Sustainable Style: The fashion brands that don’t cost the earth
It’s fair to say that we’d all like our wardrobes to be a more sustainable place, but other than shopping second-hand or vintage, if we want to buy eco-friendly fashion it often comes with a price tag. I do like to support small businesses and sustainable brands but when I do so, the response is always the same: No-one wants to add to next month’s landfill but why are sustainable clothes so expensive? Knowing where our clothes come from – that they are made with consideration for garment workers and the environment – shouldn’t be a luxury. It should be the norm. And hopefully, as sustainable fashion becomes more widespread, prices will become more affordable.
The pandemic is definitely changing the way we think about fashion – and the way we shop. Last week, Sharon White the John Lewis chair predicted, ‘ a pronounced shift to online and a desire to shop in more sustainable ways.’ While Patrick Grant’s Community Clothing label switched to making NHS scrubs earlier this month, the founder reminded us to consider the garment makers, ‘ This crisis is terrible, but if any good can come out of it, perhaps it might be that it brings home to us – in a way that nothing else could have – that people who know how to make things deserve our absolute respect, and they deserve to be valued.’
I totally understand that buying new stuff isn’t a priority for everyone right now, but sustainable style isn’t just for Fashion Revolution Week, here are some fashion brands that don’t cost the earth:
The Great British Sewing Bee may be back on air but Patrick Grant is currently working flat-out in the north west of England, organising production of NHS scrubs across several Community Clothing factories and fabric suppliers. In an Instagram post, prior to the switchover, he urged Community Clothing customers to carry on shopping the brand’s good quality, affordable basics, ‘ We are a retailer. If we don’t sell anything, we don’t have the money to pay our staff, to pay our landlords (have you ever thought about that word?), to pay the taxes that support essential services like the NHS….Our online shop remains open. Your custom as always would be gratefully received.’
So far, I haven’t bought any clothes during lockdown but I’m off to order a Community Clothing Breton top, £35, and some socks (£4).
Founded by Safia Minney a pioneer of sustainable, fair-trade fashion, People Tree has been committed to having a transparent and traceable supply chain since 1991. Manufacturing to the highest environmental standards has earned the company World Fair Trade Organisation certification (AKA the gold standard in ethical fashion). Expect to find perennial staples, like: cotton t-shirts and jersey joggers, printed summer dresses, Broderie Anglaise blouses, chore jackets and linen jumpsuits. All made with the long-term aim of creating affordable fashion while respecting people and the planet.
Keep an eye out for seasonal collaborations with the V&A that utilise beautiful prints from the museum’s archive. Prices start at around £25 for a cotton t-shirt and £49 for trousers, and £10 for jewellery.
John Lewis x Mother of Pearl
Luxury label Mother of Pearl has recently launched its first ever high street collection in partnership with John Lewis. ‘The opportunity to introduce a fashion-led, sustainably-produced collection nationwide is something I am very proud to be part of’ says Mother of Pearl’s’ creative director Amy Powney. ‘Making beautiful pieces for the high street with the most sustainable fabrics and production is not an easy task, especially during a pandemic, but working with the John Lewis team has made this a reality.’
The Mother of Pearl x John Lewis collection is made entirely from Tencel and 100% organic cotton (Tencel is an eco-friendly cellulose fibre derived from wood pulp which is certified as biodegradable and compostable). With Mother of Pearl’s signature design aesthetic – think grown-up gentlewoman-style separates, super-shirts and modern midi dresses in neutral tones and offbeat prints – at John Lewis’s price points. These are cool classics with a twist.
The collection is now available online. Prices range from £59 to £179.
Know the Origin
Don’t be put off by the cropped t-shirts, 1980s-style bodysuits and spaghetti strapped tops – a good click around reveals an understated tunic top made from 100% banana fibre silk for £70, an Obi belted blazer (above) for £100, and regular t-shirts made in Portugal from organic cotton for £28. And there’s some lovely jewellery. The Know Your Origin website is a one-stop shop for honest, sustainable brands from around the globe. Every item has a detailed explanation of the fabric and the processes used.
Based in the East End of London – and inspired by pioneering women – Birdsong minimises waste by creating made-to-order garments in sizes 6 to 24. ‘ Wearing our collection of original wardrobe staples is a protest in itself,’ states the website, ‘Against fast fashion, against the obsessive pursuit of trends and against the systematic abuse of women in the production line.’ Birdsong clothing is made by migrant women based in Tower Hamlets and are paid the London Living Wage. All orders are packaged and posted by a charity working with adults with learning disabilities – and the brand has a ‘no Photoshop policy.’
90 Per Cent
Launched in 2018, this sustainable label shares 90% of distributed profit between ‘charitable causes and those who make the collection happen.’ Another brand with a slightly younger vibe, but beyond the Hawaiian print sweatshirts and striped mini dresses, 90 Per Cent’s pared-back jersey staples in organic cotton are well worth a look. T-shirts start at £35, organic cotton boy fit sweat pants are £95 and jersey maxi dresses with sleeves from £80.
With a lifestyle store in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Beaumont Organic’s t-shirts comes in at a slightly higher price point than others (Breton top, £65, and the organic cotton, oversized top featured above is £109). After spending all morning looking at sustainable websites, it was a pleasure to find one featuring an older model. Hoorah. Where possible, Beaumont Organic utilises ‘end of roll’ fabric in an effort to reduce the waste going to landfill.
Another sustainable brand that’s been in business for 30 years, Komodo could try showing its merchandise on models older than it is. Anyhow. It seems unfair to criticise Komodo when most of the other brands are doing the same thing. Once again it’s possible to bypass the younger styles and seek out the chic. I wouldn’t say no to the outfit below; bamboo and Spandex top, £42 and dark wash, Tencel/linen trousers, £90.
It takes over 7000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans and the manufacture of sandblasted and chemically distressed denim has a terrible impact on the environment. I love denim and have recently been buying vintage jeans to wear on repeat. As a lifelong fan of Levi’s (I’ve been wearing classic 501s since I was a teenager), I’m pleased to see that the iconic brand has been looking into the impact manufacturing denim has on the environment. The recently launched Water<Less collection is created using 96% less water than standard techniques; I currently have my eye on the Ribcage wide leg jeans. Levi’s has also increased use of Tencel and plans to switch entirely to sustainable cotton, this year.
A lovely, understated sustainable label. Based in an old brewery on the south coast of England. Prices are higher than high street, a recycled denim boilersuit costs £225, but this collection of easy-going basics is designed to last. Sideline founder Ellen Brookes creates clothes for women who are ‘not interested in faddy, throwaway clothing.’
Footnote: What does sustainability actually mean?
Vague terminology and confusing descriptions make understanding what’s actually ‘sustainable’ incredibly difficult. Is it ethically-produced? Fair-trade? Environmentally-friendly? Vegan? The answer is that it can be all of these things and is generally used as a catch-all term. The best thing to do is to do your research and prioritise the processes which matter to you – whether that’s a fair wage for employee, a low carbon footprint or a transparent supply chain. It’s a complex issue and there isn’t one brand that’s currently capable of tackling everything, but these brands are all making a positive change.
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