A publication by journalist Alden Wicker that informs its readers on sustainable fashion and travel, helping them be better consumers and better citizens when it comes to both their purchases, their travel choices, and their activism.
Creating fashion that knows no gender bounds is not easy. Not only are you contending with a hundred years of gender coding that dictates what is “appropriate” or “correct” or ‘attractive” for men and women to wear, you’re also dealing with bodies that can be shaped quite differently. (This because clear to me when I was trying to figure out what women’s sizes correspond to what men’s sizes. The waist measurements start getting wonky real fast.) That’s why it’s all the more impressive when a fashion brand makes clothing that can be comfortably worn by men, women, and everyone in between, and on top of that is ethically and/or sustainably made.
I’m not talking about brands that have a men’s and women’s section, either. I’m talking about brands that photograph their core products on men and women and non-gender-binary people — and every single person is rocking it regardless of gender, or brands that make clothing that fits a woman’s body, without hewing to traditional stereotypes.
So here are the sustainable and ethical apparel brands who have pulled off this impressive feat:
This unisex brand is as eco-friendly as it gets. The completely natural materials are dyed with beneficial plant dyes like chaga mushroom, moss, and indigo, then made into pants, button-downs, and jackets that can be worn by any gender.
Ziran uses xiang yun sha silk, a beautiful and sustainable silk from China that the founder Kelly Shanahan discovered while researching her undergraduate honors thesis. Made entirely by hand in one small city at the banks of the Pearl River, every yard of this silk is unique and produced in small batches, 15 yards at a time. No harsh chemicals are used, and the process is completely sustainable, from beginning to end. While there are men’s and women’s sections on the site, the men’s section — full of beautiful floral button-downs, bomber jackets, and silk pajama-style pants that drape beautifully whether you have curves or not — is not for those dudes who uncomfortable with their sexuality. I hope any heterosexual man who shops from here is prepared for the fact that his girlfriend will likely try to steal his stuff. Read more about Ziran here.
Modeled after the traditional Pakistan shoe, One432’s update not only refuses to hew to gender norms, it refuses to tell you which foot to wear each shoe on. That’s right, these slipper-like shoes fit both left and right, and are incredibly comfortable. They’re crafted by fairly paid skilled craftspeople in Pakistan, the native country of the founder and dapper Parson’s professor, Ammar Bellal. Find embroidered, patterned, velvet, leather, and monogrammed shoes that straddle the worlds of traditional gentility and worldly travels.
Daniel Silverstein (center) creates beautiful textile artwork from upcycled fabric scraps, which is incorporated into custom streetwear that both men and women can wear. You’ll get a ton of compliments on your ZWD piece, I promise. Read more about Zero Waste Daniel.
In the world of the Australian brand A.BCH, both men and women can rock long plaid skirts, wide-leg trousers, and rustic hemp scarves. It’s all about attitude… and the organic, natural, and non-toxic materials and dyes they use to manufacture their unisex designs in Australia.
Cosmos Studio sources raw, organic materials, doesn’t use toxic chemicals, and their production takes place in a WRAP Certified factory. They even came up with a new dyeing technology is called GiDelave. It uses 95% less water, 70% less chemicals, and half the energy that traditional processing requires. Not only that, but there is zero discharge involved, meaning no wastewater and no contaminated runoff. The technology works by basically “printing” the dye onto the fabric threads before it becomes a piece of clothing. After the fabric is dyed, the nontoxic pigment actually returns to its powdered form and the little water that is used to process can be reused since there are no harmful chemicals in it. If you’re a similar size, you and your partner of the opposite sex can trade one of their sleek button-down shirts back and forth between you. Read more about Cosmos Studio.
I know, I was also skeptical when I was told that Nudie Jeans are unisex and fit women, too. But then I tried them on and was shocked at how good these sustainable jeans made with organic look, and also how comfortable they are. Just look at these pictures of my husband and I each wearing a pair and how they fit us so well.
Another brand that both my husband and I have fallen for is MATTER, which creates sustainable, artisan-made pants and tops entirely in India, from the raw material to the spinning, weaving, dyeing, block-printing, and weaving. He brought their unisex shorts all over the world in our travels, while I wore their side-swept dhoti pants, and then their block-printed washable silks wide-legged pants. In fact, I had the honor of visiting one of the blockprinting workshops where my pants were printed in Jaipur!
Designed by a Canadian woman who grew up watching her mother sew bland sweatshirts, āsum is a creative and modern take on upscale sweatshirts for both men and women. The cotton is GOTS-certified and ethically sewn in Canada.
I had a reader recently ask me to explain what’s going on with down, the feather filler that goes inside puffy coats and bedding. Is it ethical? Is it eco-friendly? If not, what are the alternatives?
Traditional down is made up of the fluffy small feathers that are underneath the large, stiffer adult feathers on waterfowl like geese and ducks. These fluffy feathers have been used by indigenous and European people for hundreds of years as lightweight insulation. Now this luxurious, soft, packable, lightweight effective natural material is used in puffy coats, gloves, sleeping bags, comforters, pillows, and other bedding. You likely have down in your life, unless you live year-round in the tropics.
But, can you feel good buying it?
Are Geese Killed or Hurt for Down?
The most expensive down in the world is eiderdown, which is hand-collected by indigenous groups and by commercial outfits in Canada, Iceland and Norway after it’s been shed by eider geese into their nests. (This is yet another industry and tradition that is threatened by climate change.) Architectural Digest thinks a $16,000 eiderdown duvet is worth it, saying that you’re supporting a traditional and sustainable industry. Hey, if you have that much money, why not?
But most down these days comes from geese that are raised to be eaten in North America, Europe, and China, which provides 80% of the world’s down. (They love duck meals over there.) You can think of natural goose down exactly like cow leather: a byproduct of meat farming that would be thrown away if it weren’t used in fashion and home goods. Much like cows are not raised for leather, “Birds are not raised for plumage,” a New York-based down processor told Backpacker magazine in 1995. At the time, down contributed about 10 to 20% of the total revenue of raising a goose, at least in the U.S. It’s just a side stream of income for farmers.
Where that ethical calculation diverges from cow leather, however, is in live-plucking. That’s exactly what it sounds like. While it’s banned in the U.S. and several European countries, it’s apparently stilled practiced in some Eastern European countries and in China. A goose can be live-plucked several times in a year up to the time it’s slaughtered, and yes, it is extremely painful. (More painful than getting a Brazilian? The jury is out on that philosophical question.) A 2009 Swedish documentary claimed that between 50% and 80% of the world’s supply of down comes from live-plucked geese, though that figure was alternatively verified by IKEA, and disputed by several industry groups — they said live-plucking makes up only 2% of the global supply. Live-plucked down is ill-suited for outdoor gear, so you’re more likely to find it in expensive bedding.
Should You Choose Synthetic or Real Down?
Despite the bad press around live-plucking, the down market is continuing to expand, and is expected to reach $8.2 million by 2015. That might be because down is simply a more effective insulator than the alternative: synthetic fill. Synthetic fill is made from petroleum, though some companies, like Patagonia,Everlane, and Under the Canopy use recycled synthetic fill because it performs well even when wet.
I’ve had people tell me they are allergic to real feather down, but according to a study, a feather allergy is rare — it’s more likely people are reacting to dust mites that have built up inside bedding that hasn’t been washed or sterilized for a long time. In this case, you could choose synthetic fill, or take care to wash your down bedding and use allergen-resistant pillowcases and comforter covers.
Now, if you’re vegan, the answer here is obvious: go with the synthetic fill. But if you’re not vegan, are trying to live plastic-free, and/pr live in an extremely cold northern city, or go on some serious hiking trips, then you should probably go with the real thing. And there’s an option for you.
How to Find Ethical Real Down
The advocacy group Textile Exchange released the Responsible Down Standard in 2014. It prohibits live-plucking, force-feeding, and ensures that any product with the RDS logo is filled with 100% third-party audited and certified humanely-sourced down. There are about 60 brands committed to the RDS standard — the ones that I recommend that holistically work towards being more ethical and eco-friendly include prAna, Nau, Levi’s, H&M, Parachute, and Coyuchi. Patagonia developed its own Traceable Down standard, and also offers recycled real down products.
PETA, as it does, did some undercover filming at farms in China that live pluck, and claimed (with no proof) that live-plucked down finds its way into the RDS supply chain. The Textile Exchange disputed this claim, saying that have investigated and found no evidence that the RDS certification is failing. It’s common knowledge at this point among people who fact check before they retweet that PETA is not a reliable source. They’ve been caught out promoting fake videos in the past to capitalize on the outrage cycle and use hyperbole to paint all of China as populated with unfeeling animal torturers. And Textile Exchange has just released Responsible Down 3.0, which now requires additional measures, such as stricter criteria on handling, record keeping, and worker training, plus monitoring of parent farms as well as the farms where the geese are raised.
So it looks like Responsible Down Standard-certified brands can be trusted to be a byproduct from properly cared-for geese.
Make Your Down Products Last Longer
The most sustainable thing you can do is buy fewer products and take care of them properly so they last longer. To take care of your real down items, make sure to cover your down-stuffed comforter, pillows, etc with a natural fiber cover or even dust-mite repellent covers, and wear pajamas or long johns when sleeping in your down sleeping bag. Wash them in a large front-loading washer without a lot of agitation at your local laundromat, then dry them on the not-so-hot cycle. You might have to run it through several times to get it completely dry. Then store it when you’re not using it either hung up or in a loose, breathable bag. Avoid storing your sleeping bags and travel puffy coats in their stuff sacks.
I have a shameful secret to share: I have a lot of festival fashion. Blame it on Burning Man — those seven days of radical self-expression in the desert has led me down the garden path of buying a lot of fabulous festival fashion that I’ve only worn twice, maybe three times at the most. But I’m better than a lot of Burners, since I try to buy from artisan and local makers. In the weeks leading up to Burning Man, people buy a lot of cheap fashion off of the internet and at markets, and it’s painful to watch.
If you’re in NYC and planning on attending Burning Man — or you just have a lot of fun festival fashion to swap — then definitely grab a ticket to this huge Burning Man fashion swap happening at the end of the month at The Canvas, an experiential retail, swap shop, and event company focused on addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It’s put on by my Burning Man camp, Big Imagination, and will have an open bar, DJed music, and all the free fashion swapping you can handle. There will even be a couture corner put on by LITTLE GEM, a festival fashion resale site, where you can sell those one-of-a-kind pieces that are too precious to just throw in a pile for free. All proceeds go to supporting the on-playa experience created by Big Imagination and to supporting Canvas’s mission of addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Hope to see you there!
This post contains some affiliate links, which means if you click through to buy something, I get a small percentage of that sale. I only recommend brands that I truly love and that are ethical and/or sustainable.
Vienna is a beautiful, classical city, and as such, requires beautiful, classic clothing. Stylistically, it’s a whole world apart from gritty Berlin, or even its surrounding post-communist neighbors. It’s more like a cross between France, Italy, and Scandinavia. (I guess that’s because it culturally and geographically is in the center of these countries?)
While you’ll want to dress comfortably enough to walk around and see the sights, you’ll also want to be able to gain entry to a music performance held a baroque hall, or feel at home eating a dainty lunch at a café with a view of one of the dozens of ornate, gold-accented building. Think feminine, put-together, and ever-so-slightly conservative.
So, I’ve put together a packing list for a few days to a week in Vienna, complete with recommendations on where to buy sustainable versions. (And when you arrive, here’s where to shop for sustainable fashion.)
Small cross-body purse – I like to have one for plane or train rides so I have easy access to my wallet, passport and phone. Bring a pretty one that you can take with you to the opera or a show, like one from Stella McCartney, Ashya, Lovia, Danielle Sakry, and O My Bag.
If you consider yourself a conscious consumer, a minimalist, or simply care about the impact your purchasing decisions have on the world around you, then you know that less is more. This could not be more true than when it comes to jewelry. Most of the fine jewelry you purchase will probably still be in your possession for many years to come, so you want those pieces to be special, beautiful gems that you really love and feel represent you. And of course, that means prioritizing ethics, sustainability, and transparency in the production process, too.
Here’s what to look for from ethical, sustainable fine jewelry brands
Lab-grown diamonds. Unfortunately, if you’re buying diamonds, you have to use your discretion. We recently wrote about how it’s practically impossible to 100% ensure ethical sourcing of mined diamonds, even with things like the Kimberley Process and “beyond conflict-free” claims. That’s why it’s understandable that lab-grown diamonds, which don’t have the traceability problem and are also less taxing on the environment, are growing in popularity. And yes—they are real diamonds!
Recycled and/or ethically sourced gems. Some of the brands below use recycled diamonds and other types of gemstones, taken from old pieces or “scraps” from larger stones and then redesigned. This is an excellent low-impact option as well. After recycled, go for ethically-sourced gems. Brands who source from transparent and ethical mines are still a much better option than traditionally-mined companies (where you can be almost certain that human and environmental degradation is happening in order to get that gem to you). Don’t be afraid to ask the brand questions about their pieces and request verification!
Recycled metals or ecological gold: Recycled materials are almost always better than virgin. We need to recycle as much as possible and toward a truly circular economy that doesn’t just dig up resources and then throw them away. But recycled gold does come with its own troubles, so you could also choose ecological gold when possible (though there are very few brands creating with ecological gold as of right now).
Vintage / Secondhand pieces: Unlike clothing, which continues to slowly degrade over time, well cared for fine jewelry can actually become even more beautiful and valuable as it ages. And of course, since there aren’t additional resources needed to create a new piece, this is one of the most sustainable options available!
Excellent customer service and return policies. Buying fine jewelry online means you’re probably spending a lot of money on something that you might not even be able to see, hold, or try on in real life before you buy it. What happens if you get it and it doesn’t look like what you thought it would? Before you drop a chunk of change, make sure the brand you’re buying from has a readily-accessible customer service department, and a clear return/exchange policy that will work with your situation should you need to use it. Some of the brands below also have at-home ‘try before you buy’ programs you can take advantage of.
Buy what you love! Lastly, when it comes to purchasing ethical and sustainable jewelry, buy pieces you really love. Pieces that you feel represent your personal vibe and could see yourself wearing for a really long time or even passing down to a younger loved one.
Here are our favorite brands creating beautiful, ethical, and sustainable fine jewelry:
Started by a third generation jeweler who was quite familiar with the unethical woes of the diamond industry, Clean Origin creates gorgeous jewelry from lab grown diamonds. Their diamonds are independently certified for quality, everyone on Clean Origin’s customer service team has at least five years of experience in the jewelry trade, and they offer a Lifetime Manufacturing Warranty. Plus, they offer free shipping, free resizing, and have a 100 day return policy if you’re not satisfied. Learn more about Clean Origin and lab grown diamonds here.
MiaDonna was founded with a single objective: to offer consumers a beautiful, ethical, and affordable diamond alternative that would help free the children oppressed by the active conflict diamond mining industry. Their gems are also lab-grown and 100% conflict-free, their metals are recycled, and everything is made ethically in the USA. A minimum of 10% of their net profits are given to The Greener Diamond foundation, which works to rebuild and repair the land and lives damaged by the conflict-mining industry. With every purchase, they plant a tree to offset the carbon generated during shipping. Plus, they offer customers a 7-day home try-on, free 30-day returns in the US, and lots of customer services like maintenance and ring sizing.
After growing up in the diamond world with family members in the industry, the founders of Kimai realized there was a more ethical way to do things. So, they are creating beautiful, lab-grown diamonds using solar energy. Everything is made in Antwerp, Belgium by skilled artisans.
If you’re specifically looking for secondhand and vintage diamonds, I Do Now I Don’t is definitely the place to go (although they also have a gigantic selection of other kinds of fine and vintage jewelry too). IDNID’s motto is that “every diamond resold means one less diamond mined.” Your piece will be authenticated before you get it and your shipment is fully insured. Plus, whether you’re a buyer or a shopper, they offer VIP services to make sure you find exactly what you’re looking for.
TheRealReal is an authenticated online consignment shop that carries the biggest luxury brands out there. Their 100+ in-house expert team includes gemologists, horologists, and luxury brand authenticators who inspect thousands of items every day, ensuring everything they sell is 100% authenticity guaranteed. They also teamed up with the Ellen McArthur Foundation, Stella McCartney, and the World Resources Institute to create a one-of-a-kind circularity calculator to keep track of how much water and CO2 have been saved through their job, just by consumers shopping secondhand.
Vestaire Collective carries a huge selection of jewelry from the most popular designer and luxury brands, with over 3,000 items added to their site daily. Before they’re shipped to you, though, items and their descriptions are authenticated by their team of experts, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
I’ll be honest, there are a half dozen sustainable fashion stores in Vienna, and not all of them are in here. It’s just that not all are created equal. Some are leftover from the last decade, when sustainable fashion was uniformly blah and for hikers and hippies. Some supposedly ethical stores are filled with synthetics from Asia.
Instead, I would like to direct you to the very best sustainable fashion stores in Vienna, full of sleek, modern, wearable items that will garner you compliments instead of a raised eyebrow. The list is short, but that just leaves you more time for cultural activities!
This store is filled with men’s and women’s everyday basics and famously eco-friendly European fashion like King’s of Indigo denim, Knowledge Cotton Apparel t-shirts, Armed Angels sweaters and blouses, and of course People Tree.
Curated by the minimalist and eco-friendly Swiss backpack brand, QWSTION, this store also features other fashion brands that share QWSTION’s sustainability and style ethos. You’ll find perfume, shoes, coffee table books, jewelry, travel and tech accessories, stylish travel guides, Monokel’s recycled acetate sunglasses, and clothing for both men and women by the Viennese label Miyagi and A Kind of Guise.
All the lingerie in this little boutique (translated to “crazy love”) is sustainable and ethical. Find delicate underthings made of upcycled Viennese lace, organic cotton, or recycled polyester. Not all the swimwear was sustainable when I stopped in, but if you ask for it, you’ll be directed to the right brands.
As activewear continues to make its way into daily wear, there is a growing number of companies eager to facilitate our casual ways ethically and sustainably. Many companies with a focus on outdoor sports are often the most enlightened about sustainability, presumably because they have a personal stake in not wanting the environment to be reduced to garbage. That’s good news for us because it means we have lots of choices when it comes to ethical and eco-friendly activewear and athleisure apparel!
What to look for in ethical and sustainable activewear
Natural fibers: You can find brands made stylishly with a blend of organic cotton or hemp and a little bit of synthetic fiber for stretch. Organic natural fibers are not only better for the environment, they’re better for your skin and release odor better than synthetics. Also look for merino, which is the most sweat-wicking and odor fighting — so much so that you don’t have to wash it after you exercise in it. Just hang it up to dry.
Recycled synthetics: Natural materials can get soaked in an intense workout. If that bothers you, go for recycled when choosing synthetics. Just grab yourself a Microfiber Filter to attach to your washing machine or a Guppyfriend bag to catch the microfibers that inevitably break off so they don’t end up in our waterways.
Performance: It probably goes without saying, but you want activewear that’s actually high-quality so it’s comfortable enough to get your sweat on and won’t tear in the middle of a workout. Customer reviews are a great place to check for performance.
Environmentally-conscious manufacturing: The processes involved in creating textiles, especially high-performing ones, are often pretty harsh on the environment, using lots of water, chemicals, and energy, and leaving behind waste. Look for brands that are using more earth-friendly processes that reduce their impact.
Non-toxic dyes: The dyes used to color your standard pair of leggings aren’t good for the earth—or you. Look for natural and/or non-toxic alternatives.
Fair labor and transparency: As with everything you buy, check for fair labor practices. Look for brands that prioritize transparency (do they tell you where their apparel is made?) and certifications like Fair Trade and SA8000.
Here are our favorite ethical and sustainable brands to shop for activewear and athleisure
If you’ve been around the earth-friendly yogi scene at all in the past few years, chances are you’ve at least heard of Girlfriend Collective. Their ingenious launch technique to sell their leggings to everyone at cost combined with their radical inclusivity and transparency makes them a popular choice for conscious consumers. Their leggings, bras, and shorts are made from recycled plastic bottles and old fishing nets, along with OEKO-TEX certified safe dyes. Everything is made ethically in an SA8000 certified facility where workers get 125% of the local minimum wage along with things like free catered lunch, exercise breaks, and health insurance. Be sure to grab Girlfriend Collective’s Microfiber Filter, to stop the microfibers from your recycled garments from getting into our waterways!
Alternative Apparel’s tees, tanks, and sweats are made in WRAP certified facilities out of eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester, and low-impact dyes. They use water-conserving processes, oxo-biodegradable mailer bags, and have implemented a vendor recycling program.
Buying used is the most sustainable and affordable option, and thredUP is the largest online secondhand store out there. In their activewear section, you’ll find brands like Lululemon, Adidas, Nike, Athletic, and more.
For your basic leggings, tanks, and tees, PACT uses only natural, certified organic, long-staple (aka super soft) cotton without any toxic dyes. Plus, everything is made in Fair Trade certified facilities.
Manduka uses fabrics made from GRS, OCS, and OEKO-TEX certified recycled polyester, organic cotton, and/or plant-based material like hemp or Tencel. Their fabrics are designed to increase air flow and stretchiness for your utmost comfort. They are committed to transparency (even with regard to the parts of their company that aren’t 100% sustainable). You can also shop their eco-friendly yoga mats and towels, cork blocks, and other gear and accessories.
I’ve been trying to live more sustainably for a few years now, and that commitment extends to the shelves in my skincare cabinet. One of my favorite parts of my daily routine is the skincare piece. Oil cleansing, toning, treating, moisturizing — I always welcome the chance to slow down and take care of myself in the midst of a busy day. And whenever possible, I prioritize choosing organic and clean beauty products.
Unfortunately, the cheap skincare products in the drugstore include reef-killing chemical sunscreens , microbead-laden facial scrubs, and artificially-fragranced moisturizers. They are affordable, but often have negative effects on the environment. And because the industry is so poorly-regulated , companies are able to include harmful chemicals in the products they market as clean.
So what should we look for when it comes to products that are good for the environment, our wallets, and our skin? Here are some of our favorite brands making a full range of nontoxic, and environmentally-friendly products at an affordable price:
At MyChelle, all products are vegetarian, cruelty-free, and free of phthalates, parabens, sulfates, artificial fragrances and colors and GMOs. MyChelle is committed to the health of the environment and its customers, and with an entire range of affordable skincare products, MyChelle earned the first spot on our list.
Products packaged in glass, BPA-free #2 and #7 plastics, and cardboard.
At 100% Pure’s 8-acre headquarter property, the team operates using 100% solar power and was recognized by the city of San Jose as having the lowest amount of landfill garbage. 100% Pure creates non-toxic, organic, vegan skincare products and cosmetics using biodegradable formulas.
Products packaged in glass, post-consumer recycled packaging, and BPA- and phthalate-free plastics.
Beautycounter works to minimize the environmental impacts of their products, packaging, and footprint through sustainable ingredient sourcing and recyclable packaging. Beautycounter has planted the equivalent of 4,270 acres of trees to offset carbon usage and as a founder of the Counteract Coalition and a founding member of the Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, the company is committed to advocating for more health-protective laws and for green chemistry legislation to protect both consumers and the environment. There are concerns with the company’s multilevel marketing model , but products are available for purchase directly from the Beautycounter website.
Products packaged in post-consumer recycled plastic and FSC-certified paper.
Deemed low-hazard by the Environmental Working Group, Acure creates paraben-, sulfate-, and formaldehyde-free skincare products that are free of mineral oils and animal testing. Acure products are manufactured in the U.S. in facilities that are audited by the Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit. And they’re available in drugstores and department stores like Target.
For fifteen years, the Environmental Working Group- verified brand AROMATICA has used raw ingredients and traditional herbal extraction methods that preserve the natural benefits of the herbal ingredients, and packages with zero-waste practices in mind.
Products packaged in recyclable glass containers and minimal plastics.
Juice Beauty’s cruelty-free, vegan, and certified-organic products are made with antioxidant-rich ingredients, sustainable energy, and packaged in boxes made from recycled or FSC-certified paper, printed with soy/non-toxic ink, and sourced in the U.S. As an extension of their commitment to sustainably-sourced ingredients, in 2018, Juice Beauty purchased a sustainable farm located in the heart of the Sonoma Wine Country in Healdsburg, California. Their organic grapes and apples are the sources of much of their resveratrol and malic acid-rich ingredients.
Products packaged in recycled or FSC-certified paper and plastic.
Meow Meow Tweet is a small-batch skin care company that creates vegan products with natural, organic ingredients. All products are made with unrefined plant oils and butters — extracted by steam-distilling and cold-pressing ingredients — and a number of proceeds go to support organizations like Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, Sierra Club, and the Breast Treatment Task Force.
Products packaged in post-consumer recycled paper, aluminum, glass, and minimal plastic.
With Herbivore Botanicals, all ingredients are chosen for their therapeutic benefits, focused around high-quality, food-grade vitamins, minerals, and botanicals that are combined to nurture and restore the skin, as well as provide a moment of indulgence for the user.
Products packaged in reusable glass or recyclable cardboard with minimal plastic.
As the most affordable option of the group, Yes to paraben- and phthalate-free products are found in more than 27,000 stores and are made with at least 95 percent natural ingredients. Yes to is also a certified member of the Leaping Bunny Program. Many of the brand’s products, however, like their shampoos and shower gels, do contain sulfates, with some listed as high up on the ingredients as the number two spot. Sulfates can cause irritation and strip natural, healthy oils from your hair and skin. However, the brand uses a version called sodium coco-sulfate , which is coconut-derived and has proven to be gentler on skin.
Raw materials and sustainable sourcing are hallmarks of Weleda’s standards, and the company is committed to using environmentally-friendly production processes to create synthetic- and toxin-free skincare products. Weleda uses flower, fruit and root extracts, minerals, and essential oils for as the foundation of each product, and ingredients are grown on the company’s own farms using fair-trade and biodynamic practices. Weleda is NATRUE -certified, and they offer a range of products that are vegan and cruelty-free.
Products packaged in glass, aluminum, and recyclable, food-grade plastics.
SW Basics products are made with the minimalist in mind — fewer ingredients and gentler skincare are at the heart of their formulation, which is done in Brooklyn, NY. SW Basics uses only certified-organic, fair trade, or family-farm sourced natural ingredients. All products are certified cruelty-free by PETA, and much of the product line is certified organic by the USDA. And all products, excluding the beeswax lip balm and the diaper cream, are vegan.
Products packaged in glass, aluminum, and cardboard.
This post is generously sponsored by SOL Organics, a bed and bath brand that holds several ethical and sustainable certifications, including Fairtrade International, GOTS, and OEKO-TEX. As always, EcoCult only works with brands who we trust are making the world a better place.
We often hear the question of whether there is a label like USDA organic, but for fashion and home products. With sustainable fashion becoming more mainstream, we are beginning to see a lot more greenwashing throughout almost every industry, which is why third-party audits and verifications for the products we buy (and the materials and ingredients they’re composed of) is now more important and useful than ever.
Unfortunately, there’s not one all-encompassing label. Instead, there are a lot of different certifications out there that represent different parts of ethical, sustainable, and transparent fashion and decor manufacturing. That’s because making fashion has many more layers of complexity than simply growing food. In fact, an input to a piece of clothing can be USDA Organic, but then that doesn’t guarantee it was dyed with nontoxic dye, or sewed in a fair trade factory. See what we mean?
With over 30 certification systems and counting, how are consumers and brands supposed to keep them all straight? What’s the difference between Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade International? How is something that’s certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) different from something certified by the Organic Cotton Standard (OCS)?
As of right now, there is no mandate for any company to certify their products; everything is completely voluntary and brands can choose which labels to get based on things like their industry, budget, and how much they want to show off how ethical and their operations are.
Sol Organics sheets in EcoCult founder Alden’s bedroom
For example, SOL Organics, which makes bedding and bath towels out of GOTS, OEKO-TEX, and Fair Trade International Certified cotton — three of the most well respected third-party certifications out there. With a background in sustainable fibers, the founders knew how saturated the market was with inequality, abuse, and dirty cotton. They knew they could provide something better—for the planet, employees, and customers too (their sheets are significantly more affordable than brands like Boll & Branch and Coyuchi).
Hopefully, the more consumers demand accountability and companies continue to prove the market value of getting verified, third-party certifications will become the norm for all companies, thus creating a much more ethical and sustainable economy altogether.
Some of the labels below are true certifications, whereas others are structured more like networks. Some use third-party auditors, while others are based on self-reporting. Some certify raw materials or end products, whereas others certify entire factories or brands.
Bookmark this page and come back to it next time you’re shopping so you know exactly what the labels on your products actually mean!
Although many certifications audit a variety of different aspects of production, the following certifications are primarily focused on environmental impact.
GOTS is one of the most trustworthy and wholistic certifications. It covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading, and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibers. The textiles must meet a certain set of environmental standards (toxicity, wastewater, etc.) as well as social criteria in accordance with the International Labor Organization. There are a number of different certifying bodies that can actually award certification, but all of them use the same standards.
OEKO-TEX is another trustworthy label that focuses on chemicals. It actually has a number of different certifications they offer, but the Standard 100 is the most common one you’re most likely to come across as a consumer. This certification tests for substances like toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans. Other certifications include the LEATHER STANDARD (for toxic substances in leather), MADE IN GREEN (which goes beyond toxic substances to ensure safe, responsible, and environmentally-friendly production processes), STeP (which is focused on the supply chain), ECO PASSPORT (which also looks at substances, but incorporates more environmental factors), and DETOX TO ZERO (which considers water waste and sludge).
BCI is a non-profit organization that’s encouraging a more sustainable way to source cotton through a defined set of standards. If you see the BCI logo on a product, it means the cotton used comes from a committed BCI Member who pays into the program and who is sourcing at least 5% of their cotton as Better Cotton to start, with a plan to be sourcing at least 50% of their cotton as Better Cotton within five years. It’s a halfway step to organic that is especially useful for farmers who can’t afford to go organic, which can take significant investment and three years to do.
What gets certified? Anything made of cotton.
Where will you find this label? Internationally: BCI’s Head Offices are based in Switzerland and the UK, and you can find BCI Members globally.
Bluesign is a common certification given to textile manufacturers who are producing in a way that is safe for both humans and the environment. They take into consideration everything from water waste to dye toxicity to worker and consumer safety and more.
What gets certified? Anything made with textiles.
Where you will find this label? Internationally: Based in Switzerland, there are certified companies around the world.
The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard focuses on the circularity of products. It looks at a product through five categories: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. A product receives an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) in each category. Its overall product label is whichever category has the lowest level (for example, if a product has a platinum in the water stewardship category but a silver in social fairness, then the overall product level is silver).
Since it’s focused primarily on circularity rather than just the ethics of production on the front end, the Cradle to Cradle process and certification could have the potential to transform the way we think about and manufacture consumer goods. Ideally, we will get to a point where everything we make, buy, and own is circular.
LWG approves and/or rates (Gold, Silver, or Bronze) leather tanneries and leather traders based on how their production processes affect the environment. Audits can be done by several third parties using the same set of standards. They take into account things like waste management, energy consumption, water usage, traceability, restricted substances, and more.
What gets certified? LWG has several different categories: Approved Traders, Rated Leather Manufacturers, and Members (which are the brands using LWG approved traders and manufacturers). Here is a full list.
Where will I find this label? Internationally: Based in the UK, you’ll find LWG members worldwide.
Originally developed for cotton but later expanded to other types of textiles, the OCS provides a strict chain of custody system from the organic raw material source to your finished product.T he OCS Certification was written by the Textile Exchange (originally named Organic Exchange), an international, member-supported, non-profit organization.
Textile Exchange also has several other certifications, including the Recycled Claim Standard (which is similar in that it provides a strict chain of custody from input to final product), the Global Recycled Standard (which goes beyond the RCS by also ensuring social and environmental practices throughout production), and the Responsible Down Standard (which verifies responsible animal welfare standards on farms in the down supply chain and tracks the feathers from input to final product).
What gets certified? Any non-food product.
Where will you find this label? Internationally: Headquartered in Texas, Textile Exchange works with companies and countries all over the world.
USDA Organic products are certified by the US government if they meet strict standards in their growing and harvesting process. They cannot be treated with any pesticides, synthetics, fertilizers, hormones, or other types of additives.
What gets certified? We usually think of food products when it comes to USDA Organic, but they can also certify ingredients used in textiles, like cotton or wool.
Where will you find this label? The United States.
FSC is a global not-for-profit organization that ensures that companies using timber from an FSC-certified forest meet their standards along the entire supply chain. The FSC has three different labels: FSC 100% (completely from FSC-certified well-managed forests), FSC Recycled (everything comes from recycled material), and FSC Mix (the product is from FSC-certified forests, recycled material, or controlled wood).
When I first started down this road of nontoxic, organic living, I had a hard time finding the right mascara that stayed on, didn’t smudge, and also was full of nourishing ingredients that I could recognize.
No longer. The clean beauty scene has flourished, and a whole crop of safe mascaras have popped up. I decided it was high time I tested them all out for you and reported back on their performance. Now, I’m not a makeup artist, nor a full-face beauty blogger. What follows is a layperson’s opinion of how these mascaras perform, from the perspective of normal, everyday wear.
One thing to note is that the difference between a vegan and non-vegan mascara lies in whether it uses beeswax. If you’re ok with beeswax, then don’t worry about your mascara. But if you don’t want to use beeswax, then keep an eye out for the vegan options below.
Ingredients: It has seaweed lipids and wheat protein to thicken, curl and strengthen lashes, plus triple-length cellulose fibers for extra length and thickness. (What is a cellulosic fiber?) Formulated with panthenol (a nontoxic derivative of Vitamin B) to condition lashes. It’s free of lacquers, shellac, and petroleum-based ingredients.
Performance: I tried the Jane Iredale mascara with and without the Purelash Lash Extender & Conditioner underneath. Without it, it gave me delicate, starburst lashes with good separation. With it, my lashes were thicker and more traditional. After a night sleeping in it, only small flakes came off leaving some grey under my eyes –– nothing too embarrassing.
Ingredients: Free of lead, parabens, and preservatives, this mascara does have a longer list of ingredients, but when I looked them up none came up as potentially toxic.
Performance: At first, I thought this vegan mascara was a bit too thick and clumpy, but it smoothed into pretty lashes with a few swipes. After a night of sleep I woke up with some flaking under my eyes, but it wasn’t too bad.
Ingredients: It’s cruelty-, sulfate-, fragrance-, paraben-, and phthalate-free, but this mascara does have a long list of ingredients, including a few that have an ever so slightly elevated concern and nylon, which is a synthetic ingredient.
Performance: A good basic black mascara, thick but not that long. It didn’t smear hardly at all, just in a sexy smoky way that I could wipe off with my fingers the next morning.
Ingredients: The ingredient list is long, with plenty of organic ingredients, but checks out as completely nontoxic and cruelty-free.
Performance: I really liked this one. It gave me pretty, thick lashes, and I woke up the next morning, and several mornings, with no flakes or smears of it on my eyes. I actually kept forgetting to note that result down because I forgot I had put it on!
Ingredients: 100% cruelty-free, petroleum-free, paraben free, coal tar-free, aluminum-free, and fiber-free, this mascara’s ingredient list is pretty easy to understand, and includes cellulose and a couple of organic ingredients.
Performance: This is a good basic mascara that I’ve used for a while. I like that they have a travel size, too. The next morning I definitely had some dark circles under my eyes, but nothing crazy.
Ingredients: This mascara combines natural ingredients with synthetic ones, but none look potentially toxic. Except for “parfum.” You’ll have to trust that RMS isn’t hiding any toxic ingredients inside this one, as some companies do.
Performance: A lightweight, delicate mascara that is as subtle as the rest of RMS’s offerings. It’s good for that no-makeup look, and doesn’t smudge at all.
I haven’t personally tried this mascara, but I’m putting it in here because an acquaintance was asking for a zero-waste solution to the mascara problem. Along with certified organic ingredients that look like they yield a no-clump, starburst lash, Kjaer Weis offers a mascara refill that goes in the aluminum packaging. It’s not a perfect solution, but so far, it’s the only low-waste mascara option I’ve seen.