Below is a list of well-known shops which are rated ‘Good’ to ‘Great’ on the application Good On You, which strictly judges retailers based on 1) their environmental impact and the steps they have taken to minimise this (e.g. are their goals clearly defined and time-bound, or are they too vague?), 2) their labour laws and the way they deal with their supply chain (e.g. do they trace their supply chain from start to finish?), and 3) their use of animal products. I’ve also included shops which from my own research I’ve found to be sufficiently ethical and responsible, and which don’t follow a fast fashion business model.
Levi’s rates ‘Good’, and is listed as an example of somewhere you can get your hands on some ethically made denim. One pair of jeans requires up to 10,000 litres of water throughout its production cycle, whereas a pair of Levi’s 501s used to require 3,871. Despite already being ahead of the game, this led Levi’s to develop their Waterless initiative, in which they make a publicly-documented effort to reduce the water used in all their garments, up to a 96% reduction in their official “Waterless” products. Although the price is higher than a lot of high street shops, their jeans are excellent quality and made from responsibly-sourced cotton. I’m willing to pay a little more to support brands taking real steps towards a sustainable production process (and particularly for something I’ll probably only buy once every few years).
A relatively new addition to the wardrobe, and I’ve barely taken them off since: Levi’s dungarees, baby!
Marks & Spencer
Trusty old M&S also rates ‘Good’, and can be a great place for basic items such as underwear, coats, sportswear, and one or two gems you unexpectedly come across- I’m writing this wearing an M&S jumper I’ve had for years and love to pieces. It washes well, never loses its shape or its softness, and it has cute little embellishments on the shoulders- what more could I ask for? The only problem with M&S is that the underwear is often a nylon/polyester mix which isn’t great for everyday wear, in terms of comfort and also the whole washing-plastic-down-the-drain thing.
Adidas (and therefore its baby companies Reebok, Rockport, and Taylor Made)
I was surprised too! Again, as Adidas clearly doesn’t use only organic cotton in its clothes, it’s not a great idea to fill your wardrobe with its synthetic materials. However, it’s good to know that for a sportswear brand it has excellent labour laws and is highly aware of its environmental impact. They rate ‘Good’ on the app.
Pioneers of sustainable fashion, People Tree has been using organic cotton and paying its workers a fair wage since the early 90s (the sad thing is that their practices are considered pioneering, when they should be standard). This is a fantastic company which I’m happy to support and pay a little more towards. Their clothes are well-made, much more stylish and figure-flattering than I expected from an eco-brand, and if you catch them in the sales then their items won’t break the bank. Expect to pay between £25 and £50 for a top, and from £50 to £95 for trousers (leggings start at £20). This is so far the only just-about-affordable brand which is rated ‘Great’.
Outdoor brands you can count on: Patagonia, Jack Wolfskin, Kathmandu
All of the above are rated ‘Good’. Patagonia in particular has extensive and public environmental policies and is the best of the three brands. These shops don’t follow a fast fashion business model, they promote respect for nature as part of their brand marketing and for the most part they appear to practise what they preach in terms of their labour laws and use of animal products, in their commitment to reducing their carbon emissions and their water use, and in using sustainable fabrics where possible in their production.
Kathmandu skirts were made for adventures
A little 2004 with its cable knits and polo shirts, but somewhere you can actually find surprisingly unique and stylish treasures. Jack Wills follows a classic 4-season fashion model with a lot of their production done in Portugal, guaranteeing a European standard of labour laws. They have recently become a leader in advocating transparency throughout the production process in an effort to distance themselves from other big high street brands connected to devastating events such as the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. However, I’ve been unable to find specific targets for carbon emission reductions or other environmental policies, so this is one to buy from with caution, and possibly as an alternative while on the hunt for some truly ethical AND fashionable fashion.
Online second-hand store Vinted is where fast fashion goes to retire before being given new life. Although unconvinced that it’s the BEST solution, as the money you spend is going to individuals who will probably spend it on more garments, steering clothing away from landfill is undeniably positive and should be an option we use. However, I would only buy something from here if it was from a store whose clothing I know definitely fits me in a size I’m certain of, and ideally an item with the tag still on, or at least in the category “very good condition”, so as to avoid creating more waste ordering unwanted items (been there already this year..). There is a ridiculous amount of brand new clothing on the French version of the website alone; 500+ results were generated with the filters “Zara”, “tags still on” and “XS”. Who needs shops?
Eco clothing ranges
Another option if you’re feeling stuck is to seek out the environmentally responsible ranges that many high street chains offer. For example, Zara has a range of Tencel clothes, made from wood pulp and currently one of the most advanced eco materials on the market. Zara itself isn’t high up on the list of ethical shops, but it is better than many (it rates “It’s a Start” on Good On You). This type of range could qualify as greenwashing, a brand attempting to appear “greener” than they really are, but sales are analysed and if the big bosses at Zara see that the Tencel range is doing particularly well with consumers, it may be an encouragement to go further down that path.
And if all else fails…
Buy to last. Buy something good quality, in a style you know isn’t fleeting, and imagine having and using it for years.
I hope this has given you a couple of alternatives to the less ethical shops around at the moment. Your money is a powerful thing, and every time you spend it you are supporting someone’s values, or lack thereof. People talk about having no power to change things, and it being out of our hands, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We are the ones spending money, and each time we do so we tell brands that we like what they do, how they do it, and what they stand for.
So by all means shop, fill gaps in your wardrobe, and enjoy fashion. But if you can, do it in a way which supports sustainability, and I promise you will appreciate your new (or as good as new) clothes all the more.