After World War II, America slowly became a consumerist, disposable society. As innovation raced forward, we didn’t slow down to think about all this “stuff” we were sending to the landfill.
Today, with environmental problems and resource scarcity looming on the horizon, the call for products designed never to go to landfill is louder than ever. The answer to that call is cradle to cradle design.
Cradle to cradle design, also referred to as circularity, is designing products to stay in use, and stay out of the landfill. This means designing products in accordance with nature from the very beginning, so that they can be reused, composted, or recycled at the end of its life, greatly reducing the environmental impact.
Today, most products are not designed with circularity in mind. In fact, many products are intentionally designed to have shorter lifespans so that you will purchase them more often.
The fashion industry is no stranger to this issue. Look no further than fast fashion, which has dramatically increased both the manufacturing and the disposal of clothing over the last 20 years.
The fashion industry needs circularity. Circular fashion is defined as:
“clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intention to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.”– Dr. Anna Brismar
For the purposes of this article, circularity will be defined as the implementation of programs that reduce, reuse, and design clothes with the end of life in mind. This means brands that take back and repair or recycle their customers well-loved garments. It also means brands that are working to “close the loophole” of consumerism.
It’s worth noting that circularity in fashion, much like sustainability, is a noble goal that no brand is fully achieving. However, many brands have impressive circularity initiatives that are paving the way for us to get there.
Here are 13 ethical clothing brands that are leading the way and embracing different aspects of circularity:
Nudie Jeans offers free repairs for life. If that wasn’t enough, their Re-Use program takes in used Nudie jeans, repairs them, and resells them. They emphasize that all jeans purchased from Re-Use are one-of-a-kind.
If you’re a fan of faded jeans this is definitely the brand for you, but you have to act fast because each drop of Re-Use jeans tends to sell out. Each pair of jeans tells its own story through the unique faded tones and shades. Plus, if you decide that you’d like to turn in your old Nudie Jeans, you get 20% off your next purchase; winning for the environment and your wallet!
From the beginning, Patagonia has worked to limit their environmental impact by promoting buying only what you need. In addition to all their resources to promote a more sustainable lifestyle, they also work to reduce textile waste by using recycled materials and advocating to repair clothes rather than sending them to the landfill.
Patagonia’s Worn Wear program puts their money where their mouth is. Go to any of Worn Wear’s events to get your Patagonia gear repaired for free. You can also turn in your old Patagonia garments at any store location, or via mail, and get yourself some store credit in return.
Worn Wear then repairs those used garments and resells them online, giving you a chance to be sustainable and buy better than new. Worn Wear also shares in depth tips and instructions on how to repair your own garments right on their website.
You know that Outerknown stands for people and planet, but did you also know that Outerknown is so confident in the durability of their S.E.A. jeans that they include a lifetime warranty? This warranty allows you to send back your old jeans and get them repaired for free.
If your jeans are beyond repair, you can still send them back and they’ll provide you with a fresh new pair. After receiving your old jeans, Outerknown will send them to the Renewal Workshop where they will either get repaired for a chance at a second life, or they’ll be upcycled into something like housing insulation.
Taylor Stitch’s new Restitch program allows you to clean out your closet and give your old Taylor Stitch garments a second life, all while staying stylish. When Taylor Stitch was presented with the issue of textile waste, they immediately took action and came up with a solution.
Their solution involves taking back their customers well-loved Taylor Stitch garments in return for store credit. They then repair the used Taylor Stitch clothes and resell these better-than-new items for a discount you can be stoked on.
Nisolo is “committed to working under a circular fashion model—a system that reuses and recirculates products and materials.” For example, their shoe reclamation program helps close the loophole on shoes going to the landfill.
Through that program Nisolo has collected over 5,000 pairs of shoes with the help of their partner Soles4Souls. Their easy to follow reclamation program lets you responsibly get rid of your no longer needed shoes and receive store credit in return. Soles4Souls takes care of the rest by using the old shoes for donation, to support global entrepreneurs, or by disposing of them sustainably.
Using recycled cotton to make comfortable basics, Arvin Goods is working to achieve their goal of making the cleanest basics on the planet. Their slogan “from waste to want” shows just how great their ambitions are to close the loop and rely on recycled goods.
By recovering materials, returning them to their natural forms, and repeating the process, Arvin Goods is making revolutions in fashion basics.
Incorporating circularity through the use of upcycled materials, Topiku is reinventing the hat industry. The brim of their hats is made from recycled HDPE plastic and other plastics from landfills. But they don’t stop there.
They use scraps from various leather producing companies to make the straps for their hats, upcycled organic cotton for the batik, and the buttons on their hats are made from recycled aluminum cans. Making trash into trendy hats, Topiku is making big changes in the circularity of the fashion industry.
As a bonus, you can use discount code ECOSTYLIST10 for 10% off any Topiku hats. Also check out Eco-Stylist’s video review of Topiku.
With the goal of making clothing without sending any waste to the landfill, Zero Waste Daniel values all resources in the clothing making process. Zero Waste Daniel makes unique, avant-garde, one of a kind garments entirely from fabric scraps collected from clothing factories.
In promoting a zero waste method of production, materials are saved from the landfill and turned into comfortable and eye catching clothes you will love for years to come.
Noting that recycling is one of the highest forms of sustainability, prAna works to reduce their impact through their recycled wool. They explain that if they “can reuse the resources we have already taken, we remove the risk to animals, and reduce the need for new energy inputs.”
By reclaiming wool from used garments, prAna minimizes their impact not only on the planet, but on the sheep too. Setting out to reduce and reuse, prAna makes quality, low impact goods.
Mud Jeans works to reduce their impact by not only limiting water and CO2 emissions in the production of their jeans, but they have also saved over 12,000 pairs of jeans from recycling and incineration over the past 3+ years.
With the help of their Recovertex factory in Spain, Mud Jeans makes up to 40% of their fabrics from recycled post-consumer denim! Their ultimate goal is to make all Mud jeans from 100% recycled denim.
In addition to all of this, Mud Jeans offers free repairs in Belgium, Germany, & Netherlands, and offers true circularity with their jean leasing program. The leasing program allows you to rent jeans for a monthly fee, and when you’re done you can send them back or return them for another pair, and they’ll recycle your old ones. How cool is that?
Ecoalf works to close the loop by using recycled and upcycled materials. In 2015, they set out a goal to clean up the oceans around the world by collecting marine debris and turning what was once trash into fashionable items of clothing. Through this program, they have collected over 330 tons of marine waste to date.
Their work does not stop there. Ecoalf uses materials such as recycled nylon, recycled wool, recycled cotton, and even recycled tires to manufacture their products! Through all these programs, we can positively say that Ecoalf is an innovator in the circularity of the fashion industry.
Creating products that are built to withstand whatever is thrown at them, Finisterre works to save clothes from landfills and create new life for worn in products. They believe that “all gear needs maintenance once in a while to keep it at its best.”
Finisterre’s personal repair team makes is easy for you to give your used gear a second life. Just go on their website, follow the simple instructions on their repairs menu, and in no time your used gear will be good as new!
For Days is one of the few companies that has accomplished a complete closed loophole. On the surface, For Days looks just like your everyday, run-of-the-mill tee shirt company, but they are much more than that.
Here’s how it works. Your first organic cotton tee shirt purchase includes a lifetime membership. With this membership, you can send back your old tee shirt anytime and for just $8, they’ll send you a fresh new one. They then recycle the old shirts to create new ones, completing the circle.
For Day’s goal is to “help eliminate clothes you don’t wear any more from lurking in your closet or ending up in the landfill.” With this goal in mind, they make durable, quality goods that are meant to last.
While no brand has completely closed the “consumer loophole”, these 13 brands are moving us in the right direction. Through initiatives such as taking back well loved clothes and repairing them, brands are getting closer and closer to the goal of complete circularity.
At Eco-Stylist we’re looking forward to the day that the entire fashion industry has fully embraced circularity. Imagine a future where your sneakers are fully compostable, and leaving them in the woods to decompose actually feeds nutrients to the soil.
That day is coming.
What’s your favorite brand embracing circularity? Let us know in the comments.
Notes: 12 of the 13 brands in this article are Eco-Stylist Certified. For Days is not yet certified but they are in our research cue and we’ll update this article once completed. ZWD is certified and will be added to our directory shortly.
*Featured image from Ecoalf.
**Article updated 6/23/21
Asher is a writer at Eco-Stylist. In addition to sustainable fashion, environmental activism, and a zero waste lifestyle, Asher’s interests include cooking, nutrition, and learning about the human body and medicine. He’s pursuing a career in medicine while advocating for slow fashion and the environment.