Sustainability is dead. Can these clothing brands replace it?

You know those cereal commercials where sugar bombs like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese’s Puffs are supposed to be part of a “healthy breakfast”? This kind of sanctioned obfuscation is also prevalent in the fashion world, especially when it comes to so-called “sustainability.” You can’t walk into a clothing store or browse the cleverly designed website of a men’s clothing brand without coming across an item of clothing labeled sustainable, whether it’s a shirt whose carbon emissions have been wedges or a bathing suit made of plastic water bottles. But what really makes a garment durable?

The truth is, it’s impossible to say. In the year 2021, we have finally reached a point where “sustainability” no longer means anything. It all started with great intentions – the clothing industry having to consider the environmental destruction caused by fast fashion and, frankly, the production of all new clothing – but now that eco-friendliness turns out to be a source of revenue, many brands are in a race to see who can reap the biggest profits with the least sincerity. Big Cereal found a way to say candied flour flakes are healthy, and Big Fashion found a way to say destructive clothes are good for the planet.

Some outspoken labels, like New York’s Noah, have tried valiantly to fight this. In fact, the punk-leaning menswear brand went so far as to write a teardown of itself in 2018, posting a blog with the captioned title, “WE ARE NOT A SUSTAINABLE COMPANY.” (Besides friendly fire, they’ve also engaged in some environmental initiatives, like 1% for the Planet.)

Not everyone can be Noah, but there are other menswear concerns that eschew sensationalism and simply got to work trying to find an alternative to sustainability. The question is not whether these are good ideas or not – we need all hands on deck to find solutions to the climate, pollution, water and other environmental crises facing our world. consumerist faces – it’s whether or not they can go beyond a t-shirt manufacturer and take on the world.

Outerknown’s Second Spin Polo includes a QR code you can scan for circularity details.


Circularity: Outerknown

Unknown, the casual men’s (and women’s) brand co-founded by pro surfer Kelly Slater, has embraced the word “sustainability” since day one. As Slater writes on the website, “sustainability is the company’s raison d’être.” But Megan Stoneburner, the company’s director of sustainability and sourcing, gave InsideHook a more realistic mission statement: “No brand has achieved what should be the standard for sustainability. Our ambitions can never be to achieve perfection. Instead, we aim to constantly evolve and drive continuous improvement.

The company’s current goal: to be fully circular by 2030. According to Stoneburner, this means keeping “[Outerknown’s] products out of the landfill and into circulation – forever. (They even did their roadmap available to customers.) The final step towards this goal is through the Second Spin Collection, which uses a technology called CircularID Protocol from software company Eon that links a garment to its history and materials. Just scan a QR code on the label, like a polo shirt I tested, and you can see what it’s made of (in this case, recycled and organic cotton), where it’s been in the growing process at consumer (Austria, Turkey, India, Morocco, Spain and the United States) and options for recycling or reselling the garment (which is currently in progress). But circularity does not only focus on the product itself.

“The three main pillars outlined in our strategy to be fully circular by 2030 are to 1) lead innovation 2) embrace circular models and 3) champion fair labor,” she said. This includes increasing their transparency and traceability.

The navy blue Merino sweater from the Swedish brand Asket

Do you know where the sheep in your merino sweater comes from? Asket does.


Traceability: Asket

As other brands are beginning to embrace the word traceability, Swedish menswear (and recently announced women’s clothing) business Asket is the embodiment of the ideal of the term. When we recently spoke with co-founder Jakob Dworsky, he made it clear that their overall goal is transparency – it’s one of six words on the top bar of their website – and the ability to trace a garment. from raw material all the way to your doorstep is a key part of this.

“Transparency is as much about knowing where, how and by whom something is made, this is what we call traceability, but also what [products] cost you, what they cost us and what they cost the planet,” Dworsky said. “But traceability itself is really the foundation of this, because how can you know that a garment is climate neutral or sustainable if you don’t know where it is made, how and by whom? Making these claims without traceability, I would argue, borders on greenwashing.

Asket doesn’t claim to be 100% traceable yet (they’re around 86% right now), but that varies from coin to coin. the basic t-shirtfor example, is only 67% traceable while Merino sweater is 100% thanks to a purchase of wool in bulk. But like Outerknown, Asket does more than just one initiative; they also track things like carbon emissions, water consumption and energy use, and they’ve created the Revival program where old clothes can be returned.

United By Blue Organic Cotton Swim Shorts

It’s not just about the clothes themselves, as United By Blue’s single-use plastic initiative shows.

united by blue

Stop single use: United By Blue

Similar to Outerknown, United by blueThe brand’s environmental mission is the raison d’être of the brand. As its name suggests, the Philadelphia Society is there for the health of the ocean; their hook is that for every product purchased, they will remove one pound of waste from the oceans and waterways. At the time of writing, a ticker at the top of the website says this is over £3.6million.

More consequential than cleaning up after garbage is already floating on the beach, the company Leave the one-time workgroup, an audit they’ve been conducting for the past few years in an effort to eliminate single-use plastic from the company, from their own plastic bags used to ship organic cotton shorts to shrink wrap on industrial pallets. In a recent update, they admitted to struggling with hardware during the pandemic – when disposables came back in full force – but are back on track for 2021.

Whether or not you decide to sample wares from these three brands isn’t the question (although it’s always a good idea to support companies that do good with your hard-earned cash). The thing is, the next time you think about buying something “sustainable,” take a moment and try to find out what it actually means. Because, to echo Inigo Montoya, it probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Michael O. Stutler