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Sustainable fashion brands – what to look for
We understand that it’s not always possible to make sustainable fashion choices. Budget, accessibility and time to research can all be barriers. However, if you’re in a position to be able to choose, there are loads of amazing companies out there. Our guide to what to look for in a sustainable fashion brand helps identify some of the most important and lesser-known elements to what makes a fashion brand truly ethical and sustainable.
When you read this, it might seem like a lot of hard work just to buy some clothes. Ticking all the boxes and still finding clothes that fit your own personal style can be tough. But don’t worry, the really good companies will be shouting about everything that makes their business sustainable. So it should be easy to identify who you’d like to buy from.
4 minutes to read
If you want to make sure your clothing choices are as sustainable as possible, buying second-hand is always the best choice. Clothes that are bought second-hand or handed down need very little energy or materials to become yours. Therefore, if possible, it’s always best to shop second-hand before buying anything new.
The added benefit of buying second-hand is cost. Sustainably-made clothes are usually (and rightly) more expensive than the high street brands a lot of us are used to buying from. Buying second hand usually means you can buy high-quality clothes with a lot of life left in them. They also come at a lower cost than they were when they were new.
What to look for in a sustainable fashion brand when second-hand isn’t an option
Let’s face it, sometimes you need to buy new. When you do, what should you look for in a sustainable fashion brand?
The first thing to look for in a sustainable fashion brand is the materials that are used to make the products.
Natural fibres are often amongst the best choices. However, it’s also worth checking that they are sustainably-sourced. This includes being grown or produced with no harmful chemicals or pesticides – preferably organic.
Also, it’s worth researching if the growing or harvesting processes in that particular region contribute to deforestation or destroying habitats.
As well as the main material each garment is made from, consider what kinds of dyes, glues and accessories are used. Plant-based, non-toxic dyes are best as they don’t risk getting into waterways and harming wildlife. Sequins, glitter and other small items can often come off when being washed (or worn!). This can end up adding to the plastic pollution problem. We know sparkly things are lovely but it’s best to avoid them if possible.
Some companies use waste products or recycled single-use plastics instead of new materials. It’s a really good, innovative way to make use of materials that are already in circulation. A lot of these companies recommend buying a washing bag to wash these garments. This helps to avoid the risk of microplastics finding their way into waterways and the water supply.
Manufacturing sustainable fashion
The manufacturing process can have a huge impact on the sustainability credentials of a fashion brand.
One thing to look for is how much water is being used in manufacturing. Most companies who are doing well at this will give you their stats if you send them a message on social media, if it’s not already on their website. The type of equipment used is also important, as well as whether there are a lot of waste products or emissions being created as part of the process.
Some companies will operate a circular business model. This means they reuse and repurpose as much of their waste, energy and excess materials as possible. Other brands take back worn-out products to make them into new garments. Although these new products are sometimes not of exactly the same quality as the original (this is known as downcycling), it’s still an important part of a circular business model. This is because it makes use of the materials for as long as possible before they become waste.
If the brand’s products are made in a factory, the type of energy they use to power the factory and its machinery is also a big factor. Look for companies that use 100% renewable or green energy.
Remember, well-made clothing will last much longer, so whilst the original price tag of a more sustainably-made product might be higher, it could outlast 3-4 (or more!) cheaper versions.
Packaging and distribution
Perhaps the most important aspect of all. Fast-fashion and high street fashion is infamous for overlooking the human element of sustainability.
When choosing a sustainable fashion brand, it’s so important that we make sure that we are buying from companies who consider safety, wellbeing and fairness to humans along the entire supply chain.
This means making sure that suppliers, factory and distribution workers are all paid at least a living wage. This is defined as “a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living” (Oxford Languages), for the region or country in which it applies.
As well as fair payment to factory workers, companies should be paying growers or suppliers a fair price for materials. A sign of unfair payment somewhere in the supply chain is usually an unbelievably low retail price – so watch out for prices that look too good to be true.
Safe and comfortable working environments are also essential. Cheap prices or mass-produced, non-sustainable garments can often mean dangerous, dirty or uncomfortable conditions for the people making your clothes. So check out where your clothes are being made and what conditions the workers have to endure to produce them.
Finally, sustainability when it comes to humans doesn’t just relate to the environment. According to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, true sustainability involves everything listed above as well as ensuring equality. This includes gender equality, racial equality, equal representation and every other area where inequality, prejudice and oppression exists.
Community and environmental projects
Many companies who are ethical and sustainable will also make efforts to give something back. This could be within their local community or to projects or initiatives that relate to their products or their values.
Having a dig into the sustainability or news pages of fashion brands’ websites can help tell you what good a company is doing. This can be in the form of donating to charities, providing products or resources to people in need or allocating part of their profits to good causes.
B Corps – the ultimate test of what to look for when shopping for sustainable fashion
B Corps (short for B Corporations) are companies that “are certified based on their entire social and environmental impact”. The testing that they are put through to achieve certification is rigorous and covers every single area of their business operations.
So if you see that a brand you are thinking of buying from is a certified B Corp, you can’t really go wrong!
Pretty much every B Corp certified company will be shouting about their certification, loud and proud. But if you’d like a list to refer to, the B Corporation website has this really helpful directory of all certified businesses, listed by industry and country. One of our favourites here at Ailuna is Patagonia, a company who are well-known when it comes to sustainable business practice and products.