The 8 Best Brands for Basic Ethical & Sustainable Tees
- by EcoCult Staff
- May 4, 2022
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It’s a must-have in everyone’s conscious wardrobes: the versatile and evergreen basic tee.
You can style it in so many ways: tucked into your favorite pair of jeans, with comfy sweatpants for a cozy Sunday (or any day) at home, or maybe even under overalls or a slip dress for a cute summer look.
Usually, we recommend opting for secondhand where possible. But it’s hard to find a fresh, white tee secondhand, so in this case we say buying a new one is totally justified!
And there’s no shortage of brands out there that are making sustainable tees. While we love to see an abundance of conscious businesses, it can also mean that weeding out the greenwashers can get tricky. That’s what we’re here for.
So, below are the most trusted brands for ethically made ethical tees for women, men, non-binary folks, and kids. These are established, eco-friendly apparel brands that have proven themselves with transparency over the past several years. Each one offers something a little different — whether it’s regenerative cotton, fun graphics, or inclusive sizing — so you can find exactly what you’re looking for.
What to Look for in Ethical & Sustainable Tees:
Organic and/or recycled fibers: Most traditional tees are made out of cotton, but many are blended with other materials like polyester and rayon, which provide stretch, heat and wrinkle resistance, and durability. Cotton-poly blends are also cheaper to produce than 100% cotton, making them a more affordable option. Natural and/or recycled fibers like organic cotton, hemp, and Tencel (the brand name for lyocell)are better for the environment than synthetics and even conventional cotton, and also feel better on your skin and are less likely to retain odor.
Timelessness and style: Choose tees that you will genuinely love for a long time, and that will fit well into your overall wardrobe. Go for shirts that you’ll be able to dress up or down as you go from work to a night out with your friends.
Non-toxic dyes and finishes: Traditional clothing is dyed with chemicals that are not good for the earth, the people making them, or you. Look for natural and/or non-toxic alternatives and labels that indicated good chemical management, such as Oeko-Tex and GOTS.
Fair labor and transparency: Look for brands that prioritize transparency (do they tell you where their apparel is made, with pictures?) and certifications like Fair Trade and SA8000. Detailed sustainability reports are a huge plus.
Sustainable end-of-life: Opt for t-shirts that can be either composted or recycled. Here’s how you can find out if you can stick your old tee in a compost bin. Pure cotton or Tencel t-shirts are also easy to recycle, or you can even cut them up into rags for your own use! Avoid blended fibers or synthetics — they’ll just end up in the landfill.
Here are our favorite brands making eco-friendly, ethically made, and organic tees:
Poplinen’s extensive selection of tees are available in a variety of colors, styles, and sizes (XS – 3X). The BIPOC-owned brand uses GOTS certified organic cotton and hemp for its collection, and most of the dyes are Oeko-Tex certified, which means they’ve been tested and declared free of nasty toxins. The packaging is either recycled or compostable, and as a bonus, the brand is a member of 1% for the planet.
Organic Basics’ tees and tanks are made from eco-friendly materials like GOTS certified organic cotton and Tencel. The brand has recently started incorporting natural, non-toxic dyes made from waste from rosemary, palmetto fruit, saw plametto, and beetroot production. Everything is made transparently in certified factory partners around the world, where workers have safe working conditions and are paid a living wage and benefits. It also publishes an Impact Report, which measures its carbon emissions, and chemical, water, and energy use, and also areas to improve on.
Outerknown has a wide variety of sustainable tees and tanks for men and women. As a brand, it is committed to transparency, working with manufacturers who abide by the Fair Labor Association’s standards and keeping a list of those suppliers right on its website. The Sojourn Tee Collection, made from 100% organic Peruvian pima cotton sourced from local farmers across Peru, is super soft, light, and breathable — perfect for the hot summer months! The brand also uses other eco-conscious materials like Econyl (recycled nylon) and hemp, and you can buy and sell pre-loved Outerknown tees on its website as well!
The Classic T Shirt Company
It should come as no surprise that what The Classic T Shirt Company specializes in is… t-shirts. Name any hue from the rainbow and chances are it has a tee in that color. Think burgundy, princess blue, and forest green, amongst others. The brand uses GOTS certified organic cotton and it’s packaging is 100% recycled and recyclable. It’s also a member of 1% for the planet, and donates 1% of its profits to charities including Water for People, Armenia Tree Project, and The Ocean Cleanup.
MATE the Label
Los Angeles-based MATE the Label has a variety of sustainable tees in its arsenal — from basic tees in subtle neutrals, to cute crop tops in bolder hues. The woman-owned brand uses sustainable fibers like Tencel Lyocell and GOTS certified organic cotton, and uses non-toxic dyes. If you’re interested in learning more about its sustainability initiatives, check out its impact report. Transparency is step one towards sustainability and this detailed report does a great job.
Harvest & Mill
Harvest & Mill truly goes beyond sustainability — its fabric is actually regenerative. That means the way the cotton is grown not only has a lesser impact on the environment, but it actually helps the planet by sequestering carbon. Everything is truly made in the USA — even the cotton is 100% grown here — non-toxic, and totally compostable. Its organic heirloom brown and natural white tees are dye-free, and made from pure white cotton or heirloom cotton naturally grows brown. All of their tees are unisex.
Madewell has been making slow and steady progress toward increasing its ethical and sustainable practices over the past several years, and now you can shop from its curated “Do Well Shop,” which is a collection of clothing and accessories that are made more responsibly, both ethically and sustainably. From basic tees to tanks, we love the neutral colors, cute styles, and soft fabrics.
This American brand takes inspiration from skate, surf, and music cultures to make comfortable and cool modern menswear. It uses wool from Scotland, England, Australia, and cotton from Portugal, and the US, as well as Italian alpaca blends. Its collection of quality garments includes loungewear, shoes, sweaters, and even DIY suiting.