Here’s the thing: The world is sick. Physically, and ok, spiritually, too. Temperatures are rising, ice caps are melting, and rivers are shrinking. In the United States alone, almost 100 policies put in place to slow the pace of climate change were removed under the Trump-Pence administration, though, according to this New York Times article, they can be reversed under the Biden-Harris administration.
While climate change and global warming discussions aren’t new, the rise of a more vocal environmentally focused generation is. One member of said generation is Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate. You may remember Nakate as the passionately eloquent teenager the Associated Press cropped out of a photo, leaving instead her four White activist peers. Since then, Nakate has used her platform to educate. One of the facts she shares often is that the Global South doesn’t emit nearly as much carbon dioxide as other countries, but will suffer the most. Which countries emit the most? According to a Union of Concerned Scientists report, China, with the U.S.A. coming in at number two.
While most of us recycle at home and at work, another easy way to help reduce our carbon footprint is by limiting fast fashion purchases when possible. Fast fashion brands produce merchandise in great quantities and quickly, usually with inferior materials, and priced fairly inexpensively. Besides the price point and the trends, there aren’t many advantages to these brands, but there are many to shopping sustainable. The quality is better, the impact on the environment is exponential, and the chances of you having an outfit twin are scarce. So when my friend asked me what brands he could shop for sustainable fashion, I happily took on the challenge.
Turns out, the number of clothing companies making an effort to be kinder to the environment and their employees wasn’t as scarce as I thought. With the inundation of search results, I had to turn to an expert to determine how we should choose which companies to shop. I spoke with Kimberly Acevedo of sustainable clothing brand State of Matter for tips. “First, consumers should consider the brand and collection overall: Is the whole line incorporating sustainable materials? Second, take a closer look at the fabric…and whether the brand has an afterlife program. Finally, look at brand transparency,” she says.
Part of that transparency, is not allowing a company simply partnering with a charity or environmental organization to fool you into thinking that it is practicing sustainable sourcing. As Storied Hats cofounders Zach Maurin and Cameron Blossom share, “Fashion is an area that has a huge multiplier effect. Committing to sustainability across our supply chain means healthier soil, cleaner water, safer workers, and safer products touching our skin. The process behind most mainstream textiles is extremely toxic.”
When ethics are centered in fashion, not only does that help the environment, but it also helps the people as wages are higher and the communities in which these resources lie are often paid for their skills. Founder of Ghanaian sustainable clothing house Talensi, explains. “Coming from a developing country and some of our main environmental issues being waste disposal and limited recycling plants, we deem it necessary to play a part however big or small in reducing the amount of waste we pour out. Our workforce family comprises 80% female, all under safe and sanitary conditions, paid fairly.”
As my own rule, I made it a priority to also choose brands that supported people of color through their marketing, leadership, and sourcing. Here’s a list if you are looking for a place to start.
Think gear suitable for Saturdays in Brooklyn when you think Alternative Apparel. That would mean well-made tees, sweatshirts, pants, and bags for the fashionably relaxed man. Recycled organic cotton and hemp are the main materials used to design the clothing, making the items soft and durable, allowing the colors and shape to last for more than a few washes. Believing when you do good, you feel good, the team behind the line promises to “replace all virgin polyester with 100% recycled polyester in future fabrics.”
When it comes to sustainability, it’s not just where materials are sourced but how they are actually made. That’s why State of Matter is a good choice for shopping and looking smart. Bold colors, charming patterns, and even full suits grace the brand’s website, making date night or a job interview fashionably conscious. As Tim Reid, head of merchandising and marketing explains, “Today’s fashion-conscious guys have an evolved worldview. They’re driven by style, and invested in their appearance, but aware that their choices have an impact. Yet, they can’t find sustainably-made apparel that is both comfortable and tailored for their modern taste. We’re here to lead and support this evolution by moving men forward with the sustainable future of fashion.”
If not new to this, but true to this was a sustainable fashion brand, it would be Ably. Brothers Raj and Akhil have been revolutionizing environmentally friendly fashion for four decades. They found that some fabrics were either too hard, or didn’t have the functionality of other fabrics. The pair developed Filium®, “a technology that makes natural fabrics repel liquids, stains, and odors without affecting how soft and breathable they are.” The result was a durable yet stylish brand that feels as good as it looks. From outerwear to boxers, Ably has a piece for every man.
Sekou Coulibaly and Binta Kaké, the designers and creators of SEKBI Bogolan had one idea in mind: “To create a luxury product that responds to the needs and requirements of a global customer.” Welcoming the concept of an awakened and responsible consumer, the pair decided to make sustainability and Bogolan prints the focal point of their luxurious label. Initially starting with women and unisex items, the men’s line will launch in early 2021, following the same look and feel of its predecessors. “Sustainability is no longer an exception. When opting for a more conscious way to shop, one has to have a clear idea of the brand positioning, its values and ethic. Knowing the source of materials used and production ways are also information the contemporary consumer wants to be aware of. SEKBI Bogolan will pursue its sustainable path as it grows, with the development of the men’s line and accessories in the course of 2021, we aim to establish the first global African lifestyle brand, inspired by mixed cultures,” say the creators. Looking for something to buy before the official menswear line is launched in February? Try this Ami Tee, retailing for $120.
After styling for Drake, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and more, Galerie.LA founder Dechel Mckillian decided it was time to bring sustainable styling to everyone. Enter the launch of Galerie.LA in 2015. The brand takes men’s basics and gives them an upgrade, adding stripes and plaids to your basic button downs, and durability to your blazers and pants. The men’s line ranges in price from $45 to $150.
Voted the best local brand in Pittsburgh in 2018, Knotzland takes everything you think about bow ties and throws it out of the window. Founder Nisha Blackwell takes these items, once seen as stuffy pieces most appreciated in black and navy, and combines texture, color, and sustainability to create style and elegance that stands out. Whether you’re going to a wedding, a casual day out, or a date, there is a selection that perfectly embodies your personality. The brand also trains others to sew in what they have named the Sewical Network. In this collective, people are trained to make bow ties while making between $25 and $50 per hour. A brand that keeps the money and jobs in the community is one we can stand behind. Plus, their website takes custom orders.
Maybe your budget is under $35, maybe it’s under $300, either way, beResonant has a sustainable option for you. Gone are the plain neutrals you may usually associate with environmentally friendly wear. Bold colors, jungle prints, and hair picks are common threads in this Black-owned online store of eco-friendly wares. “We feature brands that create clothes for a new world, and we enable them to make them in a very new way,” its website states.
8. Storied Hats
This one is for all of the hat lovers. Think southwest meets the ’90s and you have Storied Hats. With items currently made from 100% sustainable materials, creators Zach Maurin and Cameron Blossom are using their social impact backgrounds to figure out how to make the fashion industry more environmentally friendly beyond partnering with a charity. According to the two cofounders, “When it comes to social responsibility, many fashion companies focus on partnerships with nonprofits and donations with profits. That’s certainly great. But the biggest impact is in their supply chain: Using organic and recycled fibers, and only working with ethically certified factories. Less than 10% of fibers produced globally are made with recycled materials. Imagine what the fashion industry could do for the planet if we added a zero to that number.” The pair are also working on making a food crop waste line, transforming unused and wasted parts of crops into fabrics. Hello, pineapple leaf–sourced ball cap.
Probably one of the coolest accessory brands you will ever come across in any category, Enbois is equal parts fashion and passion. Each product sole equals one tree planted in the Caribbean. The reforestation effort totals a little over 11,000 trees. The handcrafted accessories range from wooden watches to sunglasses, and even a stylish and durable weekend bag for your nights out of the house. Added bonus: The brand is Black-owned.
10. Ocelot Market
Want a lot of different sustainable options to choose from? Then visit this online marketplace. All of the vetting of the brands, from sustainability, to ethical workplace environments are done before being placed in the marketplace. “We select artisans and brands to work with by asking about the brand’s purpose and values, ensuring there’s no child labor involved, and assuring that the brands are aligned with Ocelot Market on sustainable practices. We also ensure the products are made by workers paid a fair wage and are handmade,” says CEO Michaela Compagno. I also wanted to ensure that people from the diaspora were included in this marketplace. Compagno ensured me that they were. “About half of the products we sell are made by artisans in Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana, and Haiti. Each brand and artisans who we work with in these locations support work for 10-plus artisans in their communities. The number of artisans who work on these products is likely 100-plus,” Compagno says. Now, the bottom line: Are these products helping our environment? The answer is a resounding yes. Thus far, Ocelot Market has removed 7.32 tonnes of CO2e.
A company that has a pay-what-you-can-afford option is nearly unheard of in fashion, especially sustainable fashion, but Black-owned, U.K.-based online store Sancho’s has a collection that let’s you do just that. You choose from three prices to pay, and they let you know what each price covers from materials to labor to operating the business. The men’s line has everything you need from head to toe, literally, starting at $22. Don’t forget to convert from pounds to dollars!
12. Omi Woods
No outfit is complete without a little drip. Luckily, Omi Woods has several options when it comes to men’s jewelry in the sustainable line. From the basket of Moses and stars of David to Rastafari coins and Ghanaian crests, there is a design that connects the wearer to Africa and its diaspora. Ashley Alexis uses fair trade African gold and conflict-free silver to fashion one-of-a-kind chains, rings, and cuff links. With prices ranging from around $80 to $8,000, the brand is able to “support the well-being of miners and their communities by paying miners a fair wage and contributing to improved health care, education, safety and living conditions on the continent,” according to its website.
13. Wolf+ Maiden
This Cape Town–based brand is doing something unusual to ensure the production of its ethically sourced bags remains ethical, launching via kickstarter. Wade Ross Skinner, founder of leather atelier Wolf + Maiden, felt like launching the luxury weekender bag collection there meant ensuring “the entire production process is kept in-house, training and upskilling the artisans in the community.” Appropriately named The Renaissance Collection, the durable leather bags are meant to last for generations, and to give the owners memories to look back on as well. Each bag comes with a digital chip for storing information. Future generations are Skinner’s central focus. When asked why he chose to make a sustainable line, he replied, “It’s the only way to ensure our continued existence here.”
14. Cold Laundry
Rounding off our list is this gender-neutral, London-based brand. Think Yeezy meets Tom Ford when you consider their first offerings. The Black-owned label designs sweats, suits, and outerwear that are stylish, comfortable, and sustainable. The first drop, Escape the Noise, offers muted tones, layers, and a cute bag all under $300.