With so much to keep track of, it can be hard to know if the clothes you’re buying are sustainably and ethically made, even when you’re doing your homework. If the brands marketing themselves as “sustainable” or “ethical” can’t trace every step of their supply chain, how can you be expected to?
While asking the right questions or knowing what to look for on a clothing tag can go a long way to pointing you in the right direction, it’s even more helpful to have a list of stores you know you can trust, vetted by people who know how the industry works.
To that end, we’d suggest you familiarize yourself with Project Just, an organization committed to documenting the production practices — and specifically, their environmental and social impact — of some of the biggest names in fashion, from Zara to Nike.
Project Just’s researchers comb publicly available information and reach out directly to brands in order to answer a long list of questions related to supply chains, codes of conduct, labor conditions, and environmental commitments (and then meticulously fact-check what they’ve found). One of the coolest things the organization does with this info is its “Seal of Approval” lists: category-by-category guides that highlight brands you can turn to for denim, leather goods, athletic clothes, underwear, and more. For each list, researchers have vetted dozens of brands; there’s a whole slog of information to back up their choices on Project Just’s website, should you want to look deeper.
All of this is incredibly useful for a shopper committed to doing no harm. But another question that’s important to consider: Are any of these places making clothes you’d actually want to wear — and beyond that, that you can afford?
Thankfully, the answer is yes and yes. We’ve checked out all the brands that made the cut, and put together our own short list of labels with the most options, best styles, and fairest prices across all categories. Think of it as a cheat sheet for shopping some of the world’s most ethical and sustainable fashion companies — but keep in mind, there’s always room for improvement.
Anekdot is a Berlin-based, upcycled lingerie company; each garment is made from preconsumer waste materials, which means production leftovers or deadstock fabric and trimmings. Everything is limited edition, and the company produces on an extremely small scale. Right now, all sewing is done by the label’s founder and three local seamstresses who set their own hours and are paid well above the minimum wage.
Similar to a few other indie lingerie companies (New Zealand’s Lonely comes to mind), the style is vintage-inspired but body positive and modern, with lots of options in strappy lace. The brand also makes swimwear, which is sleek and simple, though it currently only includes two-piece options.
Shop here for women’s underwear, bras, lingerie, and swimwear. Prices start around $35 for a pair of panties and $93 for a set.
This London-based label has been a pioneer for sustainable fashion since its founding in 1991, but the clothes aren’t the least bit crunchy-looking — think Gap but cuter, and committed to becoming 100 percent fair trade throughout its supply chain. In 2013, People Tree became the first brand to receive the WFTO Fair Trade product mark. Almost all of their line is made with organic cotton, and 89 percent of their suppliers are currently undertaking environmental initiatives.
The brand’s selection is huge; expect everything from printed wrap dresses and plain trousers you’ll wear to the office to yoga leggings and organic cotton robes. Shop here for basics, work clothes, athletic clothes, and jewelry. Prices start around $35 for a shirt and $90 for dresses, though sales like the one happening now can knock that down considerably.
In the US at least, Swedish company Nudie is known mostly by raw denim fans. But some of the reasons why Project Just and the denim heads hold the brand in high regard are one in the same: The brand’s 100 percent organic cotton jeans last forever, and if they don’t, Nudie will repair them for you free of charge. They’ll also recycle your old jeans into new products in exchange for a 20 percent discount off your next purchase. In addition, the brand scores major points for publicly disclosing its suppliers and maintaining a public code of conduct.
Aside from jeans, Nudie also makes knits, basics, outerwear, and kid’s clothes. Note that while the jeans are unisex and available in waist sizes 24 through 38, most of the other stuff, like underwear and T-shirts, are designed for men (though some pieces are modeled on women too). Prices start around $55 for a T-shirt and $165 for a pair of a jeans.
Patagonia is a leader in environmental and social responsibility on many fronts. You might as well start with the brand’s mission statement — “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” — and its level of transparency around that goal, which Patagonia acknowledges as a work in progress.
In addition to being fair-trade certified for all its sewing production (and by fall 2017, more than 400 products), the brand knows and publicly discloses all of its first-tier suppliers, and is actively working to map out the rest down to the farm level for raw materials.
Most would consider Patagonia an outdoor brand — somewhere you turn for a hiking backpack or a water-resistant travel shirt. But its offerings in many categories, from sundresses to skinny jeans, are more than just decent, but actually cute. (And the lifetime warranty makes it very worth it even if you don’t give two hoots about sustainability.) Shop here for athletic clothes, basics, and outerwear for men, women, kids, and babies, in addition to sleeping bags, duffels, and more; prices start around $35 for a shirt.
While a little on the pricier side, Eileen Fisher is notable for being one of the only brands on the Seal of Approval lists to offer plus-sizes as well as petites. (The other is Levi’s, which garnered an “honorable mention” in the denim category.) The over-30-year-old label has a bit of reputation as an older women’s brand, but the majority of its offerings would fit right in at any cool minimalist boutique on Instagram. Expect things like boxy linen tops, silk tunics, and slouchy viscose jumpsuits, but also skinny jeans made with organic cotton, boiled wool kimono jackets, sleek pencil skirts and slip dresses, and leather mules.
Like Nudie, Eileen Fisher offers free repairs for any pieces purchased from the brand. While it can’t currently trace its entire supply chain, Eileen Fisher has publicly committed to working toward this goal as part of its Vision 2020 program, which aims to make the company completely sustainable by 2020, and has made other pledges related to its environmental and social impact. As of 2016, it’s the largest women’s clothing brand to be certified by B Corp.
Shop here for work clothes, outerwear, and basics; prices start around $68 for a T-shirt (or $39 on sale), around $200 for a dress, and around $350 for a coat.
Another label known primarily for denim, Netherlands-based Kings of Indigo makes great jeans as well as contemporary fashion for men and women. Like many of these brands, Kings of Indigo is extremely transparent about its supply chain, publishing a production map and regularly visiting its factories. The brand uses 90 percent organic cotton in its denim, plus a fabric that combines organic cotton, recycled cotton, and hemp. It also uses dyeing and distressing techniques that reduce water consumption throughout the process.
While indigo may be the brand’s specialty — all dyeing is done by hand in a factory in India where the indigo originates — Kings of Indigo has a lot more than denim on offer. Shop here for on-trend casual pieces like striped sailor shirts and oversized duster jackets; the brand also makes jeans for babies, and other stuff like tote bags and quilts. Prices start around $30 for an on-sale T-shirt and $116 for a pair of jeans.
New Zealand brand Kowtow’s clothes are simple and stylish, and include a selection of “timeless basics” called Building Block that can be worn as separates, but that basically serve as a capsule wardrobe (think leggings, T-shirts, T-shirt dresses, tank dresses, wide-leg pants, cardigans, and bodysuits, all in solid-colored cotton or simple patterns like stripes). The brand’s regular collection is still streamlined and minimalist, but leans a little more crisp and polished, with pieces made from cotton poplin and denim.
All products are made from fair-trade-certified organic cotton (dyed within Global Organic Textile Standards). Even the brand’s buttons are made from organic hemp; as Project Just notes, when the brand couldn’t find a sustainable zipper source, they just decided not to use them, period. Its factory in India pays its workers a living wage, in addition to providing benefits like paid holiday leave, sick pay, medical insurance, and overtime pay, as well as free schooling for their children and free transportation to and from work.
Shop at Building Block for everything from clothes for work to pajamas. Building Block prices start around $50, while the regular collection starts around $100 for a shirt.
You’re probably familiar with Reformation, the LA-based, eco-conscious label known for sexy high-slit dresses (which have spawned hordes of copycats). The brand started out selling re-worked vintage pieces in 2009; now eight years old, Reformation still sells vintage in-store, but has branched out with an online empire focusing on party dresses — including wedding looks — and casual everyday pieces from T-shirts and bodysuits to coats, skirts, swimwear, and jeans.
While Reformation is not cheap, it’s not totally outlandish either, considering everything is made in the US at the brand’s own factory with sustainable fabrics and production methods. The entire environmental footprint of each garment is disclosed on its tag using what the brand has coined the Ref Scale; this includes CO2 emitted, gallons of water used, and pounds of waste produced. Sizing runs from XS through XL and prices start around $28 for a T-shirt, with most dresses priced around $200. Look out for the brand’s seasonal sales for the best prices (psst: the summer sale is happening now).
Danish brand Aiayu sells gorgeous knits and textiles for the home made in Bolivia, India, and Nepal from natural materials like alpaca wool, organic cotton, and yak fibers. The brand runs a zero-waste program that recycles production leftovers into products like tote bags and rugs, publicly discloses its certifications, and has been a member of the Global Compact since 2008. All products are packaged in biodegradable materials, and Aiayu will repair anything for you free of charge (as long as repairs are possible).
In typical Danish fashion, the clothes are simple but very stylish and fun; expect lots of play with texture and some fun patterns like giant polka dots. Shop here for basics, fall and winter sweaters, clothes to wear to work, and pajamas, as well as accessories like knit beanies, scarves, and makeup bags, plus home decor. Prices start around $150 for a shirt.
Another certified B Corp, Raven + Lily has made fair labor practices integral to the brand’s identity. Designed in Austin, Texas, Raven + Lily’s pieces are made by female artisans at fair-trade wages in countries like Ethiopia, Peru, India, and Kenya from sustainable materials like deadstock fabrics and fair-trade organic cotton.
While the clothing options here aren’t super extensive, all the pieces do feel special. Expect bohemian but polished looks with feminine accents, like ombre dip-dyed gauzy silk dresses and alpaca sweaters with fringe. Raven + Lily is the one of the only brands on the list that makes clothes, jewelry, and accessories as well as items for the home such as candles, ceramics, quilts and duvets.
Shop here for gifts, jewelry, totes and wallets, and casual women’s clothes. Prices start around $88 for a top and $24 for a pair of earrings.