The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion


My Favorite Sustainable Fashion Brands From a Decade of Blogging

Nia Thomas crochet dress
Image by Nia Thomas
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I don’t like to play favorites. But as a longtime sustainable fashion journalist, I get asked this question so often that I decided I had better just write down the answer:

What are my favorite sustainable fashion brands? 

First, I should say that sustainability is not a dichotomy, it’s a spectrum. And often, it’s an opinion, a statement of personal values and priorities. For example, I prefer real leather to PU-based vegan leathers, and natural fibers to recycled polyester. Others may disagree.

No brand is perfectly sustainable. Instead, the brands I respect are innovative, thoughtful, community-focused, and make a high-quality product that lasts for years of heavy use, never going out of style. 

These are the brands whose products I’ve cherished, and which have survived several big closet purges. When I’m looking for something new, I come back to these brands again and again, because they stock classic, high-quality designs that have staying power. 

I do need to give you a disclaimer: These picks are a wee bit biased, representing my personal style. For example, there’s a certain fashion brand that didn’t make this list because, despite doing really innovative material science, my 5’2” frame looks comical in the cut of its products. So keep in mind this is coming from a short, curvy, 36-year-old woman who has a propensity for European classic style—with a dash of festival fashion. 

So is this a definitive list of the best sustainable fashion brands out there? No. But even if you’re not short or curvy, or you love bright colors and fun prints, you’ll still find some great brands in here for you. Enjoy!

 

Autumn Adeigbo 

For designs that thrill, you can’t do much better than Autumn Adeigbo, a made-to-order brand with roots in Adeigbo’s Nigerian heritage. If I were still a girl who goes to fancy cocktail parties (I’m not, I live in Brooklyn and I’m more likely to be found at a electronic dance party) I would be hitting up this brand all the time. (Maybe for future TV appearances when I’m famous?) As it is, last year I was tempted into purchasing a cute headband and a knit crop top that is so versatile and cute that my professional stylist friend borrowed it and I had to request it back!

 

Ayni 

It was a sad day for my wallet when I discovered this Danish-Peruvian brand. I immediately ordered two sexy crochet dresses and a crochet bikini, planning to wear them to every beach vacation and festival on my calendar for the next five years. Compliments abounded, and I love knowing the artisanship of Peru has been honored in these fresh fashion pieces. 

 

Christy Dawn

I’ve always loved Christy Dawn since I bought my first dress in her LA store in 2018, and I get tons of compliments on it. Then, I bought a share in the brand’s regenerative cotton experiment. It’s sort of like a CSA, where the funds you pay now help farmers grow cotton regeneratively, and then at the end of the season, you get back funds based on the yield of the cotton harvest. You can use those funds to purchase something from Christy Dawn. Anyway, I happened to find myself an hour away from the organic farming cooperative, Oshadi, while on a reporting trip to India, and got to visit the whole operation and see for myself how the cotton I helped fund was being grown. I came away incredibly impressed. And, it turns out Christy Dawn’s blockprint cotton fabrics are done in another sustainable workshop I’ve visited in another part of India! 

 

Emerson Fry

This little brand has been quietly chugging along for years now. And despite it never acknowledging my or EcoCult’s existence, I keep getting sucked back in by its beautiful designs in artisanal block prints and natural fabrics. A leopard Indian block print nap dress became my go-to outfit during two pandemic summers, and it still looks as fresh as the day I bought it—and gets compliments. People ask me why I’m dressed up and my response is, “Haha, this is my casual nightgown-adjacent dress. Thanks, though!” 

 

Filippa K

When I was in Copenhagen for a conference several years ago, I had to stop by this brand’s store to check out its Scandinavian-minimalist-professional-lady stuff. It’s office-ready without trying too hard, simple, classic, and in natural and sustainable materials. Really, you can’t go wrong. Who knew a simple cropped tee in merino wool would become such a favorite of mine? 

 

For Days

I’ve been following this circular brand for years, ever since its founder Kristy Caylor left the ethical artisanal brand Maiyet (RIP, still got those Maiyet boots) and founded this California startup. 

For Days’ most popular product is actually its take-back bag. You pay $20, get the bag with a return label, fill it with all the clothing you no longer want, and For Days will carefully sort it so it is put to its highest use, whether that is resale or recycling. Then, you get $20 to spend on a For Days piece. 

Still, despite loving the concept and respecting Caylor’s clear passion and strong moral ethos, I wondered if the world really needs another basics brand. That is, until I tried on a matching quilted sweatpants and sweatshirt set. I’m actually wearing it right now as I write this — high-end sweats, if you can believe it. So comfy. So cute. So, “I haven’t given up, I’m just working from home today.” 

 

Ganni 

This Danish brand keeps bringing out the hits…when it comes to sustainability. It’s calling out brands for their weak-sauce carbon-neutral claims by engaging in carbon insetting. It became B Corp-certified last year, and offers sizes up to 4X. While not everything is in natural fabrics, I bought a silky leopard-print skirt this year and will go back should I need something fashionable again. 

 

Groceries Apparel

This brand has been around forever, but it’s only in the past few years that I’ve become a mega fan. I like buying full matching yoga outfits in organic cotton (with a bit of synthetic stretch) that I can wear to the hot yoga studio and also when I travel, since it’s kinder to my skin. Everything fits so flatteringly and comes in both fun colors and patterns, as well as basic black.

 

Harvest & Mill 

I forgot to take my Harvest & Mill sweats off before I start repainting my bathroom and, reader, I almost cried when I realized what I had done. They are such high-quality sweats, with good cotton fabric that breaks in not down.  Harvest & Mill is one of the few brands that go beyond organic cotton to traceable and regenerative farming. It even has cotton socks that are completely undyed—they’re made from cotton that just grows in pretty pastel colors. So cool, right? Anyway, I’m keeping the paint-splattered sweatpants. They’re still so comfy and give me some DIYer cred. 

 

H&M

Okay, okay, hear me out! (Ducks the flying tomatoes.) Not everyone can afford niche sustainable brands all the time. There have been times when I can’t justify spending a ton on clothing but I need something specific—like that time all my clothing was in storage and I had to attend a conference in Phoenix and look presentable. I tried to find what I needed at a secondhand store, but I couldn’t find something professional and classic. I also didn’t have time to shop online, and wanted to try on things in person. So I went to an H&M store to pick out a few classics, with the full intention of keeping and using them for many years. 

I know from experience H&M pieces will last me. I just looked through my closet and found a half dozen pieces that I’ve collected over the past ten years—from a pretty color-block midi skirt to a beautiful tuxedo jacket and a full-length beaded cocktail dress—that are workhorses in my wardrobe. 

As you may know, I’ve been focused on safe chemistry in fashion. And H&M was the first large brand to come out with a restricted substance list many years ago. I trust that its items are as non-toxic as possible given what we know.

So why does H&M end up in so many cringe headlines? Well, it’s a huge company that works with more factories than pretty much any other brand in the world. It also lists its suppliers, when many brands won’t. So when something happens at a factory, the headlines talk about H&M, even though a half dozen other brands might also source from that factory. And then H&M is in a position of deciding whether to cut ties (which might throw the garment workers out of work) or try to reform the problematic factory.

You’ll also find H&M’s investment money tucked into almost every sustainability innovation and initiative in the industry, including a recent $300 million commitment to decarbonize its supply chain, and it’s always at the top of transparency lists. That always pisses people off, because the sheer amount of stuff this huge company manufactures renders their operations on a whole unsustainable. Fair point. 

I also can’t leave out the fact that H&M is getting sued for greenwashing. It says it was a data mistake, some see its actions as more nefarious. You can read my entire opinion of that here, but essentially, I think we need to move beyond sustainability as a marketing nice-to-have to a legislated must-have. And if that were to become the case, well, H&M would be sitting pretty compared to 98% of mass-market fashion brands, I can assure you.

So is H&M “the worst” as many people ask me when they find out what I do for a living? Far from it. It’s just the biggest mass-market brand sticking its neck out the farthest.

So if you have a tiny budget, you don’t happen to live in LA or New York where sustainable shops abound, I wouldn’t judge you at all if you chose just what you need from H&M with care and thoughtfulness.

 

Hyer Goods

Designed by a former Cole Haan designer, and made with upcycled waste leather from high-end leather goods factories, you can’t get better value than Hyer Goods handbags and accessories. If you’re looking for a classic lifetime piece that doesn’t add to the livestock problem, this is it. Just best of luck knowing where to start. I got myself a fanny pack, but the options are endless, and endlessly justifiable when everything is a third of the price of equivalent quality brands. 

 

Icebreaker 

If you told me a few years ago that my favorite thongs would be in merino wool by an outdoor brand, I would have said you bonked your head while rock climbing. But here we are. I love slipping into flattering and cozy performance undies, bras, and base layers from Icebreaker for hiking and snowboarding. I would get more, but everything is on the pricier side. Once I hit it big, it’s nothing but Icebreaker for my outdoor gear. Especially since it’s gone completely PFAS-free

 

Kayu 

Not many small artisanal brands that I discovered in 2010 have survived. But this California brand has. And so has my favorite bitty clutch, made with seagrass straw that is harvested, dried, and woven by hand in Philippina women’s cooperatives. I’m now also the proud owner of a woven rattan purse. If you need anything like that, Kayu should be your go-to. 

 

Knickey

Maybe I’m getting boring, but lately, all I want to wear is super soft, organic cotton underwear that is also flattering. No synthetic lace, please. And this brand is it. Oeko-Tex-certified, transparent about its supply chain and impact, and just plain comfy and cute. When I have to restock, I go here.

 

Mara Hoffman 

Mara could have gotten stuck in her popular high-vibe patterned phase—I still love and wear a flattering one-piece bathing suit from 2016. Instead, she’s pivoted to more modern and mature clothing designs. The Mara Hoffman team has also been a first mover when it comes to a lot of sustainability initiatives, like compostable packaging, extended sizing, and bathing suits made with natural materials. All the cool girls wear Mara Hoffman, and can feel good about it, too.  

 

Marcella NYC

This brand just hit my radar in the past six months, and I’m already in (tentative) love. Founded by a designer wife and an economic development expert husband, it’s the edgy NYC answer to LA’s sexy Reformation style. Marcella served up the exact yummy and slightly-see-through turtleneck I was looking for—I bought it in three colors and did not regret it. While not everything is in natural/sustainable fibers, it is mostly European-made fabric, and made in European garment factories which, the brand claims, provide pay and working conditions far above your standard garment factory. The brand also funds school days for girls in Sub-Saharan Africa. I’m open to being proven wrong. But for now, I can’t bring myself to unsubscribe from Marcella’s mailing list. 

 

Numi

I first got on to Numi when I purchased a few of its sweatproof, Canada-sewn, Tencel undershirts so I could stop ruining my white blouses and making my winter sweaters stinky. These babies are a crucial part of my wardrobe, and Numi has since expanded its sweatproof offerings and even makes its own silk blouses. 

 

Nia Thomas

Okay, maybe I’m biased because I just personally like Nia, a creative designer who puts love, care, and hustle into every one of her beautiful knitted and crocheted pieces. But her items really are one of a kind, including the boob-shaped top I preordered last year. It took many months to arrive, but it was well worth the wait! 

 

Nicholas K

You know how you can tell this designer duo loves women and their bodies? Because these pieces look ho-hum on the rack, and bangin’ on the body. I’m always getting compliments on my caftan dresses (yep, bought two in white and red), my chunky undyed yak sweater dress, my shirt dress, and my draped wrap sweater that I’ve bought from this brand—all in natural fibers. I have to stop myself from popping in the store when I’m in Soho, because I know if I do, I’ll blow my entire budget and then some on a new, must-have piece. 

 

Nisolo

You need some leather shoes. Done. Look no further than Nisolo. Its well-made loafers have carried me—with comfort—all over the world for at least six years. And its handbags and jewelry are also classic and high quality. More importantly, Nisolo has always been one of the most trustworthy brands I know, leading the way when it comes to fair labor, transparency, and sustainability. I can’t recommend this brand enough. 

 

Nudie Jeans

A unisex brand that isn’t just shapeless sweats? Sign me up. I turned my tall husband onto this brand all the way back in 2013, and then discovered that certain pairs of Nudie jeans can also fit me, the curvy one, and look good! That’s great, since these jeans last forever, and some Nudie stores offer repairs and tailoring to make them last even longer. With organic, traceable cotton, Nudie is one of the most transparent brands in the world, brandishing every supplier it works with right on the product pages. 

 

Offtrack

This French-American brand does one thing really well, and that is leather leggings. Made from leather that is a byproduct of meat production and which is sourced from a French tannery, these leggings are lovingly sewn in New York. They’re so flattering and comfy, they’re one step up from athleisure. I wore mine every other day for two years until they split up the butt—then I went out and bought two new pairs.  

 

Paka

Have I told you how obsessed I am with alpaca? Yes, I have. Anyway, this brand makes super soft and sustainable outdoor gear and base layers, socks, and hoodies. I have a good friend who recently started talking unbidden about her love for Paka socks. Looks like Paka discontinued the fluffy thong-and-sports-bra set, but I guess that’s because those were really only good for sexy ski trips. Still, I love them and plan on expanding my Paka collection ASAP. 

 

Qwstion

My constant travel companions are a sling bag and roll-top backpack from Qstion, both made with its signature regenerative canvas-like material made from palm trees called Bananatex. Not just for trains and planes, I also carry them around the city, because they both have a rugged yet refined minimalist Swiss design. I also have an all-natural waxed cotton day hiking backpack that fits my water bladder perfectly. If you’re looking for versatile bags (their straps move around for different applications) in natural fibers, Qwstion should be your go-to brand. 

 

Raven & Lily 

An artisan brand that breaks out of the usual “handmade” aesthetic, this small B Corp– and Fair Trade-certified brand creates simple but refined bags, jewelry, and home goods. I’ve been carrying around a Raven & Lily backpack on travels and at festivals for four years now, and have only needed to get one simple repair on the strap in that time. The jewelry is calling my name now, too! 

 

Reformation

I know, I know. Their (former) leadership was the definition of toxic mean girls, and there was some rumored greenwashing going on. And yet, I keep going back. Leadership has been swapped out, and the brand keeps investing in interesting new ways to be transparent and sustainable—such as creating jeans using cotton traced back to an organic farm, carrying extended sizing, and staying true to its upcycling roots while scaling up. I want to believe that it’s been reformed. And it always carries exactly what I’m looking for. I keep Reformation items and wear the heck out of them for years. Case in point: a simple black Reformation tank is in my profile photo. And for my wedding, I sent my bridesmaids to Reformation and told them to pick out a black dress. 

 

 

The RealReal

Sometimes I just want something that is nice. A beautiful wool winter coat, perhaps. Or a luxurious leather cinch belt. It’s not the logo I’m after, but the classic craftsmanship—something that looks artisanal won’t do. In that case, I’ll peruse The RealReal to get it secondhand. I’ve done this five or six times and recommend it. Just make sure that if you’re not 100% obsessed with it when it arrives, that you return it immediately instead of trying to make it work. Even if it’s discounted, it’s still not cheap! 

 

Roopa Pemmaraju 

The exquisite craftsmanship of Roopa’s colorful designs in all-natural fibers puts her cocktail dresses, evening gowns, and accessories firmly in the luxury segment. Having personally visited her Bangalore atelier, I can attest to the ethical work conditions and her passion for creating an heirloom-quality product. She also does custom extended sizing for the perfect fit. If you want to stand out, this brand is it. 

 

Sézane

If you’re looking for that effortless French style—a few classic pieces that you mix and match with little thought—then this B Corp-certified brand will get you there. The majority of the materials it sources are certified organic, non-toxic, or responsible in some way. While its products are designed to last a long while, you can drop off your shabbier Sézane pieces at the store for recycling. I have a camel suede coat from Sézane that makes me feel like a million bucks, and I plan to check there next time I’m looking for a classic piece. Perhaps a super soft cardigan? 

 

Saint James

Continuing the theme of classic French style, I have two striped shirts from this worker-owned French brand, and I’m shocked they still look as good as new—even after I’ve worn them in the sweatiest conditions in 20 different countries since 2017. I just love their classic, flattering fit, and they are so well-made! More importantly, I’ve visited the Saint James factory in France and was impressed by the care and pride the employees take in making lifetime pieces. You can even send your sweaters in for repair. Saint James has a loyal customer for life in me. 

 

Veja

I’m the proud owner of two Veja sneakers and they’ve served me well for years walking through the cobblestone streets of New York, Paris, and Berlin. More importantly, I’ve been continually impressed by the thoughtful experimentation and transparency of this French brand. Always striving to source responsible materials like tree rubber and traceable cotton from Brazil, it’s clear Veja wants to have an egalitarian relationship with the communities that grow and harvest the raw materials that will become the familiar V-logoed sneaker. 

 

Whimsy & Row

I love this small LA brand for it’s LA-made, sexy-cute classics in natural fibers. From a corduroy skirt and black turtleneck in the winter, to a reversible tie crop top and wide-leg pants in the summer, I’m always looking at Whimsy & Row first if I need an ethically-made item to slot into my capsule wardrobe. 

 

Yoga Democracy

This brand makes yoga clothing in the US with American-made recycled polyester fabric and non-toxic dyes in a waterless dyeing process. While I usually gravitate toward natural fibers, I have a few YD pieces and they are incredibly flattering and comfortable, in uniquely gorgeous patterns. And they hold up well despite many, many hours of hot yoga. I mean, yes, non-attachment to worldly goods and all that, but I still feel like a hot mama when I walk into yoga wearing a YD set. 

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