Choosing eco-friendly clothing is one of the biggest and easiest ways to reduce your impact on the world, reduce your carbon footprint and live more sustainably.
It’s no secret fast-fashion is devastating for our world.
It is the most high profile example of our throw-away linear society.
To put it into some digestible numbers the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that global clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years, plus on average garments are being worn much less and thrown away quicker than ever before.
Now, doubling production and discarding quicker hardly fits the sustainability motto of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, does it?
Fortunately, the outdoors fashion industry is not as bad as you may believe.
In fact, most of these garments are actually manufactured to be durable and last a long time. And people are often willing to spend more on a high-quality piece of outerwear to last a number of years.
Thanks to a number of international companies and innovative manufacturing we can even buy clothing designed with eco-friendly materials creating highly sustainable options.
Keep reading for all the important points on how to choose eco-friendly clothing, materials to look for, and the best companies to keep you wrapped up in the great outdoors.
How to Choose Eco-Friendly Clothing?
There is a lot to consider when looking for sustainable clothing and it can feel overwhelming trying to pick your way through the mountains of options. It seems everything comes with a green tag these days, so how can you tell what’s eco and what’s not?
All fibres create different environmental and social impacts. It’s important to understand the full impact of a product throughout the supply chain. That includes factors like water, energy, pollution and social impact of sustainability credentials.
Never fear, I’m here to help!
The easiest way to start assessing materials is by using Fashion for Good’s ‘Five Goods for Cradle to Cradle’ which judges impact on 5 factors throughout the supply chain.
- Good Materials – Materials should be safe, healthy and designed for reuse and recycling. This means everything going into a product should have a positive impact on humans and ecology.
- Good Economy – Products should help build a more positive economy using more circular principles and benefiting everyone along the way.
- Good Energy – Supply chains reduce the amount of energy expended to deliver a product. Plus renewable energy sources should also be used to reduce pollution and reliance on fossil fuels.
- Good Water – Good water aims to leave water unharmed or of better quality than at the start of a process. E.g drinking water quality without harmful chemicals. Water should either be reusable within a factory or safely released back into the surrounding community and ecosystem.
- Good Lives – Ethical living and working conditions for everyone, meaning safe, fair and dignified lives for people in the supply chain. Clothing must be socially positive, providing benefits for workers. Laborers shouldn’t be exploited and local communities should be regenerated rather than oppressed and destroyed. Simply put, fair wages and working conditions for all, not too much to ask, is it?
Eco-friendly Clothing Materials
Ok so now we understand the factors behind making eco-friendly clothing, let’s take a look at the fibres and materials best fitting this model.
Before we talk about creating new garments, I feel it is important to say that the most sustainable clothing to buy is second hand.
This can almost reduce your impact on the world to nothing.
Buying second-hand clothes means no energy is expended to create materials, no raw resources are needed.
In many ways, second-hand clothing is a better version of fast fashion, it is already ready and waiting to go!
Plus you can save yourself hundreds if not thousands of $$ over the years. It’s why we set up One Tree Shop, a place for mountain lovers to reduce their impact without compromising on quality.
Did you know that 95% of textiles are recyclable?
Fibres and clothing made from recycled materials are awesome because they require no new virgin raw resources. I always think it’s pretty cool we can wear clothing made from plastic bottles!
Plus it helps to create more circular products and keep waste out of landfill. For outdoors, ski and snowboard garments this makes for an amazing way to create the durable products we’ve grown accustomed too without the devastating effects.
So what sort of recycled fibres are available?
- Nylon – Econyl is made from the 700,000 tons of industrial fishing gear that ends up in the oceans each year. It reduces waste, cleans up, and removes the reliance on plastic made from crude oil.
- Polyester – 60% of clothing is made from Polyester, another oil product. Good news, it’s recyclable so let’s use it!
- Cotton – Although cotton is a natural fibre it is intensive and destructive to farm. It can be recycled in a closed-loop process to remove the strain on the environment.
- Down – A favourite of the outdoors industry to keep you warm. Unfortunately, it required animals to create but as it spends most of its life as insulation it can be recycled again and again.
- Wool – Another magical material that comes from nature. Recycling it reduces energy, water, chemical, transport miles, plus it eases the strain on sheep around the world.
Pretty much since time began, Hemp has been championed as ‘green’.
No longer does it carry the ‘hippie’ tag as some of the largest outdoor brands now see its amazing benefits.
Hemp is a remarkably sustainable material useful for clothing, food, building materials and even cosmetics.
It has been a vital resource of clothing for hundreds of years, at one point it accounted for 80% of our textiles in clothes, curtains, sheets, shoes. Everything!
There’s so many positives to Hemp I’m just going to have to list them:
- It grows pretty much anywhere in the world
- Requires minimal water, resources or labour
- Needs zero pesticides
- Regenerating and replenishing nutrients in the surrounding soil
- Strong yet breathable
- Thermoregulating – keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the warm
- UV resistant
- Stronger than conventional cotton as a fabric
I can’t think of anything else you’d want out of a fabric, to be honest.
Made from the pulp of trees, Tencel is the fibre of the future.
It’s revolutionary, eco-friendly and economical.
The innovative fibre has a 99% closed-loop lifecycle making one of the most environmentally friendly materials available.
Tencel’s raw material is sourced from sustainable forests and is compostable so can be returned to nature once finished with.
It might be a little hard to picture wood pulp becoming a t-shit. To avoid long scientific words, essentially the cellulose from the wood is viscous enough to be spun into fibres.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
Can it be eco-friendly if it comes from animals? Well, yes, let me explain.
Like many natural fibres developed over millions of years through evolution, wool offers some remarkable properties.
Wool is thermoregulating, breathable, odour resistant, wicks moisture, quick-drying and lightweight.
It’s particularly awesome at keeping you warm in the winter, so a must-have for skiers and snowboarders out there.
Of course, the material is harvested from sheep but many sheep don’t actually need their warm coats during the summer months. So as long manufacturers source wool with care from suppliers treating their flock with love and no nasty mulesing process.
Plus, as a natural material, it biodegrades at the end of its life.
Wool, the all-natural layer in your adventure outfit.
Cork offers some notable properties making it a sustainable source for apparel materials.
From an eco-friendly standpoint, cork trees live for around 200 years and can be a harvest for cork without destroying the tree, plus the cork regrows to for more resources.
The beauty is that the trees continue to grow and regenerate resources while sequestering carbon.
Although it can be energy-intensive to turn cork into useable material, the final product is mailable and can even replace plastic in some products.
Adding to this, it’s lightweight, reducing energy costs for transport and is natural and compostable.
We’ve been looking high and low for the most innovative new materials to fill eco-friendly gaps in our outdoor gear.
Wine Leather, 100% vegan leather, is one of the newest solutions on the market.
It’s soft, smooth, 100% sustainable and recyclable. It’s amazing, feeling and acting like leather without the need to harm animals in the production.
Why is it called Wine Leather I hear you ask? Well, It’s made from the waste products of wine production.
While major brands are still to test the material, One Tree at a Time founding partner, The Boot Lab, are testing it out in the development of their circular eco-friendly footbeds.
While we’re on the subject of vegan leather, have you heard of Pinatex?
Or as I like to call it Pinacoleather.
Ananas Anam design and manufacture this innovative material from pineapple leaf fibres. Again, Pinatex is made from excess pineapple leaves, a by-product of farming.
This creates some added benefits which fit into the ‘cradle to cradle’ both reducing waste while helping to boost a communities income with extra industry.
So Pinatex appears to be vegan leather with a positive environmental impact and beneficial effect on communities in its supply chain.
Materials to avoid
Fast-fashion is one of the most destructive industries on our planet.
In the ‘race to the bottom’ corners are cut, quality is reduced, and safety is ignored.
This means there’s some materials out there to try and avoid buying. It’s tricky to completely avoid these dark areas of fashion, so don’t give yourself a hard time but try to reduce wherever possible.
Non eco-friendly clothing materials
- Polyester – Put simply it is a plastic crude oil by-product, look for recycled polyester instead
- Nylon and acrylic – Another oil product and with so much plastic waste there’s lots of recycled options.
- Vinyl, PVC, artificial leather – Plastic, enough said.
- Cotton – Although it is a natural fibre, cotton is intensive to farm, uses tons of water and pesticides. In the rush to produce cotton for fashion, habitats are destroyed.
- Durable Water Repellent (DWR) – A lot of outdoor clothing uses a waterproof membrane which contains toxic chemicals including perfluorinated chemicals (PFC)
Eco-Friendly Fashion Brands for Your Outdoor Adventures
Patagonia – The global outdoors brand is in the business of saving the planet. It started using recycled plastic bottles in clothing way back in 1993.
Untrakt – Pushing forward no matter the conditions to make big mountain apparel for the eco-conscious. Untrakt creates recycled and recyclable garments, reducing waste going to landfill.
Isobaa – Keeping you fresh outdoors with sustainably sourced merino wool layers. It treats sheep and wool with love, adds recycled materials and takes care of the finer details, all you have to do is get out there and have fun.
Icebreaker – More of that mysterious yard known as merino wool. Taking care of the whole supply chain from sheep to shop in an ethical and sustainable manner so your conscience will be as warm as your core.
Rapanui – This innovative brand goes further than natural materials, renewable energy and plastic-free. It creates a closed-loop manufacturing process for cotton t-shirts. You can even send your used t-shirt back to them to be repurposed into a new one.
Picture Organic Clothing – These guys made a name for themselves and stuck the word organic right in there. Outerwear is made using 100% recycled, organic or responsibly sourced materials.
Tentree – Tentree believes big changes start small. Its earth first clothing includes hemp and recycled polyester plus it plants 10 trees for every garment sold.
Finistere – A pioneering sustainable brand to keep you powering on even in the coldest of seas. Perfect for you hardy British surfers. From farm to fish it has no fear of doing things differently.
Ecologyst – Once a surf brand, the company risked it all to completely redesign its brand to create Ecologyst, top to toe scrutinized outdoors apparel from the heart of Canada.
Cotopaxi – It just wants to do good in the world and be bold about it. Add a touch of colour and spice to your adventure knowing you’re still giving back to the world.
One Tree Shop – Reduce your impact on the world without compromising on quality.
Ex-warranty ski, snowboard and outdoor apparel from our partners Isobaa, Untrakt, Fjern and The Boot Lab. Second-hand gear for mountain lovers.