So, you’re someone that wants to buy ethically. You really want to vote with your wallet; you want to make environmentally sustainable fashion choices. Where do you go? Everywhere seems to be greenwashing; pretending to be climate-conscious without actually putting in the work. It’s somewhat similar to the issues raised when a T-shirt bearing the slogan ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ were allegedly being made by Mauritian migrant women for 62p an hour. The conditions for the Mauritian women were terrible; they were living sixteen to a room, and earning much less than the average woman on the Mauritian island.
There are mainstream companies like H&M, who have policies that have been lauded in the fashion world; in 2013, they became the first fashion brand in the world to launch a global scheme whereby customers can exchange old clothes for store credit. This is very good. They also have a “conscious” collection, aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of those items. This has been a more divisive strategy. Why not just make everything consciously and ethically produced. If a small capsule collection is made in an environmentally sustainable manner, what good is that really doing?
It’s the similar kind of argument some vegans make about buying a vegan burger from KFC. You’re still contributing to the wider unsustainable system. As Eluxe magazine says, it’s just not possible for a business to produce 600 million garments per year and not badly damage the planet, even if those garments are made from organic cotton. ‘Like all fast-fashion companies, the success of H&M is dependent on a strategy of built-in obsolescence, which is to say that the clothing isn’t meant to last for ages, both in terms of style and quality. This strategy is, of course, inherently unsustainable.’
There’s been a lot of news recently surrounding fast fashion and the human impacts; Boohoo is now facing a modern slavery investigation after workers who supply the fast-fashion brand with clothes were found to be paid as little as £3.50 an hour. An investigation found that the factory in Leicester was still operating, and social distancing measures were not being followed, despite the UK being locked down. In light of this, I’ve chosen to draw on clothing companies that promote environmental sustainability and the health and welfare of animals, both nonhuman and human alike.
Something that’s key in sustainability is small collections. Nobody’s Child explains that ‘by producing small collections…and refreshing our signature shapes in new fabrics and prints, we’re committed to making only what we really believe in.’
Nobody’s Child is an up-and-coming brand that is a little different, stylistically, to the other brands we are looking at. They mainly feature cute prints, co-ords and vintage styles. They also reuse leftover fabric from past seasons to keep their brand sustainable and eco-friendly. They also donate leftover materials to fashion colleges, to support the next generation of fashion designers.
Their website is a go-to for sustainable solutions to modern problems, like the single-use plastic situation at festivals. They also have some really cute animals.
They are a little more expensive than some brands, sure, but they offer good quality clothing items. You get 15% off your first order, too, which is pretty good! They deliver to a lot of countries. Shop here.
Another cult favourite, although a little higher price range. It’s sold in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, although you can just go straight to their site and buy from the retailer itself. 90 percent of the profits are redistributed amongst charities and the garment makers themselves.
It’s minimalism to a T (shirt); think pared-back designs, subdued colours, and oversized fits. Organic cottons feature heavily; they only use organic or recycled cotton. They also use natural linen and hemp. Their wool is either Merino or GOTS certified, which means that the farms they use have the highest possible animal welfare standards, including the “Five Freedoms” as a minimum. This means the sheep that supply the wool live a comfortable life as possible, having five freedoms:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst: ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
- Freedom from discomfort: an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease: preventing disease, and rapid diagnosis and treatment when the disease is discovered.
- Freedom to express normal behaviour: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
- Freedom from fear and distress: by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
It is a little more expensive than Nobody’s Child, but there’s a 40% off sale at the moment, so you can get more for less.
Ninety Percent say their focus areas include ‘respectful working environments, sustainable materials, garment longevity, transparency and traceability, animal welfare, water stewardship, emissions and CO2 circularity.’
It’s important to remember the environment and the animals that inhabit it, but this includes human animals, too. Ninety Percent strives to support its workers. They have three factories; the first, Echotex in Dhaka, was recognised as industry-leading, being the first factory in Bangladesh to offer health insurance for all workers, fair wages and a free lunch every day.
People Tree is another sustainable brand featuring classic shapes and lines; linen trousers are a big thing for them, and they focus on offering Fairtrade certified cotton pieces. They describe themselves as Fairtrade fashion pioneers; they were the first fashion company to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organisation product label. They’re also PETA-approved vegan. They were founded in 1991 by Safia Minney, and their pieces are made using traditional artisan skills such as hand embroidery and hand knitting. It is a little more expensive than Nobody’s Child, but they also have a sale section with some good offers.
They’re also a good place to get basics. They have very cute pyjamas, and they also have really nice athletic wear. Minimalism seems to come with the environmental terrain; most of these brands conform to a relaxed aesthetic, and People Tree is certainly no exception. They’re really good at creating sustainable denim, too. In 2018 they launched their first 100% organic jeans, which are made using 87.2% less water than in conventional denim production. Just a year later, their ‘Our Blue Planet’ collection debuted with BBC Earth; a collaboration aimed at highlighting the importance of ocean conservation. These efforts are all to be applauded.
Olive Clothing is one of my favourite brands. It’s a living wage employer certified by the Living Wage Foundation. They feature lots of small collections; using the same print for dresses and tops. Their circulation is low, which means they have occasional sales where you can pick up lovely pieces that haven’t been snatched up yet. Their pieces last for a very long time, and they stick to a minimalist aesthetic, but with more than a touch of the feminine about it. Olive describes its process as such: ‘our garments are manufactured within OECD advanced economies, by suppliers operating in highly unionised employment environments subject to developed world levels of minimum pay.’
I do have a little niggle about Olive Clothing, though, because they do offer “one-size” clothing, which is…you guessed it, not one size at all. Most of their pieces labelled “one-size” would fit a U.K. 6–12 (it’s hard to standardise clothing, but I would say this is a U.S. 2–8, or an EU 34–40). It’s ridiculous, and it’s not inclusive at all. I have a little bit of a problem with one-size clothing, because it’s never one-size-fits-all; although it might be one-size-fits-many, or one-size-fits-most. The average size for UK women is a 16, with a 36DD bust. My bust is a C cup, and my boyfriend bought me a dress for my birthday from Olive, which doesn’t fit. It fits over most of my body, but the bust area is very tight.
I was going to cut Olive Cheltenham from this article, but I decided not to, because they are a sustainable company that has some really good policies. Their clothing size choices, however, leave a lot to be desired. Just because they label their clothing as “one-size” doesn’t mean it’s going to fit everyone. I have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and I found it really triggering to try and put on a supposedly “one-size” garment and find that it didn’t fit. Please do better, Olive!
Oxfam is a charity that works on women’s rights and gender equality, water and food access, health and education, businesses and poverty, conflicts and disasters, climate change, aid and development, and poverty both internationally and in the UK.
Some of Oxfam’s stores are specially curated vintage ones; that is, they sell absolutely beautiful pieces for half the price of a “proper” vintage shop. It’s all of the retro goodness, none of the marked-up prices. Plus, your money is going to fighting poverty. The store tells us that ‘last year Oxfam’s Online Shop contributed over 1 million pounds toward’s Oxfam’s program work’. Some of Oxfam’s stores are open in the UK; some open with reduced hours, and some have shut. But on Oxfam’s online site, you can buy vintage to your heart’s content from the comfort of your own home. There are new vintage items added daily. There’s menswear, there’s womenswear, there’s homeware, jewellery and accessories, and there’s even bridal stuff! There’s picnic stuff, there are sewing patterns, and there’s even a vintage Southern Railway welch lantern up for grabs. You can keep up with Oxfam’s online shop on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Previously published on medium
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