The Fashion Industry Is a Huge Polluter. These 10 Brands Want to Change That

By: Jeremy Glass  | 

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Buying new clothes is something we all have to do, but the impact on the planet is huge and some major companies are stepping up to try and change that fact. Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

After Earth Day comes and goes each year, it can be easy to forget about the state of this fragile planet we live on. But there's a hard truth we need to accept since we all wear clothing and are part of the problem: The apparel industry is one of the most profound polluters on Earth. Each year, on average, 10 million tons (9 million metric tons) of textile waste crowds our overflowing landfills, which comes out to around 70 pounds (32 kilograms) of textiles per person. What most brands don't tell you is that a high percentage of this material (around 95 percent) can be reused or recycled.

While there's little we can do to shift the interests of clothing companies, taking your business elsewhere is a great way to start. So, if you want to look good while making eco-conscious decisions about clothing, here are 10 fashion brands who've committed to providing a greener future for all.

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1. Levi's Secondhand

It's just like that expression "one man's trash is another man's treasure." Except, in this case the trash is a diverse collection of secondhand denim moving from one person to another. Levi's Secondhand gives customers the chance to wear an acclaimed brand at an affordable price, breathing a second life into fabric that would otherwise have gone into a landfill. Each piece of used denim is professionally cleaned before reentering the marketplace at a reasonable price, quelling fears about bed bugs or denim demons.

Levi's foray into the thrifting world is all part of the brand's grand plan of achieving 100 percent sustainably sourced cotton and renewable energy by 2025, along with a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and water use by 2030.

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Levi's Secondhand, the brand's foray into the thrifting world, is all part of the brand's grand plan of achieving 100 percent sustainably sourced cotton and renewable resources by 2025.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 3.0)

2. Bombas

Before it was commonplace for brands to pursue a "buy a pair and we'll donate a pair" business model, there was Bombas. Socks, underwear and T-shirts are among the most requested pieces of clothing by homeless shelters, making Bombas' 40 million donated items a welcome change to an under-publicized problem. Founded on the philosophy of donating to those in need, Bombas works with 3,500 Giving Partners to help serve communities in all 50 states.

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Bombas has donated a total of over 40 million pairs of socks, underwear and T-shirts to homeless shelters in all 50 U.S. states.
Tony Webster/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

3. Patagonia Worn Wear

Patagonia is a famously eco-conscious brand that recently launched Worn Wear as a way to reintroduce gently used pieces of their inventory back into the field. Much like Levi's Secondhand shop, Patagonia Worn Wear pays customers for their Patagonia gear, extending the life of each garment by two years while reducing its carbon, waste and water footprint by 82 percent. So, how does it work? Easy. Either drop off your used gear at a Patagonia store near you or simply mail your clothes in. Patagonia will make it available for someone else to buy, an easy way to help reduce waste while making a buck for yourself.

4. Everlane

Everlane is one of the many fashion brands who've taken it upon themselves to pursue an environmentally responsible method of operation by committing to eliminate virgin plastic (i.e., unused plastic) from their supply chain by 2021. Along with this commitment, Everlane sources their own materials and collaborates with ethically operated factories around the world to give their clothing lasting power on top of quality.

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Michael Preysma, founder and CEO of Everlane, one of the first major companies in the sustainable fashion sphere, started his company in 2010.
Brian Ach/Getty Images

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5. Toad & Co

Did you know the apparel industry is one of the largest polluters of air and water on the planet? That's what we call an un-fun fact. A firm belief in the Circular Economy, Toad & Co's mission follows a system in which clothing is introduced back into the system in a cycle of use and reuse. Not only will Toad & Co send you a Closet Clean Out Kit to make spring cleaning a bit more bearable, but they also resell them on their site to give your used clothes a second life. If that's not enough, check out their many long-term partnerships to get a sense of their commitment to a better world.

6. Brother Vellies

Founded in 2013 with the goal of spreading African art across the world, Brother Vellies gets their hands dirty with sustainability. By sourcing materials like vegetable-tanned leather, recycled tires and floral-dyed feathers, this creator of luxury accessories circumvents the traditional commercial consumption cycle by offering debonair footwear at a fair price based on materials and labor.

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Aurora James founded Brother Vellies in 2013. The company has developed its first fully collapsible shoebox, which is on track to drastically reduce the brand’s carbon footprint.
Jacopo M. Raule/Getty Images

7. The North Face

Clothes the Loop is more than a delicious pun, it's The North Face's global program to make the earth clutter-free while spreading the wealth. They make it suspiciously easy: Collect your used apparel, bring it into a North Face shop or send it in online, and earn a $10 reward toward your next purchase of $100 or more. Along with Clothes the Loop, The North Face set an ambitious goal of using 100 percent responsibly sourced apparel fabrics by 2025, one of four profound commitments to "protect the places we explore" before there's nothing left to explore.

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The North Face has set a goal of using 100 percent responsibly sourced apparel fabrics by 2025.
CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/Getty Images

8. Pact

On a continuing mission of building "Earth's Favorite Clothing Company," Pact ensures all materials — including packaging — are Fair Trade Certified to protect the environment. Along with offering Give Back Boxes for customers to donate their old clothes to nonprofits, Pact provides Carbon Offset Shipping in which the carbon footprint of each order is calculated and matched by the company by way of funding clean energy (e.g., wind energy) initiatives.

9. Allbirds

We love Allbirds' brand of stylish minimalist footwear — but it's their commitment to sustainability that really separates this shoe brand from the pack. Allbirds' long list of sustainability commitments includes looking to Mother Nature for eco-friendly materials like merino wool and eucalyptus, pursuing regenerative agriculture, and working to offset all carbon emissions as a carbon neutral business. The fact that Allbird makes some of the most comfortable shoes on earth is just an added perk.

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Allbirds is an eco-friendly company that makes the "world's most comfortable shoes" using sustainably sourced materials.
Bloomberg/Getty Images

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10. Burton

Environmental impact is a big thing for Burton, fueling their mission of helping people "chase snow around the globe," as their website says, while doing everything in their power to save the world. It starts with a promise to adhere to the highest standards in human rights at their factories:

"We invest incredible amounts of resources to ensure that these factories are treating their employees and the surrounding environment responsibly," explains VP of Global Strategy and Insights Ali Kenney. "In many cases, factory jobs are one of the only ways for people to find work in these countries, and responsible companies like Burton can help drive social mobility and independence for vulnerable populations, such as women or people from poor rural communities."

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