By now, it’s no secret that fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. As of 2022, it’s responsible for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, while an eye-watering 300,000 tonnes of unwanted items of clothing are binned each year.
Hell, even washing our clothes sends hordes of microplastics back out into the environment. That’s right, our laundry is responsible for an estimated 35 per cent of microplastics in the ocean. (If that stat made you jump, it might be worth investing in a Guppyfriend microplastics filter washing bag).
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, it takes 3,781 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans, not to mention that the rate of overproduction has grown at an alarming rate over the last two decades. In 2000, 50 billion new garments were made, and in 2020, that figure had doubled, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur foundation.
So far, much-needed change has been happening at a pretty glacial pace across the fashion industry, although the tide is slowly starting to turn. Consumers are taking a more holistic, eco-conscious approach to shopping, and governments are closing in on big brands: in July, France passed a law which requires fashion companies to attach carbon labels to garments in an effort to inform shoppers about the environmental impact of their wares.
In the US, the Garment Worker Protection Act helps ensure that factory workers are paid minimum wage and can work in safe conditions, while New York City’s historic Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, if passed, will attempt to hold said brands to account for their contribution to the climate crisis.
On an individual level, though, the solution lies in how we approach shopping, and by definition, dressing. There are plenty of ways to do that sustainably in 2022 – even if renting clothes isn’t really your bag. Below, we’ve come up with a handy round-up of our favourite sustainable brands to splash your cash on. Outfit repeating has never looked so good.
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Back in 2017, during visits to see family in Lagos, Nigeria and Panipat, India, award-winning designer Priya Ahluwhalia experienced the impact of the so-called garment recycling industry first-hand. Since then, she’s made a concerted effort to design clothes with sustainability and innovation in mind, working with technology to develop new fabrics from pineapple or banana farming to create her signature track tops and jackets.
Irish designer Robyn Lynch has carved out a reputation for her offbeat, futuristic menswear influenced by raves, her teen years and the wild. As part of her ongoing collaboration with sportswear giant Columbia, she reinterprets archive pieces by adding ingenious touches, like overlaying gilets with showerproof material and introducing a thermo-heat feature into her designs. Most of these garments are made with deadstock material provided by Columbia, with additional fabrics often made from recycled plastic waste collected from the ocean.
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Producing a single cotton tee can take up to 2,700 litres of water, which is why Leila Afghan and Rhi Connell’s sustainable streetwear brand Air Pangea strives to use natural dyes, zero plastic and off-cuts or fabric made from eucalyptus leaves. Each of their collections focuses on communities around the world, celebrating them in an eco-friendly way. Last spring, Air Pangea’s profits went towards Isla Urbana, a Mexican charity dedicated to creating water sustainability in Mexico.
Brendon Babenzien, Supreme’s former creative director and founder of environmentally conscious streetwear brand Noah, is well aware that there’s no such thing as a truly sustainable brand. That being said, Noah works exclusively with suppliers and manufacturers and workers fairly and uses recycled materials while committing to making more eco-friendly steps with each passing season.
Manchester’s hyper-coloured Donkwear founders, Sam Shep and Madi Marcantonatos, can’t stand the city’s connection to fast fashion hubs Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing and Missguided, who have all set up shop there. Instead, they preach the power of DIY, upcycling and appropriately-priced fashion, as told through a distinctly Northern narrative.
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Design duo Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena, whose Bulgarian folklore-inspired skirts can be found in all the hottest corners of Instagram, are intent on making sure their fabrics are locally sourced and serve the local community by creating jobs in small Bulgarian and Italian factories. To create their signature checked and tartan kilts, the Central Saint Martins grads source rolls upon rolls of surplus textiles from warehouses around Europe – a process they describe as “very important and totally worth it.” Chopova Lowena is all about longevity and making pieces that stand the test of time.
Created by Los Angeles native Hillary Taymour in 2009, now NYC-based brand Collina Strada proves that sustainable fashion doesn’t have to be boring. A 2019 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Finalist, Taymour’s focus is on making clothes that are as political as they are eco-friendly, often sharing resources about getting hold of deadstock materials with other young brands. All of Collina Strada’s garments are sewn in-house and made in limited numbers, and fabric innovation is always on the cards. In her latest collection, Taymour used sylk, a sustainable alternative to, you guessed it, silk, made from the natural waste of rose bushes and stems. How about that?
French designer and LVMH Prize shortlister Marine Serre makes clothes for the future. Made famous by celebs like Beyonce and Kylie Jenner who donned the brand’s signature half moon pattern, Serre has always been willing to put in time and effort to rethink how she runs things. For SS22, her collection was made from 45 per cent recycled yarns and the same amount of regenerated materials, while skirts were made from bedsheets and coats from tea towels.
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Kingston University grad Lydia Bolton is all about reusing second-hand textiles, scouring charity shops and reimagining old garments to create one-off pieces to keep you warm throughout this never-ending winter. Her garments are produced in limited quantities to accommodate demand. “It’s up to designers to think of how the industry can be less harmful,” she told THE FACE in 2019.
Old army tents transformed into backpacks, straps made from upcycled shoelaces and knitwear engineered from ocean waste plastic have long been in menswear designer Bethany Williams’ repertoire. Since graduating from London College of Fashion in 2016, the 2019 LVMH Award finalist has been fired up by a desire to give waste fabrics and textiles a second life, resulting in collaged knits and luxurious tailoring among the best in fashion’s sustainability bubble.
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Launched in 2016 by Bei Kuo, The End’s eco-MO is pretty straightforward: “there’s nothing sexier than saving the earth”. Over the last four years, Kuo’s seductive brand has been on a quest to make organic, environmentally friendly lingerie that doesn’t feel drab or unappealing. Each piece is made using organic cotton, while 95 per cent of The End’s packaging is made from recyclable and biodegradable materials. The cherry on top? Kuo also collaborates with non-profit One Tree Planted to plant a tree per product sold.