Sustainable Fashion: The Lowdown and Our Top Canadian Brands
Sustainability has become a buzzword these days. And rightly so, because consumers are not taking a closer look at how their consumption and spending habits impact the environment.
And fashion is no exception.
We’re now realizing that fast fashion comes at a cost.
No, it may not be from your pocket per se, but being able to shop for disposable choices has spelled terribly for the planet.
Not only is it a massive source of waste – North America dumps around 12 million tons of clothing in landfills every year – fast fashion has harbored negative societal practices, like modern slavery and even child labor.
How has it come to this?
Let’s face it: fast fashion is enticing and affordable! We all love seeing new styles every week.
Those polyester tanks and tees that are super cute and cheap? We’ll take ten pieces, please.
Unfortunately, these cheap trends will only be worn a few times, if even worn at all!
In the U.S. and China for example, clothes are worn only a quarter of the time compared to the average use of people in other countries.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable literally means, “something that can be maintained at a certain level.”
In the context of fashion, it’s defined as clothing, footwear and accessories that are manufactured while taking into account both socio-economic and environmental effects.
At the heart of sustainable fashion are these features: use of low impact materials, use of biodegradable dyes, and a manufacturing process that promotes sustainability and worker safety.
Did you know that our common textiles like polyester, acrylic and nylon are created using energy from fossil fuel?
We may not be aware of it, but the textiles industry relies mostly on non-renewable resources.
Fossil fuel is the main energy used for creating synthetic fibers. Cotton farming requires fertilizers and a billion cubic meters of water each year. And there are different chemicals for making dyes and other finishing processes.
Most synthetic fibers may bring us these affordable fast fashion options, but their production has a big ecological impact.
Natural materials like hemp, linen, cotton, silk, wool, leather, and plant fibers are kinder to our environment. These textiles can compost back to the earth, unlike synthetics that are not biodegradable.
But, take note that not all natural materials are made equal. Some are more sustainable than others. Hemp, linen, wool, organic cotton and organic bamboo are generally the most preferable options.
While cellulose fibers are plant-based, some processes involving their manufacturing may still be toxic and unsustainable.
Support only the ethical and sustainable brands by looking for third-party certifications. These standards ensure that their farming and manufacturing process is chemical-free. Aside from that, labor rights are also taken into account.
One solution for lessening the impact of textiles, especially synthetics, is to go zero waste and use what fabrics are already on-hand.
Garments can be made from repurposed (upcycled) materials, from deadstock (fabrics that were created but never sold or used), or recycled textiles.
Findings suggest that substituting polyester with a recycled equivalent reduces toxic chemicals by up to 90%, reduces energy use by about 60%, and emits 40% less C02.
Look for apparel made of recycled polyester, cotton, or nylon. These will not require the same footprint that newly produced materials will have. Plus, they won’t be discarded to the landfills just yet.
Environmentally Safe Dyes
Textiles are almost always dyed and treated with chemicals. In fact, dyeing and finishing require the highest energy demands – more so than sourcing raw materials and shipping. The traditional way requires a lot of heat and water.
So dyeing is a major aspect of sustainability we should be mindful of.
What’s the most sustainable option? Digitally printed fabrics. These require less water and use non-toxic substances. Check for the Bluesign or OEKO-TEX 100 certification to be sure.
Given that much of clothes production is energy-intensive and wasteful, easing on the impact every step of the way is important.
One way to do that is by cutting shipping demands. If production stays close to where it will be sold, there won’t be a need to transport the products far.
Some brands also optimize office and warehouse setups to be renewable. Solar panels for electricity, passive infrared sensors for lighting, etc. can cut carbon impact significantly.
Sustainable Fashion: Our Top Picks
There are a myriad of ways you can create your own sustainable wardrobe.
One is to thrift shop. We’ve talked about how much thrifting saves you.
But if it’s not your thing, you could always stay minimal about what pieces to introduce into your closet.
Here are our favorite brands for your sustainable fashion:
tentree is a Canadian sustainable lifestyle brand that’s also a certified B-corporation for their commitment to the environment.
From their name, the brand plants 10 trees for every item sold. So far, they’ve planted over 55 million trees, successfully reforesting over 5,000 hectares of land.
But the company doesn’t stop there.
They also use recycled and circular textiles, and implement processing that uses less resources. Their sweatshirt for example, uses 75% less water compared to other brands.
The brand sells casual styles for women, men and kids apparel.
Affordable, and commits to zero waste and sustainable actions – what’s not to love?
Our picks include their bestseller Hoodies made of terry cloth, recycled polyester, tree fleece, and organic cotton. Their Joggers are also pretty awesome.
Oh, this is a must-try if you want chic, ultra-feminine styles.
TAMGA Designs offers a wide range of beautiful dresses, skirts, and blouses made of eco-friendly materials like 100% Micro TENCEL® and LENZING™.
The founders were inspired to create the brand after the Rana Plaza tragedy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Plaza, which housed 5 garment factories, collapsed and killed over 1,000 workers.
The brand partners with Dhaka suppliers, building their sustainable chain with fair trade consistent with ILO principles.
Their sustainable practices include, using sustainable fabrics, recycling water and solvents, and using non-GMO seeds for organic cotton.
We adore their vibrant dresses, like the Layla Maxi that you can wear either with straps up or off-shoulder. The Mirage Midi Dress is perfect for a more minimalist sensibility. The brand has size range of XS to 2XL.
If classic is your look, there’s Franc. It’s a Canadian brand based in Toronto. They feature basics that are perfect for building a timeless wardrobe.
Their philosophy of producing premium basics – because, “Nobody wants cheap clothes that don’t last,” is important to combat fast fashion.
According to the report, “A New Textiles Economy”, making durability more attractive and driving higher usage of purchased clothes are important steps to curbing the textile industry impact.
The brand practices ethical and sustainable production. Their TENCEL textiles are all custom-made from Korea. They have a local factory in Toronto where the yarn is knitted into bulk, then transferred to the dyeing stage for processing and finishing.
Franc uses eco-friendly materials, avoids animal products, and ensures their workers are looked after.
If we had to choose, our fave pieces include: their V-Neck and Pocket Crew Tees, their Trouser Sweatpants (perfect for everywhere) and the Scoop-Neck Jumpsuit. They have sizes XS to 3XL.
Encircled is a certified B-corp brand that makes timeless capsule pieces. Their products bring style, comfort, quality and affordability – all while being ethical and sustainable.
About 50% of all their textiles are knitted and dyed here in Canada. In fact, the company’s sewing factories are just a twenty-minute drive (or an hour’s bike ride) from their main office. This helps in maintaining standards while reducing the carbon footprint usually required for supplies.
Their fabrics are biodegradable, pesticide-free, and derived from natural materials. TENCEL, hemp, organic cotton, Modal, and linen are their textiles of choice. And in true zero waste fashion, the scraps are upcycled into accessories, or donated.
Founder Kristi Soomer pledges that with Encircled, there won’t be any, “What was I thinking?” moments with purchases that you and the environment will regret.
Our picks? We swoon over the Chrysalis Cardi – a multi-way dress that comes in three length options. We also love their Comfy Button Up and Dressy Sweatpants, the go-to pairing for WFH setup. Their sizes range from XS to 2XL.
Fashion is essential. Clothes not only comfort and protect us; they express our personal style as well.
But fast fashion has harmed people and the environment in more ways than we can imagine. It’s time to go sustainable when you’re creating your wardrobe.
Just because you can buy bargains, doesn’t mean you should. Someone somewhere is paying the price for all these disposable clothes.
Aim for longevity instead – how many times can (and will) I wear this piece?
Based on our suggested brands here, there are sustainable options for whatever style or price point you’re looking for. You’ll look good while doing good.
What steps have you taken in making your fashion zero waste or more sustainable? Share your experiences, and other brands you like, in our comments.