With journalistic coverage of the ever-worsening climate crisis criticizing the environmental impact of “fast fashion” and the wasteful practices of designers (some of which burn their clothes rather than donate them), sustainability has never been more in fashion. However, many “sustainable” brands’s pieces carry a less-than-sustainable price tag, rendering a wholesale condemnation of fast-fashion buyers, well, classist. It is also worthwhile to note that many vocally “sustainable” brands have a certain boho normcore aesthetic that does not cater to everyone’s sense of style.
How can many of us afford or desire to shop at sustainable brands, then? What follows is a list of prominent environmentally conscious brands and brief evaluations of what each of them has to offer.
The Reformation has several pages on its website about sustainability and its own practices–it’s carbon neutral, it will give you $100 in store credit if you switch to wind energy, and it publishes data from its use of resources. However, the aesthetic of its clothing is very singular, with pieces that could all be described as “classically feminine.” They carry a lot of things that I would personally wear, but that’s not true for everyone. Furthermore, the cost of most of its items is prohibitive, with dresses clocking in at over $200, and simple button-down shirts costing $148. The Reformation may be environmentally friendly, advertise good values, and make beautiful clothing, but it is far from accessible to most people.
An iconic earthy-crunchy-granola outdoor wear brand, Patagonia has garnered sustainability clout for selling worn items and having eco-friendly goals in its mission statement. Considering its lifetime warranty, its items are reasonably priced. However, if you’re not the outdoorsy hiking type, you’re somewhat out of luck–Patagonia carries a few items that do not fall within this aesthetic, but they’re items that you might as well get somewhere cheaper.
Athleta is a good alternative to Lululemon, a brand which has had its fair share of varied controversies. It’s in the same price range as Lululemon, too–probably a bit too expensive for what it is, but not as outrageously so as some of the others listed here. It’s not entirely “sustainable,” with 60% of its items made of “sustainable materials,” but is intending to increase this percentage and makes an effort to be environmentally conscious. For athletic or “athleisure” clothing, it’s a solid brand to shop from, but it is limited to this niche.
Eileen Fisher is touted on many a listicle as a sustainable clothing brand. It takes an uber-thorough “lifecycle” approach to mitigate the environmental impact of their items. However, their clothes, which are mostly extremely basic solid-color pieces, are expensive when not on sale; one plain white tank top’s non-sale price is $178. For this reason, I cannot recommend EF. I also cannot recommend EF because I imagine most people reading this are younger than forty-five, so they have no reason to be wearing anything Eileen Fisher makes.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of sustainable brands; these are only some of the most advertised, mainstream ones. However, the difficulty in finding information on consistently sustainable brands beyond these somewhat speaks to sustainable clothing’s lack of accessibility and proliferation into affordable everyday wear.
Considering this, my ultimate suggestion for sustainable shopping is to use thrift stores, Goodwill, and apps like Depop–these routes are cheaper and offer a far greater and less specialized variety of styles than the above.