As a result of continued inquiries, we have a running series of posts outlining some ethically-manufactured “alternatives” to fast fashion and other sweat-shop made clothes (because high fashion brands are not always blame-less either). (Find previous lists here).
While in general, ethically made garments and accessories tend to cost a bit more than their fast fashion alternatives, there are increasingly more brands that are aiming to achieve accessible price points - and we are dedicated to doing endless research to include more and more brands on these lists that are truly affordable (because guess what, $150 for a top is expensive!).
It is also worth noting that sustainability is not just about buying! It also includes holding on to the clothes you already have (regardless of their price points) and taking care of them in order to get the most wears/use out of them. Remember, sustainability is about taking small steps to improve your wardrobe and is not meant to happen overnight. This is a marathon.
Having said that, if you are in the market for some ethically-manufactured garments, the brands listed below engage in original design, local production (many of the brands manufacture locally), responsible selection of raw materials (think: the use of Viscose, which comes from man-made fibers made from renewable plant material, and requires approximately half of the energy than a cotton garment to produce). They focus on creating sustainable garments and accessories with a lower environmental impact, including by minimizing waste by repurposing it to make additional garments, reducing carbon emissions and/or shipping using recycled paper products.
Still yet, many of them engage in careful oversight by working with factories that abide by national labor standards, and in many cases, visit their factories on a regular basis and speaking to factory owners even more frequently.
Check out the list below and remember, shopping responsibly does not mean wearing high fashion; that is just a myth, my friends!
AMERICAN APPAREL | $
This is one of the most commonly overlooked sources of ethically manufactured garments. Los Angeles-based American Apparel has long boasted quality basics and more recently, an influx of wares beyond that – all of which are made in sweatshop-free conditions. Between the introduction of new luxury-infused materials (think: the brand’s “perfect” tees) and a slew of less-than-basic frocks and other garments, not only is American Apparel getting back on track (following years of financial and executive-level difficulties), it is becoming something of a go-to retailer.
Fast fashion retailers are not the only ones selling crop tops and looks inspired by Yeezy Seasons 1-3. Los Angeles-based Groceries Apparel is, too; they’re just doing it in a sustainable way. With all of the garments made by humanely-treated employees made in their own California factory and made from 100% organic and recycled materials (like eucalyptus, hemp, and cotton), the Groceries Apparel business model couldn’t be further from the fast fashion one. And good news, guys: There is plenty for men on this site, as well!
Not to be completely biased, but my favorite shirt (which I have had for the past 5 years and worn with significant frequency) came from Alternative Apparel, and so, this brand is a shoe-in for the “List.” This Los Angeles/Atlanta-based brand offers men’s and women's apparel basics in soft eco-fabrics, organic and pima cotton. These garments boast a quality fit and materials that will last for a long time, and that rise above the restraints of season-specific garments. It is no wonder why this brand has been garnering diehard fans – including fashion “it” girl Eva Chen (just to name one) – since its debut in 1995.
AGOLDE | $$
Forget buying five pairs of fast fashion jeans – invest in one quality pair and you will be thanking me later. Enter: Agolde. Inspired by youth culture throughout the decades, Agolde embodies "an irreverent attitude and a creative spirit fostered by LA." Every pair of its jeans is made locally at the company’s manufacturing facilities. From gray skinny jeans and distressed black ones to deep indigo flares and wide leg sailor pants, Agolde has a pair for everyone – even for men, as well.
BLUER | $
In the market for denim? We also came across Bluer, a US-based denim brand – for men and women – that sources it cotton in Georgia, mills it in North Carolina, designs the garments in Portland and makes them in Los Angeles. With all-American sourcing and construction, Bluer is “bringing great quality and the most authentic materials available to you at an affordable price.” Oh, and Bluer warrants each and every denim product it sells for one year against damage or defect from manufacturing, and you get a $5 credit if you send back an old pair of jeans, which they will donate to someone in need.
ASOS | $
Didn’t think ASOS was an option if you’re trying to kick your fast fashion habit? Think again. The British e-commerce site stocks a range of vintage repurposed garments – just search for “Reclaimed Vintage” – at affordable prices. Vintage has arguably never looked so good! The only apparent downside here: The garments are exclusive to ASOS and the availability of such garments can be very limited.
URBAN RENEWAL | $
Urban Outfitters has followed suit with its own vintage/recycled garment collection, called Urban Renewal. Deconstructed denim, vintage slip dresses, recycled linen shorts, and vintage surplus jackets are simultaneously right on trend and environmentally conscious.
BAGGU | $
Not looking to spend all of your rent money on a Céline bag but not in the market for a cheap one-season tote from Zara? Check out Baggu. The makers of simple, high quality bags in an array of colors, styles (including my favorite, the Midnight Suede Flat Pouch), and materials, Baggu is an environmentally conscious bag design company, based in Brooklyn, New York and San Francisco, California. Its founders, Emily Sugihara (born entrepreneur and Parsons fashion grad) and her mom Joan (master seamstress), set out in 2007 to share the minimalist bags they were sewing for themselves with bag enthusiasts everywhere. Be sure to check out their new bags for Spring!
$ = majority of pieces under $150
$$ = majority of pieces between $150-$400
$$$ = majority of pieces between $400-$750
$$$$ = majority of pieces over $750