Fashion is one of Earth’s most resource-intensive, environment-polluting industries. Manufacturing clothing requires vast quantities of water, international transport, and labor—and after all that, clothes regularly get thrown away after just a few months or years. (In part because recycling fabric into new textiles is very difficult.)
But that doesn’t mean that you need to become a nudist in order to save the Earth. There are plenty of clothing companies that take their environmental impact very seriously, using recycled and organic materials and trying to minimize the carbon footprint of their supply chain and manufacturing process. Take a look at some of the clothing that allows you to feel good about looking good.
1. ThredUP Recycled Denim Jacket
When it comes to environmental pollution, denim is one of the fashion industry's worst offenders. The distressed look and pre-washed feel of most jeans come at a high cost: Dyeing and distressing a pair of jeans requires hundreds of gallons of water and well as a plethora of chemicals that later end up in waterways. In Asia, where the bulk of the world's textile manufacturing is located, an estimated 70 percent of rivers and lakes have been contaminated by wastewater from the fashion industry. For World Environment Day 2019, the secondhand retailer thredUP has launched a new line of recycled denim jackets that you don't have to feel guilty wearing. It's part of the company's Choose Used partnership with Olive Wilde and Conscious Commerce, which features designs screen printed on secondhand shirts and other apparel. The proceeds go to thredUP's Circular Fashion Fund, which supports sustainable fashion.
Buy it from thredUP.
2. Ralph Lauren Earth Polo
While it’s easier to find eco-friendly clothing at outdoor and sporting retailers, some mainstream fashion companies are getting in on the trend, too. Ralph Lauren just launched its first polo shirt made of recycled material—the Earth Polo. Available for both men and women in four different colors, the shirts are made with fabric derived from plastic bottles. Though they look nearly identical to the company’s regular styles, each Earth Polo is made from approximately 12 recycled plastic bottles. And to reduce water pollution, the colored fabrics are dyed with a process that requires no water.
3. Madewell Second Wave Swimwear
Madewell launched its first sustainable swimwear line in February 2019, meaning that you can feel a little less guilty about ocean trash while frolicking at the beach. Made from recycled plastic bottles, Second Wave swimsuits are available in two-piece or one-piece designs in a variety of colors and patterns. According to the company, the one-piece suits incorporate material from eight used plastic bottles, while its separates are each made from two plastic bottles. (In other words, if you want to save the environment, cover up!) We like the simplicity of this $80 red one-piece suit, but there are plenty of options to choose from starting at $45 per piece. Sizes run from XX small to 3X.
Buy it at Madewell for $45 and up.
4. PrAna Shirts
The California-based clothing company prAna is all about sustainability, from its materials to its manufacturing to the composting program at its headquarters. It makes pieces with organic and recycled materials and participates in fair trade and bluesign certification. You can filter items in its online store based on whether it’s made with recycled content, and there’s a lot to choose from, whether you’re looking for something to wear to the office, the beach, or yoga class. The Iselle t-shirt line for women is made with 92 percent recycled polyester and 8 percent hemp (which requires fewer pesticides and less water to produce than cotton), and comes in short-sleeve (left), long-sleeve, and tank designs. For men, the Transverse line of shirts is made with 95 percent recycled polyester and 5 percent hemp. There are also dressier options—the Merger button-down shirts (right) are made with 44 percent recycled polyester, 53 percent hemp, and 3 percent spandex.
Buy it from prAna.
5. Birkenstock Shoes and Skincare
Birkenstock shoes are made from renewable resources like cork and jute, and the company is committed to minimizing its environmental footprint, using solvent-free adhesives and majority-recycled packaging. In addition to its shoes and sandals, the company recently launched a natural, cruelty-free skincare line that it sells in recycled tubes and bottles.
6. Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow Jacket
Patagonia’s Rainshadow jackets are designed to keep you dry but cool during summer showers or while you’re working hard. The latest version of the design—which is fully waterproof but still breathable—is made with ECONYL, a recycled nylon made from discarded materials like abandoned fishing nets. ECONYL’s manufacturer estimates that the material reduces the climate change-related impact of nylon by up to 80 percent compared to new construction made from oil.
7. Mammut Convey Recycled Down Jacket
Down-filled jackets are a reliable way to stay toasty during the cold months, but you may worry about the impact your outdoor adventures have on the ducks and geese that serve as the source for your jacket’s filling. Many outdoor retailers are switching to recycled down, which repurposes down from used bedding, cushions, and other items that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Mammut’s Convey is one of the best puffy jackets for cold weather, according to Popular Mechanics, and its 700 fill down comes from recycled sources.
8. Decathlon Fleece
Decathlon, a French mega-retailer that’s essentially the IKEA of sporting goods, makes a number of jackets, shirts, and pants using recycled polyester and other eco-friendly materials. (It’s also dedicated to reducing any unnecessary packaging.) The company just launched its first U.S. store in the Bay Area, and is rolling out its online store nationwide. If you’re looking for gear made with recycled materials, head to the fleece department—its lightweight Forclaz 50 fleece jackets are made with 100 percent recycled polyester. The company also manufactures plenty of warm-weather gear with recycled materials, too, like its TREK 500 t-shirts (available for men and women) and flip-flops, all made with a majority, if not 100 percent, recycled materials. Oh, and did we mention that everything is dirt cheap?
9. Pacsafe ECONYL Backpack
Recycled fabric isn’t just for clothing. A number of retailers also use sustainable textiles to make accessories. Pacsafe, which makes secure bags designed to keep your stuff from getting snatched while you’re traveling, makes a line of anti-theft bags designed with ECONYL regenerated nylon. The carry-on backpack has all the same security features as the company’s other products—cut-resistant straps and fabric, locking clips and zippers, and more—but it’s made with recycled materials. And all the profits from the line go to the Turtle Fund, the company’s conservation effort aimed at helping endangered sea turtles.
Buy it from Pacsafe for $130.
10. Eagle Creek Bags
Eagle Creek's bags are made with bluesign-approved fabrics, and the company recently started using recycled polyvinyl butyral (PVB), a hard-to-reuse coating that makes windshields and other glass shatterproof, to make its bags waterproof and extra durable. (While windshields can be recycled, that PVB coating has to be removed, and there have been few applications for recycled PVB until now. Eagle Creek's RPVB comes from landfills in Asia.) We particularly like Eagle Creek's hardy but stylish Migrate backpack duffels, which are spacious, waterproof, and fold flat when empty, as well as the company's Cargo Hauler bags. There are also backpacks featuring RPVB that will keep your laptop extra safe from the rain.
Buy it from Eagle Creek.
Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!