Greenwashing is absolutely everywhere in the fashion world right now and it can be difficult to know which brands are actually sustainable. The fast fashion industry is responsible for 4-8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, far more than aviation. Not only that, dyes, fabric waste, and unwanted garments litter our natural resources so that out of touch (and practically melting from old age) American CEOs can make a quick buck. In our changing climate, buying sustainable fashion is essential, and far more brands are fast fashion than you may think. It is not just Shein.

We need to buy clothes that are eco-friendly, but sustainable fashion can be expensive and inaccessible. High quality goods that are good for the planet are rare to find. It gets doubly hard to find those that are affordable. It’s important to reassess your expectations for what ‘affordable’ means. None of these brands will be as cheap as Shein or Forever 21 or have as wide of a selection. Because unlike those brands, these use environmentally friendly processes and materials (and pay their workers fairly), so buy at ease, knowing you are not funding brands that contribute to the gradual warming of our planet, which will eventually make it completely uninhabitable for us.

Before I get into the sustainable brands, I do need to give a quick disclaimer: the most sustainable option is what you already own. Check the back of your closet, you probably have more clothes than you realize.

However, if you need to buy something new, continue to the list!

Second-Hand Stores

Door to a Goodwill store with logo.
It’s not the fanciest, but shopping second-hand is the most sustainable way to get new clothing.

I know I said my lecture was over… but I can’t write this article in good faith without mentioning thrifting because buying second hand is the next best option. You are not encouraging the production of new garments, which is a sustainable practice key to slow fashion.

Going to Goodwill, Salvation Army, Savers, etc. are ways you can get clothes at an affordable price and help the planet. While I have qualms with these brands’ ethics (Goodwill and Salvation Army make me angry with how much potential they’ve wasted), they are an eco-friendly way to get clothes.

For a more curated selection, check out places like Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange. The clothes are second hand and follow trends that are relatively up to date. You can also sell your clothes there for some extra cash. The prices are higher than a regular consignment store, but the clothes are modern and fashion forward. There are also probably local thrift stores around your city, go look for them.

Websites like ThredUp, Poshmark, and Depop are online consignment stores where people sell their unwanted clothes, and you can too. You can search for specific brands, styles, or items from the comfort of your own home. They can take a bit to wrap your head around, but once it clicks, they are great places to buy interesting second-hand pieces.

Okay, now I’m done with my lecturing. We can officially get into the fun brands to buy shiny new clothes!

Lucy & Yak

Male model wearing a Original Dungaree jumpsuit in Brighton blue over a tank top. He stands in front of a pink background.
Lucy & Yak started by making dungarees and evolved into a fully fledged clothing brand. This is the Original Dungaree, made of organic cotton, in Brighton blue. Image courtesy of Lucy and Yak.

Based in Barnsley, England, Lucy & Yak specializes in dungarees (or overalls, as we Americans say). Starting on Depop, Lucy and her partner, Chris, developed a website full of fun, timeless, colorful, sustainable, and affordable pieces.

Here are the ways Lucy & Yak practices sustainability:

  • All of their fabric is made from recycled materials, organic materials, or deadstock fabric
  • Their organic cotton is completely biodegradable
  • Their polyester is made from recycled materials, meaning less new plastic goes into making the fabric
  • Linen is made from organic flax
  • Deadstock fabric is leftover from other brands. Using what already exists is inherently more eco-friendly that creating more
  • The products are versatile, timeless, and can be worn forever.
  • Lucy & Yak has a buyback program. You can return their products, get money off your next purchase, and they will recycle or resell your return.
  • They sell imperfect, but perfectly usable pieces, at a cheaper price to prevent waste
  • Renewable energy is used in all elements of supply chain to reduce fossil fuel emissions
Composite image. On the left is a model wearing the Sadie blouse, a long sleeve crop top with billowy sleeves. The right is a model wearing the Noah shorts in brown corduroy, longer shorts with an elastic waistband and pockets.
Lucy and Yak’s products are colorful and fun, making them perfect for summer activities. The Sadie blouse (left) is made of light materials and can be dressed up or down for the summer. The Noah shorts (right) have large pockets and a longer length, making them good for a more androgynous look. Image courtesy of Lucy & Yak.

Girlfriend Collective

Two models smile while walking in the rib sport skort in Heat and Breeze colors.
Girlfriend Collective is a size inclusive activewear brand that makes products from plastic water bottles. Image courtesy of Girlfriend Collective.

If you’re in the market for some exercise clothes (leggings, sports bras, workout sets), girlfriend collective is the sustainable brand for you

Girlfriend Collective is known for its size range, going from XXS to 6XL, far more than the standard size range. However, it uses loads of sustainable practices, meaning you can buy with ease.

  • Girlfriend Collective also has a recycling program– send in old Girlfriend Collective clothes and they’ll recycle the material and give you store credit
  • Packaging is completely recyclable
  • Fabrics are made of recycled materials, like plastic water bottles, fabric scraps, and fishing nets from the ocean
  • Fabric dyes are eco friendly and wastewater is properly disposed of and given away to make sidewalks and pavement
Composite image. On the left a model wears a black Ella Scoop Neck Bra and black Float Ultralight Skort. On the right, a different model wears a Compressive Pocket Legging and Mia High Neck Bra in a bright purple color.
The Ella Scoop Neck Bra and Float Ultralight Skort in black keep you looking cute and secure while exercising. The Compressive Pocket Legging and Mia High Neck Bra in wild iris color keep you supported with a bright pop of color. Images courtesy of Girlfriend Collective

Groceries Apparel

Model lies on her side in Naomi high waisted tie-dye leggings.
The Naomi high waist leggings, as well as every other item, is made of natural dyes. This tie-dye is made from avocado pit dye. Image courtesy of Groceries Apparel

Based in Los Angeles, this sustainable clothing brand uses food scraps and eco-friendly practices to create their timeless, quality pieces.

The most interesting sustainable practice is the fabric dye made of food scraps from local grocers, hence their brand name. They use vegetables like carrots, avocado pits, onion skin, and more to make nontoxic dyes for their clothes. This prevents food waste, keeping as much out of landfills as possible. It also means toxic chemicals and dyes don’t get dumped into our water supply.

Everything is made and sewn in their LA office, so there are lower fossil fuel emissions during the production process. Additionally, the fabrics are made of or with organic cotton, making them biodegradable.

The designs are timeless and can be worn today, tomorrow, and ten years in the future. They aren’t quite as bold as other brands, but they are a great source for wardrobe basics.

Composite image. Left: a model wears soft rib lounge pants, a straight lef pyjama pant, and U-bra in light pink. Right: a model wears a purple fitted crop top and black drifter pants, a wide-leg pant.
On the right is the drifter pant and fitted crop top, these can be dressed up for a cute corporate look or down for a comfy casual vibe. On the left is the soft rib lounge pant and u bra good for sleeping, lounging, and lazy days. Images courtesy of Groceries Apparel.

People Tree

Model wearing Tabitha high-waisted jeans
People Tree uses biodegradable fabrics and the Tabitha jeans above include removable buttons for easier recycling. Image courtesy of People Tree.

Across the pond is People Tree, a brand founded in 1991 with a commitment to sustainable and ethical practices. People Tree was the very first fashion brand to earn the World Fair Trade Organisation product label, proving their dedication to environmental practices and fair wages for their employees.

People Tree has a list of ten environmental practices they are dedicated to following. These include:

  • Using organic, toxin-free dyes
  • Only using natural fibers and organic cottons, or fibers that follow closed loop processes like Tencel.
  • Efficient water use: harvesting rainwater and recycling water
  • Sourcing suppliers who care about the environment as much as People Tree

Not listed on their 10 sustainable practices, People Tree also uses recyclable packaging, low impact materials like organic cotton, and low-waste fabric cutting to minimize fabric waste.

Composite image: Left: model wearing Claudia Leaf Print Trousers in black. Right: model wearing Nicole Bodysuit in navy.
People Tree has simple items in  solid and floral prints to outlast the trends. The Claudia Leaf Print trousers are nice and wide legged, snatching your waist. The Nicole bodysuit is a classic one-piece to wear under jeans so you don’t have to constantly be re tucking your shirt in.Images courtesy of People Tree.

Yes Friends

Orange Yes Friends logo.
Yes Friends started by asking over 100 people what they loved about their favorite tee-shirts. Then, they combined all of those to make the perfect tee. Image courtesy of Yes Friends.

Yes Friends’ goal is to make sustainable and ethical fashion affordable for everyone. Despite the low prices of their garments, each sewist is paid a living wage and can receive tips from satisfied customers. Their factory is solar powered and uses organic cotton for their tee shirts.

Here is a brief list of their sustainable practices:

  • Sustainable and recyclable packaging
  • Certified fairtrade cotton and certified vegan
  • Dyes are Global Organic Textile Standard approved to limit toxins
  • Excess dye is sent to cement factories
  • Recycling water
  • When cutting the fabric, extra scraps are used for other garments
  • Their denim is made of hemp, which is equally organic as cotton, but uses less water to grow

They do so much to offset their environmental cost on the planet and make tee-shirts for 15 dollars. That is unheard of in the sustainable fashion world. The options are limited and basic, but their sustainable processes, affordable prices, and ethical production more than make up for it.

Composite Image: Left; male model wearing slim dark wash organic jeans and washed black organic jacket. Right; model wearing Yes Friends organic tee shirt in dark blue.
Yes Friends uses sustainable and ethical practices to create basics that appeal to a wide variety of people. Images courtesy of Yes Friends.

That’s it for the sustainable brands!

I hope you got some use out of this list and feel inspired to shop sustainably! There is no shortage of sustainable clothing brands out there but remember: the most sustainable option is the one you already own.