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The 9 Best Ethical And Sustainable Fashion, Footwear And Accessory Brands That Give Back

Image by: Imogen Forte for Birdsong

Discover Octer’s 2020 guide to the best ethical and sustainable brands so you can shop with a clear conscience.

As a fashion writer this may sound strange, but fashion is the last thing I’m thinking about right now. With Australia ravaged by forest fires, our oceans choked by plastic (it is estimated between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes), ice caps melting and world forests being cut at an alarming rate, considering what’s ‘In’ at the moment just seems incongruous, even though it’s my job. 

The concept of ‘sustainability’ is, after all, inherently antithetic to the fashion industry’s quick turnover; churning out trend after trend, season after season, often as a repeat. Second only to oil, it is the world’s most polluting industry and it’s only getting worse - according to recent reports, the textile industry emits more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to find the term ‘sustainable fashion’ - often previously an afterthought masquerading as corporate social awareness - a bitter pill to swallow. Thankfully though, things are starting to change. With the Internet and increasing global awareness, consumers are putting pressure on the industry to make major, lasting modifications. In the last year alone Burberry has promised to go carbon neutral, Stella McCartney launched the UN Sustainable Fashion Industry Charter for Climate, both H&M and Amazon published details about their supply chains for the very first time and eight major brands including Gucci and Burberry announced that they were going fur-free. 

Whilst the industry at large and the high street in particular has a long way to go before really making some change, there is a growing number of small, independent brands leading the charge. From jewellery moulded from war debris to hand embroidered t-shirts promoting protest, these are brands doing good so we can continue to shop and enjoy fashion more consciously.


1. Kings of Indigo

Kings of Indigo was founded in 2012 with a clear objective: to produce clothing in a socially and environmentally sustainable way without compromising on quality. They have maintained this promise - 95% of the materials they use are sustainable (they use 100% GOTS, BCIS or OCS certified organic cotton) recycled and reused offcuts, 40% of the energy used at their headquarters is solar-powered, they have introduced chemical-free laser and ozone wash techniques that reduce water consumption by half, they are a PETA approved vegan brand and are a member of the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), an initiative dedicated to improving labour standards in the clothing industry. That’s not all. While in 2019 Kings of Indigo introduced a denim capsule collection made with no new cotton, in 2020 they will introduce the first 100% biodegradable stretch denim and by 2025 the entire Kings of Indigo collection will be made of recycled and/or man-made fibres. It’s no wonder why they have since been ranked the number one most sustainable denim brand in Europe.

All this does not mean that Kings of Indigo cut down on style. In fact, they produce everything from utility style jumpsuits to denim pencil skirts, with plenty of classic skinny, straight, high-waisted and wide-legged jeans in between.

Shop Kings of Indigo here

2. Noa Vee

Noa Vee began life as a blog and content forum. Founder Beth Fuller was frustrated with the harmful standards women were being held to, especially relating to fashion and beauty. As it grew she found a lot of brands connected with her message and wanted to work together. Soon Noa Vee grew into an amalgamation of the two; a space for ‘shoppable content’ that promotes real, natural beauty, small-scale independent brands, sustainability and ethics and an alternative to fast-fashion consumption. The result is refreshing - a beautiful, carefully curated combination of products that aim to make you feel good as well as giving back and stories from women across the world. Brands featured include Nanette, LOWI, Hara The Label and Galamaar.

Discover the best of Noa Vee here

3. Ninety Percent

Launched in 2018, London-based brand Ninety Percent is based on total empowerment. They not only share 90% of their distributed profits between various charitable causes and those who help to make each collection a reality, they also invite customers to decide where this money goes to - via a unique code in each garment’s care label - and so inspires you to think harder about what goes into to making your garment, its impact on the environment and how you can help give back. It’s an act that highlights the power we have as shoppers and consumers.

Style wise, Ninety Percent do best with simple, luxury basics that elevate everyday dressing, from organic merino knits to organic cotton loungewear.

Click here to shop Ninety Percent

4. Catbird NYC

Finding sustainable and ethical jewellery - especially fine jewellery - is tricky, perhaps even trickier than clothing or accessories. Largely this is because the very nature of jewellery making relies on the sourcing and production of precious metals and gemstones, often mined from the world’s poorest countries. That’s where Catbird NYC comes in. Based in the city it is named after, Catbird ensures that all of its materials are sourced ethically. Their diamonds for example all adhere to the Kimberley Process, an international certification to prevent the circulation of conflict diamonds and promote legitimate trade routes. Many of their diamonds are also recycled from previous pieces. Catbird NYC is also a member of No Dirty Gold, an organisation working for sustainably sourced gold that has a minimal impact on the environment. Alongside this Catbird NYC also give back - they have their own foundation and donate 1% of all sales to non-profits. So far they have donated $567,659.90 to organisations such as Citizen’s Climate Lobby, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, amongst others.

Explore Catbird NYC's prettiest jewellery here

5. Birdsong

Inspired by the skill and talent found in women’s community groups, motivated by fashion’s ability to empower, and determined by a no-sweatshops, no-Photoshop, pro-fair wage policy, Sophie Slater and Sarah Neville founded Birdsong in 2014 as a social enterprise to create fair employment for disadvantaged women. Since then Birdsong now sell their gorgeous homemade clothing and jewellery in 18 countries and have raised approximately £150,000 for local charities, including their super cool embroidered protest t-shirts featuring slogans such as ‘Dress In Protest’, ‘Exercise Empathy’ and ‘Still European’. Going forward, they plan to work with more women, support more charities and continue to build on their sustainable efforts by using organic natural fibres and cutting down on waste (currently they only work on limited editions and pre-orders and turn waste fabric into scrunchies or bags).

Dress in protest with Birdsong here

6. Veja

Ever since trainers brand Veja started making a name for itself two years ago, they have made waves; CNN Business even went as far as to question whether they were ‘the most sustainable shoes in the world’. 

Their trainers are made from wild Amazonian rubber latex (for the soles, a practice that minimises deforestation for cattle), ecological cotton that is grown to enrich the soil rather than damage it with pesticide, GMO and fertiliser, recycled waterproof "bottle mesh" on the uppers, upcycled ‘fish leather’ and leather certified Gold by the Leather Working Group. With a robust code of conduct and yearly social audit, Veja ensures that factories meet their criteria and values - namely paying their workers a living wage, purchasing organic cotton directly from farmer associations in Brazil and Peru at a pre-set price, respecting fair trade principles and working with Ateliers Sans Frontières to rehabilitate ex-offenders and drug users.

Discover your new trainer obsession at Veja

7. Gather & See

Frustrated by how disconnected they were from the production process behind the clothes they were buying through fast fashion and concerned about the high street’s cheap prices relating to the world’s poverty, Alicia Taylor and Stephanie Hogg set up Gather & See, an online ethical fashion retailer. They began by dividing up their six top ‘philosophies, fair trade, eco-friendly, organic, small scale production, heritage and vegan: a system to help guide customers to how sustainable or ethical their brands are and so customers can shop by the values that matter most to them.

Click here to explore Gather & See

8. ARTICLE22

Jewellery brand ARTICLE22 is all about celebrating stories of positive transformation in its native Laos, namely by transforming weapons and war debris from the Laotian Civil War into wearable art. This ethos is perhaps best summed up by their name; they are named after Article 22 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which details the human right to dignity and development of personality, of which economic, social and cultural rights are indispensable. Each piece of jewellery purchased from ARTICLE22 helps to safely and expertly clear the war’s tragic legacy - 80 million unexploded bombs - by donating a proportion of profits to MAG (Mines Advisory Group). At the same time ARTICLE22 are supporting local artisans, donate a proportion of profit to support community development for workers and bringing business and trade into an incredibly poor country that largely focuses on agriculture.

Discover how ARTICLE22 craft their jewellery here

9. Allbirds

Allbirds’ trainers have made a name for themselves as some of the comfiest shoes out there. They’re also some of the most sustainable thanks to the company’s dedication to using eco-conscious materials. For one they work with ZQ Merino - the world’s leading ethical wool brand - to ensure that their high standards of farming, land management and animal welfare are being met; they also use castor bean oil, recycled water bottles and cardboard, sugar cane and a tree fibre (TENCEL™ Lyocell) that uses 95% less water and is grown to minimize fertilizer and water use.

For the ultimate in comfort, shop Allbirds here