These books make it easy and fun to choose more compassionate clothing, even if you are on a budget and have to shop on the high street.
Fashion Conscious looks at ways to prevent the million tons of clothes thrown away each year in the UK, which leads to around £140 million of fashion on landfills. We have the power to change the world, through our clothes: reusing, swapping and mending, and knowing how to choose wisely, when buying something new. Includes profiles of sustainable fashion brands like Elvis & Kresse (which makes luxury vegan bags from recycled fire hose, donating 50% of profits to firefighters).
- Dress With Sense is a fun colourful book on how to dress ethically, without the preachy stuff: Buy, Wear, Care and Dispose. Each chapter includes tips and case studies, and it has tips on ethical fashion labels, fabrics, certificates to trust, renting, swapping & recycling clothes.
- The Conscious Closet shows how to build an ethical capsule wardrobe. Learn of fast fashion’s hidden toll on the planet, garment workers and ourselves. Inspired by her own journey of getting off the fast-fashion treadmill, Elizabeth L Cline shows how to change the world, through personal style.
Conventional silk is made by boiling silkworms. It has recently been discovered that so-called ‘peace silk’ (sometimes called ‘ahimsa silk’ which is Sanskrit for ‘do no harm’) can in some circumstances, also cause the silkworms to die, as they chew their way out of the cocoon – but are too tired to find food.
Cupro is a new material created from leftover cotton that is too small to go through the milling machine. It looks and feels like silk (most real silk is made by boiling silkworms and even ‘peace silk’ can leave tired silkworms to die on the floor, too exhausted to find food). Whether your cupro is eco-friendly or not depends on the cotton used, but it’s all leftover and biodegradable. Like this pretty top or dress or flared cupro trousers.
Rapanui organic cotton jumper is just as warm.
Wool is often touted as the ‘natural fabric’. It is, and sheep have to be sheared to avoid heat exhaustion (not shearing is like putting an extra overcoat on them each year). If the wool gets too heavy, they can fall over and die, if nobody finds them to turn them upright (if this happens, stay with the sheep until the rain drains away, or else he/she would fall over again). And not shearing around the face, means sheep can’t see predators.
However, many sheep (especially in Australia) are sheared before ready leading to hypothermia. And many are killed, when wool production slows down. Vegetarian Wool Company is the first to offer goods made from sheared wool, where the sheep live out their natural lives in peace. So many vegans happily buy from them. You can also buy living sheepskin rugs with the same premise. This actually helps sheep farmers to earn alternative income to meat, and they can use the money earned for medical care etc.
If you do buy wool, look for companies that guarantee no mulesing (cutting chunks of skin off without painkillers, to avoid flystrike). Other wool comes from rabbits (angora). Shahtoosh is now banned, from an endangered antelope. Many designer scarves are made from pashmina (cashmere), which comes from the fleece of a Tibetan goat, often killed at the end of its useful life. This alternative scarf made from banana waste is warm and cosy, and gives employment to local women in Bhaktapur. Sold in 5 colours.
Turtle Doves (Shropshire) recycles unused cashmere jumpers and turns them into new ones, ideal for people who want ‘real cashmere’. You get a pair of cashmere gloves in return, paying only the postage.
Did you know that most blue jeans contain dyes so toxic, that many street dogs in India who drink the local water, turn blue? The locals could not work out why, until they realised that a local factory was nearby, which uses blue dye to make jeans for westerners.
Another issue is the leather patch on the back pocket. Most leather is made in countries with little or no animal welfare laws. Nudie Jeans is one brand that makes vegan jeans, the patch is made with durable Jacron paper, but looks like leather. Over 125,000 people have already signed a petition, urging Levi’s switch to do the same.
These organic cotton Chambray dungarees are lightweight, soft and sustainable. They feature roomy pockets for a relaxed look, a tapered leg and metal buttons. Perfect to layer with knitwear and boots until the sunshine appears. Then roll the legs up, and pair with an organic cotton tee and sandals. Packaged in a compostable polybag.
This tee is organic, Fair Wear and donates to eco/animal charities
We have all heard of Fair Trade, used more for tea, coffee and chocolate. Most big chains subscribe to the Ethical Trading Initiative (which is a bit like ‘sustainable palm oil’). It has good intentions, but little legal clout, other than ensuring no child labour. The UN says that companies that employ younger people with good conditions and pay, are often better than those who offer terrible conditions, but ban child labour. This is because some families depend on children working to feed the family. And if children can’t visit school, working in ethical places where they are treated well, can sometimes be a way to claw themselves out of poverty.
It’s not a simple answer. When India prevented all child labour, families needing money turned to informal child employment, which meant worse conditions. So look at companies that ensure proper working conditions/pay and no child labour. Most of the big companies say ‘no child labour’, but don’t pay a living wage.
What’s far better is to look for Fair Wear (much stricter rules from farmer to store) and B-Corporation (a far more stringent organisation for ethics that no high street chain would pass its rules to enter).
Good On You is a good website to bookmark, if you are out and about on the high street. Just look up any brand and it gives you a lowdown on the company’s ethics. This covers Fair Trade, animal welfare, environment etc. Try typing in ‘People Tree’ and ‘Primark’, then read the difference. What’s surprising is that one of the worst is Next, which is not the cheapest. It’s not an ‘ethical brand’, but if you are looking for the best high street choice, Marks & Spencer presently comes out top (avoid animal fabrics, buy goods to last and scour the rack for sale bargains).
Whatever materials you wear, this is the answer. Figure out what you like to wear and that flatters your own figure, then choose a few good items to build a capsule wardrobe. Just update each season with one or two pieces if wished, and then donate the rest (or sell online or to dress agencies, to pay for a few better quality items).
- Project 333 is the book to help you do this. Author Courtney Carver is a minimalist blogger. Wear just 33 items for 3 months, and get back the joy of wearing clothes, rather than just buying ‘fashion mistakes’ that sit in the wardrobe for years, then get thrown away.
- Vegan Style is a beautiful book by the founder of online vegan fashion magazine Vilda. Learn of plant-based alternatives to fur, silk and leather and take a crash course in ‘label reading for vegans’. You’ll learn how to create a sustainable capsule wardrobe that flatters your body shape, and find tips from vegan fashion bloggers.
- The Capsule Wardrobe is not particularly about green clothes, but this stylist has chosen around 30 outfits (so just choose ethical versions to suit like organic clothes and vegan shoes and bags, then offers a visual index, on how to create 1000 outfits out of them.
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting on earth, and has all kinds of issues. We all know about sweatshop labour in the far east (many people have burned to death in factories, due to companies not spending money on making safe exits – independent visits since say not much has improved). A lot of clothing is made abroad to make it more affordable to buy here. So depending on your mindset, you can either wear locally-made clothing and pay more, or choose more ethical designers who pay and treat workers well abroad. Also see clothing brands that help animals and where to find organic clothes for children.
Most ‘fast fashion’ is made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester (both made from oil). Newer fabrics like Econyl (made from recycled nylon fishing nets) and clothing made from recycled plastic bottles are also popular, but better for wipe-clean items like umbrellas and pencil cases, as they release microplastics on washing (you can use a Guppyfriend to collect some, but not all). But even if you collect the fibres, they sit on landfill and could wash back into the sea, if it rained.
Zola Amour offers locally-made organic cotton & hemp clothes
Then we have the other big issue of animal welfare. Animals worldwide are tortured to death for fur (retailers say it’s not cruel, which begs the question why we have banned it here?) Fur (and leather) are also not ‘natural’ as both require chemicals for finishing. Wool should be fine in theory (sheep need to be sheared to avoid over-heating and to stop them falling over in the rain from the weight of too much wool – they die unless someone uprights them). But many sheep are sheared before ready leading to hypothermia, and some have chunks of skin cut off to avoid flystrike, without painkillers. Many older sheep are also killed, when wool production slows down.
More issues! We have clothing sold in plastic bags, with plastic hangers and plastic tags. The fashion industry promotes ‘the latest trends’ to encourage people to buy more than they need, which is then discarded and replaced. Magazines promote clothing on anorexic-looking models as the ‘clothes hang better’, forgetting that the average woman in England is about size 16 (same as Marilyn Monroe!) This encourages people to ‘follow fashion’, instead of finding their own style and colours that flatter their complexion etc. Not everyone needs a ‘little black dress’. If you’ve got Celtic blood, it will probably make your skin so washed out, you’ll look like a corpse.
A Quick Guide to Natural Fabrics
- Although a natural fabric, the cotton industry uses around 25% of all the world’s (just one t-shirt uses a colossal amount of chemicals and water, which also means farmers have to wear protective clothing in hot weather). Organic cotton is better for the planet and wildlife, and also lasts longer as the fibres are not weakened by chemicals. It’s also a good choice for people with eczema, as it’s less itchy.
- Hemp does grow here, but not much. Only distantly related to cannabis (it has no narcotic properties), this grows organically and removes heavy metals from the earth, as it does so. Like cotton, it’s warm in winter and cool in summer, and again a very good choice for fabric clothing.
- Linen comes from the flax plant. Again this is breathable and comfortable and can be locally grown. It does tend to crinkle, so unless you love ironing, you may prefer this for ‘crumply bed linen’ rather than clothes. But it’s nice for summer dresses or casual trousers.
- Bamboo comes from the world’s fastest-growing grass (industrial bamboo should not be taken from panda habitats, they eat fresh shoots). However, it’s not local and we have to be careful not to create another ‘palm oil’ situation where companies tear down forests to build more bamboo plantations that creates monocultures. Having said that, this plant grows so fast, it’s unlikely to happen. What’s of concern is ‘bamboo viscose or rayon’, when chemicals are added to make it. Choose organic bamboo from sustainable sources. Tencel is like a ‘local bamboo’, but it’s made from trees that are chopped down.
Where To Find Sustainable Clothing
Here are a few places online that you can find sustainable clothing: that is ethically made from organic cotton, hemp or linen.
- Kind Company is one of many brands sold online at Not on the High Street, but you’ll have to go searching, as they don’t list the organic and ethical brands separately.
- WEARTH London is a lovely online zero waste store, selling a fine range of the best sustainable fashion brands from small makers nationwide, all sent in zero waste packaging. If you shop often, it’s worth joining their scheme to redeem orders against earned points.
- Good on You has their own list of the top 20 or so most sustainable clothing brands in the UK. Not all are vegan-friendly and some used recycled synthetics (so wash in a Guppyfriend to catch microplastics). But it’s a good list that caters for all budgets.
- Plant Faced Clothing is a good streetwear brand, making wearable threads that don’t hurt the earth. They aren’t ‘treehuggers’, but they do plant them for each purchase, all sent in eco packaging.
A Word on Vegan Leather
Vegan leather is covered more in where to find quality vegan shoes and where to find quality vegan handbags. But many people wear leather jackets or trousers. Not a byproduct of the meat industry, leather is from the skin of animals, and mostly made in the Far East, with hardly any animal welfare laws. The tanning process is also very polluting. Many ‘luxury leather goods’ outsource to China, showing profit trumps welfare each time. Good on You’s score for Armani is ‘not good enough’ because apart from ditching fur, it has few other positive credentials re animal welfare, environmental policy or labour standards. Other designer brands fare the same (one of the few that has a ‘good rating’ is Stella McCartney).
Be careful with vegan leather, as most is just ‘pleather’ (plastic leather). Microfiber is partly biodegradable (the best we have so far, which can be mixed with leftover apple, pineapple or even cactus). Look out for greener leather Mirum that is coming onto the market.
Teemill is a wonderful company, set up by the founders of organic cotton company Rapanui, based on the Isle of Wight. It enables anyone to set up their own t-shirt company. Many people choose to do this as a business, others choose to use the site to raise money for favourite causes. All you have to do is to find some nice prints, then away you go. A bit like print-on-demand books, you just load up your designs, take some photos to promote your t-shirts, and then if someone orders, they print and send out the t-shirts on your behalf, then pay you the money earned. 99% of orders are shipped the next day, and they can deliver worldwide.
The t-shirts are printed using renewable energy, sent in zero waste packaging and at end of life, people can send them back, and they make new t-shirts out of old ones. They also offer organic cotton sweatshirts. So whether yo wish to benefit a local non-profit, raise money for a cause, promote your small business or even use the company to print t-shirts for a community sports fun, this is the place to do it.
Equalkind uses the company to raise money for its animal welfare causes. The above sweatshirt benefits a charity that educates the world on the importance of good soil.
Eco-influencer and vegan chef Madeleine Olivia used this company to launch her own sustainable fashion brand.