Have you ever wondered how your clothing choices impact the planet?
The fashion industry — a 12 billion dollar business in America alone — encourages shoppers to buy more, buy newer and buy better.
Trends come and go, convincing consumers their current wardrobes are outdated. “Fast fashion,” an industry model in which styles move quickly from the runway to retail stores, makes clothing more accessible, affordable and disposable than ever before.
As it turns out, these stylistic comings and goings cost way more than money. Between the production, transportation, and eventual disposal of clothing, the mainstream fashion industry has a detrimental impact on the environment in multiple ways.
For starters, garment production uses toxic chemicals that leach into soil, air and water, and consumes tremendous amounts of natural resources. For example:
• Textile dyeing is the second biggest source of pollution in clean water sources.
• The most-used fabric in the world, polyester sheds non-biodegradable microfibers in the washing machine that contribute to plastic buildup in oceans.
• One pair of jeans uses 3,781 liters of water during its lifecycle. This includes growing the cotton, manufacturing the garment, laundering throughout use and eventual disposal.
Then there’s the issue of more: purchasing more, disposing of more, and adding more to our landfills.
Fast fashion makes it cheaper and easier to buy a new garment than mend a tattered one; plus, most mass-produced clothing wears out faster than higher-quality, more expensive pieces. With trillions of dollars at stake worldwide, the vicious cycle of producing, buying and throwing away perpetuated by the fashion industry is scarring some of the world’s most precious natural resources.
But there's hope.
With a growing emphasis on environmental awareness, some companies are decreasing their impact on nature by using quality materials that are sustainable or recycled and improving production processes to reduce waste. Even better, many work with partners who treat supply-chain farmers, workers, and animals humanely.
If you appreciate businesses that make an effort to improve the environment, support these 10 ethical outdoor brands that put people and planet first.
1. Mountain Hardwear
Striving for sustainability through social responsibility, product creation, facilities and collaborators, Mountain Hardware devises new ways to manufacture products while supporting employees and the environment. In addition to apparel, the brand sells camping gear, including backpacks, sleeping bags and tents.
The company’s two flagship stores also stand for their core values. The LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings use green practices to mitigate environmental impact. According to their site, this includes using 40 percent less water in day-to-day operations, 10 percent recycled content in building materials, optimized appliance energy performance, low-emitting adhesives and so much more.
Nau’s vision was to create better clothing since its 2007 beginnings, providing the wearer with comfortable and versatile wardrobe staples that last for years. With the environment and the consumer in mind, the brand has sourced and produced fabrics that are sustainable, recycled, biodegradable and durable.
Some of Nau’s materials include organic cotton, linen and hemp, ethically-sourced alpaca and merino wool, and recycled down and polyester. They also work with cutting-edge fabrics like silky soft MicroModal® and Tencel® (sustainably sourced from trees), as well as Durable Water Repellent material free of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) — substances that don’t break down but do accumulate in and harm wildlife, people and the environment.
With an emphasis on “people, product and planet,” Marmot, established in 1974, provides outdoor gear that leaves a positive impact on workers, customers and nature. In the manufacturing process, the company employs methods that require fewer chemicals to benefit employees as well as customers and the environment.
Whenever possible, Marmot works with sustainable, recycled, humane and environmental-friendly materials while maintaining this mindset: “If we can achieve the same level or a better level of product performance using sustainable fabrics, we will use them.” This includes ethically-sourced down, organic cotton and recycled polyester, such as fleece made from plastic water bottles.
The Swedish-based company Fjällräven follows three major principles: functionality, durability and dependability. The brand was started in 1960 by an outdoorsy teen who designed a structured backpack unlike any others on the market.
Now, the company — which was named after the hearty, adaptable Arctic fox — sells all kinds of outdoor gear, from shirts and pants to outerwear that insulates or breathes in extreme and varying temperatures. With the population of the Arctic fox dwindling, Fjällräven made a renewed commitment to conservation and sustainability. This includes using partially-recycled waterproof materials and 100 percent traceable and ethically-sourced down in their famous parkas.
With an ultimate vision to become 100 percent sustainable, Prana seeks materials, people and processes that lessen their impact on the world. To achieve this, the company has developed multiple methods and partnerships to improve each part of production, from using fewer plastic bags to ensuring the traceability of responsibly-sourced materials.
Moreover, PrAna offers Fair Trade products. This certification guarantees that the farmers and manufacturing employees work under fair, safe conditions while earning livable wages and building their community’s economies.
With 14 million tons of textiles piling up in U.S. landfills each year, Toad&Co, which began by making handmade fleece hats in 1991, vows that their products won’t add to the heap. Emphasizing sustainability in their manufacturing practices, partnerships and materials, the company works to create timeless, long-lasting products that don’t need to be replaced year after year.
The majority of Toad&Co apparel is made from organic cotton, Lenzing Modal® and Tencel®, recycled fibers, and certified earth-friendly fabrics. They also offer specialty lines for nature lovers that repel bugs, block ultraviolet rays and are made exclusively with vegan fibers.
7. The North Face
The North Face began in California in 1968 to encourage people to seek adventure “from your backyard to the Himalayas.” Since then, the company has adopted practices to protect the outdoors they want their customers to explore. The Conservation Alliance cofounders have contributed over a million dollars to a grant fund, and they still work to lessen their impact on the environment.
Efforts include a headquarters that runs on renewable energy and conserves water, and policies that work to offset climate change and participation in the conservation movement. All this, plus the creation of recycled and responsibly manufactured products, contribute to the brand’s mission.
With a mission to provide “timeless quality, intuitive design and simplicity” to their products, Arc’teryx is a Vancouver-based brand started by climbers in 1989. The company continually looks to pioneer new products that can withstand the lifestyles of hardcore adventurers, even in harsh climates.
Every product is given a Life Cycle Assessment to pinpoint and mitigate stages in its lifespan that leave an environmental imprint. Arc’teryx’s commitment to sustainability begins with ethically-sourced materials and ends with quality, as each item is meant to last season after season. This is why the company emphasizes proper care and repair of their items, offering expert repair services at an affordable price or covered under warranty.
Animal lovers can feel good wearing Smartwool because no sheep are harmed in the making of these products! Founded in Colorado, the company explains that the process “all starts with a haircut.” Next, the sheared wool is cleaned, spun into yarn, and woven into socks, sweaters, shirts, athletic wear and more.
Smartwool works with partners who care for their sheep humanely, based on the philosophy that “the best wool comes from sheep who are happy and healthy.” Having forged long-standing relationships with the majority of their suppliers, the company promises that the flocks who produce these sustainable fibers have ample room to graze, food to eat, water to drink, live in appropriate climates, and are safe from predators.
10. United by Blue
In addition to reducing production waste, United by Blue promises to help eliminate the pollution that’s already there: for every product sold, they pledge to remove one pound of trash from oceans and waterways.
The Philadelphia-based brand is B-Corp certified, meaning they “meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.” In addition to using responsible materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester, United by Blue encourages customers and employees to join global clean-up efforts. One perk for workers? They’re offered paid time off to participate in community service.
Thanks to brands like these, consumers don’t have to choose between enjoying fashion and loving the environment. It all boils down to becoming a conscious consumer and shifting your mindset.
Choose investment pieces over mass-produced trends, opt for quality over quantity, and support companies that strive to make a positive difference in the world.