Goodbye Fast Fashion: How sustainably and ethically made is what you wear?

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Living out of carry-on travel packs year-round, we have researched (almost) all our gear. Whatever made the cut meets our needs as location-independent, minimalist travellers and is sure to stand the test of time. Quality over quantity is not just a snappy phrase but a necessity for us. But with sustainability among our core values, we want our gear not only be technically the best gear for our lifestyle but be made in a way that does not harm our environment or the people and communities involved in its manufacturing.

If you’re in the same boat, this article might be for you. We’ll talk about how to learn more about the brands you wear and we’ll share what brands we use and how they stack up when it comes to doing the right thing by people and planet.

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Where to learn more about your clothes and how they’re made?

If you too want to make sure that what you buy wasn’t manufactured by poisoning rivers in India or by forcing the seamstress in Bangladesh to work in an unsafe building, start asking where your clothes came from (and I don’t mean the department store three blocks away).

Unfortunately, manufacturers are not always forthcoming with that sort of information, and there is no single global, independent body that keeps an eye on the manufacturing industry and gives us reassurance that they are doing (and we are buying) the right thing. So, how do you know?

Independent bodies

Firstly, there are a bunch of institutions out there that have made it their mission to find out. While their methodologies cover different aspects and thus don’t always come to the same conclusion, their databases and reports are a good starting point:

The databases also allow us (consumers) to compare different brands with each other (using the same assessment criteria).

khaleda rana plaza survivor wikimedia commons

If you want those who make your gear to work in a safe place and earn a fair wage ask how and where your gear is made | Photo on Wikimedia Commons

Manufacturers directly

The other port of call are the manufacturers themselves. Many publish Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Statements (and all sorts of other information). But if you actually spend some time reading them, you can tell which ones are just marketing gimmicks/greenwashing tactics and which ones genuinely address the sustainability and ethics of their supply chain:

  • Signs they genuinely care: Full transparency of the supply chain, standards of conduct and sustainability policies, regular (unannounced) visits of manufacturing plants, use of recycled materials and eco-friendly manufacturing methods, regular reporting
  • Greenwashing indicators: Empty marketing statements without (meaningful) proof (or with proof relating to a small portion of products only), no transparency, no (regular) reporting, token charity projects to distract from shortcomings

Other public domain information

Another data point are search engines. Simply searching for “{brand} worker payment/safety/{whatever else you want to know}” may return something (and if there is nothing it’s usually a good sign). In fact, I just did that for Nike, a brand sadly still in the news for its worker mistreatment and environmental pollution.

Search engines are also a great testing ground when you’re not sure whether a company greenwashes or to see if a brand that’s not done well in the past is in the process of cleaning up its act.

rhodamine pollution redwood river

Use public domain searches to confirm if manufacturers are walking the talk | Photo on Wikimedia Commons

How sustainably and ethically made is what WE own?

A few years ago, we were curious to establish a baseline and started researching the companies that manufacture our gear. Some of our initial findings were a mere confirmation of what we knew already, others were eye-opening (and not in a good way) – incentive enough for us to look for alternatives once these items reached their end of life.

We review and update our assessment (at least) annually, as we add and remove items from our packing lists (Female packing list | Male packing list).

So, how does our gear stack up? Below table lists all the brands we currently own. For brands without independent assessment, we include links to the companies’ sustainability statements/policies.

BrandOwnerB LabCSRHubEthical ConsumerGood On YouKnow The ChainShop EthicalTearfund
AllbirdsAllbirds Inc96.587/10011.5/153/5N/RC27/100*
BellroyPrivately Owned83.8N/RN/R3/5N/RN/RN/R
Bikini SeasonPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
BoodyPrivately Owned101.6N/RN/R4/5N/RBN/R
BuffPrivately Owned105.7N/RN/R4/5N/RN/RN/R
CorkorPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/R4/5N/RN/RN/R
Fox RiverStandard Merchandising CoN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
HammamasPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
IcebreakerVF CorporationN/R95/100 (VFC)5.0/15 (VFC)3/562/100 (VFC)C54 (VFC)
KuhlPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
MacpacSuper Retail Group LtdN/R81/100 (SRG)N/R3/5N/RB52
MarmotNewell Brands IncN/R71/100 (NB)3.5/152/5N/RFN/R
MatadorPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
Mitch DowdPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
Mons RoyalePrivately Owned83.1N/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
Mountain Equipment Company (MEC)Privately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
OspreyHelen of Troy LtdN/R76/100 (HOT)N/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
Outdoor ResearchPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
PacktowlCascade Designs IncN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
PacsafeOutpac Designs LimitedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
PatagoniaPatagonia Purpose Trust151.498/10011.0/154/5N/RA68
PrAnaColumbia Sportswear CompanyN/R71/100 (CSC)4.0/15 (CSC)3/539/100 (CSC)F (CSC)N/R
ProvizPrivately OwnerN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
Ron HillBollin Group LtdN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
RunderwearPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
SalomonAmer SportsN/R99/100 (AS)6.5/15 (AS)3/5N/RF (AS)N/R
Sea to SummitPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RAN/R
SmartwoolVF CorporationN/R95/100 (VFC)5.0/15 (VFC)3/562/100 (VFC)C (VFC)54 (VFC)
Toad and CoPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
Unbound MerinoPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R
Xero ShoesFeel the World IncN/RN/R10.0/15N/RN/RN/RN/R
ZpacksPrivately OwnedN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/RN/R

Ratings Explained

B LabAs score of 80 and above qualifies for B Corp Certification (maximum possible score: 250+)
CSRHubBenchmarks companies based on their overall environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance; from 100 = Best to 0 = Worst
Ethical ConsumerScores brands on 300 topics in 5 main areas (animals, environment, people, politics and product sustainability). Every company starts with a score of 14. Points are being deducted when the company lacks in an area, but it can also earn points for product sustainability or company ethos; from 15 = Best to 0 = Worst
Good On YouRates brands based on their impact on workers across the supply chain as well as resources use and disposal; 2/5 = Not Good Enough, 3/5 = It’s A Start, 4/5 = Good
Know the ChainBenchmarks companies based on the forced labour risks within their global supply chain; from 100 = Best to 0 = Worst
Shop Ethical!Rates companies considering their environmental and social impact, including the treatment of animals; B = Some Praise/No Criticism, D = Criticism/Some Praise, F = Criticisms
TearfundGrades manufacturers on the strength of their systems to mitigate against the risks of exploitation in their supply chain; from 100 = Best to 0 = Worst (* indicates that company was assessed on public information only)
N/RNot Rated

How important are a brand's eco and ethics credentials when you buy?

What resources have you found useful to make informed consumer choices? And which (travel) clothing and gear brands that genuinely care about people and planet can you recommend? Please let me know.

Goodbye Fast Fashion: How sustainably and ethically made is what you wear?
Author: <a href="" target="_blank">Sandra Rosenau</a>

Author: Sandra Rosenau

Sandra Rosenau is a Gen X gal from Germany, born and raised behind the Iron Curtain, with an unquenchable thirst to learn. Self-starter. Multi-lingual. Minimalist. Environmentally conscious. Financially and location independent. Energised by connecting with others and helping people succeed.