Your guide to which fashion brands are actually ‘sustainable’

Your guide to which fashion brands are actually ‘sustainable’

Whether you’re tentatively dipping your toes into sustainable fashion or have been championing green brands for a while now, there’s no denying the future of fashion is changing. But with so many buzzwords and clothing labels all offering varying eco-friendly options, it can be difficult to know whether your shopping is helping the planet or contributing to fast-fashion waste.

A recent Cosmopolitan UK Instagram poll asked followers about their shopping habits to identify the biggest questions that need answering. Respondents cited the lack of clarity around what counts as ‘sustainable’ and uncertainty around which mainstream brands actually meet the criteria (if any) as one of the main reasons for not considering themselves to be a sustainable shopper. In fact, one in four respondents said that they understood ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ fashion to be the same thing (spoiler: it’s not), suggesting that the distinction is far from clear.

Below, we’ll dive into the best sustainable brands to consider, what sustainable fashion actually means, and how to shop more consciously. So what are you waiting for? Let’s go!

Best sustainable fashion brands

1. Nobody’s Child

We love this affordable London label for pretty summer dresses, midi skirts, on-trend blouses, and tailoring. Oh – and did we mention most of the items are well under £100? In 2022, over 90% of their collection was made from responsible fabrics, such as LENZING ECOVERO Viscose.

Shop Nobody’s Child

2. Align

Our go-to for effortless workwear staples, think trench coats and beautiful shirts, Aligne is a Fashion Editor fave. But the brand also has great partywear, quality tees, and smart jeans. We’re fans of the conscious materials used and the recycled packaging.

Shop Aligne

3. Faithfull The Brand

Instagrammers such as Lucy Williams and Monikh love Faithfull, thanks to the brand’s perfect summer holiday vibes. The collection is produced entirely in Bali, as co-founders Sarah-Jane Abrahams and Helle Them-Enger wanted to create close relationships with local factories and employees.

Shop Faithfull The Brand

4. Reformation

Reformation has had a sustainability focus since day one, initially starting out selling vintage clothing before creating its own clothing collection made from low-impact materials and rescued deadstock fabrics. The brand is aiming to achieve Climate Positivity by 2025 by sourcing 100% of its fabrics from either recycled, regenerative or renewable materials.

Like its recently launched swimwear line, the first collection is made from Ref’s new, non-synthetic fabric, EVO by Fulgar (a renewable, super soft, biobased fiber that contains no plastic and comes from the castor plant). Pretty impressive stuff, if you ask us. Not to mention hella cute – Reformation’s dresses are summer staples in our wardrobes, especially for wedding guest dressing.

Shop Reformation

5. Omnes

Bridging the gap between sustainable clothing and affordability, Omnes collections are priced competitively (the most expensive item currently listed on the site is a dress for £135) and made from fabrics including recycled polyester, raw materials such as organic cotton and linen, and biodegradable fabrics including LENZING TENCEL.

Shop Omnes

6. Everlane

For wardrobe basics that do good and look good, you can’t go wrong with Everlane. The brand breaks down all the science-y info on its website, explaining in simple terms its plan to achieve Net Zero emissions that includes reducing water usage in its production and incorporating more innovative next-gen materials from bio-based alternatives like cactus, mushrooms , and biofabricated plant oils into its collections.

Shop Everlane

7. Veja

You likely already own a partner or Veja trainers or know three people who do (Meghan Markle totally counts, btw). And it’s no wonder they’re so popular. Veja is all about transparency – from how much a factory employer earns to their cotton producer contracts, the brand discloses everything. They even developed a new material entirely made from recycled bottles picked off the streets of Rio and Sao Paulo, called B-mesh.

Shop Veja

8. Baukjen

Meet Baukjen, one of the highest-scoring B Corp businesses in the fashion sector. In 2021, they even won the “Climate Neutral Now” award, recognizing their efforts to lower environmental impact and create a circular fashion business. We love their elegant blouses, cozy knitwear, and the fact that they offer pre-loved and rental options online.

Shop Baukjen

9. Aspiga

Aspiga is B Corp certified, meaning it has been verified by B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. This includes its sustainability practices, with 97.8% of the collection made from responsibly sourced natural fabrics or recycled synthetics. The brand has even printed plastic in its packaging. Its clothing now comes in garment bags made from 100% compostable cornstarch.

Shop Aspiga

10. Ninety Percent

This British womenswear label is so-named because it shares 90 per cent of its distributed profits between charitable causes. Even better, when you shop you can vote for your chosen cause using the unique code found in your garment’s care label. They use sustainable materials, such as eco-cotton and Tencel, are focused on keeping carbon emissions as low as possible and are dedicated to being transparent with shoppers.

Shop Ninety Percent

11. Mashu

Inspired by Art Deco interiors and the Greek architecture of her home country, designer Ionna Topouzoglou launched her vegan accessories brand, Mashu, with sustainability as a number one priority. Every bag is 100% vegan, made using bio-based leathers with several styles featuring wooden handles crafted from furniture factory offcuts that would otherwise have been burned.

Shop Mashu

12. Pangia

We all rediscovered comfortable fashion, namely loungewear during the past few years, and one of the most wished-for brands around is Pangaia. Creating beautiful sweatpants, hoodies and more using materials such as recycled cotton, seaweed fibers and environment-friendly dyes made from food waste, vegetables, fruits and plants, they’re dedicated to caring for the environment. Word of warning, though; getting your hands on any of their stock before it sells out is a challenge!

Shop Pangaia

13. Allbirds

According to Allbirds, the standard trainer emits 12.5 kg CO2e. Made from recycled materials and suitable for running, walking or fashion purposes, Allbird designs emit 7.6 kg CO2e on average, and they’re working hard to reach zero. The company also offsets its own carbon emissions – so until they reach that zero target, they’re working to lessen their impact.

Shop Allbirds

14. Girlfriend Collective

This size-inclusive sportswear brand was launched by US-based wife-and-husband duo Ellie and Quang Dinh after they heard that there’s expected to be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. The collection is made from recycled water bottles, fishing nets, and other plastic waste, and is fast becoming a gym favorite. Not only are their leggings and sports bras sustainable, they also feel incredibly supportive.

Shop Girlfriend Collective

15. Heist

Tights are one of the fashion buys most likely to end up in landfill, so British brand Heist is tackling the issue with their products (which include a great underwear range, too). They’re aiming to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, and the fact that the tights are basically ladder-proof (speaking as a serial ripper) means you’ll buy less. Simple!

Shop Heist

16. Mary Benson

Created by the brand’s namesake, Mary hand-draws every one of her prints, and items are made to order by a small team of seamstresses in London. We’re huge fans of her dresses – think Vampire’s Wife vibes with an astro edge – and the wedding collection is truly something special.

Shop Mary Benson

17. CONTOUR

This shape-enhancing activewear brand creates long-lasting leggings, sports bras and more from ECONYL (repurposed nylons), ocean plastics and recycled cotton – and they’re manufactured in London, keeping that carbon footprint low. Interestingly, the materials have UV protection of UPF 50+ so you can run and keep safe, too.

Shop Contour

18. Cariuma

Is it time to add some fresh canvas trainers to your wardrobe? Cariuma is all about fusing fashion’s ‘cool-classic’ aesthetic with added comfort and conscious manufacturing. Designed to last, for every pair of these sneakers sold the brand will also plant two trees in the Brazilian Rainforest to help counter deforestation and preserve natural habitats.

Shop Cariuma

19. Deakin & Blue

It’s often all too easy to buy a bikini with the intention of wearing it for one season only – and many high street swimwear collections won’t last past a few washes. Deakin & Blue offer cossies that are twice as resistant to chlorine, sun cream and oil as standard Lycra, and they’re all made in London from either deadstock fabrics or waste such as old fishing nets and industrial plastic. Oh, and their products are truly made to fit many types of bodies, available up to a HH cup and size 20.

Shop Deakin & Blue

What does ‘sustainable fashion’ mean?

Not to be confused with ‘ethical fashion’ (although they often go hand-in-hand), ‘sustainable fashion’ essentially refers to how the clothing will affect the environment – ​​in production, through sales and how it’s then transported and creates waste.

Founder of ethical menswear brand Arthur & Henry and Impact Director at Common Objective, Clare Lissaman tells Cosmopolitan, “There’s no set definition but we define sustainable as fashion that is beneficial – not harmful – to people and planet.”

So, how do you know that the dress you’ve been eyeing up is really less harmful to the planet than one that’s cheaper?

Lissaman says to look for brands that are “using environmentally-friendly materials, from regenerative agriculture… processed in a non-polluting way.”

“Also, keep an eye out for brands that are thinking about their design, production, products and sales in a circular rather than linear fashion. For example, can the product be easily deconstructed and reused or recycled?”

“Realistically, most brands are still on the journey to being fully sustainable across all environmental and social metrics, so they’re focusing on just one or two [elements]whether that be organic cotton or fair trade production.”

Word to the wise, it’s not totally straightforward. Author of How To Break Up With Fast Fashion Lauren Bravo says while most brands aren’t capable of getting everything right just yet, it’s important to be aware of “greenwashing”.

“There are so many brands around these days calling themselves ‘sustainable’, and it’s great to see that people are becoming more thoughtful about how they spend their money and the companies they support,” says Bravo. “But there’s also a lot of greenwashing going on.”

Of course, that often links back to the ethical fashion discussion about how employees and contractors are being treated – as we say, the two regularly go hand-in-hand.

How to shop more sustainably

If you think shopping for sustainable brands means spending more money, you’re not alone but Lissaman says first and foremost, a great way to be more sustainable is to simply work with what you already have. “Shop your wardrobe,” she says. “Re-use what you have. Do clothes swaps with friends. And if you have to buy new, get informed (Fashion Revolution has some great resources) and then seek out brands that are really trying to produce more sustainably.”

Bravo agrees, “As Fashion Revolution is fond of saying, the most sustainable item is the one already in your wardrobe.”

That’s not to say you should stop shopping altogether, though – it’s sometimes just about thinking towards the future. “I’m a big fan of the #30Wears rule, which means before you buy anything, ask yourself: ‘will I wear this 30 times?'” Bravo explains. “That doesn’t have to be 30 times in a year, it could be a few years or even decades – but if the honest answer is ‘no’, then you probably shouldn’t buy it.”

“I also really recommend the Good On You site and app, which rates thousands of brands on their treatment of planet, people and animals,” adds Bravo. It’s such a handy way to demystify the greenwashing and check up on how sustainable a brand actually is, and the results are often really surprising .”

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