Sustainable Wears: 12 High Quality, Slow Fashion Brands

I want my closet to be an externalization of my internal beliefs. If you don’t believe in child labour and poor working conditions, if you fight for social justice in your country, how can you justify wearing a brand that exploits people in other countries? If you use a metal straw and are a diligent recycler, how can you shop at a store that abuses the environment through unsustainable practices?

I decided to start voting and speaking with my dollars several years ago and no longer patronize fast fashion brands. I haven’t shopped at H&M, ASOS, etc in years and I honestly don’t remember the last time I was in a Target or Walmart. These fast fashion superhouses have a revolving door of new trends, a concept in itself that I am not a fan of. The thought of these places gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ve studied the ethics of fast fashion several times over, personally and in an academic setting. I’ve read and written papers about the harms of fast fashion brands since 2008. My college senior thesis was entitled The Importance of Authentic Interaction with Nature and over 40 of its pages were dedicated to dismantling the fast fashion companies we, as a society, seem to adore.

When researching chic and minimal brands in the early 2010s, Everlane came into my world like a breath of fresh air. I didn’t know there were brands out there actually doing what Everlane was doing, transparent pricing and a responsible business model. For several years I was naïve to any other brands with similar models. However, since then, I’ve met several other brands with high ethical values and am sharing them below.

 


 

Everlane

{California, USA based; they reveal their true cost to consumers and share detailed production information, including an option to view the factory}

Ethics utilizes radical transparency and ethical production processes
Product Line men’s & women’s attire, outerwear, accessories,  shoes
Size Range XXS–XL
Investment $$

 

Vetta

{made in the USA; utilizes a capsule wardrobe structure made of five pieces that translate into a month+ worth of looks}

Ethics utilizes deadstock or eco textiles (including buttons & elastic); ships in recycled packaging; ethical production practices
Product Line women’s attire, outwear
Size Range XS–XL
Investment $$

 

Christy Dawn

{Los Angeles, USA based; crafted from a woman’s perspective}

Ethics utilizes deadstock textiles; handmade pieces made in small batches
Product Line women’s attire, outerwear, maternity, bridal
Size Range XS–XL
Investment $$$

 

ABLE

{Tennesee, USA based company with production transpiring all over the world; ABLE hires women who have overcome extraordinary circumstances and ensure they are fairly paid}

Ethics B-Corp; Fair-Labour practices
Product Line women’s attire, accessories, shoes
Size Range XS–XL
Investment $-$$

 

United By Blue

{Pennsylvania, USA based; for each product sold United By Blue removes one pound of trash from oceans & waterways}

Ethics B-Corp; uses recycled & organic materials; champions environmental preservation
Product Line men’s & women’s attire, children’s attire, outerwear, accessories, pet accessories
Size Range XS–XL
Investment $$

 

Patagonia

{California, USA based; dedicated toward ethical production and created a denim production process that uses 84% less water, 30% less energy and emit 25% less CO2}

Ethics Fair Trade Certified; organic cotton; champions environmental sustainability
Product Line men’s & women’s attire, children’s attire; outwear, swimwear
Size Range XXS–XXL
Investment $$

 

Nisolo

{provides fair wages & full-time employment to their artisans; high-quality shoes that will last years, if not decades; also has an ethical marketplace that showcases other like-minded ethical brands}

Ethics Fair Trade Certified; transparent production practices
Product Line women’s & men’s shoes, accessories
Size Range women’s 6–10, men’s 8–13
Investment $$–$$$

 

Elizabeth Suzann

{Tennesee, USA based; minimalist styles with timeless silhouettes; a true embodiment of slow fashion}

Ethics made in USA; utilizes natural fibers; inclusive sizing
Product Line women’s
Size Range XXS-4X; offers petite & plus sizes
Investment $$$

 

Eileen Fisher

{New York, USA based; working toward 100% organic cotton & linen fibers, environmentally responsible dyes, carbon positive operations, and no-waste facilities by 2020; an industry leader in sustainable fashion}

Ethics Fair Trade Certified; utilizes sustainable materials & practices; inclusive sizing
Product Line women’s attire, accessories, shoes
Size Range XXS-3X; offers petite & plus sizes
Investment $$$

 

Hackwith Design House

{Minnesota, USA based; many products are made-to-order and intended to be year-round basics; perfect minimalist investment pieces}

Ethics made in USA; made to order; inclusive sizing
Product Line women’s attire, swimwear, accessories
Size Range XS–4X; offers plus sizes
Investment $$$

 

Reformation

{upcycled materials produced in a fair wage environment; each product comes with an outline of its environmental footprint; mainstream and trendier styles}

Ethics utilizes sustainable fabrics, offsets carbon emissions, pays living wages
Product Line women’s attire, outerwear, bridal
Size Range XXS-3X; offers plus sizes
Investment $$$

 

People Tree

{London, UK based; a pioneer in sustainable fashion and in the business for over 20 years; offering everything from work-wear to yoga-wear}

Ethics Fair Trade Certified; utilizes organic cotton and biodegradable materials
Product Line women’s attire, accessories
Size Range US 2-14
Investment $-$$

Tiny Closet: only buying from sustainable brands

 

Several weeks ago I wrote this post, highlighting my favorite slow fashion brands.  I’ve shopped at many of these brands for years, particularly Everlane, but only lately have I made sustainable brands my only clothing option. Up until now, I’ve still occasionally purchased and worn secondhand products from other brands, justifying it with the idea that I wasn’t directly supporting the brands if I wasn’t buying directly from them.

However, in looking down at my outfit right now, I’m finding that more and more I’m only wearing sustainable brands. Not only are these slow fashion brands filled with good karma, but they also are built to last. They are employing artisans around the world with responsible production practices, and they are worth my financial investment. I’m also finding that this shift in purchasing has led to a shift in style. In the frighteningly cold NYC winter I’m gravitating toward my cozy babaà knits, handknit bandana scarf, and wool fisherman’s cap inherited from my granddad. Each piece is meaningful to me, intrinsically special. Each piece is also timeless: the sweater is nearly 10 years old, the bandana knit in the late 90s, and the cap purchased in Greece while my granddad was in the Navy in the 1950s.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the consumeristic world we live in,  particularly with the glamorous fashion bloggers that post an outfit daily,  dressed head to toe in brand new pieces. But what I’m working on is the ability to shop my closet and be to be flexible in the look I’m going for. Those two skills,  once cultivated, will keep me on the journey started about a month ago.

Tiny Closet: wintry outerwear

 

I have never owned a big, down parka.

Developing a minimalist wardrobe means being cautious with what comes into my closet and how it can be used and stored. A big, bulky parka only used for two to three months of the year hasn’t made the cut yet, but after spending December 2018 to March 2019 frozen in NYC’s winter I knew that I needed to step it up this season.

High-quality options are notoriously expensive and for several years my college-self couldn’t even begin to fathom how I would spend several hundred on a coat when I could barely afford rent. Now that the investment is an option for me (thank you 2019 bonus check!) I’m looking for a coat that will last and last.

Obviously, it needs to be warm in weather as cold as 10 degrees (about as cold as NYC gets), but it should also be resistant to wind and water. Personally, I’d also like it to be filled with Primaloft or another synthetic insulate. While I’m interested in the look of Canada Goose I’m not a fan of their sourcing (particularly how they trap wild coyotes), goose down fill, or their price tag. I’ll be on the lookout for something with similar lines, a slight military feel, but made with more sustainable practices.

A parka should also be classic. It’s the purchase once product so classic flattering lines are essential. There’s no space for a trendy parka in my closet, style and color. I may deviate from my classic black coat to a camel color, but that’s a big maybe.

 

 

This one has beautiful lines and flattering stitching.

I’m very drawn to the hood on this military-style coat and its chestnut color.

Made with recycled nylon and available in a range of sizes, XXS-XL, women, petite, and plus, this one is the most inclusive.

It’s impossible to walk two blocks in Mid-town without seeing several of this coat, made of 60 water bottles. 

There are so many to choose from!

 

***

 

Update: I chose this beauty from Everlane for both is sustainability and classic silhouette.

Living Small: responsible decluttering

 

As previously mentioned my closet is bursting.  It’s filled to the brim and holds more clothes than I remember purchasing. When deciding to slim down my closet there are two main reasons for it: one, there’s the simplicity of maintaining and utilizing a lighter closet and two, it’s more environmentally sustainable to adopt good practices within your shopping habits.

Part of this simplification will require getting rid of a lot of older or underused pieces. I’m slowly making several passes over my closet and each time removing the things that I barely wear, that don’t match other things in my closet, that no longer fit properly, or that I simply don’t feel a strong attachment too. I tried to Konmari method, but if I’m being honest, a lot of my closet sparks joy, but I’m working on it. I’m slowly removing more and more and have a feeling that if I keep this up I’ll have the closet I want in a few short weeks.

Once I’ve decided what to remove it gets into the topic of how to remove. While the simplest way of doing this is a few trips to my trash chute, I would rather my old pieces be recycled or reused. Only 20% of discarded clothing items are reused (only around 1% are recycled). That’s staggering when you consider that in the US alone we send 21 billion pounds of textiles to landfills each year. A few of the options I’m exercising.

 

Resell

For a few of my more expensive pieces I’ve opted to sell them on Poshmark as a way to recoup some expense of purchasing them in the first place. This is also a get way to ensure that they are getting a second life with someone.

 

Donate

Specific to NYC there are several groups to donate clothes to. For all my professional attire that I don’t wear anymore, I’m donating to Dress for Success, an “international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life”.

 

Thrift

This is similar to donating as I’m being very selective about where I donate my clothes to. I want to avoid the trendy spots as a lot of those places have high turnover and will toss any clothes that haven’t sold in their first few weeks on the shelf. Thrift stores like Housing Works and Cure Thrift Shop sell clothes, not for profit, but to fund lifesaving services for low-income people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS and to fund Type 1 diabetes research and advocacy, respectively.

 

“Dump”

Not into a landfill, but into one of the large recycle bins located around the city. Using this map I’m finding one in my neighborhood. This is the last resort as personally I find it to be the laziest and before reaching this stage I’d like to dole out clothes as responsibly as possible (ex: giving professional attire to Dress for Success).

On My Mind: releasing past patterns

 

I’ve always been a things person. I like things, I surround myself with them and growing up in a large home in the country facilitated this. I grew up on over 10 acres of land, consistently surrounded by both nature and things. There’s a comfortability in it. I’m used to seeing a full basement of bits and bobs that my dad could use to solve any problem around the house. Or a full closet of treasures and memories that my mom could assemble into a last-minute Halloween costume, fix a busted seam, or turn into a new game.

At some point, I began to equate things with capability and comfortability. Things became a toolbox that I could use to solve my little problems here and there. Getting rid of them meant that I may need to repurchase in the future.

Moving to NYC a year ago begged me to reconsider this collecting mentality. I simply don’t have space. I cut my closet in half and was still bursting. I take up 2/3 of the closet shared with a partner (his patience with me continues to have limits I’ve yet to find) and have drawers stuffed with tees, tanks, bits and bobs. I’ve tried to move things here and there, reorganize, to no avail. I Marie Kondo’ed my home and still see the dreaded things everywhere. There’s only so much organizing can do for you when your home is bursting at the seams. I’ve decided that a sincere slim-down is in order. My closet, my home, the entire ASH is on a little diet.

This isn’t intended to be a New Year’s Resolution (as I truly don’t believe in them, which you can read about here) but there’s something about the end of a year — end of a decade — that begs us to reconsider decisions or lack thereof. I’ve managed to justify my consumerist behavior with the fact that I resell and donate my old bits, or hidden it underlayers of support for other global issues. “Maybe I over-shop, but I don’t use single-use plastic.” As if one can balance the other?

It can feel like living ethically is walking a tightrope, always someone to offend or some small action you’ve done incorrectly. I’ve watched people online be ripped apart in posts supporting a marginalized group with comments like “what about this group?” or “if you really believe that you wouldn’t have done X”. People make mistakes, grow, and learn, but the internet doesn’t like us to do that. We are constantly recorded and past actions held up like exhibits in a courtroom, by armchair social justice advocates. Even if you are looking to do the right thing, and move forward.

That being said, the fear of failure has never been something to hold me back from being boldly audacious in my goals. So a closet slim-down, swapping quantity for quality, is a movement I’m happy to take part in. There are a few things I have at the top of my to-do list.

 

take my grandfather’s old coat to a tailor to make it wearable for me.

investigate my tee shirt collection and aim to donate anything unworn in the past year.

take inventory of the storage closet & shelves.

slim down the storage unit, move the bikes into the apartment, and close the lease.

 

One by one I plan to cross them off and create a very different situation at ASH.