The 12 best eco-responsible and ethical clothing brands

Is it time to break away from fast fashion? If the answer wasn’t already a resounding yes, the evidence of our planet’s warming over the past year should make you reconsider your fashion choices and the brands of clothing you buy.

Most industries are forced to rethink their practices as consumers become more aware. Fashion is no different. But clothing brands aren’t above the greenwashing trick, which means getting to the root of every item in your wardrobe isn’t easy.

Many clothing brands, however, are making the effort to iterate and improve on their eco-friendly and socially conscious goals. Here are 12 companies that are moving toward better practices, cleaner and more sustainable manufacturing, and a new mindset about the way we buy.

[Photo: courtesy Outerknown]

Unknown
Surfing legend Kelly Slater’s second act is innovating on eco-friendly materials to make cool coastal clothing more sustainable. Unknown was founded in 2015 and branched out into womenswear in 2019, featuring organic fabrics, ethical work and sourcing, and transparent practices. He made waves by turning fishing nets into a nylon fabric called Econyl that he made jackets, watch straps and flip-flops, and that he made Oceanworks buttons from salvaged plastic waste that washed up on beaches around the world. (You can check the back of the button to find the coordinates of where the material was “harvested”.) Also, its SEA denim collectionlaunched in 2019, is guaranteed for life as part of the brand’s commitment to keeping its products out of landfills.

MATTER the label
MATE the Label founder Kayti O’Connell Carr focuses on “clean” style, based on a production score he developed that measures water and chemical use and carbon emissions. The brand dresses the whole family in soft, dyed low-impact fabrics in elevated silhouettes. Think your favorite tracksuit, but upgraded with wide leg cropped pants and rounded hem crew necks. We are fans of Move by MateThe company’s collection of workout-worthy leggings, shorts and sports bras made from 92% organic cotton.

[Photo: courtesy Vuori]

Vuori
Vuori makes performance clothing both comfortable and environmentally friendly. Founder Joe Kudla’s California brand talks about its ethical commitments (responsible sourcing and labor, certified climate neutraletc.) but goes a step above with its Eco-Happier collection. The collection of sweatshirts, workout gear and casual wear, for men and women, is designed with recycled fabrics, reinvented to be soft, stretchy and ready for action.

[Photo: courtesy prAna]

prAna
California-based PrAna wants you to explore the earth, but also to care for it. The 29-year-old brand (acquired by Columbia Sportswear in 2014) has long since expanded beyond its yogi roots, with adventure gear dedicated to ecological materials and responsible packaging. (By this fall, the company says it will have 100% plastic-free packaging across the board.) We like the ReZion collectionan updated version of prAna’s sustainable performance fabric that uses recycled and Bluesign-approved materials for clothes that are ready to move with UPF 50+ and a city-to-country design (read: lots of pockets).

[Photo: courtesy Kotn]

Kotn
You can equip your house and closet with 6 years durable basics brand Kotn. The Canadian company uses Egyptian cotton, a transparent supply chain and “slow fashion” principles to provide quality over quantity. While we’re fans of Kotn’s minimalist wardrobe building blocks and organic cotton loungewear, we also love that social causes are a priority for the brand. Kotn works with local NGOs in the Nile Delta, where it sources materials, to fund education efforts in the community that supports their operations.

[Photo: courtesy Tradlands]

Tradlands
Tradlands Founder Sadie Beaudet built her brand on a commitment to slow fashion. This means small batch production (two prints per year), quality craftsmanship using natural fabrics and dead animals, and traceable supply and manufacturing. Along with the company’s higher price tag (most items run between $150 and $200) comes with cost per wear reasoning, or rather, when you buy a quality, well-stocked product, you’re less likely to throw it in a landfill after one season. We love the easy-to-wear designs and capsule wardrobe mood, but if you want to dip your toe in without the sticker price, the company also has a small range of second-hand items to be won at a reduced price.

[Photo: courtesy Christy Dawn]

Christy Dawn
Look as good as the fields you frolic in with your Instagram favorite Christy Dawn. Los Angeles-based DTC uses organic cotton and unsold fabrics to design its dream dresses in partnership with seamstresses and production centers in California and India. These items are an investment — the company’s aesthetic dresses can cost upwards of $500 — but Christy Dawn upholds artisanal practices (and salaries) and a commitment to thoughtful design. His next farm to closet collection arrives in May and will feature its newly harvested regenerative cotton fabric, made in collaboration with a four-acre farm in southern India.

[Photo: courtesy Patagonia]

Patagonia
Eco-friendly before being cool (JK – that was always cool), Patagonia has been committed to reducing its footprint for decades. The brand has been named one of 2019 UN Champions of the Earth for its sustainable practices and advocacy work. Certified B Corporation since 2011, Patagonia constantly reiterates its efforts, in particular Recreateda collection within its Worn Well second-hand market that uses fabric scraps for unique interpretations of classic styles.

[Photo: courtesy Everlane]

Everlane
Last year, EverlaneThe road to “radical transparency” has been strewn with pitfalls. (Same Senator Bernie Sanders was not thrilled with the company’s decision to lay off unionized staff last fall. The brand cited COVID-19 in its reasoning.) But as the company rebuilds its image and continues to produce new wardrobe staples, its promises of environmental and ethical practices can be followed. From April, Everlane announced an increase in recycled materials in its products and a shift to recycled or FSC-certified packaging.

[Photo: courtesy Levis]

Levi’s
Denim production is seriously bad for the environment – that distressing cool is created by toxic chemicals – but former jeans maker Levi’s is taking steps to clean up its act. The brand has ambitious plans, committing to 100% sustainably sourced cotton by 2025 and significant reductions in its production footprint. Until then, you can explore Levi’s eco-friendly initiatives with WaterLess, an open-source production method developed for Reduce water consumptionand Second handa recommerce and buyback program launched in 2020

[Photo: courtesy ADAY]

ONE DAY
DTC start-up of stylish women’s clothing for work and private life ONE DAY relies on technical fabrics that behave like sportswear. He also pledged to responsibly sourced materials, including Recycled Scuba, a soft, stretchy fabric made from recycled water bottles. ADAY encourages its customers to be lifers, launching the Outfit Repeater Challenge earlier this year, urging customers to wear its versatile collection again and again. And if you’re finally fed up with your item after its 200th wear (who knows!), the brand will take care of recycling it for you or rewarding you for passing it on to a friend with a store credit.

[Photo: courtesy Cuyana]

Cuyana
We hope we’ve convinced you that not all eco-friendly clothing should be made for hiking and the yoga mat. But if we didn’t, Cuyana will be. Co-founders Karla Gallardo and Shilpa Shah embrace slow fashion practices in their sleek, modern womenswear with a “less, better” mentality, in part to justify some of their higher prices, such as $195 for cotton twill pants and $295 for a leather shoulder bag. Their products are made from luxury fabrics, such as Bluesign-certified Chinese silk and Oeko-Tex-certified Italian cashmere, and can be resold to the company through its Lean Closet Program with thredUPwhere customers can exchange used items for Cuyana store credits.

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Michael O. Stutler