These Eco-Conscious Fashion Brands Are Leading the Industry Towards a Greener Future
Sustainable clothing and ethical design are much more than just a fashion trend. The creatives behind some of the most iconic brands have labored to come up with new designs that keep resources in mind, and it seems that even large manufacturers are catching up, too. Discarded clothing is one of the largest sources of waste in our landfills each and every year; a study by the Ellen McArthur Foundation suggests that one garbage truck full of textiles is wasted every second. According to data shared at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, more than 92 million tons of clothing are dumped each year. The textiles industry has historically been a major contributor to environmental issues, but many companies have set aggressive goals after the 2015 Paris Agreement. Some of the changemakers in the fashion industry, which we're highlighting here, began their work even before that event.
All garments and accessories have some impact on the environment, but the following brands have fostered ethical production methods that not only considers the items' owner, but the world around its manufacturing plants. Some common goals shared by most on this list: water usage (supply chains have been reimagined to let up on the amount of water required to make staples such as jeans); the lifecycle of an item, (how long its used before it must be thrown away, or possibly repaired by the retailer first); and ethical sourcing (an area that retailers are improving on by choosing to work with eco-friendly farmers and suppliers that don't damage the environment and wildlife around them).
Some of the larger retailers we're highlighting—parent companies like Kering (Gucci and Saint Laurent) and big-box retailers like Target—have begun the process of overhauling their production methods to do their part in slowing global warming. Other independent designers, from Eileen Fisher to Stella McCartney, are testing new strategies and initiatives to encourage upcycling or recycling of their products altogether. Read on to learn more about the most innovative players in the fashion space today.
Allbirds sources the greenest materials available for its sneakers, including natural merino wool and laces made from recycled bottles. When it couldn't find an eco-friendly EVA (the rubber-like material in soles), it invented the first carbon-negative version, SweetFoam, made from sustainably sourced sugarcane. This spring, the brand announced it has imposed a carbon tax on itself by contributing to decarbonization projects.
This brand plants a tree with every t-shirt purchase—so far, they've sold over 220,000. Besides using fabrics like Modal (from sustainably harvested beechwood); organic cotton; Tencel (from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees); and certified-nontoxic mulberry silk, the San Francisco-based brand produces 97 percent of its chic, feminine pieces locally in California.
Eileen Fisher is on a personal mission to tackle waste in the industry by collecting and then recycling, upcycling, and reselling her timeless designs, which are made from sustainable organic cotton, linen, or cruelty-free wool, and dyed with certified-nontoxic dyes. Earlier this year, the brand launched Supporting Women in Environmental Justice, which will award $200,000 annually to nonprofits working for women's rights and the planet.
Levi Strauss & Co.
The iconic denim brand met its first series of climate goals two years ahead of schedule, so it's set even more ambitious new ones: a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions and 100 percent renewable energy in its own facilities by 2025. To cut those emissions by 40 percent across its entire global supply chain, the company is working with 42 of its factories and the International Finance Corporation's Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT) program, which provides expert advice and low-cost financing for sustainable equipment and upgrades.
Mara Hoffman recently switched her entire women's-wear collection to green fabrics—organic cotton, linen, hemp, and Tencel. Her swimsuits, which are made from recycled water bottles and fishing nets, get mailed to customers in bio-based, compostable packaging. She's also partnered with the Renewal Workshop to repair and resell damaged or worn-out garments that customers might otherwise toss.
Patagonia has not only donated more than $100 million to environmental causes, it works with its international suppliers to help them switch to and invest in renewable energy, and funds carbon-capture projects, like global reforestation, to offset the rest of its footprint. By this fall, 69 percent of its materials by weight will be from recycled fibers (such as polyester and wool). You can also buy Patagonia products secondhand, or get yours repaired as needed through its Worn Wear program.
Stella McCartney, whose luxury fashion label has been leather- and fur-free since launching in 2001, has partnered with start-ups to experiment with lab-grown "silk" and "leather," as well as mushroom-based "leather." Her program Stella Cares Green financially supports nonprofits working to promote biodiversity, spearhead material innovation, share their research with individuals and fashion businesses, and push government policy forward.
Adidas first began exploring reclaiming a portion of the plastic it uses to create shoes and athletic wear back in 2015, when it partnered with organization Parley. Now it offers multiple shoe styles and clothing pieces that are exclusively made from plastic waste sourced in the ocean. It sold more than 5 million pairs of sneaks made with Parley's recycled ocean plastic in 2018, according to Business Insider.
The luxury fashion house is working to reduce its own carbon emissions by a whopping 95 percent by the end of 2022, establishing guidelines within the Paris Agreement for greenhouse gas emissions. Another inspiring goal? The brand has announced that it hopes to eventually operate entirely on renewable energy in the future.
GUESS has begun experimenting with upcycling vintage denim pieces recently. This year, it launched a "vintage" event in Hollywood where new items and accessories were completely sourced from clothing released in previous seasons. It also introduced a new eco-friendly capsule collection just this spring, including denim jeans and organic cotton tees, produced in observance of World Water Day.
At the helm of the fast fashion industry, H&M is working towards a noble longer-term 2030 goal: 100 percent materials and products produced by the group will be recycled or sustainably sourced. Currently, 57 percent of H&M's materials are coming from recycled sources; while the company has a long way to go, new goals are a step in the right direction.
Earlier this year, Kering, parent company of luxury fashion houses such as Gucci and Saint Laurent, was ranked as the second most sustainable company in the world across all industries, according to the Corporate Knights Global 100 Index. At the end of 2018, Kering reported its ateliers were able to trace back more than 80 percent of its leather goods to sustainable farms; they're also making good on their promise to use "responsible" gold, as more than half of the fine jewelry and timepieces created in 2018 were made with these precious metals.
The parent company of many leisure brands, Gap Inc. has a long list of goals that it's currently working on—chiefly among them, its dependency on water, reducing its impact by 10 billion liters of water at the end of this year. In addition to ditching wood-based fibers in an effort to stop deforestation, the company is also overhauling the Athleta brand. Sixty percent of Athleta's materials are recycled—which is about two-thirds of the way to its goal of 80 percent by 2020.
Target has previously partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council on its Clean by Design initiative, which has enabled the retailer to decrease how much waste it produces, and overall emissions. Some of it's collections rely heavily on sustainable materials—it's kids' line, Cat & Jack, harnesses recycled polyester to create unique items for youngsters around the world. The work Target has put into making its retail spaces greener alone is inspiring. One highlight: its closed-loop reuse program for clothing hangers allowed Target to save enough hangers to circle the globe nearly five times, according to company data.