13 best sustainable clothing brands for women that are ethical and stylish

Lizzie Rivera
·11 min read
Paying living wages and using less water are key issues
Paying living wages and using less water are key issues

If you’re staying home and entertaining yourself by shopping online during lockdown, then these brands are where you should start your search.

Their whole reason for being – aside from fashion, obviously – is to benefit people who make our clothes and to limit our impact on the planet’s resources.

It’s an interesting time for sustainable fashion. Research shows clothes are among the items most at risk of being produced through modern slavery in an industry where women make up a staggering 80 per cent of the global workforce – and they currently have less protection than ever.

There is lots of advice for shopping more ethically, from pledging only to buy an item if you can commit to wearing it at least 30 times (a commitment made by Emma Watson) to buying second-hand items.

Buying less and buying better is an important one.

The reality is, ethical fashion often does cost more. This reflects the true cost of using materials that are less damaging to the planet, made in factories that are safe to work in, have better eco-credentials and pay fairer wages to their employees.

But, as the brands featured here show, it doesn’t have to cost a huge amount more.

A good tip is to sign up to newsletters before you make your first purchase, which usually entitles you to at least 10 per cent off.

These brands will make you feel good about shopping.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

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Ninety Percent ribbed organic cotton one shoulder top

The one shoulder trend is going to be a key silhouette for a summer that will almost certainly be spent in Britain. And this ribbed organic cotton top fits the bill perfectly. Soft to the touch, it has added elastane for stretch and is great fit.

Ninety Percent is sold in Selfridges and Harvey Nicholls and has featured in Vogue. The brand is building more than a business, it’s building a legacy. Aside from making great clothes, its focus is on people and the planet: 90 per cent of profits are distributed between charitable causes and those who make the collections – hence the name. The brand says: “We are of the opinion that if we can do it better, and kinder, we will.”

Its factory in Bangladesh is way ahead of the game when it comes to eco-friendly credentials. As is the way the brand empowers its employees – helping them to save and upskill, offering free meals and paternity (one week), as well as maternity (16 weeks) leave; plus, there’s an onsite creche for those who don’t have access to childcare – to name but a few of their initiatives.

Buy now £40.00, Ninety Percent

People Tree margot trouser in pink

These are the perfect trousers for “going out out”. One of the pioneering ethical fashion brands, People Tree has stuck to its principles of fairly and sustainably made clothing for coming up to 30 years now.

For every item listed on its site, it details where the garment was made and the positive impact it has had. Behind the scenes, it is working on a living wage analysis with the World Fair Trade Organization, as there is no real defined living wage in most of the countries it works in. However, People Tree ensures it pays above the minimum wage.

The clothes have a timeless quality to them, but more trendy designs are definitely making their way into the collection. This means it might take a bit more time to find something that suits your style – but it’s always worth it when you do.

Buy now £109.00, People Tree

Vildnis skagen jumpsuit

Vildnis translates to “wildness” in Danish and this ethos runs through the London-based brand – from designs inspired by the beauty of the natural world to its commitment to sustainable manufacturing and the materials used throughout the collections.

The thing we love most about Vildnis is that it's out to make ethical fashion the norm by proving sustainable style can be wild, free, sexy and rebellious. Take this Scandi-inspired jumpsuit: a casual organic cotton fabric and apron style body that plunges into a deep V in the back. The jumpsuit is on the more expensive side of what the brand offers – but, pricing is fair and accessible when you save up.

Vildnis is great because it works to a triple bottom line – holding itself accountable to social and environmental goals as well as financial ones.

Buy now £135.00, Vildnis

Birdsong emerald green printed maxi dress

This emerald green maxi dress couldn’t be more fitting for this period of time; its design features plants used in spells to bring luck, happiness and protection. It is made from sustainable Tencel – a cellulose fibre made by dissolving wood pulp and using a special drying process – which feels buttery soft on your skin.

Birdsong began life as a feminist brand making slogan tees. While its style has matured to more thoughtful wardrobe staples – edgy silhouettes, bright colours and original prints – its ethos remains the same.

It works with expert makers who face barriers to employment in the UK – from artists and printmakers to seamstresses and painters – and pays them a London living wage to bring their creations to life.

Operating as a social enterprise, Birdsong’s packaging and postage is fulfilled by a charity supporting adults with learning disabilities who are paid the living wage, too

Buy now £179.00, Birdsong

ECOALF because leggings

“Because there’s no Planet B” is the strapline of this innovative brand that uses the latest technology to turn recycled materials – or materials that have a low environmental impact – into functional and contemporary garms.

These leggings are made from recycled plastic bottles. As part of the new yoga collection, they offer a tight fit with necessary stretch. Today ECOALF works with more than 3,000 fishermen on its “Upcycling the Oceans” project, turning more than 500 tonnes of marine debris into contemporary items. Plus, it even turns tyres into flip flops and estimates that its recycled cotton collection saved 39 million litres of water last season.

Buy now £95.00, ECOALF

Lora Gene yoama white cotton shirt

Lora Gene creates pieces of timeless elegance for those who appreciate attention to detail. This white cotton shirt embodies the ethos of intelligent tailoring; it feels sharp, crisp, and feminine to wear.

Lora, the brand’s founder and CEO, who is also a fashion disruptor in business and in attitude, says: “Women urgently need us to normalise the perception of what women should look like and reflect the real world without twisting size, shape or colour.”

Lorna Gene has its own manufacturing facility in Sofia, Bulgaria where it pays its tailors a living wage and Lora visits every three months. The yarns and woven fabrics used are organic (GOTS certified) or sourced from surplus stock.

Buy now £109.00, Lora Gene

Gung Ho protein top

Are you a vegan who's ever been asked: “Where do you get your protein from?” If yes, then this top is for you. With its colourful prints, Gung Ho’s aim is to inspire new minds to tackle current environmental issues, with style – this top, for example, features vegan sources of protein.

Founder Sophie Dunster’s most recent designs are a bold collection, which cleverly highlight the issues surrounding food. Prior to this, she illustrated the problem of ocean plastics.

With each launch, Gung Ho hosts events to raise awareness of the issues (like delicious supper clubs) and donates 10 per cent of profits to cause related charities. It goes without saying the brand uses materials that are sustainably sourced – even the buttons are from the only British button makers still in the UK and they are made out of Corozo nut – a natural and biodegradable material.

Buy now £75.00, Gung Ho

MUD Jeans relax rose whale blue jeans

These straight-talking, straight fit jeans are a perfect addition to your wardrobe. MUD’s philosophy is that without data or third-party verification, there is no proof of sustainability – so the brand holds an impressive amount of certifications and frequently visits its factories.

Last year, MUD completed its first full scale Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) together with Ecochain, an environmental data platform. This revealed that on average the brand saves 92 per cent water, 67 per cent CO2 and uses 47 per cent less land (to grow the cotton) for each pair of jeans. MUD also gives customers the option to rent a pair of jeans with its “lease a jeans” concept. A monthly subscription fee of €7.50 (£6.40) means you can order and wear any pair of jeans for 12 months, after which you can trade them in for a new pair.

Buy now £105.00, MUD Jeans

Lara Intimates Ava bra

This low-cut triangle bra is designed for all boobs – the sizes are cut differently to maximise functionality. The DD+ sizes, for example, feature a “powermesh sling” to lift and centre your boobs up.

Whatever your size, it says “wearing the Ava feels like being given a gentle supportive hug all day long”, and we couldn’t agree more. Wearing this bra flatters your shape and makes you feel like you’re standing just a little bit taller.

You can buy online, but Lara Intimates also hosts private bra fittings in its Hackney studio to a backdrop of humming sewing machines, where bras are even made bespoke to fit.

By creating all pieces inhouse, the team (paid living wage) is able to control and oversee all manufacturing processes. The materials used come from factories that have overstocked or overproduced fabric, which means this material doesn’t go to landfill.

Top tip: Pair with the matching thong or briefs (£20).

Buy now £48.00, Lara Intimates

Blonde Gone Rogue f*ck nudes women's tee

If this black tee speaks to you, then Blonde Gone Rogue’s full collection of dresses, jumpsuits and colourful short suits is worth checking out.

Blonde Gone Rogue is a brand created by two sisters in their hometown of Ruse, Bulgaria. Established in 2017, they saw a gap in the market for an ethical brand that matched their unique, urban-chic style.

In terms of eco-credentials, it mainly uses end-of-roll materials left over from larger productions – creating designs to fit the materials. Workers receive paid holidays, maternity leave and are part of the social security and healthcare programme in Bulgaria.

Buy now £38.00, Blonde Gone Rogue

Yala Jewellery ortum brass and horn cuff bracelet

This beautiful brass and cow horn bracelet is a solid and stylish addition to both your day and night outfits. It was made by Yala Jewellery’s brass artisan George and his team in their workshop just outside of Nairobi. Yala Jewellery offers beautiful African-inspired modern jewellery, while creating financial opportunities for artisans working in the informal sector in Kenya.

Another of its workshops is staffed by Maasai women who earn three times more than the average wage within the area for the work they do. All jewellery is made from recycled, re-used or reclaimed materials, but you’d never know by looking at it.

Yala Jewellery was the first jewellery brand to be certified a B corporation in the UK – the certification measures a company’s entire social and environmental purpose, meaning Yala Jewellery balances purpose and profit.

Buy now £50.00, Yala Jewellery

Clemmie Rose the Samita slip dress

If you have a figure that works for loose-fitting clothes, then as the name suggests, slip into it. If not, then there is opportunity to get creative with layering and accessories. This slip dress is feminine and is made from 100 per cent recycled polyester.

Clemmie Rose garments are made in a Fairtrade registered factory in South India that focuses on providing training schemes and employment for women. Its aim is to better the lives of women who have previously been in vulnerable situations or had a low chance of employment. Each garment is named after a woman working on the production line.

Buy now £50.00, Clemmie Rose

The Natural Edition the organic cotton crew T-shirt

This isn’t just any old T-shirt, this crew neck top comes with a slightly curved hem that’s perfect for tucking into jeans and is intended for a casual fit. If you prefer your tees to be more fitted, opt for a size lower than you would usually wear.

The Natural Edition was founded by Nicky Roughan, who has more than 15 years of experience designing luxury lingerie, so she knows more than a thing or two about shape, fit and flattering the female form.

Her dream is of a more pared-back lifestyle collection that has a positive impact on both people and the planet. As such, The Natural Edition only uses organic cotton that is GOTS certified, which is kinder to your skin and the planet. Its factory in Turkey is Fair Wear audited and the brand plant one tree for every garment you buy.

Buy now £30.00, The Natural Edition

The verdict: Women's sustainable clothing brands

Ninety Percent is our best buy for its inspiring mix of style, sustainability and ethics. Birdsong and Vildnis also deserve special recognition in all these areas.

Lizzie is the founder of sustainable lifestyle guide, livefrankly.co.uk