Each summer, Brits spend almost £3bn on 50 million outfits that will only be worn once. Some critics of the fashion industry accuse it of perpetuating throwaway culture (the online retailer Missguided launched a £1 bikini in 2019) whilst others point other to environmental and ethical issues in the supply chain and manufacturing processes.
Nonetheless, where there are problems, there are innovations. Here are 10 brands who are making steps towards sustainable fashion:
Allbirds claim to make the most comfortable shoes in the world, made naturally and designed practically. To do this, they use sustainable materials – everything from merino wool to tree fibres to sugarcane. As a certified B Corp, they’re aiming for thoughtfulness and accountability. This starts with better materials, continuing into better design, factories, and shipping methods.
Co-founders: Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger
2. Billy Tannery
The UK food industry produces a lot of leftover goatskin. Billy Tannery takes this would-be-wasted, natural meat by-product and recycles 90% of it in their microtannery, producing luxury leather accessories and sneakers. They don’t cover up the natural pronounced grain of goat leather, instead choosing to celebrate the natural markings and variations like a unique fingerprint.
Co-founders: Jack Millington and Rory Harker
3. Clothes Doctor
To remedy throwaway culture, the startup Clothes Doctor have set up a modern online clothing repairs service, where customers across the UK can have their clothes tailored, altered, or repaired for an affordable price. Their workshop is based in Redruth, Cornwall, where unemployment is high.
Founder: Lulu O’Connor
4. Elvis and Kresse
In 2005, Elvis and Kresse discovered that London’s decommissioned firehoses were going to be thrown away. They decided to rescue this raw material and transform it into luxury accessories – since then, no London firehose has gone to landfill. In 2017, Elvis and Kresse partnered with the Burberry Foundation to recraft leather off-cuts into new luxury items.
Co-founders: Kresse Wesling and James Henrit
Originally, Finisterre created a fleece for surfers who needed to be kept warm in spite of the North Atlantic winds in Cornwall. They needed a product that was functional, long-lasting, and sustainable. Finisterre have an open and honest brand narrative with a commitment to better manufacturing – both in the fabrics they use and the manufacturers they work with.
Founder: Tom Kay
Henri are all about women: they make women’s shirts and are committed to providing meaningful jobs for women – particularly those in rural communities – as part of the supply chain. They use only organic cotton from India, supporting local villages in the highly skilled trade of spinning and weaving.
Founder: Henrietta Adams
7. Hiut Denim
“Do one thing well.” That’s the motto of Hiut Denim, an innovative jeans manufacturer who’s breathing new life into Cardigan, Wales. An M&S factory closed down in 2002 resulting in 400 job losses. Now, the local community have benefited from new jobs created by Hiut Denim. Now, they make around 100 pairs of jeans a week, with customers from London to New York to Melbourne.
Founder: David Hieatt
8. Lara Intimates
Lara Intimates keep their lingerie manufacturing in-house at their Hackney Wick studio. Their women’s underwear is made with reclaimed fabrics (surplus fabrics that would otherwise have gone to landfill). All scraps from the cutting room floor are converted back into underwear and distributed using eco-friendly packaging.
Co-founders: Cindy Liberman and Faith Leeves
Patagonia use their business, investments, and voice to move towards a more sustainable planet. Their products are functional, reparable, and durable, with the idea being that goods should last for generations and be recyclable. They’re also open in saying that their business itself (think lighting stores and dying shirts) is part of the problem, and are looking for ways to address this.
Founder: Yvon Chouinard
Thrift+ is an online charity shopping platform for both donating and buying clothes. Every year, the UK spends £1.4bn on second-hand clothes from charity shops. Despite there being 160,000 charities, 40% of that money goes to the 10 largest shop networks. To date they’ve raised over £35,000 for hundreds of small charities across the UK.
Founder: Joe Metcalfe
If you’re interested in sustainable fashion, we’d recommend the book Let My People Go Surfing. The original intent in 2005 for writing Let My People Go Surfing was for it to be a philosophical manual for the employees of Patagonia. Yvon (founder) never expected at that time that this simple book would be translated into ten languages, used in high schools, and colleges, and even be influential in large corporations. Take a look >>