Scientists estimate that we only have about a decade left to turn around global carbon emissions and save planet earth. (No pressure!) And though we’ve successfully cancelled plastic straws and single-use water bottles, the fashion industry–which makes up 10 percent of global emissions–is on track to increase its carbon footprint 50 percent by 2030.
On average, each person in the US throws out about 70 pounds of clothing and textiles per year and all that waste takes up nearly 5 percent of landfills. Unlike bendy straws, however, you can’t just never buy clothes again–it’s a basic human need, not to mention an important tool of self-expression. It’s cool, though, because there are lots of ways to shop that minimize damage to the environment, like buying second-hand, selling your clothes instead of throwing them away, shopping biodegradable fabrics (cotton, linen, hemp, etc.), composting items made from natural fibers, and purchasing from fashion brands that practice sustainability in every area of their business.
In the past few years, it seems like every brand has added “sustainable” to their Instagram bio, but what does that even mean? When a company claims to be sustainable, does that statement apply to their entire production chain, the factories they use, the materials they sell, the packaging they ship them in, and the shipping process itself? How do you know that when a business calls itself sustainable, it actually is?
These are the questions that make it so difficult to shop with confidence. That’s why team Seventeen built the ultimate sustainable shopping list you can reference any time you’re in need of a lil impulse purchase. We researched, interviewed, and yes, online shopped, to find superstar fashion, jewelry, and accessory brands that have set the bar on sustainability–brands so good, they deserve an award (*wink wink*).
Our winners are 15 percent BIPOC-owned, as well as 73 percent woman-owned. These companies reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, and repurpose so effectively, that with each purchase you make, you’re actually helping the environment. These are the best, most sustainable fashion brands of 2021.
Reformation likes to brag that “being naked is the #1 most sustainable option, we’re #2.” Though they’ve got some pretty stiff competition on this list alone, the brand is on track to become one of few fashion retailers that’s not only waste, water, and carbon neutral (which they’ve been since 2015 ICYMI), but climate positive. That’s right, Reformation is working so hard to combat waste and pollution, that they expect to surpass their own negative emissions by 2025. How did they do it? Well, it’s a long story, but basically they implemented sustainability practices in every sector of their company: from reusing fabric scraps, converting to recyclable packaging, phasing out plastic hangers in stores–the list *literally* goes on and on.
The next time you’re looking to level-up the drip, Aurate is the brand to shop. The female-owned store specializes in dainty, wear-with-everything jewelry made from 100 percent recycled gold. Their stones are guaranteed ethical from mines that offer acceptable working conditions, fair pay, and respect for local indigenous communities. They source pearls only from family-run farms who sustainably farm and sensitively harvest to ensure the wellbeing and biodiversity of the marine environment. Each piece is crafted in NYC and comes with a lifetime guarantee to prevent over-shopping.
If you want to read up on IG-famous, size-inclusive athletic wear brand Girlfriend Collective’s sustainability practices, I’d suggest cancelling your plans for the next few hours–because it’s a lot. If you don’t have the time for that, allow me to hit ya with the highlights: their packaging is 100 percent recycled and recyclable, their clothing is made from recycled post-consumer bottles, recycled fishing nets, recycled nylon, and zero-waste, zero-emission cupro fiber made from cotton industry waste, they use eco-friendly dyes, and their factory guarantees fair wages, safe and healthy conditions, and zero forced or child labor.
Since they started business in 2018, carbon-neutral blue jean brand Boyish has saved 36,510 miles of car emissions, 696 lbs. of waste from entering a landfill, and planted 15,622 trees. Boyish denim is colored with non-toxic, plant-based dyes and made from lyocell (a plant-based textile) and recycled or upcycled organic cotton fabric. Their jeans are biodegradable and specially designed to be recycled once they can no longer be worn. Additionally, you can sell your pre-used jeans on the Boyish website in exchange for cash or store credit.
Since most of your underwear drawer is probably 100 percent cotton, keeping waste down is easy–just cut off the elastic and compost the rest. Your bra drawer, however, is a very different story. Many donation programs don’t accept used bras, so when your favorite push-up has expired, it’ll go straight to a landfill. Bra brand Harper Wilde knows this problem too well, so they decided to start their own, in-house bra recycling center. With every purchase, shoppers receive a compostable shipping bag to fill with old underwire. (If you’d like to donate without purchasing, you can ship your own box to their warehouse.) From there, bras are broken down piece by piece, to be upcycled or recycled into clothes, rugs, cleaning textiles, or building insulation. To date, the company has recycled 38,000 bras and counting.
Netflix’s Seaspiracy has haunted my nightmares for weeks–specifically the fact that 46 percent of waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is just fishing nets (for reference: plastic straws make up 0.025 percent). Thankfully, Eco Eyewear is working to lower this number. The brand recycles plastic fishing nets, ropes, and trawls found in the ocean, turning them into wildly trendy sunglasses. Their frames are made of 95 percent recycled metal, biobased castor seed oil, and recycled ocean plastics, while the packaging they come in is made of recycled plastic, recycled paper, and biodegradable fabrics. Oh, and for every pair of glasses purchased, they plant one tree. If you think about it logically, you’re basically paying to plant a tree and remove ocean waste, then getting cute glasses for free.
Come for the inclusive size range (XXXS-7XL), groovy prints, genderless styles, and super affordable pricing, stay for the eco-friendly business model and ethical production. Yup, I’m talking about Big Bud Press. The LA-based brand keeps manufacturing close to home, using 98 percent USA-grown and made fabric that’s either woven in the Los Angeles area or on the east coast. They almost exclusively use 100 percent cotton textiles (biodegradable fabrics, ftw!) and any non-cotton fabrics are comprised of recycled yarn and colored with non-toxic dyes. They’re also in the process of switching their 100 percent recycled plastic garment bags to a more sustainable option.
This whimsical brand was created in order to eliminate the need for single-use plastic bags, so sustainability is the company foundation. Baggu’s namesake totes are made from one continuous piece of 40 percent recycled nylon fabric, in order to reduce waste. What deadstock they do create is turned into limited-edition bags. Other products are either made from 59 percent recycled nylon fabric, 65 percent recycled cotton canvas, or 100 percent recycled PET (read: plastic water bottles). Once an order is placed, products are shipped in 100 percent recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable packaging. Baggu also has a recycling program, so their canvas and nylon bags never reach a landfill. Customers can drop used bags off at any Baggu store or ship to their recycling center, in exchange for a discount on their next purchase.
Boasting a cloud-like fit that has earned them a cult following, Allbirds are just as gentle on the environment. The sneaker canvas is made of biodegradable fabrics (either wool or eucalyptus tree fibers) combined with recycled nylon and their laces are each made from one plastic water bottle. Their packaging uses 90 percent post-consumer recycled cardboard, serving as a shoebox, shopping bag, and mailer all in one. The company is also working to become carbon-neutral and will be releasing a 100 percent plant-based leather (not plastic-based) later this year.
Every single detail of California-based swim brand Vitamin A’s business has been audited to ensure the most environmentally-friendly practices are being used. Sustainability is applied in the materials of their suits (made of recycled nylon or natural fabrics) and the packaging they ship in (100 percent recycled, recyclable, biodegradable, and made in the USA) all the way down to the lightbulbs in their factories (LED, reducing their electricity demand up to 90 percent) and the toilets in their bathrooms (low-flow and Energy Star rated). The company gives a portion of every sale to organizations that protect ocean life and they also host yearly beach cleanups that are open to the public. At the time of publication, Vitamin A has saved 742,819 gallons of water, 77,852 pounds of waste, 741,975 pounds of emissions, and 1,066,508 kWh of energy through their efficient production practices.
Face masks save lives, but because surgical masks are single-use, they’ve quickly become a major threat to the lives of sea creatures. Enter: Barrière, a medical-grade mask company that sprung up in 2020 to combat this scenario. Their (very chic) surgical masks are FDA and CE certified, offer 95 percent protection, and are made from 100 percent recycled plastic. They also offer a face mask recycling program, in an attempt to create a zero-waste production process. If you happen to live in NYC, drop yours off at their Brooklyn HQ and Barrière will recycle them for you.
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