When it comes to sustainable fashion, we won’t claim to be experts. All we know is that most people tend to buy too many clothes that won’t get worn very often. Our philosophy, born as much out of financial sense as ethical sentiment, is to buy a few good quality, hard-working pieces that will transcend fashion fads and stand the test of time. Sometimes we supplement these items with seasonal whims, but generally our benchmark is cost-per-wear.
In a nutshell, ethical fashion concerns the sustainability of the supply chain (fair pay, working conditions and sustainable/organic resources e.g. cotton) and impact of production (carbon footprint, chemicals used to achieve desired finish, water usage). Companies win brownie points for ticking boxes such as recycled, natural, vegan, fairtrade (with local “artisans”), organic and carbon neutral. Most companies or fashion lines may tick one or two of these boxes but very few tick all. Indeed it may not even be possible to build a viable and competitive business around all of these things in this era of fast and furious fashion.
A very passionate (and witty) friend of mine is launching a sustainable fashion blog and you can follow her progress @theelements_ldn on Instagram. Her knowledge is far more extensive than ours (Reformation is her recommendation) so give her a follow to keep updated with the best ethical and sustainable fashion brands. For now, here is our penny’s worth – there are a fair number of brands or lines out there with “sustainability” as their core value, but very few of these offer much in the way of genuinely exciting fashion. The following, we believe, are all worth a visit.
The two founding ladies behind Gather & See curate fashion from forward-thinking designers all of which fit into at least 3 of their 5 founding philosophies: Fair Trade, Organic, Eco-Friendly, Small Scale Production and Heritage. Now working with 41 different designers, there’s plenty of choice, and decent choice at that. We particularly love everything by RIYKA, and I’m currently trying to work out which one to fit into my suitcase for the next holiday. I’m thinking either the Roxy dress, above left, £145 or the May dress, above right, £166.
People Tree developed the first integrated supply chain for organic cotton from farm to final product, and certainly seem to be one of the more genuinely ethical and sustainable brands out there, both in terms of supply chain and production methodology. Despite early collaborations with actress and fashionista Emma Watson, I can’t get widely excited about their latest collections. However, they’ve got a couple of pieces that would offer great cost-per-wear in anyone’s wardrobe. Like this chic feminine Rebecca dress at £78 (below left), perfect for the office, or this Breton striped tee for £38 (below right), perfectly on trend.
Lowie is a London-based knitwear label with an emphasis on traditional handicraft. The brand describes where each type of garment is manufactured on their About Us page. Cashmere, lambswool, mohair, merino and angora wool are all ethically sourced and their cotton has been organic or recycled for the past 7 years. SS17 is all about beautiful colours and prints – our particular favourites are this embroidered beach-inspired sweatshirt, £129, and yellow cashmere blend cardigan, £128.
Famously No Leather, No Fur, No Skin, Stella McCartney was one the few big name major designers to take any interest in ethical fashion at all, let alone build a brand around it. Not only does she say no to animal product of any kind, she promotes female employment in marginalised communities, refuses to sell her perfume to the highly lucrative Chinese market because they require animal testing and has banned the common place process of sandblasting denim because it causes lung problems in the workers carrying out the process. Like the McCartney dynasty or not, she is one strong lady prepared to stand up for what she believes in and we salute her. We love anything in her stunning Falabella handbag range. SHOP HERE.
Founded by Bono and his wife in 2005, this brand states that its mission is to source production and encourage trade in Africa. Since becoming one of the many brands owned by the behemoth LVMH in 2009, unsurprisingly profitability seems to have become more important than the mission. However, as one of the few “sustainable” luxury brands out there, it deserves a mention. For their SS17 collection they collaborated with creatives from Rwanda and Kenya, featuring embroidery on cotton-jersey fabric courtesy of Rwandan women’s workshop Ibab, and jewellery made from recycled aluminium, brass and wood, in collaboration with Kenyan-based company Soko. We love this striped cotton gabardine top, £330, from their Pre-Spring 2017 collection:
A Danish brand after HøF’s heart, it states its “focus is on the ’sustainable wardrobe’. By this we mean a smaller wardrobe with timeless quality items, which can be used in a flexible way.” Each item you buy has a symbol telling you why it meets their sustainability standards, from recycled materials to organic content, free of harmful chemicals, or fair-trade. The collections are fairly limited and fairly pricey, but the classic Danish tailoring means they are clothes you will treasure for ever. You will need to get it shipped from Copenhagen, but that’s a small price to pay for this stunning soft-yellow cold shoulder dress or the Diya Skirt in Scarlet Red.
Reformation had it’s first London pop-up before Christmas and it’s safe to say it was a roaring success. One of the few sustainable and truly fashionable brands, Reformation has a veritable celebrity following, including tall girls Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss. Until recently only available in the US, it is now for sale in the UK on Net-A-Porter, albeit only dresses. We must continue to hope that it’s permanent arrival from across the pond will be imminent. We love this Georgette maxi – its deep V and high slit make it the perfect maxi for a tall girl, as it won’t accentuate height.
Granted, we have neither the time nor the wherewithal to study every single one of ASOS’ supply chains, but each item in their ECO Edit promises to fit within one of their criteria for sustainability, including lower environmental impact, recycled, natural, sustainable cotton… It may be that each item only pertains to one of these criteria, but the fact that you can search Eco Edit, and then drop down Tall, and still have multiple garments to choose from is enough to get onto this list. Keep it up ASOS. We particularly love this denim shirt and denim boyfriend jeans, each born from the ‘Cotton Made In Africa Initiative’. ASOS pays a license fee to buy CmiA cotton and this money is then used by CmiA to train more farmers to its standards.
If you’re in the market for vegan shoes, Beyond Skin is your best bet for affordable and fashionable shoes up to a size 9, and even 10 in select styles. Once manufactured in the UK, these shoes are now made in Alicante due to the decline of UK factories making non-leather shoes, but they are 100% vegan and actually quite pretty in terms of design (which is saying something in the vegan space). Our pick are these elegant cream Lexie B heels, a perfect staple for weddings and office wear over the summer months.
You may have heard us write about Pala on our recent blog, Turn Up The Volume. Pala is an ethical sunglasses brand with a difference. Every pair of sunglasses sold by Pala (there are 5 styles in various colours) provides a pair of prescription glasses to someone who needs them. At £45 they’re about quarter of the price of most sunnies, excellent quality, bang-on-trend, AND they’re doing their part to alleviate poverty through funding eye care projects in Africa (read the story here). Definitely check them out – spring is the time for sunglasses shopping, so buy a pair and give someone else, somewhere else, (literally) a better view of the world.
A word on H&M Conscious…
When I first started doing research into ethical clothing, I came across H&M Conscious pretty quickly. A glance at the collection didn’t have me rushing to the store, however, I decided to do some more digging. The reality is a fast fashion chain, selling over 600million garments a year, is going to struggle to have a truly sustainable business model and while it seems to be moving in the right direction its only criteria at present seems to be that a small portion of its garments are made from organic cotton.
So there we have it! Our brief synopsis of the most wearable of the ethical brands around today. Let us know what you think and happy shopping!