Fast fashion had a major moment through the aughts and the early part of the decade.
Trend-chasing shoppers relied heavily on retailers churning out new daily inventory at itty bitty prices to satisfy their impulses. But by the latter end of the century’s teen years, the high street category (as it’s also referred to) had been seismically disrupted by small, mission-driven independent labels.
Thanks to eye-opening documentaries such as The True Cost and (I suspect) social media’s role in disseminating information, consumers began voicing demand for companies that were willing to shoulder social, ethical, and environmental responsibilities. People were learning more about the garment trade’s incredibly harmful impact, and the fast-fashion status quo was no longer going to cut it.
Important questions like, “Where did our clothes come from?” — “Who made them and with what raw materials under what conditions?” — became more pressing than ever as the next generation of young consumers gained buying power. Entrepreneurs took note, and conscious clothing brands began sprouting to answer the call.
While the category was once associated with an unfashionable and dowdy aesthetic, the tides have turned in a major way. Ethical style is at the top of its game, with brands merging both design and environmental convictions into one overarching ideology, resulting in really cool clothes that are mindfully produced.
Supporting these labels is vital to the industry’s future because the more they grow, the more it forces other mainstream companies to do better. This dynamic has been on my mind for many years, and I consider myself an early adopter, having given up fast fashion five years ago. It’s been refreshing to see the Everlanes and Patagonias of the world integrate the collective psyche, causing everyone to pause and question the origins of their garments.
But because everyone knows those major players, I wanted to put the spotlight on some less obvious choices that deserve just as much attention for their beautiful merch and mindful practices. I’ve selected some companies that range from closed-loop and zero waste to simply having shifted their operations over the years to become less environmentally harmful. Their other common denominator is an effortless aesthetic, something I’m partial to.
So without further ado, check out the following brands the next time you’re looking to add to your wardrobe. You’ll look good and you’ll feel good, too.
For a one-stop-shop of pre-vetted, elevated brands, Immaculate Vegan is the ultimate destination. The retailer carries a wide array of vegan brands that prioritize both sustainability and aesthetics, and all must meet their high ethical and environmental standards.
The criteria include everything from how materials are sourced to supply chain accountability and product packaging, so you can rest assured that whatever you’re buying meets your personal standards, too. Immaculate Vegan keeps things simple, refined, trustworthy, and oh so, well, immaculate.
Veja (pronounced vay-jah — the Portuguese word for “look”) is a French sneaker brand that’s actually been around since 2005 in France but recently took America by storm with their super fresh kicks made of recycled and upcycled materials. Every step of the brand’s sourcing and manufacturing journey was implemented to positively impact the world. If that value doesn’t get you, the rad styles are sure to.
3. For Days
This t-shirt brand is one of the few closed-loop and zero waste labels I’ve come across. You order what you want from their site (tees with an intangible cool factor) and you return them for free when you’re over those particular styles, whether it’s one month or one year later. They then take those pre-loved pieces to make new ones. Loop closed.
4. Christy Dawn
Don’t let the whimsical frocks fool you. Christy Dawn means serious business when it comes to doing their part. The brand’s tagline, “Honoring Mother Earth,” says it all: they personify environmentally-friendly through incredibly deliberate practices anchored in reverence of their employees and the planet. Their online journal is chock-full of stories spotlighting sustainability practices. These guys live what they preach.
Luxe basics at affordable prices by a brand that assumes responsibility for the entire supply chain? Yes, please. KOTN’s “farm-to-table, but for your clothes” credo informs everything they do: from farming and transforming the cotton (their hero raw material) to giving back to the communities where they operate.
6. Mara Hoffman
Funkadelic and thoughtful are the two words that spring to mind when thinking of Mara Hoffman’s elevated collections. The designer has managed to pour her personal ethics and eco values into her business with banging success, proving firsthand that style and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. The result is a brand that’s actionably committed to a panoply of ethical and environmental organizations, from sea and land protection to social responsibility.
LACAUSA makes trendy clothes every cool girl wants to wear: prairie maxi dresses, boxy corduroy sets, dope jumpsuits, the list goes on. So naturally, as every cool girl would have it, the brand is also a big player in the sustainability arena, championing the cause of rectifying the industry’s harmful past.
8. Jenni Kayne
The Jenni Kayne brand has been around for 15 years but recently reinvented itself as the go-to for smart, luxe lifestyle basics. Even more recently, the company has recognized the growing importance of sustainable practices in business. Their team has made great strides toward doing better for the planet by both deepening its slow fashion philosophy and implementing significant changes in its methods, like now using recycled fibers and emphasizing transparency.
While Eileen Fisher is a pioneer in this category, having advocated capsule dressing and strong environmental commitments for many years now, it remains slightly under-the-radar with the younger generation of consumers. Time to change that!
The company was ahead of the conscious consumerism tidal wave with its offering of mindfully made, luxurious essentials. From the ideation stage all through the supply chain, this brand gets it right: 99% of their cotton is organic, they’ve pledged allegiance to recycled fibers and non-toxic fabric dyeing, exercise fair trade processes in the communities they employ, and even help educate customers about garment care and recycling. Leaders through and through.
The Future of Fashion
There’s no reason for us greenies to be fashionably doomed, as there’s clearly no shortage of wonderful eco-conscious brands making beautiful clothes. And of course, there’s always the secondhand options — thrift shops, consignment stores, and vintage vendors — that are forever in style.
Nonetheless, the fashion business will always create some form of environmental impact. We must all get dressed every single day! To paraphrase one of the great industry leaders, Patagonia: the point isn’t to do no harm at all — an actual impossible feat — but doing the least harm possible.
I’d love to hear what brands you’d add to this list. Leave me a note below or drop me a line on Instagram!
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