10 Most Sustainable Recycled Cotton Clothing Brands: The Conscious Consumer’s Guide

10 Most Sustainable Recycled Cotton Clothing Brands: The Conscious Consumer’s Guide

By
Quynh Nguyen

Read Time:30 Minutes

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Stay impactful,

Amid growing concerns about the textile industry’s environmental impact, there is pressure to find greener clothes for your wardrobe. Recycled cotton is becoming quite the preferred material as it bypasses the polluting and resource-intensive cotton cultivation. Unfortunately, fashion greenwashing makes it harder for you and all other consumers to determine which brands offer the most eco-friendly organic cotton clothes. So, we had to ask: Which are the most sustainable organic cotton clothing brands? 

The most sustainable organic cotton clothing brands are Patagonia, Reformation, and Eileen Fisher, which use low-impact materials, employ full traceability, and strive for circularity. In addition, MUD Jeans and Outerknown commit to lowering carbon footprints and adhering to fair trade practices. 

Whether you are searching for a versatile top, a pair of denim jeans, or a comfortable sweatshirt to add to your wardrobe without negatively impacting the soil, the water, the animals, and other people, there is a brand for you. So, let’s keep reading to learn more about the most sustainable organic cotton clothing brands and how they ensure sustainable, ethical practices. 

Here’s How Sustainable Recycled Cotton Fabrics Generally Are

Recycled cotton fabrics are among the most sustainable textile materials. Reclaiming cotton fibers from waste reduces pressure on land, water, and other resources needed to grow new cotton crops. This leads to recycled cotton being a low-impact fabric, especially compared to conventional cotton. The Common Objective’s Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres ranked recycled cotton class A—the most sustainable category of fibers. 

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To understand the sustainability of recycled cotton, we’ve assessed the life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Here’s a quick summary of our LCA of recycled cotton!

What makes recycled cotton so sustainable: Using cotton-based waste to make recycled cotton fabrics reduces pressure on land, water, and other resources needed to grow new cotton crops. 

Additionally: Diverting discarded cotton fabrics back into the economy slows down the demand for land needed for waste storage.

Related: Are you interested in the whole story about recycled cotton? Then check out our full article: “How Sustainable Are Recycled Cotton Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Assessment

Here’s How We Selected the Most Sustainable Recycled Cotton Clothing Brands

The brands on this list were chosen based on their commitment and actions to promote sustainable practices while reducing the environmental impacts of the textile industry. 

They are transparent about their materials, processes, and workforce management within their supply chain. 

Some brands focus their efforts on reducing waste and optimizing natural resources while others strive to reduce the carbon footprint of their clothes. 

All of these brands share the commitment to reshape the textile industry toward a more sustainable and Earth-friendly sector. 

These Are the 10 Most Sustainable Recycled Cotton Clothing Brands

Overall, these recycled cotton clothing brands are sustainable. Yet, they take various approaches to reduce environmental impacts and uphold ethical standards. Let’s dive into each brand and find out more. 

1

Patagonia: Everyday Wear for Those Who Care

Logo for Patagonia
Screenshot of the Patagonia front page

Together, we can prioritize purpose over profit and protect this wondrous planet, our only home.

Patagonia

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Patagonia puts sustainability at the center of their operation. They work to reduce, rather than simply offset, carbon emissions where it matters the most: in the supply chain and material manufacturing. They reduce their carbon footprint by removing high-impact virgin fossil-based fibers from their collections, using “Environmental Profit and Loss” to guide their production decision, and helping their suppliers to cut emissions. Patagonia’s fall 2023 collection is made up mostly of preferred materials (91% by fabric weight), including recycled cotton, hemp, man-made cellulose fibers, and Regenerative Organic Certified fibers. On top of that, Patagonia’s Worn Wear program encourages customers to repair and recycle their products, extending the textile lifecycle and reducing waste. Lastly, Patagonia is certified as a B Corporation and a Bluesign® brand. 

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Patagonia commits to fair trade practices. Through the partnership with Fair Trade USA, they currently produce 86% of their clothes in 20 Fair Trade Certified factories. Patagonia pays a premium for every item produced in such factories, accumulating in a fund for workers to use in their chosen community projects, whether in healthcare or parent support or to withdraw as a cash bonus. Additionally, they have various social responsibility programs to prevent harm and create positive impacts on the lives of apparel workers in their supply chain. These include the Fair Labor Association, the Living Wage Program, the Migrant Workers Program, and the Responsible Purchasing Practices. Patagonia is also fully transparent about the locations of their facilities and suppliers

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales annually to environmental causes. They have awarded over $89 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups, making a difference in their local communities. In 2022, the founder of Patagonia gave away his family’s ownership of the company to the newly created Patagonia Purpose Trust and the not-for-profit organization Holdfast Collective, ensuring that all future profits from the company are used to fight the climate and extinction crisis

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: kidswear, menswear, womenswear 
  • Product range: shirts, pants, jackets, blazers, hoodies, sweatshirts, T-shirts, shorts, plus-size
  • Price range: $$$ 
  • Size range: XXS–XXXL
2

Reformation: Clothes Made Smarter, Better, and for Good 

Logo for Reformation
Screenshot of the Reformation front page

We’re committed to pushing the industry forward and investing in future-focused solutions, which is why we’re a certified Climate Neutral company and will be Climate Positive by 2025.

Reformation 

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Reformation commits to better fabrics, trading all virgin materials for recycled, regenerative, or renewable ones by 2025. Their most-preferred fabrics include recycled cotton, regenerative cotton, TENCEL™ lyocell, TENCEL™x Refibra, and deadstock, accounting for 32% of all their clothes. They commit to becoming circular by 2030 by designing out waste at every stage of production, turning any occurring production waste into new products, and using renewable and regenerative practices for necessary virgin materials. Furthermore, their RefRecycling incentive enables customers to sell their preloved Reformation clothes for store credits. Such items will be broken down into fibers and turned into new products. Reformation also connects their suppliers with environmental solutions such as renewable energy, water-saving technologies, energy reduction solutions, chemical input optimization, and wastewater management. Last but not least, they openly share the carbon and water footprint of each product they make, fostering transparency and accountability in the fashion industry. Reformation is Bluesign® and Climate Neutral certified. 

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Reformation is fully transparent about where their clothes are made and the practices in such factories. Their Supplier Code of Conduct is based on International Labor Organization (ILO) standards. Their factory list shares many details about their factories, including whether a union and a collective bargaining agreement are present and the last audit. They have aligned with the Transparency Pledge and are participating in the Open Supply Hub to expand on the details that are made public so they can be more accountable for the working conditions in their partner factories. They give workers at their vendors a voice to bring up problems regarding their working conditions, level of happiness, working hours, and wages, and collaborate with vendors to ensure necessary improvements. Reformation is also a member of the Fair Labor Association, an initiative committed to promoting fair labor standards worldwide. 

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Reformation is not known to be part of any giving-back programs. 

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: womenswear
  • Product range: dresses, tops, bodysuits, denim, cardigans, sweaters, wedding dresses, shoes 
  • Price range: $$$
  • Size range: XS–XL
3

Eileen Fisher: A Sustainable Fashion Brand Focusing on Eco-Friendly Materials and Textile Circularity 

Logo for Eileen Fisher
Screenshot of the Eileen front page

The Biggest Thing We Can Do Is Reduce

Eileen Fisher, founder of Eileen Fisher 

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Eileen Fisher’s sustainability efforts focus on using eco-friendly materials, including recycled cotton, organic cotton, linen, and hemp, reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated from their operations and supply chain, reducing fabric and corporate waste, and recycling the brand’s used clothes back into new products. Their commitments to sustainable materials, circular systems, and environmentally friendly practices are demonstrated in initiatives like VISION 2020, Horizon 2030, and Renew. They are also certified as a B Corporation and a Bluesign® brand. 

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Eileen Fisher is committed to ethical practices. They have worker empowerment initiatives such as collective bargaining and the right to make a complaint. For example, their “Our Love, Peru” project supports over 450 families in and around Arequipa with higher fair trade wages and investments in the local community. Additionally, Their VISION 2020, set in 2015, tackled unethical labor practices

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Eileen Fisher supports many women-owned businesses. The brand has provided, since its inception, many grants for women, including the current program Supporting Women in Environmental Justice

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: elegant, classic, and casual women’s clothes 
  • Product range: dresses, blouses, sweaters, cardigans, pants, skirts and outerwear, shoes, accessories
  • Price range: $$$ 
  • Size range: XXS–3XL
4

MUD Jeans: Quality Jeans Made Ethically With Organic and Recycled Cotton

Logo for MUD Jeans
Screenshot of the Mud jeans front page

With our circular philosophy, we want to design our products in a way that they can be reused, recycled and upcycled easily.

MUD Jeans

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

MUD Jeans prioritizes sustainability by committing circular principles in every step of the life cycle of their products, including design, materials, production techniques, and end-of-life. They recycle fabrics and water across the supply chain. Their factory’s laundry recycles 95% of their water through reverse osmosis. Most of their jeans are made from a mix of low-impact certified organic cotton, up to 40% post-consumer recycled cotton (recovered from jeans they take back), and a maximum of 2% recycled elastane. MUD Jeans also replaced PP spray with Cradle2Cradle indigo dye to make their product toxin-free. They are transparent about the environmental impacts of their clothes by sharing their annual life cycle analysis, which includes the methods they used to lower their water and carbon footprint. Furthermore, their “Lease a Jeans” program encourages consumers to own less and recycle more. 

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

MUD Jeans is fully transparent about their manufacturing processes, maintaining fair conditions for workers. They consciously maintain a small supply chain of three recyclers, three fabric producers, and one jeans manufacturer, enabling clear oversight over who makes their jeans, how, and under what conditions. They uphold all their main supply chain partners to their Code of Conduct, which covers the ILO’s Four Fundamental Freedoms principles.

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

MUD Jeans partners with Justdiggit to regenerate trees and revive deforested areas. For every pair of jeans sent back to them, they donate to Justdiggit to restore one tree. The non-profit organization uses a special pruning technique to regenerate forgotten tree stumps in previously deforested areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, bringing back trees, increasing carbon sequestration, cooling down the site, increasing water retention, and promoting biodiversity.

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

  • Best for: womenswear, menswear
  • Product range: jeans, jackets, shirts, shorts, skirts, accessories
  • Price range: $$
  • Size range: XS–XL
5

Outerknown: Stylish Clothes Made Sustainably and Ethically 

Logo for Outerknown
Screenshot of the Outerknown - front page

We are driven by a passion for responsible action, courageous change, and great clothes.

Outerknown

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Outerknown places sustainability at its core by using eco-friendly materials such as hemp, organic cotton, recycled cotton, and responsible wool in their clothing, reducing the environmental impact. In 2022, these preferred fibers accounted for 95% of their collection. The brand’s Outerworn platform offers customers a chance to buy and sell pre-loved pieces, contributing to closing the loop in fashion. They also partner with Project Vermont to give new purpose to materials that would otherwise end up in landfills. Additionally, Outerknown strives to reduce their footprint by working with two B Corp Certified suppliers and having eight facilities running on renewable energy

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Outerknown maintains ethics by promoting the highest labor standards in alignment with the Fair Labor Association. They publicly share their Code of Conduct, which covers all of the ILO Four Fundamental Freedoms principles. Outerknown provides Fairtrade Premium, which has improved workers’ livelihoods in their supply chain via workers’ chosen programs in healthcare, education, accommodation, and financial independence. 

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Outerknown gives back to non-profits that align with their values and help make a larger impact. They work with organizations like Brother Benno, The Ocean Cleanup, Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider Maui Chapter, Surfrider Foundation, and Everytown

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: menswear, womenswear
  • Product range: shirts, pants, T-shirts, tops, sweaters, dresses, hoodies, shorts, denim, jackets, blazers, jumpsuits, playsuits, swimwear
  • Price range: $$$ 
  • Size range: XS–XL
6

Ecoalf: Committing to Recycling Waste and Cleaning the Environment 

Logo for Ecoalf
Screenshot of the Ecoalf front page

I believe the time when fashion was just about looking good is over. More than ever it has to be about doing what is right and feeling good about it.”

Javier Goyeneche, founder of Ecoalf 

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Ecoalf’s commitment to sustainability is evident in its innovative recycling practices. They minimize the use of natural resources by using mainly waste as raw materials, collecting and transforming discarded materials such as plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets, and post-industrial cotton into high-quality fashion items. In 2023, they launched their first 100% recycled cotton collection that can be recycled again to achieve circularity. In 2021, 74% of the materials used by Ecoalf were recovered from waste, saving 1,377 tons of CO₂. In combination with recycled fabrics, including mechanically recycled cotton, recycled wool, recycled polyester, and recycled nylon, Ecoalf uses a small percentage of low-impact natural fabrics, such as linen and kapok. Ecoalf is also Bluesign® and B Corporation certified

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Ecoalf ensures their ethics by protecting their workers and the environment. In particular, they ensure there are safe and fair working conditions in their supply chain by mandating a Code of Conduct, an Equality Scheme, a Crime Prevention Handbook, a Disciplinary System, and a Bullying at Work Protocol. Additionally, they run many campaigns to raise awareness of the state of our ocean and earth-damaging consumerism habits. 

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Ecoalf actively participates in giving-back programs. The Ecoalf Foundation was founded to clean the oceans of marine waste with the help of the fishing industry while giving a second life to plastic waste through recycling and closing the loop. They achieve that with the “Upcycling the Oceans” projects. In 2021, Ecoalf donated 10% of all Because There’s No Planet B sales to the Ecoalf Foundation to expand the “Upcycling the Oceans” project beyond the Spanish border and into countries like Thailand, Greece, and France. The foundation also partners with Biotherm to set up the framework of “Limpia ríos, salva océanos”, a project supported by corporate volunteer days to collect waste and restore the environment. Additionally, Ecoalf’s employees volunteer in various environmental incentives

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: womenswear, menswear, kidswear
  • Product range: shirts, pants, jackets, blazers, hoodies, sweatshirts, tops, blouses, knitwear, T-shirts, sneakers, accessories
  • Price range: $$
  • Size range: XS–XL
7

Rapanui: Made-to-Order Clothes Using Highly Sustainable Materials 

Logo for Rapanui
SCreenshot of the Rapanui front page

Our commitment to a cleaner way of living and doing business has made us stronger and, like any good relationship, we take every day as it comes.

Rapanui

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Rapanui promotes sustainability by sourcing organic and recycled materials, operating on renewable energy, and removing plastic from packaging. Their products are designed for the circular economy, where they can be returned and remade. They recover organic material from worn-out Rapanui products sent back to them and blend them with organic cotton to make new yarn. They print their clothes in real-time, making what people need when they need it while reducing both the waste and the cost. Their packaging is plant-based instead of plastic. Furthermore, about 95% of the water used to dye Rapanui products is recovered, cleaned, and recirculated. Furthermore, their supply chain uses renewable energy (solar and wind).

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Rapanui traces most of its supply chain

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Rapanue shares access to the supply chain and the technology they have developed on Teemill. This open-source circular fashion platform empowers other entrepreneurs to start their own sustainable clothing brands. 

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: menswear, womenswear
  • Product range: T-shirts, jumpsuits, playsuits, pants, shorts, hoodies, sweatshirts, socks, underwear
  • Price range: $
  • Size range: S–L
8

Organic Basics: A Carbon Neutral Brand Creating Underwear, Activewear, and Everyday Essentials

Logo for Organic Basics
Screenshot of the Organic Basics front page

We make our basics to be both Earth- and people-friendly — carefully choosing materials and fabrics that care for our environment, only partnering with factories that consider their impact too, and designing all the basics for all bodies.

Organic Basics

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Organic Basics promotes sustainability by choosing fabrics based on their environmental footprint and lifetime durability. Their clothes are made exclusively with natural fabrics (organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard), low-impact textiles (TENCEL™ lyocell certified by the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®), or recycled materials (recycled nylon certified by the Global Recycling Standard). They use a small percentage of elastane in some garments to extend the products’ longevity, which ultimately extends the lifespan. Organic Basics is fully transparent about the impact of their products, enabling consumers to understand their share in using the clothes. Organic Basics partners with Made2Flow, which calculates their emissions, and One Carbon World, which helps them reduce and offset all their emissions. Finally, they are also a B Corporation

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Organic Basics works only with trusted, certified factory partners, who ensure that their workplace is free of child labor and forced labor and that their workers enjoy a safe working space, earn a living wage, and benefit from employee perks like free lunches and childcare. They show full transparency of the location and practices in their factories. Organic Basics also audits or visits most of their suppliers

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Organic Basics donates 1% of the value of all orders to sustainable projects. Their partnership with Beam Impact enables consumers to choose where their 1% donation will go, at no extra cost to the consumers, to support local charities that help Nature Conservation, Ocean Conservation, Rewilding, or Sustainability & Gender Equity.

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: womenswear, menswear
  • Product range: underwear, bras, bottoms, T-shirts, tops, sweatshirts, hoodies, knitwear dresses, swimwear, socks, plus-size
  • Price range: $$$
  • Size range: XXS–XXL
9

Arvin Goods: Sustainable Apparel Accessories With a Commitment to Transparency

Logo for Arvin Goods
Screenshot of the Arvin Goods front page

We foster and lead impact reduction by making low-impact basics that never compromise on performance, comfort, quality — or ethics.”

Arvin Goods

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Arvin Goods ensures sustainability by focusing on recycling and upcycling materials to close the textile loop. They use recycled cotton, which they recover from textile scraps, to make comfortable and fitting socks. Other recycled fabrics used in Arvin Goods’ products are hemp biofiber (recycled hemp), recycled wool, recycled polyester, and recycled nylon. They are also certified by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS). Their “Take Back Bag” is a convenient solution for recycling and giving new purpose to used clothes. Additionally, their products are dyed according to the Plant Dye Standard, which increases energy efficiency. Arvin Goods produces some of their products in a factory that runs on 50% solar power. Finally, Arvin Goods uses responsible packaging, including a recycled and recyclable card wrap for socks and durable, recycled paper outer packaging from EcoEnclose Eco-X Mailers.

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Arvin Goods is transparent about their manufacturing locations and practices. They source their recycled cotton base yarn from a facility in Spain and manufacture the end products in one factory in Portugal and another in Canada. These locations have relatively high standards for labor safety. Arvin Goods is also GOTS and GRS certified, both of which ensure traceability in the supply chain. 

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Arvin Goods is not known to be part of any giving-back programs.

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: womenswear, menswear
  • Product range: socks, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, accessories
  • Price range: $$
  • Size range: S–XXL
10

Kings of Indigo: Clean Jeans – Quality Wear for the Next Era

Logo for Kings of Indigo
Screenshot of the Kings of Indigo front page

Our commitment to the cause has a 360 approach – we leave no stone unturned.

Kings of Indigo

🌎

How do they ensure their sustainability?

Kings of Indigo prioritizes the use of planet-friendly materials, including recycled fabrics, organic cotton, hemp, linen, and TENCELTM. Additionally, they focus on repairing, recycling, reusing, and upcycling to reduce waste. 20% of their apparel is made out of 100% GRS-certified recycled materials. Kings of Indigo strives to reduce water usage during manufacturing and in consumers’ homes. 60% of their jeans collection has a low water impact, according to Jeanologia’s Environmental Impact Measuring (EIM). They also offer garments treated with Polygiene® and LABFRESH. The treatments help clothes stay fresh longer and act as a repellent against stains and odor, reducing the need for frequent washing and drying in consumers’ homes. Additionally, Kings of Indigo aims to have clean transport, delivering their clothes exclusively by boats and trucks. Most importantly, Kings of Indigo offers consumers complete transparency about the journey of their products, from cotton to consumer. They use Retraced technology, which maps out their full supply chain, ruling out any and all greenwashing.

🌐

How do they ensure their ethics?

Kings of Indigo ensures their ethical and responsible production by building long-term relationships with carefully selected and valued suppliers. They also uphold their suppliers to their Code of Conduct, which covers the ILO’s Four Fundamental Freedoms principles. All direct suppliers have a valid social audit in place, including Amfori BSCI, SEDEX SMETA, or Fair Wear Foundation.

🤝

Are they part of any giving-back programs?

Kings of Indigo is not known to be part of any giving-back programs.

🛍️

What is their product range?

  • Best for: menswear, womenswear, 
  • Product range: shirts, denim, dresses, pants, jackets, blazers, T-shirts, shorts
  • Price range: $$
  • Size range: XS–XXL

Recycled Cotton Fabrics: Breathable Natural Textiles Re-Circulating Waste 

Recycled cotton fabrics are cotton materials without the many adverse environmental impacts of using a lot of water, land, and energy to grow the thirsty, agrochemical-dependent cotton crop. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of recycled cotton fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of recycled cotton fabrics: Utilizing cotton waste for recycled cotton fabrics reduces waste and lessens the pressure on natural resources (water and land) needed to grow new cotton crops. Sourcing discarded cotton materials is even more sustainable if the original cotton fibers were organically grown and processed (i.e., no toxic synthetic chemicals). 
  • Manufacturing of recycled cotton fabrics: Manufacturing recycled cotton fabrics with discarded cotton fibers has relatively low energy consumption compared to processing virgin cotton fibers. The mechanical process of breaking down cotton waste to retrieve the fibers often shortens the fiber length and, thus, can’t be repeated indefinitely (to allow recycled cotton to be truly circular).
  • Transportation of recycled cotton fabrics: Recycled cotton fabrics typically travel from various locations to collection hubs, processing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles could be significant. 
  • Usage of recycled cotton fabrics: Cotton fabrics, including the recycled variety, are breathable. They don’t need to be washed too frequently, saving water and energy. Mechanically recycled cotton fibers are typically not as strong as virgin cotton fibers due to the shorter lengths of the former. 
  • End-of-life of recycled cotton fabrics: The end-of-life stage for recycled cotton is sustainable because the fiber is biodegradable and compostable. Blending recycled cotton fibers with synthetic fibers increases the strength and durability of recycled wood fabrics but reduces their recyclability and degradability. 

Recycled cotton fabrics are among the most sustainable textile materials largely because recycling cotton waste reduces pressure on land, water, and other resources needed to grow new cotton plants and store discarded cotton materials. It leads to recycled cotton being a low-impact fabric compared to conventional cotton.

Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics

It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 

The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions—more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber)—a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Demand for Natural Resources and Waste Management

The textile industry uses water and land to grow recycled cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton T-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).

Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfills (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

  • Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
  • In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are newly extracted. 

When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time—under a year in the case of half of all fast fashion clothes—the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown. 

Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:

  • Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often. 
  • Thus, you help reduce the pressure to extract more resources for making new items. 

Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Sustainable Management of Forests

Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards

When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effects of climate change. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals 

The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like wool or silk. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.

Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives. 

Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, wool or silk; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry. 

Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers 

Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child laborers worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours. 

When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.

How Can You Generally Buy More Sustainable Fabrics

The key to sustainably buying fabrics is to check on relevant environmental and original certifications. 

For natural fabrics

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): A globally recognized certification system that ensures a certain threshold of organic content has been met. It covers manufacturing, packaging, labeling, transportation, and distribution (but not what happens in the fields where crops are grown). 
  • USDA Certified Biobased Product: The USDA BioPreferred® Certification is a voluntary certification offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. The certification identifies products made from plants or other renewable materials.
  • Ecolabel: Ecolabel is the official European Union voluntary label recognized worldwide for certified products with a guaranteed, independently verified low environmental impact. The label requires high environmental standards throughout the entire life-cycle: from raw material extraction through production and distribution to disposal. It also encourages companies to develop innovative, durable, easy-to-repair, and recyclable products. 

For plant-based semi-natural/semi-synthetic fabrics:

  • Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification: PEFC’s approaches to sustainable forest management are in line with protecting the forests globally and locally and making the certificate work for everyone. Getting a PEFC certification is strict enough to ensure the sustainable management of a forest is socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable but attainable not only by big but small forest owners.

For recycled fabrics:

  • Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled input and chain of custody. 
  • The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material.

For all types of fabrics:

  • STeP by OEKO-TEX®: STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. It communicates organizational environmental measures, including reducing carbon footprint and water usage.
  • OEKO-TEX® Standard 100: OEKO-TEX® labels aim to ensure that products pose no risk to human health (i.e., containing banned chemicals). 

Some certifications that are signaling brands’ efforts toward lowered environmental impacts and a circular economy are: 

  • B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts. 
  • Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

Final Thoughts

Recycled cotton fabrics are generally sustainable materials. They are made in a mechanical process with reduced environmental impacts. Also, recycling cotton is a good way to reduce the volume of textile manufacturing and consumption waste. 

By purchasing new or pre-loved recycled cotton clothes from brands that commit to sustainability, you support their mission to create a fairer and less harmful textile industry for all lives on Earth. 

Here is the list (again) of the most sustainable recycled cotton clothing brands: 

  • Patagonia 
  • Reformation
  • Eileen Fisher
  • MUD Jeans 
  • Outerknown 
  • Ecoalf 
  • Rapanui
  • Organic Basics 
  • Arvin Goods 
  • Kings of Indigo 

To make your use of recycled cotton fabrics even more sustainable, follow these steps:

  1. Buy second-hand, recycled, or upcycled clothes made with recycled cotton clothes.
  2. While using linen clothes, maximize the number of wears between washes and keep them as long as possible.
  3. At the end-of-life of your clothes, upcycle the materials to extend their usage and arrange for them to be recycled or properly disposed of.

Stay impactful,



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