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What Makes Clothing Brands Sustainable?


When you shop online or in stores, you want to purchase from brands that share your values. Many clothing brands have committed to sustainability or ethics, but how can you trust their word? Since there are no clear definitions of what it means to be sustainable, how do you know when a clothing brand is sustainable? 

Sustainability continues to evolve as consumers share their concerns with brands and ask them to become more sustainable. However, with few guidelines, brands can claim to be sustainable even when they’re still harming the environment. Historically, the fashion industry has been a large polluter, taking a toll on the environment through water pollution, chemical dying, microplastics from synthetic materials, packaging waste, poor working conditions, and CO2 emissions. As more people begin to invest in used clothing pieces or thrifting, companies are taking note of consumers who want to purchase from sustainable and ethical brands.  

What Makes Clothing Brands Sustainable?

So what makes a clothing brand sustainable? Unfortunately, it’s hard to spot greenwashing in the fashion industry because brands have no legal requirements to use the word “sustainable” on the packaging. Since there are no clear guidelines, it’s up to consumers to decide whether a clothing brand is sustainable. Here are a few things to consider:

Natural and/or Biodegradable Materials

The materials used in the fashion industry are not typically sustainable. For example, while cotton is a natural fiber, it requires massive amounts of water to produce and doesn’t grow as quickly as other materials like bamboo and hemp. Fabrics that are considered sustainable are organically grown and made from 100% natural materials that are biodegradable and recyclable. 

In addition, most people would prefer the materials to be vegan, so silk, leather, and wood are considered unethical and harmful to the environment and the animals that live in them. 

Packaging Waste

Ethical clothing brands consider their packaging. Most packaging consists of plastic, which is not a sustainable material. Therefore, if you buy a bamboo shirt and it arrives at your door in a plastic bag, you can assume the clothing brand isn’t sustainable. Instead, look for packaging like hemp or cardboard, which are more sustainable than plastic that will only end up in landfills. 

Dyeing Methods

No one is asking fashion brands to stop using dyes in their clothing. However, there are better ways to dye clothing that won’t harm the environment. The toxic chemicals traditionally used in the dying process can harm the oceans by releasing thousands of chemicals into the environment. In addition, the dyeing method takes billions of liters of water, which ends up as undrinkable waste. Instead, sustainable brands should rely on more natural dyeing processes or avoid them altogether to protect the ocean. 

Green Energy

All fast fashion brands have warehouses and factories where people work and ship products. However, these factories and warehouses need tons of electricity to function. Low resource consumption reduces water and electrical waste, so companies can only call themselves sustainable if they invest in greener energy solutions. Using green energy, such as wind power or solar energy, and recycling water can make brands more sustainable and ethical. 


To be a truly sustainable brand, clothing companies must care for the environment and people. Consider the working conditions that a company relies on. They should be fair and respectful, including providing workers with reasonable hours, fair wages, and bans on child labor. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get transparency into a company’s production, so you may have to do some research or reach out to the company directly to determine if they’re ethical and sustainable. 

Carbon Neutrality 

Sustainable brands will try to get as close to carbon neutrality as possible. Many buy carbon offsets to neutralize their emissions and support projects like reforestation. Of course, offsets should only complement an effective sustainability strategy and should not be used in place of sustainable practices. 


One of the best ways to determine whether or not a company is who they say they are is by seeing if it’s transparent. Most sustainable companies offer insight into their practices and the types of changes they’ve made to reduce their carbon footprints. These brand impact statements should be clear on the website and give consumers enough information about the different strategies they’re using to become more sustainable. 

What Does Sustainable Clothing Mean?

So what makes a clothing brand sustainable? Ultimately, it’s how a company contributes to climate change or the fight against climate change. Truly sustainable brands use environmentally friendly fabrics, cut down on energy wastage, and invest in opportunities to be more eco-friendly, such as choosing renewable energy resources when possible. Ultimately, the main goal of any sustainable brand is to reduce waste and recycle. These brands also do more than take care of the planet; they take care of the people, offering fair wages and respect. 

Unfortunately, many companies that claim to be sustainable aren’t and only use that term to sell more clothes. Therefore, since the term “sustainable” isn’t regulated, you must take action and do your own research to learn as much as you can about a brand before buying their clothes or buying other goods like backpacks or luggages. Consider their impact on the environment, the materials used in clothing, and how they treat their workers. Most of all, if you can’t find any of these messages on their website or anywhere online, they’re likely not sustainable. Most companies want you to know about their efforts, so if they’re not bragging about it online, they’re likely not doing what they claim. 

Final Thoughts

Since any fashion brand can claim to be sustainable, you must define what sustainability is to you. To some people, a sustainable brand simply uses sustainable materials. However, to others, sustainable brands continue to strategize ways to reduce their carbon footprint, investing in new ways of manufacturing that reduce waste while investing in the future technology that enables them to become more sustainable, such as solar power. 

Defining sustainability can help you determine whether or not to buy products from a clothing company. It can also tell you whether a company is sustainable or not. Remember, just because a company uses bamboo in one of its products doesn’t mean they commit to sustainability. Don’t trust what clothing brands put on their tags; do the research for yourself to determine if their sustainability practices align with your values. 

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