Sustain/Ability: Stories about how fashion impacts the environment.
When Emma Watson embarked upon her press tour for Beauty and the Beast and The Circle, she assembled an entirely eco-friendly wardrobe. Watching her document this process on Instagram, I felt both inspired and frustrated. Good for her, but what about the rest of us? I want to shop responsibly, but I don’t exactly have access to an eco-fashion consulting firm that can verify all of my choices.
The fashion industry can be shockingly wasteful and unethical. According to Business of Fashion, fashion is one of the most polluting industries, second only to oil. A study done by Dame Ellen MacArthur’s foundation in November revealed that the fashion industry produces more carbon emissions than international flights. In April, it will be five years since the Rana Plaza building collapse killed 1,200 workers in a factory in Bangladesh. In the years since, we’ve made some progress, but not much.
We know this, but it’s hard for sustainable fashion companies to break through the noise — or get past the stigma. One article about Watson and her mission kicked off like this: “Here’s a fun game to play: we talk sustainable fashion, and you try to stay awake through to the end of the sentence. Still there?”
Still, I made the New Year’s resolution to only buy sustainably made clothing for 2018. “Fast Fashion Free 2018” has a nice ring to it, but the challenges are immense. For example, although I love fashion, Louis Vuitton has yet to offer me custom-sustainably made dresses the way they did for Emma Watson. More practically, I had to think about finding everything I might need in a year — like, where would I buy socks?
But my biggest worry was whether I’d be able to find stuff I liked on a budget. Unfortunately, higher price points are just a fact when shopping sustainably (it’s the cost of doing business in an ethical way), but you can find plenty of good pieces around $100. With the help of researchers like Eco-Age and Project JUST (which sadly stopped publishing its “seals of approval” for brands in 2018), it is possible to find trustworthy brands selling everything from lingerie to tights to running shoes made from ocean trash. As for over-the-top statement pieces? There’s always vintage.
Obviously, the best way to shop responsibly is not to shop at all. But if you, too, would like start replacing your worn-out fast-fashion gear with more ethical purchases, read on for my full sustainably produced capsule wardrobe.
Best Cheap Jeans
Levi’s won honorable mention for best denim label from Project JUST, according to Racked, because they changed their practices to use less water. Some of the colors in Levi’s 711 range, including “Hooked on a Feeling” (pictured above), are part of their Water Less initiative.
Patagonia’s mission statement illustrates their commitment to sustainability: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire, and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Their popular fleece sweaters and pullovers are fair-trade certified, and, bonus, they’re available in fun ’80s patterns.
Best Classic Heels
Veerah’s signature Frida heels are made with 100 percent vegan Italian suede. Their full collection is cruelty-free and responsibly sourced, and these are a pretty good Manolo BB dupe.
Best Trendy Sneaker
Shoe brand Veja is a favorite of green-fashion crusader Emma Watson. Because the company prides itself on transparency, it makes its practices on sourcing cotton, leather, rubber, and creating vegan shoes all available on its website. It’s also certified fair-trade and each cotton farmer holds an organic farming certificate.
Best Work Pants
Eileen Fisher is a certified B-corporation, making it one of a group of companies that voluntarily meet high standards in social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Patagonia, the Reformation, and Warby Parker are fellow B-corp companies.
The Little Black Dress
The Classic Work Dress
Best Plain White T-Shirt
This is not only my favorite sustainable T-shirt, it’s my favorite shirt period. It’s slightly heavier, and the hemp gives it a bit of a bumpy texture. This particular one is 30 percent hemp, 70 percent cotton. Hemp has a lower environmental impact than cotton does, making it a more sustainable textile. If you’re super into it, Jungmaven makes 100 percent hemp shirts.
Best Workout Shoes
I heard about Baserange from trendy people before I knew it was sustainable. These bamboo bras leave a smaller environmental impact than cotton or polyester.
Best Statement Pieces
The Reformation uses less water, creates less waste and carbon dioxide than the industry standard, and provides vintage-inspired statement pieces.
Best Silk Blouse
Amour Vert is sort of like sustainable Madewell. Their Adrienne blouse is made from Mulberry silk created in a family-owned factory with nontoxic dyes.
Best Preppy Shirts
For sustainable stripes (a very important part of anyone’s wardrobe), go to Kule. Endorsed by Emma Watson, the brand’s shirts are made at an all-female factory in Portugal.
The Work Tote
Best Summer Sandals
Best Workout Clothes
Stella McCartney’s line for Adidas is an affordable way to make sure your gym clothes are better for the planet. McCartney told Refinery29 in 2016 that her collection for Adidas often uses recycled, organic, and zero-waste materials, though it is not 100 percent sustainable.
Swedish Stockings has a wide range of classic black tights. Who knew that sustainable tights existed? They’re made in a solar-powered, zero-waste factory from recycled and sustainable materials.
There are some really great brands that make vegan shoes, but if you want real leather, Brother Vellies is a good start. The Instagram-friendly label uses Kudu leather, “an animal byproduct resulting from a government mandated culling due to overpopulation.” Their non-sparkly boots are a bit less pricey.
Best Statement Heels
They look like snakeskin pumps, but they’re 100 percent polyester faux-leather signature Stella McCartney. McCartney prides herself on the brand’s faux leather, telling Vogue in 2017 that the biggest compliment was when people couldn’t tell the difference.
Best Expensive Jeans
Re/Done jeans are vintage jeans, recut and dyed to look ugly-chic. Both brand new and vintage, they’re the best of both worlds and a celeb favorite.
If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.