From recycled fabrics to ethical labor practices, many brands are embracing sustainable practices to make clothing to fit any style, for any occasion. But with so many sustainable clothing options out there (and so many sustainable marketing claims), it can be hard to know where to start when you're building an eco-friendly closet.
What better place to begin than with the essentials? In this guide, we'll review nine brands that offer sustainable basics, from organic cotton t-shirts and jeans, to underwear and sneakers. By shopping for eco-friendly basics, you can feel good knowing that your clothing essentials are good for people and the planet.
Jump straight to our brand picks, or keep reading to learn about our methodology for picking the most sustainable brands for your basics wardrobe.
What Are Sustainable Clothing Essentials?
While many of our favorite clothing items may be a flashier "statement piece," it's the clothing basics that make up the bulk of our closets -- and that we wear time and time again. These basics include:
- Sweatpants and loungewear
- Underwear, socks, and bras
By investing in solid, sustainable basics, you can begin building your eco-friendly closet from a strong foundation. Investing in sustainable basics has the biggest environmental impact because it makes up the largest percentage of what you wear -- and therefore is the biggest part of your "fashion footprint." Not only are these basic clothing items timeless (meaning you'll need to buy fewer over the years), but they are available from several brands whose main focus is creating clothing that has a lower environmental impact. Win-win!
Before we get into our sustainable brand picks, though, it's important to review what we mean by sustainable. Here are a few factors we took into consideration when picking the best brands for sustainable clothing essentials.
1. Sustainable materials: Sustainable clothing is made from materials with lower environmental impacts, such as fabrics that are made from recycled materials or that can be composted or recycled at the end of its lifecycle.
Natural materials, like hemp, cotton, wool and linen, are always a good choice when it comes to sustainability. While traditional synthetics, like polyester and nylon, are made from fossil fuels, there are also several more sustainable semi-synthetic fabrics. For example, lyocell fabric (known as TENCEL) is made from wood cellulose and processed with synthetic substances. It's commonly used as a substitute for carbon-intensive synthetic fabrics.
We looked for brands using mainly natural materials, like organic cotton. However, we understand that natural fabrics are not always the best choice for some clothing types like athletic-wear, jackets, and shoes, so we also included brands that use semi-synthetic fabrics like TENCEL or recycled materials.
2. Eco-friendly supply chain practices: Sustainable clothing companies must take sustainability into account at each step of the supply chain, from sourcing materials to transporting clothing to customers. We reviewed clothing brands' shipping programs, energy efficiency, waste reduction efforts, and more to understand how they're making their process more eco-friendly.
3. Ethical labor practices: Finally, we want our clothes to be good for the environment and humans. Therefore, it's important to support brands who promote transparency when it comes to their treatment of workers. Brands on our list of sustainable clothing essentials ensure safe working conditions and fair treatment of workers. All of these brands are also based in the U.S., a country that typically has higher fair labor standards.
In many cases, responsible clothing brands achieve third-party certifications such as Fair Trade, B-Corp, and Business for Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) to demonstrate their commitment to high ethical standards.
By supporting brands that adhere to best practices in all three of these categories, you can rest assured that you're doing your part in reducing your environmental impacts.
Top 9 Brands for Sustainable Clothing Essentials
Here are our top 9 sustainable basics brands, broken down by what they do best.
- Fair Indigo: Best cotton t-shirts and leggings
- The Standard Stitch: Best customizable sustainable basics
- Pact: Best variety of sustainable clothing essentials
- Reformation: Best sustainable jeans
- Kotn: Best stylish sustainable loungewear
- VETTA: Best elevated sustainable basics
- Knickey: Best budget sustainable basics
- Thunderpants: Best printed sustainable basics
- Allbirds: Best sustainable shoes
1. Fair Indigo: Best cotton t-shirts and leggings
- Offers: T-shirts, hoodies, and leggings (Also: sweaters and dresses)
- Sizes: XS-XL
- Who: Women, Men
- Price: $$$
- Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Fair Indigo is a sustainable clothing essentials brand dedicated to sustainability and ethical labor -- they literally have "fair" in the name! Like many other sustainable brands, Fair Indigo uses organic cotton, but they use the top 0.0005% of cotton available, helping to make sure their clothes are made of the softest, strongest cotton around. Their focus on quality helps you make sure you can buy less, ultimately creating a more sustainable wardrobe.
Fair Indigo's organic tees come in a variety of very simple styles, from a basic v-neck to long sleeve scoop necks. You probably won’t find any bright colors here, but all their non-toxic low-impact dyes are vibrant, offering a variety of earth and jewel tones. They also advertise their leggings as the "only 100% organic cotton leggings on Earth." While it's true that you can likely find organic cotton leggings elsewhere at this point, Fair Indigo's stand out for their ability to retain shape and stretch without the use of fossil-fuel based spandex.
- While some of Fair Indigo's organic cotton is grown on farms in the US, the rest is grown on an organic family-run farm in Peru, where workers are paid a fair wage to help raise them out of poverty.
- The company has also started the Fair Indigo Foundation, a non-profit that works to improve educational opportunities for Peruvian children.
- All Fair Indigo products are completely vegan.
- Their packaging is made from plastic that can break down entirely in the natural environment over 24 months. Or, they can be reused and in some cases, recycled.
- Their men's selection is pretty limited.
- Their sizing is not inclusive, with the largest size going up to an XL. Their men’s products don’t offer an XS either.
Read more about Fair Indigo's environmental and labor practices on their website.
2. The Standard Stitch: Best customizable sustainable basics
- Offers: T-shirts, loungewear (Also: personalized embroidery)
- Sizes: XS-5X
- Who: Women
- Price: $$
- Location: Los Angeles, California
The Standard Stitch offers comfy clothing essentials with a focus on loungewear, including crew neck hoodies, t-shirts, and sweats. Made from recycled and organic cotton, their jersey fabric is super soft. Plus, it's sustainable. For example, a single The Standard Stitch t-shirt saves over 100 gallons of water and prevents 0.55lbs of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. Some of their clothing is also made from "offcuts," or fabric scraps that are reused to save on raw materials.
While these clothing items are certainly basic, they're stylish enough to wear outside the house or in a casual work from home setting. You also have the option to customize your sweatshirt or tee of choice with custom embroidered text. How's that for a personal touch!?
- The Standard Stitch's sizing options are pretty inclusive, ranging from an XS to a 5X.
- All their color options are made from non-toxic, low impact dyes.
- They use sustainable materials, from organic or recycled cotton to fabric scraps to biodegradable labels and drawcords.
- All of The Standard Stitch's products are made without animal products.
- Their products are made ethically right in Los Angeles, where they're based.
- Their color options for some products are a bit limited. For example, their Classic V-Neck Tee comes in only four color options. However, some products, like their College Sweatshirt, offer up to seven colors.
Read more about The Standard Stitch’s environmental and labor practices on their website.
3. Pact: Best variety of sustainable clothing essentials
- Offers: Underwear, socks, bras, sweats, t-shirts
- Sizes: XS-XL
- Who: Women, Men, Baby, Kids
- Price: $$$
- Location: Boulder, Colorado
Pact has it all! No, really -- they sell all kinds of basics, including underwear, socks, bras, and t-shirts, as well as sweats, sweatshirts and even pajamas. Pact also stands out from other sustainable basics companies in their wide variety of men's products (not to mention kids and baby clothes!). Best of all, most of their products are made of GOTS-certified organic cotton, and use much less water and energy than conventional cotton. Pact estimates that their organic cotton clothes use 81% less water and 62% less energy to be produced than traditional cotton.
Many of Pact's underwear are made of pre-washed fabric, which helps make the clothing resistant to shrinking in the wash. Finally, customers love Pact not only for its comfortable and breathable clothing, but also for its dedication to customer service. While problems are unusual, if an issue does come up, you can depend on Pact to fix it for you.
- Pact partners with Fair Trade certified factories, and has contributed $1 million in Fair Trade Premiums, money that goes to the creator community.
- Pact items are packaged in completely recyclable paper bags.
- Pact's partnership with the Give Back Box program allows you to donate your gently-worn old clothes to nonprofits. Just grab a used cardboard box full of old clothes and ship it (for free) - Pact and Give Back Box take care of the rest.
- The company has partnered with SimpliZero, which helps measure and offset the environmental impact of each Pact product. For example, check out the impact measurements of their men's v-neck below:
- While Pact does partner with mostly Fair Trade certified factories, these factories are still located in countries with higher risks of labor abuse. Pact does trace most of its supply chain and ensures a living wage, but there's still a higher chance that labor practices will slip through the cracks compared to companies that do all their manufacturing in the US.
- Pact does use some wool, so not all their clothes are 100% vegan.
- Pact sizing options are somewhat limited.
Read more about Pact's environmental and labor practices on their website.
4. Reformation: Best sustainable jeans
- Offers: Jeans, tees, bodysuits, and shoes (Also: sweaters, dresses and gowns)
- Sizes: XS-3X, although not every item comes above XL
- Who: Women
- Price: $$
- Location: Los Angeles, California
Reformation offers a huge variety of eco-friendly tops, jeans and sweaters including items that are perfect for the slightly dressier occasions in your life, whether that's a dinner date or a day at the office. And while some of their clothing options go beyond the basics, many of their items are perfect for building a strong foundation for your sustainable closet.
For example, what sustainable closet is complete without jeans? Reformation's jeans are made from fabric scraps (deadstock) that would otherwise have gone to the landfill (don't worry, you can't even tell!). The jeans are also 100% recyclable, and cute, to boot. They come in a number of different styles of washes, and save 9 gallons of water compared to conventional jeans.
Reformation is also the clear winner when it comes to sustainable clothing essentials for truly fancy occasions. While we don't often include dresses (or even full-on gowns) in our definition of a clothing "essential," it's always a good idea to keep one star-of-the-show item on hand for those inevitable dressy occasions. Reformation offers sustainable dresses for nearly any occasion.
Reformation also sells shoes, including casual boots, loafers, and heels.
- They sell a huge variety of items, which means you can find a sustainable version of almost any clothing item you're looking for.
- Reformation tracks the carbon and water footprint of each clothing item using the "RefScale," a sustainability measurement system.
- Reformation's clothing is made from sustainable materials like recycled fabric, deadstock and vintage fabrics, and TENCEL.
- Reformation's Code of Conduct is strong, and the company traces most of its supply chain, helping to provide a living wage to its workers. Reformation also provides ethical labor training to its suppliers.
- Reformation is a certified Climate Neutral company (meaning they offset their carbon emissions with green projects) and aims to be Climate Positive (removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) by 2025. For example, they buy electricity offsets from wind power suppliers and recycle around 75% of their trash.
- Reformation uses humane leather and animal hair, so some of their products are a no-go for vegans.
- There is some inconsistency in the quality of clothing. While many reviews note the high quality and durability of Reformation's clothing, some mention that the fabrics feel cheap considering the price tags.
Read more about Reformation's sustainability practices on their website.
5. Kotn: Best stylish sustainable loungewear
- Offers: Tanks, tees, and hoodies (Also: pants and sweaters)
- Sizes: XS-XXL
- Who: Men, Women, Unisex
- Price: $$
- Location: Based in Canada, with a Los Angeles storefront
Kotn offers comfy basics that are still structured and fashionable -- so fashionable that Kotn has been featured in Vogue! These elevated sweatpants, sweatshirts and sweaters are Egyptian cotton, which is not only a sustainable material, but also helps struggling cotton farmers in Egypt make a living.
Reviews consistently note how comfortable and soft the fabric is, making wearing Kotn clothing a real treat for your conscience and your body.
- True to the name, all Kotn designs are made from organic, eco-friendly cotton.
- Kotn sources their cotton directly from farmers, helping to ensure ethical practices and supply chain transparency. Kotn works to improve living conditions for farming communities in Egypt and help them become organic certified.
- Kotn is a B-Corp certified company voted Best in the World, and has the fourth-highest B Impact Score, a measurement of environmental and social performance, of apparel brands in North America.
- Their cotton is soft and comfortable, and according to the website, is built to last 30+ years (although this is likely a bit of a stretch).
- Reviews note that different items are sized differently, and sizing runs small.
- A few reviews also mention that the quality of clothing varies from item to item.
- Sizing options could be more inclusive, especially for unisex items.
Read more about Kotn's mission on their website.
6. VETTA: Best elevated sustainable basics
- Offers: T-shirts, basic pants (Also: dresses, coats, business-wear)
- Sizes: XS-XXL
- Who: Women
- Price: $$
- Location: Los Angeles, California
If you're looking for sustainable essentials for date night or the office, VETTA is for you. While they're not limited to basics, their t-shirt and pants options are very simple yet quite stylish, offering design details that go slightly beyond the basics. It's these design choices that elevate their basics, and allow them to be worn for multiple occasions, in multiple ways. For example, their Long Sleeve Convertible Tee can be worn with a scoop neck in the front or in the back, and a short slit at the side can be tied up to give you a whole new look.
Vetta also offers upscale "capsule wardrobes" made of five pieces that can be mixed and matched to create seemingly endless outfits. All their designs are versatile and stylish, and can be worn multiple ways. For example, check out how many ways the pieces in their "Edgy Capsule" can be worn in the photo above. You can buy individual items or follow their styling advice and purchase an entire capsule wardrobe.
Capsule wardrobes are sustainable, as they help us reduce the amount we buy and re-use the pieces we already own. All of VETTA's items are made from TENCEL (made from sustainably harvested wood pulp), organic cotton and linen, or deadstock fabric (leftover fabric that usually ends up in landfills). VETTA is doing their part to reduce fabric waste -- and by buying their clothes instead of fast fashion, so can you.
- VETTA uses sustainable fabrics and diverts deadstock fabric from landfills in their designs.
- VETTA's polybags, inserts, and packaging slips are made out of 100% recycled materials.
- VETTA sources their materials from Fair Trade certified partner factories in India and Peru, and performs final production in the US in LA and New York.
- VETTA does not trace its entire supply chain, but does trace and monitor the final and second stages of production in order to ensure ethical, sustainable practices.
- Pricy - A full capsule wardrobe of their pieces will add up quickly.
Read more about VETTA's environmental and labor practices on their website.
7. Knickey: Best budget sustainable basics
- Offers: Underwear, socks, bralettes (Also: maternity)
- Sizes: XXS-XXXL
- Who: Women
- Price: $
- Location: New York City, New York
Knickey is truly the best of the basics. Their offerings are limited to only women's underwear, bralettes, and socks, but you can depend on any of their clothing items to be ultra-soft, stretchy, non-toxic, and, of course, sustainable. Their products are all made of organic cotton certified by not one, but two cotton certification programs.
Their cotton underwear come in a variety of sizes, styles and colors, as do their bralettes. While you won't find any crazy patterns here, their designs are still fun, and their beautiful color options add a bit of personality to your sustainable clothing essentials.
- All Knickey underwear are made from GOTS and Oeko-Tex certified organic cotton, which helps ensure sustainable growing practices.
- Knickey avoids all harmful chemicals and toxic dyes.
- All products are Fairtrade International certified, helping ensure safe and fair labor practices. You can even read about the farms and factories where their products are made, from their organic farm in India to Knickey's headquarters in New York City.
- Knickey products are a bit more affordable than some competing sustainable basics brands, with one pair of underwear coming in at about $17.
- Knickey invests in carbon offsets to help them reach 100% carbon-neutral.
- Their packages ship plastic-free.
- Finally, Knickey's recycling program allows you to send in your old underwear and socks for them to be turned into other things like rags or yarn - plus, you get a 15% discount on your next purchase.
- Knickey pricing is still not as cheap as some fast fashion underwear brands. But what you lose in cheap prices, you gain in positive environmental impact and long-lasting products.
- Beware when putting your Knickey underwear through the wash. The stitching on the waistband can start coming apart if it gets snagged on anything.
Read more about Knickey's environmental and labor practices on their website.
8. Thunderpants: Best printed sustainable basics
- Offers: Underwear, bralettes, camisoles (Also: leggings, swimwear)
- Sizes: S-4XL
- Who: Women, Kids
- Price: $$$
- Location: Portland, Oregon
Thunderpants sells -- you guessed it -- sustainable underwear (or, as they call them, "Thundies"). And while their commitment to organic cotton and U.S.-based labor is commendable, it's their patterns that truly set their products apart. Their vibrant rotating cycle of patterns designed by women around the globe truly shine, from tiger underwear to space-themed camisoles to cacti bike shorts.
Not only are their underwear and other basics fun, but they're also comfortable, sustainable, and long-lasting. No matter which style you pick, from basic hipsters to high-rise briefs, you can be sure that your undies are built to last -- and won't give you a wedgie.
- Thunderpants underwear are made from 90% organic cotton (GOTS-certified) and 10% spandex.
- Thunderpants also sells a few unisex underwear options for kids.
- All products are made locally in Portland, Oregon, although their products are also available in New Zealand and the EU. Their factory is only 7 miles from their office, making oversight of ethical labor easy!
- Thunderpants donates to many non-profits, including many racial justice organizations.
- Their products come packaged in 100% recycled poly mailers, a type of thin plastic bag made from recycled plastic. These are better than normal plastic, but are still difficult packaging to recycle. You can, however, participate in EcoEnclose's plastic film recycling program.
- Thundies are wash-cold and hang-dry only in order to keep the prints and elastic looking their best.
Read more about Thunderpants on their website.
9. Allbirds: Best sustainable shoes
- Offers: Sneakers, flats, slippers
- Sizes: Kids size ST-3Y, Adult sizes womens 5 - mens 14
- Who: Women, Men, Children
- Price: $$
- Location: San Francisco, California
Finally, footwear -- the real essential of any closet. Allbirds is best known for their casual sustainable sneakers, although they also sell slip-ons, flats, running shoes and slippers. The company aims to get their carbon footprint to zero by 2030 - and they're on track to reach that goal. The materials and practices they use are all designed with carbon neutrality in mind.
Allbirds shoes aren't just eco-friendly -- they're comfortable too! In a CNN review, testers describe Allbirds like "walking on a cloud" and even go so far as to say you can wear Allbirds without socks.
- Allbirds shoes are made from natural materials like wool, wood, sugar cane, and Trino®, a type of yarn made from trees and merino wool. Their wool is all sourced from regenerative farms.
- Allbirds measures everything that contributes to their carbon footprint, and provide a carbon footprint calculation for each shoe.
- Allbirds supports carbon offset projects such as providing lower carbon cookstoves to families in China and building wind energy farms.
- Allbirds shoes are comfortable even after long periods of wear and very durable. (Don't take our word for it – check out these glowing reviews!)
- While Allbirds does have a Code of Conduct that covers workers' fundamental freedoms, it sources some of its products from countries with higher risks of labor abuse. Additionally, some have critiqued the company's labor safety policies as "inadequate."
- With frequent washing, Allbirds sneakers may wear out. To avoid this, Allbirds recommends washing them in cold water with gentle detergent after removing the laces and soles.
- Allbirds are on the expensive side for a pair of casual sneakers.
Read more about Allbirds' sustainability goals on their website.
Final Thoughts on Sustainable Clothing Essentials
When it comes down to it, the most sustainable clothes you have are the ones that you already have in your closet! Buying new clothes, even sustainably-made ones, still has an environmental impact.
However, if you are going to buy new clothes, purchasing from "green" brands you can trust can help lessen your impact. Any of the brands listed above truly put their money where their mouth is when it comes to sustainability claims -- plus, their clothes are high quality and stylish!
Finally, if buying new is outside of your budget or sustainability goals, consider making your next shopping trip to a thrift store near you.
Republic of Green
There are loads of the other sustainable fashion companies you can explore. To browse additional eco-friendly fashion labels, check out the Sustainable Fashion Brands section of the RoG Green Business Directory.
- 9 Sustainable Clothing Essentials Brands to Build Your Eco-Friendly Closet - January 2, 2023
- 9 Best Vegan Coats & Jackets for 2023 - January 2, 2023
- 6 Best Vegan, Non-Toxic & Sustainable Deodorants - January 2, 2023