For most of us, the term ‘sustainable living' conjures up images of compost bins, reusable straws and keep cups, canvas shopping bags, and natural cleaning products — rarely does sustainable fashion spring to mind. However, the clothing and textiles industry has a significant impact on the environment by depleting non-renewable resources, using enormous amounts of energy, water, and toxic materials, and emitting dangerous levels of greenhouse gases. In fact, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world's carbon emissions
, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. The industry also uses 93 billion cubic metres
of water per year — this amount of water could meet the needs of five million people. That's a big impact. The idea of building a sustainable wardrobe can feel a little daunting, but it's one of the best things you can do to minimise your carbon footprint. In this guide, we look at how to be more sustainable in fashion and share some of our favourite sustainable fashion brands.
How to Shop Sustainable Fashion
Your sustainable fashion journey doesn't have to involve sewing your own linen dresses, or turning vintage sheets into a midi skirt (though if you have the skills to do so, big respect!). Shopping more sustainably really comes down to paying a bit more attention to what you're adding to your cart. Ask yourself, what purpose will this potential purchase serve? You'll also want to consider the quality, durability, and re-wearability of the items, as well as the materials used to create them. If that all sounds a little vague, let's take a closer look at how to shop sustainable fashion.
Go For Versatile Pieces
Unfortunately, many fashion companies operate using a fast fashion model. Fast fashion brands craft low quality, low cost, on-trend pieces designed to be worn a few times before being discarded for the next on-trend piece. Social media has played a significant role in fostering a trend-focused fashion landscape. By definition, fashion trends are short lived, meaning those of-the-moment pieces are relevant for a short period before they're considered ‘out' and you're marketed a new must-have item. However, fashion experts
have noticed a shift in recent years, which is believed to have occurred as a result of the pandemic and the climate crisis. Consumers are moving away from this trend cycle
model and stepping towards more timeless, always-relevant pieces. Instead of filling up your wardrobe with pieces that will be relevant for a season or less, look to versatile, ever-current items. Think basic tees, classic midi dresses, structured blazers, crew-neck jumpers, and classic straight-cut jeans. Opt for pieces in neutral shades that will mix and match easily — old prints and colours tend to date quickly, so shop them sparingly. When you invest in versatile pieces, you'll find yourself experiencing fewer “I have nothing to wear” moments.
They tend to carry a heftier price tag, but quality pieces are worth the investment. The fast fashion economy has trained us to value low cost above all — but those pieces are cheap for a reason. If you find yourself looking at a shirt and thinking the price is too good to be true, it probably is. To keep prices lower, fast fashion brands outsource their labour
to underpaid workers overseas, where working conditions are often unsafe and unregulated. In such factories, manufacturing is cheaper because the processes aren't environmentally-friendly (these tend to be more expensive to implement). This results in pollution, excessive resource-use, and toxic leaching. The idea is to invest in quality rather than quantity. Rather than regularly purchasing cheap items that won't last beyond a few wears, look to high-quality, timeless, and durable pieces made from sustainable materials. While more expensive up-front, these items tend to last much longer and will remain relevant for seasons to come. So, instead of needing to buy five $20 t-shirts over the course of the year that will last less than a season, you'd buy just the one $100 quality shirt. You'll be buying less overall, which reduces your carbon footprint.
Make Note of the Materials
An easy way to gauge the sustainability of a fashion brand is to note the materials they use. Items are considered unsustainable if they contain synthetic fibres that are known to leach toxins into the environment when made, washed, and discarded. Materials to avoid include acrylic, polyester, conventional cotton, rayon, and nylon. These fibres take up to 200 years to decompose. Producing clothing from these fibres uses huge quantities of water and energy. On the other hand, sustainable materials include organic recycled cotton, Tencel, organic hemp, Piñatex,
and organic linen. Truly sustainable garments will contain only organically grown fibres, and will be made from 100% of the same material (for example, 100% organic hemp). These materials are recyclable and biodegradable, so they won't end up clogging landfills or leaching harmful chemicals into waterways.
30 Wears Test
Livia Firth, founder of Eco Age — a business that grants brands sustainability certifications — recommends you ask yourself, will I wear this item a minimum of 30 times?
If the answer is no, it's probably not a worthwhile purchase. We know those statement items can be seductive, but they're often the items we wear once before discarding it or shoving it to the back of the wardrobe. For special events, we recommend hiring items instead of purchasing them. Around 300,000 tonnes of clothing is binned (read: send to landfills) every year, so hiring instead of buying can help foster a more sustainable, circular fashion economy. Dress For A Night
notes that by hiring for events, you'll be able to wear a designer piece for a fraction of the price. Plus, you'll be reducing your environmental foot print and avoiding the wear-once guilt!
Aim to Upcycle and Recycle
Instead of buying a brand new item every time you shop, consider browsing vintage and second-hand stores. Not only will you save cash and minimise your carbon footprint, but you'll find unique pieces that no one else is wearing.
One Item a Month
You may have seen the #oneitemamonth challenge pop up on your social media feeds. Many fashion and sustainability influencers have taken on the challenge of purchasing just one item of clothing a month to reduce textile waste. So, how does it work? Start by adding up your clothing spending from the previous year and divide that total by 12. The resulting amount is your monthly budget. So, if you spent $4000 on clothes last year, your budget for your one item per month would be $333. You can use up to that amount on a single item each month. The challenge pushes you to invest in quality, sustainable pieces. Rather than spending $4000 on several cheap pieces you'll wear once or twice, you'll be spending that amount on just 12 high-quality items that you'll love for years to come.
Take Care of Your Clothes
To get the most out of your clothes, make sure you're taking proper care of them. Opt for wooden hangers where possible, and fold knitwear to prevent them from losing their shape. Follow the washing, drying, and ironing instructions on each garment closely. We highly recommend investing in a steamer and fabric shaver. A steamer will keep your clothes smooth, as well as reduce odours and kill bacteria. A fabric shaver is ideal for de-bobbling knitted items and activewear. It can be tempting to use torn or damaged garments as an excuse to buy something new. Instead of binning those items straight away, aim to repair or upcycle them. It can be helpful to find a good tailor who can repair your items and give you tips on how to rework them.
Shop Sustainable Brands
Lastly, always endeavour to buy from sustainable brands. As mentioned, these brands tend to be slightly more expensive, but they are worth the investment. Sustainable brands implement practices that are kinder to the environment and their workers, which we believe is worth the extra cash. Most sustainable brands focus on crafting timeless, essential items, so you know you'll be wearing the garments for a long time.
Which Brands Are Sustainable?
Let's take a look at the brands who are doing it best! We love these brands because they craft ethically-made pieces without compromising on style.
We Love Them For – Their Sneakers
Born in 2005, VEJA burst onto the fashion scene with a high-quality, long-lasting sneakers that people all over the world adore. The designs are timeless and versatile, perfect for a capsule wardrobe. According to the founders, "the concept behind VEJA: standing up with one foot in design and the other in social responsibility." VEJA uses raw materials sourced from organic farming and ecological agriculture, withou the use of chemicals or pollution. All sneakers are made responsibly in Brazil.
We Love Them For – Their Activewear
Amber Days is a Melbourne-born ethical women's and children's clothing brand. Its founder, Corina, is an Aboriginal mother, artist, campaigner, and nature protector. She draws inspiration from the Australian sea, desert, and bush, and has a strong pasion for the environment and people. Corina has worked to build a brand that doesn't use harmful chemicals or leave a negative impact on the environment. Amber Days work with ethical manufacturers, suppliers, and fabrics. Each garment is handmade in India, and all fabric designs are original and created in collaboration with Aboriginal artists.
We Love Them For – Their Quality Denim
Outland Denim has exactly that is our top pick for quality, sustainable denim. Outland Denim was founded with the aim of providing sustainable employment and trading opportunities to women who have experienced exploitation. To date, over 750 people have benefited from stable employment with Outland Denim. The ethical and sustainable denim brand crafts premium jeans, skirts, shorts, and many more denim essentials. They use raw materials and have a completely transparent supply chain, so you can feel good about the jeans you're in.
Cloth & Co
We Love Them For – Their Loungewear
Cloth & Co. is all about having a positive social and environmental impact. The brand are especially focused on empowering women and have partnerships with women's cooperatives, small ethical factories, and artisan communities. We love Cloth & Co.'s beautiful loungewear collections. The garments are made from entirely natural materials, sourced from organic and regenerative farms. Each piece is biodegradable, and every stage of the production process has been certified. The designs are timeless, affordable, and made to last.
We Love Them For – Their Beautiful Printed Dresses
Named after its founder, Arnhem is a brand committed to using sustainable fibres in all of their garments. Arnhem works with charities that put the planet first, including Rainforest Rescue, Greenfleet, and Great Koala National Park. Arnhem, the brand's founder, experienced a nomadic childhood and cultivated a deep connection to the Earth by living in remote locations. These early memories inspire many of Arnhem's beautiful prints and designs.
Form By T
We Love Them For – Their Everyday Essentials
Form By T is a made-to-order brand, committed to creating high-quality, eco-friendly essentials. Garments are crafted from natural fibres, including linen, hemp, wool, tencel, and organic cotton, all of which are sourced from Australian suppliers. All pieces are biodegradable. To reduce fabric waste in landfills, any excess fabric is used to create facemasks, scrunchies, and upcycled garments. We love their timeless designs and everyday essential pieces.
We Love Them For – Their Neutral Colour Palette
Seaside Tones use quality, pre-washed linen to create minimalist pieces in neutral colour palettes. These designs are designed to fit effortlessly into capsule wardrobes and last for years to come. All pieces are made ethically in Poland in fair and safe conditions, without the use of harmful chemicals.
We Love Them For – Their Basics
Afends was founded in Byron Bay in 2006. The brand has worked to create their first range of Hemp Clothing, featuring staple pieces designed to be worn again and again. Afends are passionate about sustainability advocacy, partnering with Plastic Free July, Take 3 for the Sea, and Sea Shepherd.
We Love Them For – Their Sustainable Underwear
Founded in 1985, Icebreaker has long been revered for using natural fabrics to create quality pieces. Icebreaker uses natural-based materials to create everyday basics, underwear, and outdoor adventure wear. The brand fully accounts for its supply chain and has fostered close relationships with manufacturers.
Sustainable Fashion Matters
Shopping more sustainably really comes down to carefully considering the item you're buying and the brand you're buying from. Where you can, opt for quality over quantity, look to pieces made from organic materials, and take care of your clothes to increase their lifespan. By building a more sustainable wardrobe, you're reducing your own carbon footprint and helping to foster a more circular fashion economy. You can shop all of the sustainable brands
mentioned above at Biome.