage – but companies continue to ignore calls for action.
Chances are we can all plead guilty when it comes to investing in fashion’s unsustainable business model. But, with a heightened awareness of the problems it poses, it’s time to make more mindful, socially responsible choices when it comes to what we wear.
Enter Fashion Revolution – a movement that highlights the problematic nature of the industry, including not only how dangerous it is to our planet, but also for the people on it. Founded in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in 2013 – when 1,138 garment workers died and 2,500 were injured – the organisation is fighting for more accountability in the industry and greater transparency in supply chains.
Every year in the week surrounding 24 April, the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the non-profit hosts a campaign named Fashion Revolution Week.
This year’s event – taking place from Monday 19 April to Sunday 25 April – aims to encourage people to spread eco-friendly messages and learn more about how to live sustainably. But it also holds brands accountable, asking them who makes their fabric, in a bid to open up conversations about exploitative working conditions.
You can find out more about the campaign on the Fashion Revolution website, but in a bid to help you live a more socially conscious lifestyle, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite sustainable fashion brands that are taking greater responsibility for the planet and its people.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
This brand started as a specialist in feminist slogan tees, and Birdsong now prides itself on designing and producing wardrobe staples that are ethical, sustainable and made by talented women who are paid a fair wage. It also donates to local charities that are struggling for funding.
Franks London, Franksldn.co.uk
Every piece in Franks limited-run, made-to-order collections is made using upcycled fabrics, bettering the environment and reducing unnecessary waste. Each care label details who made the item as well as the fabric composition. With plenty of swoon-worthy dresses that are made to last, this is certainly one to bookmark.
Girlfriend Collective, Girlfriend.com
With transparency at its core, Girlfriend Collective specialises in eco-friendly, size-inclusive activewear. Using recycled water bottles and fishnets that would otherwise end up in landfill for its pieces, the brand is on a mission to reduce waste.
Hunza G, Hunzag.com
Rising to fame thanks to Instagram, this is a go-to brand for sustainable swimwear. The entire production happens here in the UK and each piece is hand-finished. Excess fabric is reused and turned into scrunchies and headbands, and the poly bags are biodegradable, recycled and recyclable, and made from post-consumer plastic. We’ve got our eye on a domino swim (£140, Hunzag.com) number for our next trip abroad, whenever that may be.
Dutch brand Kuyichi is making waves. Sharing its sustainability reports on its website, it provides transparency at every stage of production, from how and where materials are sourced to the working conditions of its employees. Doing its bit for the planet, recycled materials are used where possible, as well as eco-friendly, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) cotton. As for its social impact, it’s a member of the Fair Wear Foundation (a non-profit working to improve conditions for workers in garment factories), monitors the health-and-safety conditions within its production chains by regularly visiting them, and pays a living wage.
Lucy & Yak, Lucyandyak.com
Specialising in all things dungarees, we’re obsessed with ethical and sustainable brand Lucy & Yak. Founded by Lucy Greenwood and Chris Renwick in 2017, each piece is produced by factories in north India or Tukey, as well as at the brand’s own warehouse in Yorkshire. In order to make sure all stock is sold, any piece that is less than perfect is sold at a discounted price on Depop. Plus, the brand is on a mission to prove that sustainable clothing can be affordable – we covered its products in our piece on the best ethical fashion pieces that cost less than £50.
Mud Jeans, Mudjeans.eu
Mud Jeans works on a circular economy, encouraging customers to return worn jeans so they can be upcycled and sold as vintage. Pairs that aren’t resold are shredded, cut into pieces and blended with GOTS-certified cotton to create new denim yarn; a process that reduces water and chemical usage. Mud also offers a free repairs service and a lease programme where you can rent a pair of jeans on subscription (£6.82 per month for 12 months).
Ninety Percent, Ninetypercent.com
This London-based brand not only makes great, eco-friendly clothing from responsible materials, it also cares about its people, helps employees save and upskill, offers free meals and paternity as well as maternity leave, and there’s also a creche on site for those who need childcare. If this isn’t enough to persuade you to shop, it also donates 90 per cent of profits to charitable causes.
Nudie Jeans, Nudiejeans.com
Using a high proportion of eco-friendly materials in its products, including GOTS-certified cotton, (which limits the amount of chemicals, water and wastewater from its denim products), Nudie Jeans also reuses most offcuts to minimise waste. As a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, it traces most of its supply chain and pays living wage as standard.
A firm favourite among the outdoorsy folk among us, Patagonia’s environmental efforts led it to be named a UN Champion of the Earth in 2019 – the UN’s top environmental honour – for its entrepreneurial vision. Where it differs from mainstream brands is that it’ll get political when it needs to. It also donates 1 per cent of annual sales to grassroots environmental groups as part of its self-imposed “earth tax”. That’s not all though, as 72 per cent of its entire range use is made from recycled materials.
Pin Denim, Pindenim.uk
Founded in 2020 during lockdown by Chloe Culpin, a former denim designer and personal shopper, Pin Denim sources and sells vintage denim. Curating an edit of affordable finds, the brand helps you find the perfect pair of jeans for you, with details on how to easily get your exact measurements. A seriously cool newcomer.
Founded in 2009 when sustainability was yet to become the buzzword it is today, Reformation has gone from strength to strength thanks to its wafty feminine designs. Plus, it’s recently added activewear to its offering, which, from experience, is fantastic. Within the listing of each piece, you can see its sustainability impact, with a breakdown of carbon dioxide, water and waste savings.
Riley Studio, Riley.studio
Creating sustainable and genderless clothing staples, Riley Studio is on a mission to make conscious consumerism the norm. The brand sources and uses recycled materials and works with ethical partners to create clothing from waste, manufacturing locally to reduce its carbon footprint.
Eco-conscious accessories brand Roop is a firm favourite – each furoshiki bag is handmade by founder Natasha Fernandes Anjo, who uses offcuts and leftover fabrics. A popular hit last summer, we expect the brand will be everywhere this year.
Sheep Inc, Sheepinc.com
Meet the world’s first carbon-negative fashion brand – yes, you read that right. Having pledged to mitigate 10 times the carbon footprint of every purchase, Sheep Inc on a mission to fix some of the environmental damage done by the industry. Specialising in unisex knitwear (with Tom Hardy among its fans) that is made to last, each piece comes with a lifetime guarantee and you can even discover the farm from which the wool originates.
A firm footwear favourite of ours, Veja (pronounced vay-ja) made waves after being spotted on the likes of Meghan Markle and Emily Ratajkowski and produces a collection of shoes using the most ecological materials and ethical suppliers possible. Offering full transparency about every stage of its shoe production, it also works directly with small-scale producers to cut out the middle man, and agrees on a price for cotton and rubber in advance. Want to know more? Read our Veja buying guide that covers all of your questions.
Want to learn about more brands doing good? Read our guide to the ethical and sustainable B Corp companies
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