As far as sustainable industries go, fashion is not one of them. Up there with food production and fossil fuels, fashion is one of the most environmentally-damaging networks of supply and demand on this planet. Buying an organic cotton T-shirt is not going to change that.
However, there are brands out there that are trying to do things in a better way. Whether that’s through improved methods of sourcing materials, transparency in supply and manufacturing chains, garment repair and recycling, or just design efficiency. And they are doing all of this without sacrificing on style or quality. So the next time you’re looking to upgrade your wardrobe, consider the following.
A Sustainable Approach To Your Wardrobe
The planetary-scale problems that sustainable fashion is trying to chip away at will not be solved by a vegetable-tanned boot here and a recycled sea plastic trainer there. What we really need is for men to alter their buying habits. Strangely enough, the basics of sustainability perfectly chime with Ape’s own style ethos: buy well and try to buy once. Consider where a garment comes from, who makes it, where it’s made and its life cycle.
Fast fashion should be avoided when possible. Granted, not everyone can afford the best of the best, but you should aim for the highest quality within your price range and opt for something that you genuinely love, minimising the likelihood of garments being thrown away later on. Invest in timeless, high-quality staple pieces that will last. Most men would be surprised at how many poorly built leather shoes they can buy for the same price as a sturdy, long-lasting Goodyear-welted equivalent that can be resoled.
Once you’ve purchased wisely, treat those garments well and invest in their upkeep. Shoe trees, robust wooden hangers and storage bags, as well as weather-protect treatment sprays, will ensure they last longer and limit what is thrown out. Consider how you wash garments too. Always opt for a lower heat wherever possible and dry on the line rather than cranking up the heating or using a tumble dryer. Jeans don’t need to be washed as regularly; simply spot clean when necessary. And please, please don’t use packets of wet wipes to clean your shoes.
So, who are the brands that are leading the current sustainability movement? Here are five of our favourites, all of which take a long-term view of style, creating high-quality garments that are ethically produced and built to outlast the whims of fashion.
Oliver Spencer (featured image, top) is a great example of a brand that has sat down and actually thought about sustainability. It’s reflected in the transparency in their supply chains and manufacturing (limiting their carbon footprint but also taking into account worker’s rights) and other areas that are often neglected by huge corporations.
The brand’s increased use of organic cotton – which uses less water, pesticides and intensive farming processes (also better for growers and handlers) – as well as incorporating wool (long-lasting, European-sourced) and linen (relatively low-impact water consumption and pesticide use) into seasonal collections shows a well thought out and sustainable approach to materials.
The brand’s stores have switched to renewable energy providers, unnecessary packaging has been removed and in-store recycling is encouraged. They’ll even help with repairs if you ask. Food for thought not just for the customer, but for brands they share the high street with.
You’ve likely seen their white sneakers with the distinctive “V” but do you know their story? Veja are a footwear brand with a lot to talk about. Each component of a Veja sneaker has a story of social responsibility and sustainability behind it. The cotton is organic and made by farmer associations in Brazil and Peru, respecting fair trade principles and going directly to the producer to lock in a price.
The natural rubber that forms the sole of every one of the brand’s sneakers is tapped using traditional methods in the Amazon by Seringueiro communities. The brand are also transparent about their manufacturing process as well as their attempts to improve upcycling and logistics. One in four sneakers Veja make are 100% vegan too, with efforts to limit animals products throughout their collections.
Born as a company that made tools and clothing for climbers, Patagonia has since transformed into not just a leader in outdoor clothing but a force of nature in sustainable clothing practises, raising awareness of the climate crisis and environmental problems worldwide.
Patagonia’s core principles revolve around building the best product, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to protect nature and finding new and progressive approaches to do things. The brand promotes recycled materials, mending where possible, and a minimalist approach to consumption. Founder Yvon Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, is a must read for those interested in both business and the environment.
Christopher Raeburn has cemented himself at the top of the list of the responsible fashion movement with his intelligent design and sustainable practises. Recycled material features heavily in the British designer’s collections, most notably the reuse of military and parachute fabrics. His modern street style designs also set him apart from high-street cookie-cutter fare.
Made in England, Raeburn’s apparel has a distinct military feel, emphasised by his focus on fusing functionality and style. Raeburn often collaborates with other like-minded brands to produce unique, limited-edition pieces that are meant to be cherished, teaming up Finisterre, Timberland and Umbro in recent seasons.
It’s funny how many of the brands on the list are helmed by people that have experienced environmental impacts first-hand. Finisterre, founded in Cornwall in 2003 by a crew of innovative surfers, has seen the full impact of waste and warming on the world’s oceans. What began with fleece innovation to keep surfers warm has since transformed into a collection of solid, environmentally-aware workwear basics.
The brand’s repairs menu offers a simple and easily accessible way to approach mending clothes. From mending tears to darning holes in woollen knits, items can be rejuvenated for a fraction of price of buying new.