A salute to fashion for a cause —clothing companies that give back and focus on being eco-conscious
Maxine Bédat, co-founder of Zady, an ethical-fashion website, is on a mission: She’d love for consumers to stop buying clothing just because it’s inexpensive and start supporting brands that aim to manufacture “clean” with less impact on the environment.
“We’ve been trained for so long to think, ‘It’s so cheap, I should have it,’” she says. “But there is way too much clothing being produced. That’s the biggest challenge we’re facing as an industry.”
In fact, it’s the rise of “fast fashion” within the apparel industry that’s directly responsible for the release of excessive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as well as damage to the environment overall. Cotton alone is notorious for its intensive use of water and pesticides, for example, and experts estimate that the average American household produces 82 pounds of textile waste every year.
We spoke with seven company leaders who are not only ethically minded and have created a manufacturing process with a smaller environmental footprint, but they have a give-back philosophy where philanthropy is just as important as what is trending on runways.
“Experts estimate that the average American household produces 82 pounds of textile waste every year.”
Gorgeous And Animal-Friendly, Too
Vaute Couture (haute couture with a V for vegan) founder Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart says she’s an activist first and foremost—as well as a fashion visionary. “I’ve been running campaigns for the animals since I was eight years old and later created recycling programs at my high school and food drives in college,” says the Brooklyn, NY-based designer who launched her company in 2008. “Business is an incredible way to create change, too.”
Organic Production The Vaute Couture collection is completely vegan, made from recyclable and recycled fibers, and it is produced locally.
“Vegan clothes aren’t just for vegans,” she says. “I’ve dedicated my life to creating fashion that takes animals out of the equation. I create innovative textiles and clothing and our collection is cut and sewn mostly in New York City. There’s no better impact we can make than to create positive change.”
Giving Back Matters The company designs two benefit tees a month to support and raise awareness for nonprofits focused on animal safety. “We do adoption events with animal rescues, awareness-raising events and campaigns raising awareness specifically on how animals suffer and are killed for fashion,” she says. “It’s a cause that’s very close to my heart.” vautecouture.com
Eco-Minded From the Start
There’s a mission in place at Patagonia, the high-end outdoor gear company, and it’s one that’s been taken very seriously since the company launched in 1973, says Tessa Byars, public relations manager at the Ventura, CA-based company.
Organic Production Patagonia is committed to constantly working to improve its entire supply chain to cause the least amount of environmental harm, Byars says. “From using recycled, organic and eco-friendly materials to utilizing smart and eco-friendly packaging that produces the most minimal amount of waste, to treating the people involved in the global production of our gear with fairness and integrity, we apply our mission to all aspects of our business.”
Giving Back Matters Patagonia contributes one percent of sales to support grassroots environmental organizations around the world. “We also started $20 Million & Change in 2013, an internal fund to help like-minded and responsible start-up companies bring about positive benefit to the environment,” says Byars.
This past year, Patagonia supported 741 environmental groups, donating $6.2 million to fund environmental work and, since its tithing program began in 1985, the company has donated $70 million. patagonia.com
Holding Fashion to the Strictest Standards
The most rigorous of sustainable design criteria are in place whenever a Nau collection is brought to market at this Portland, OR-based apparel brand.
Organic Production Launched in 2007, Nau-designed pieces use only natural, renewable or recycled fibers produced in a sustainable manner. The company also has a robust RSL (restricted substances list) to reduce the use of toxic chemicals that are often used in textile production.
“Our sustainable design criteria ensure that each product has the lowest environmental impact possible and that it will be a long-lasting, high-quality product,” says Mark Galbraith, Nau’s general manager.
Giving Back Matters For Galbraith, a critical part of sustainability is being a responsible member of both a local and global community. To that end, the company has a Partners for Change program, in which two percent of every product sold goes to one of six nonprofit partner organizations. “Our partners are doing important work to improve the environmental, social and economic conditions on our planet, both locally and globally,” Galbraith says. “Plus, every customer can actually choose which of our six partners she wants her two percent go to.” nau.com
Three Brothers With a Cause
Using organic cotton and indigo dyes, the three brothers who run the Culver City, CA-based Industry of All Nations, are intensely focused on eco-production and work directly with local craftspeople to bring their pieces to a global market.
“It’s just in our hearts,” says Juan Gerscovich, who co-founded the company in 2010. “When we started out, our goal was to bring clothing production back to where the raw materials are and work with local communities to produce garments sustainably.”
Organic Production The company, which launched with an original Argentine espadrille, is dedicated to promoting social, environmental and cultural awareness. Since then, through their Clean Clothes Project, they’ve built a dye house in the south of India where they get their organic cotton, cut-and-sew work and where they produce all-natural dyes.
Giving Back Matters Out of a long list of charitable partnerships, Gerscovich says a favorite is The Alpaca Project, through which they support a local co-op in Bolivia, where the women knitters are now able to work from home, alleviating long commutes, all the while keeping alive a cultural art form that has been passed down from mother to daughter. industryofallnations.com
“When we started out, our goal was to work with local communities to produce garments sustainably.”
The Benefits of Hemp
At Jungmaven, a Seattle-based T-shirt company, founder Robert Jungmann began advocating for the use of hemp in clothing in 1993 and, in 2010, launched Hemp T-Shirt by 2020 campaign, with the idea of getting everyone to wear hemp Ts by 2020.
Organic Production To create the collection’s made in the USA Ts, Jungmann uses natural dyes such as coffee, black tea, indigo, walnut, pomegranate, onion peel, red wine and creosote and hemp—which cleans oxygen and water, nourishes the land, uses little to no pesticides, and needs a fraction of the water that cotton takes to grow.
“It’s been wonderful to see that people are getting back to wanting special articles of clothing,” Jungmann says. “It’s not that more is better—it’s about quality instead. Our Ts are like jeans—over time they get better and better.” In addition, the clothing comes free of hangtags, and everything is shipped without packaging or plastics.
Giving Back Matters Since the early ‘90s, Jungmann has been a leader in the hemp movement and, to date, has sold or given away approximately 1.5 million hemp T-shirts, furthering the company’s mission to raise hemp awareness. “We try to put those light bulbs on,” he says. “We’re passionate about getting our Ts out there so that people start realizing that hemp is such a better fiber than cotton when it comes to clean fashion manufacturing.” jungmaven.com
A Couple Who Cares
At Threads 4 Thought, Eric and Leigh Fleet, who started the company in 2007 while they were in college, have always been committed to creating an apparel brand that was both sustainable and had a charitable giveback component.
Organic Production All of the cotton used to make the line’s leggings, tops and comfy hoodies is certified to GOTS standards. “My wife had the idea to launch the company and since I grew up in the apparel industry, we decided that we’d only launch a collection that was eco-friendly,” Eric says. “There’s enough clothing in the world.”
Giving Back Matters The couple selected the International Rescue Committee (IRC) because 92 cents out of every donated dollar goes directly to its beneficiaries. “My wife and I have always had a personal passion for displaced individuals and people who are in difficult situations,” Eric says. In the past year, Threads 4 Thought has donated over $200,000 to the IRC’s New Roots program, which helps newly resettled refugees in the U.S. grow fresh nourishing food for their families and to supplement their incomes as they begin to travel down the road to self-sufficiency here. threadsforthought.com
With a name that means “green love” in French and a motto that “with every tee, plant a tree,” Amour Vert’s founders (and husband-and-wife) Linda Balti and Christoph Frehsee are committed to eco-friendly fashion. “We were inspired to create the company when we learned that fashion is the second most polluting industry next to oil,” says Frehsee. “We challenged ourselves to create accessibly priced contemporary fashion that was also sustainable.”
Organic Production Amour Vert’s collection of dresses, T-shirts and skirts feature American manufacturing, non-toxic dyes, sustainable fibers, innovative fabrics and a zero-waste design philosophy.
Giving Back Matters The company partnered with American Forests and, by the end of 2015, will have planted 100,000 trees across the country. In fact, this past April, the company vowed to plant a tree for each person who Instagrammed their favorite photo of a tree in honor of Earth Day.
“We were first inspired to create the company when we learned the disturbing reality that fashion is the second most polluting industry next to oil.”
Kristen Bell, Jordana Brewster and others took to Instagram to encourage people to help the company plant trees. “Since we use fibers derived from tree pulp in our T-shirts, the Plant a T(r)ee program is our 360 degree approach to fashion and our way of giving back to the environment.” amourvert.com