Eco-Friendly Clothing: How to Find Fashion with Low Environmental Impact


Eco-Friendly Clothing—these three words spark many fashion questions. What exactly does “eco-friendly” mean? Is it the same as sustainability? What does it mean for the quality of the garments that I buy? We have the answers to these questions, and more. So, put on your style seatbelt and get ready for all things good for the planet

What is Eco-friendly Clothing?

What exactly is eco-friendly clothing? Let’s start from the root with the word eco. Eco is short for ecology, which is the study of the relationship and exchange between an organism and its environment. More importantly, ecology seeks to understand how an entity influences the world surrounding it. In this case, the entity is the garment itself. Eco-friendly clothing utilizes processes that have a low environmental impact during creation. From materials to production, environmentally-friendly clothing institutes practices that are helpful and not harmful. Want a breakdown of all of the ways how? Keep reading for all of the eco-friendly deets.

Sustainable Materials

We can’t explore sustainable materials without touching on sustainable fashion. In the world of style, sustainability is the movement and process of creating fashion with ecological and social integrity. There are ways to build a more sustainable wardrobe, but the foundation of all eco-friendly clothing begins with the creation of the material. Here are five facts to keep in mind when searching for items made with sustainable materials.

1. The Source of Eco-Friendly Clothing Materials

There are many components that go into the production of eco-friendly clothing, starting with the source of the fabric itself. If the fiber is natural, you are already on the right path to eco-integrity. If the fabric is man-made, research to learn if it was created using recycled materials. Garments made from recycled materials such as recycled polyester fall higher on the environmentally-friendly scale than polyester alone. Anytime that a material is derived from reuse, it’s an eco win-win.

Wondering which fabrics are which? For maximum eco-friendly wear, look for recycled alternatives instead of textiles like polyester, acrylic, rayon and nylon. Among many environmental impacts, if not recycled, all of these fabrics use chemicals and large amounts of water for production. On the flip side, here is a breakdown of five fabrics to get your eco-friendly clothing sourcing started.

Organic Cotton

Made from natural fibers, organic cotton fabrics are biodegradable and produced without synthetic pesticides, insecticides or herbicides and GMOs. In general, it reportedly uses 88% less water for growth and 62% less energy in the material’s production. Can’t find organic cotton? Look for recycled cotton to keep the eco-friendly fabric train moving. 

Organic Hemp

Constructed of chemical-free, biodegradable and natural fibers, organic hemp fabrics require little to no pesticides. Industrial hemp plants also return 60–70% of the nutrients they take from the soil. Better yet, it uses far less water to produce—making it a textile that is good for the planet. Organic hemp is also machine-washable, creating a responsible combination for eco-friendly clothing.

Recycled Polyester

Wait a minute. Polyester? That wasn’t on the eco-friendly list! Correct. Like traditional polyester, this recycled fabric is made from man-made materials. However, this environmentally-friendly form of polyester is made from recycled plastics such as water bottles and fishing nets. It’s durable, rip-resistant and has a lower environmental impact due to reuse. How do water bottles turn into fabric, you ask? The recycled bottles are shredded and melted into chips. These are transformed into threads then woven into new fabric to create eco-friendly clothing.

TENCEL™ Lyocell and Modal

Composed of natural fibers, Lenzing’s TENCEL™ Lyocell and Modal fabrics are biodegradable, anti-bacterial and made from sustainably harvested raw-wood materials. Fun fact: TENCEL is pure white when produced, so no bleaching is needed. Lenzing’s Modal fabrics are derived from beech tree bark. This allows the tree to live, naturally reproduce, and makes the pieces made with this fabric completely biodegradable and compostable. On top of that, it also requires less dye than cotton when developing colorful fabrics. While solvents are used in fabric creation, they are recycled back into the process instead of releasing them into nature. Feel great about your low environmental impact while looking your best in eco-friendly clothing sewn from these breathable and lightweight fabrics. 

2. Produced with the Environment in Mind

Next on your eco-friendly clothing checklist is to pinpoint if the fabric is responsibly produced for the good of the planet. The use of natural resources like water, fossil fuels, pesticides, energy and a bevy of other production elements, matters. The smaller the fashion footprint, the better. Pinpoint the resources, rate of use and renewability when diving into the fabric creation of the garment you are coveting.

3. Check Fabric Treatments to Ensure Low Environmental Impact 

While a fabric may be responsibly produced, the treatment of the fabric is equally important. Finishing practices like dyeing and bleaching use energy and water that may increase pollution. Keep your eyes out for fabric treatments like easy care and flame proof, which are tell-tale signs they created with toxic substances like formaldehyde that contribute to harmful gas emissions. The treatment of a fabric after it is created is just as important as the initial creation of the fabric itself. Both must be responsibly executed in fabricating eco-friendly clothing.  

4. Longevity of Eco-Friendly Clothing

Now that you have established the ecological creation and treatment of a fabric, what about the longevity? Fabric made to last is a vital component of eco-friendly clothing. If the longevity and construction of the fabric is poor, it will take up space in a landfill before you know it. If the wearability is low, it’s a no-go. We just made that up on the fly. Talented, right? 

5. What is the End Life for Eco-Friendly Clothing?

If all of these eco-friendly boxes are checked, we have another key component on the list: end life. When a garment is worn responsibly to the very end, will it be biodegradable? If the answer is yes, your eco-friendly meter just soared to new heights. So, how can I tell if my clothes will break down naturally? Check the fabrication of your clothing on its tag. Is it composed of end-life-friendly fabrics? Biodegradable fabric, at the end of its life, can be decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms. This is healthier for the planet in the long run. The EPA estimates that landfills received 11.3 million tons of municipal solid waste textiles in 2018. This was 7.7 percent of all waste landfilled in the United States that year. Increasing the natural absorption of this waste is vital to the success of eco-friendly clothing. Mother Earth will thank you. 

Eco-Friendly Clothing Brands

At Stitch Fix, we have eco-friendly and sustainable clothing from over 40 brands. We also hold our own exclusive brands to high standards to minimize their environmental impact, improving our eco-friendly clothing and processes daily. As a member of The Better Cotton Initiative, we are helping to enhance and strengthen global cotton production. We have made a commitment to use more recycled polyester. By 2022 we pledge that our viscose supply chains will pose no risk to the ancient and endangered forests.

We work every day to be an eco-friendly force and we are not alone. Let’s explore key environmentally-friendly pieces and the brands that create them.   

Eco-Friendly Jean Brands

Nearly everyone is looking for the right pair of eco-friendly jeans and there are many good reasons why. Denim is one of the most resource-driven fabrics on the market. Generally made from unrecycled, non-organic cotton, jeans take enormous amounts of water for production. It uses upwards of 1,800 gallons to produce a single pair of jeans. Cotton is also grown with pesticides and fertilizers giving jeans a low score for environmental impact. 

Due to being a timeless, fashion staple, sustainable jeans born from eco-friendly fabrics are in high-demand. Here at Stitch Fix, we have various eco-friendly clothing in all shapes and sizes. From finding tall denim to discovering curvy denim, we have you covered. Check out four of the eco-friendly denim brands that we offer.

Blank NYC

Blank NYC constructs select denim from eco-friendly fabric that is discarded during the manufacturing of jeans. Also known as pre-consumer waste, instead of sending scraps to a landfill, Blank NYC uses them to create sustainable options. The organic-cotton fabric that they use for their eco-friendly jean selections has half the negative impact as standard cotton fibers. Not half-bad, Blank NYC.

Kut From The Kloth

Using a process called e-flow technology, Kut From The Kloth creates a selection of jeans with a washed finish using air instead of water. It’s a cutting edge process that takes eco-friendly clothing to new levels. From sourcing and design to manufacturing and shipping, Kut From The Kloth aims to help preserve our Earth’s precious resources with their select line of eco-friendly denim. Whether they wear plus size clothing or straight sizes, our clients love the fit of their Kut From The Kloth jeans.

Liverpool

Jeans often use aniline in the manufacturing process which can cause skin irritation and harm to aquatic life. Liverpool reduces air and water pollution by integrating an indigo dying process that is aniline-free for their sustainable denim options. This brand joined the Paris Agreement with other eco-minded fashion companies to help reduce carbon emissions and fight global warming. 

Mavi 

Mavi believes in the power of great denim. They are taking steps toward a sustainable future with jean options that reuse resources during the manufacturing process. They use less water, less energy and opt for high-quality fabrics throughout the entire production of their eco-friendly selections. Their sustainable denim pieces are constructed to last, helping to create less textile waste in landfills. 

Eco-Friendly Workout Clothing Brands

Workout while you work on helping the planet by sporting eco-friendly workout clothing. Gone are the days of synthetic heavy activewear being your only fitness choice. The business of eco-friendly workout wear is booming. From sports bras made of recycled polyester to organic-cotton leggings, we have a number of workout pieces sourced responsibly. Want to take your sweaty-chic to new eco-friendly levels? Check out three activewear brands found at Stitch Fix that are giving Mother Nature a lift. 

Girlfriend Collective 

This ethical lounge and activewear company transforms plastic water bottles into environmentally-friendly compressive leggings and sports bras. They are as comfortable as they are functional. Girlfriend Collective also reuses unique materials like discarded fishing nets in their eco-friendly clothing designs for LITE Leggings creating standout sustainable styles. Support a greater cause while rocking performance pieces from Girlfriend Collective. 

The North Face

The North Facecommitted to creating the best products on earth while working to leave the earth better for future generations. A statement like this says it all, doesn’t it? This outdoor activewear company is striving to protect the spaces we explore through frequent recycling and responsibly sourcing fabrics. In fact, by 2025 they pledge to use 100% responsibly sourced and renewable fabrics in all apparel. By 2030, they also want every shoe and piece of equipment they produce to have a low environmental impact.  

Threads 4 Thought 

Threads 4 Thought has our planet on their minds when constructing clothing, including various lounge and activewear. When constructing their eco-friendly options, their factories use less than half of the water typically used per garment. In addition, 80% of the wastewater is recycled and reused. Last year they saved over 500 gallons of water. For many of their comfy tunic tops they use eco-friendly fabrics like Lenzing’s TENCEL Modal. Threads 4 Thought’s commitment to offsetting their carbon footprint is strong. They utilize recycled polyester made from recycled water bottles in various sports bras and leggings. Plus, their eco-friendly clothing pieces are oh, so soft that you will never want to take them off.

Affordable Eco-Friendly Clothing

There are many affordable eco-friendly clothing options that will help both the earth and your bank account. Perhaps the fastest to find are thrift store pieces. Not only are you recycling locally, but also preventing the waste of energy that occurs with the production of new clothes. With every thrifted purchase, you are delaying the textiles’ end life in a landfill and lightening your impact on the environment. 

Affordability looks different for everyone. We all have different budgets set aside for apparel purchases. When searching for new eco-friendly clothing, ask yourself: how long do I intend to keep this item in my weekly rotation? Get more bang out of your buck by investing in everyday items that have a low environmental impact. Workout daily? Live your life in denim? These closet essentials should be your focus. Curating a collection made with durable and high-quality fabrics leads to a wardrobe filled with longevity. It’s good for the planet and good for your wallet in the long run. Good news is that every brand we have highlighted in this article is within all price ranges for our Stitch Fix clients. Could this be you?

Looking for eco-friendly clothing to add to your closet? Increase your style while decreasing your impact on the environment. Take your style quiz and tell your stylist you want more sustainably made clothing options. We’ll help you track down eco-friendly essentials. Each Fix utilizes shipping materials made with 100% post-recycled products plus free shipping and returns.

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