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The climate crisis is pushing many to be greener in every aspect of their lives, and that includes their wardrobes. It’s not just the environment that’s changing the way we shop: documentaries like 2015’s The True Cost have also opened viewers’ eyes to fast fashion’s deadly effects on factory workers. The sales and search numbers prove that shoppers want to do better, as Lyst’s 2020 Conscious Fashion Report found that terms such as “organic cotton,” “biodegradable,” and other sustainability-related keywords continue to top online searches year after year.
These days, finding the best eco-friendly clothing brands no longer involves sacrificing style for sustainability. Sure, the easiest way to be a conscious consumer is by shopping vintage or avoiding buying new products altogether, but taking baby steps towards a low-waste lifestyle (like replacing your worn-out pieces with longer-lasting ones) may be a more realistic move than quitting consumerism cold-turkey when you’re in the market for, say, clean underwear.
Plenty of companies are answering the call for more environmentally-friendly and socially-conscious options. Among them is GoodHuman, a Los Angeles-based app that launched last year to help shoppers easily discover ethical brands that align with their values. The platform curates 100,000 products from 650 companies offering fashion, accessories, skincare, grooming, cleaning products, home goods, and more.
“The past five years have been marked by a surge of new ethical direct-to-consumer brands coupled with a rapidly growing force of conscious consumers voting with their wallets,” GoodHuman CEO James Glasscock tells Rolling Stone. “And with the impending effects of climate change, consumers want to support companies that are positively impacting their communities and the planet.”
GoodHuman CPO Thomas Hale estimates that “within a decade, we believe all brands will take a more open stance on their approach to social responsibility and environmental impact standards.”
What Does ‘Sustainable’ Fashion Mean?
Sustainability experts caution shoppers to watch out for “greenwashing” in fashion — essentially the creative ways in which marketers slap on the “eco-friendly” label without proving that the product is truly sustainable. It can include calling out the use of “natural” fibers that aren’t ethically sourced or organically grown (usage of pesticides and chemicals effectively cancel out any eco and health claims), or marketing vegan products that may be cruelty-free but manufactured using environmentally-unfriendly practices.
“Understanding a company’s claims on ingredients, processes, and impact to their communities and the environment requires extra homework,” notes GoodHuman’s Glasscock. “Put that on top of family life, health care, financial management, and job, and it’s quite the perfect storm of overwhelm.”
Ultimately, it’s up to consumers to do deeper digging on companies’ claims of transparency and sustainability. Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index is a comprehensive resource on which major fashion labels and retailers fully disclose their social and environmental practices, policies, and impacts. Other good measures include whether companies are B Corps or have certifications from Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Bluesign, and Fair Trade Textiles Standard, to name a few.
What Are the Best Eco-Friendly Men’s Brands?
With all of the above in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the best eco-friendly clothing brands offering men’s or unisex apparel and accessories for every aesthetic. Check out our top picks below.
Co-founded in 2015 by 11-time World Surf League champion Kelly Slater and designer John Moore, Outerknown was the first to use Econyl nylon (a material spun from abandoned fishing nets), thereby pulling tons of harmful waste from the oceans and turning it into earth-friendly outerwear, sandals, and other apparel and accessories. The California-based label says 90% of its products use recycled, regenerated, or organic materials. The company also earned Fair Labor Association accreditation before it began selling product, and it’s transparent about all of the factories it works with across the world.
Long known for its washable merino wool sneakers, Allbirds expanded its offerings last year with its first collection of sustainable clothing. The San Francisco-based company’s apparel range is comprised of men’s and women’s pieces, such as merino wool sweaters, super-soft tees made of its proprietary Trino fabric (a blend of tree-based and merino wool fibers) and odor-resistant snow crab shells, and carbon-neutral puffer jackets, to name a few.
The brand’s goal is to eventually be carbon negative through means such as measuring the emissions of each product from manufacturing to its entire life cycle, using natural materials, and investing in offsets until it’s a zero-emission company.
The first California company to get B Corp certification, Patagonia isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers in the name of Mother Earth (or tax itself on her behalf, for that matter). The outdoors-focused brand teamed with Native American and conservation organizations to sue the government in 2017 over the reduction of national monuments, and it aims to be carbon neutral by 2025, to name a few of its activism efforts.
The brand invests in regenerative organic agriculture, and exclusively uses organic cotton in its products. Patagonia says that 83% of its products are Fair Trade Certified, 68% of its line is made with recycled materials, and its North American operations use 100% renewable electricity.
In addition to offering men’s, women’s, and kids clothing and accessories, Patagonia makes sleeping bags, backpacks, and more gear for active lifestyles. The brand also recently launched its Worn Wear program, which offers reworked garments and allows customers to trade in their pre-loved pieces in exchange for store credit.
4. Alternative Apparel
Alternative Apparel uses cotton that’s recycled or GOTS- and OEKO-TEX certified organic, hemp-blend jersey, post-consumer recycled polyester (which is made of plastic bottles), and a blend of cotton and Tencel modal (which is comprised of wood fibers) for its women’s, men’s, and kids clothing. The Atlanta-based company also aims to replace virgin polyester with 100% recycled polyester in its fabrics by 2021, and all of the factories it works with abide by Fair Labor Association guidelines.
It’s known for its best-selling basics, such as soft tees in versatile cuts, comfy hoodies, vintage-inspired pullover sweaters, and eco-fleece sweatpants.
Colorado-based Pact is known for its organic cotton basics and its sweatshop- and child labor-free manufacturing. The company is upfront about why its entire inventory doesn’t use the material: “For our items that need a little stretch, we blend our organic cotton with small amounts of elastane,” it says.
We’re fans of the brand’s entire range of super-soft offerings, which include men’s, women’s, and kids tees, hoodies, sweaters, lounge pants, jackets, and more alongside cozy bedding and bath towels.
Founded in 2015, the ethical essentials label took the direct trade model most common in the coffee industry and applied it to fashion. Kotn says the practice allows them to cut out the middleman markup to save consumers money, provide “farmers with better prices and business practices (especially in comparison to fast fashion enterprises),” and offer transparency of their business partners.
The certified B Corp company also works with all of its farming partners to set up organic cotton growing operations, and they “rigorously” and “routinely” audit all of their factories to ensure fair pay and safe working environments. Kotn also works closely with an NGO to provide convenient, safe, and quality education to children in its farming communities — which means every purchase of its garments helps to fund the building of schools in the Nile Delta as well as pay for teachers’ salaries and training, infrastructure maintenance, school supplies, and more.
7. Frank and Oak
From its sustainable receipt rolls and tags to its factory transparency, there’s much to love about Canada-based Frank and Oak. The company clearly spells out its sustainability goals, which include cutting out all virgin plastics and polyester from its supply chain, reducing and offsetting its carbon emissions through reforestation, increasing its renewable energy usage, and reinforcing zero-waste practices across the company.
Frank and Oak uses a variety of sustainable materials in its women’s and men’s clothing and accessories. They include recycled nylon, wool, cotton, and polyester; pesticide-free hemp and kapok fibers (which require less water to manufacture than cotton); and biodegradable SeaCell fabric (which is made of “renewable raw materials found in seaweed and natural cellulose”); among other fabrics.
8. United By Blue
For every product you buy from United by Blue, you’re saving about a pound of trash from waterways and oceans. (You can even join the brand on cleanup events.) The certified B Corp manufactures its products in GOTS-certified factories (all of which are listed on its website), and it uses materials such as ethically sourced bison fiber, hemp, recycled polyester made from plastic bottles, tree pulp-based Tencel, and other fabrics that use less water or energy to produce.
9. Nudie Jeans
The Swedish denim brand is transparent about every detail in the production of its jeans, including the origins and suppliers of all of its raw materials, the yarn and fabric process, and every step in manufacturing and shipping — all with the goal of becoming “the most sustainable denim company.”
In addition to mapping its emissions in accordance with the Green House Gas Protocol, Nudie Jeans has been part of the Fair Wear Foundation for over a decade and offers free repairs on all of its selvage denim (regardless of when and where you purchase) in an effort extend the life cycle of its goods.
As the name suggests, Canada-based TenTree plants 10 trees for every one product, with the goal of adding one billion trees to the earth by 2030 (so far, they’re at 50 million). Its materials include Tencel, organic cotton, hemp, and recycled polyester, and the company only works with factories that abide by its “people-first” code of conduct (you can also see details about every single factory on its site.)
You’ll find basics, activewear, and accessories for men, women, and kids, including TenTree’s latest (and very fitting) collaboration with Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. And if shopping sustainably isn’t enough, the company allows customers to buy Climate+ carbon footprint offsetting packages that go towards planting trees.