Ethical sweaters

My edit of knitwear that’s not nasty

There are some things that it is easy to find an sustainable version of. T-shirts, sneakers and jumpsuits being three of the top contenders. But when it comes to knitwear, it’s a bit more difficult, particularly because ethical woollen knitwear is a lot more expensive to produce which means, you guessed it, that it costs a lot more to buy.

I hate to price people (including myself!) out of the sustainability conversation (although, as demand for it grows, the cost to produce it should, in theory, be reduced, so I have my fingers crossed for the future). But a lot of you have been in touch to ask me about it recently, so I’ve done some research into the best places to buy it.

The other thing I’m conscious of is that many vegans prefer not to wear wool. I don’t eat meat, but I haven’t got to the point wear I don’t wear wool. Yet. However, animal welfare is important to me, so I now try to avoid wool that’s come from unhappy sheep. Specifically, from sheep that have been subjected to mulesing – a painful practice that’s done to avoid infestation from something called flystrike (and isn’t even proven to be 100% effective).

Merino sheep – which have wrinkly skin and can produce more wool – are particularly prone to it when the herd are raised in a climate they’re not suited to (such as Australia). Mulesing is mostly used in the southern hemisphere, so it’s good to look out for British and European wool because it’s not necessary in the climate, and New Zealand banned it completely last year.

I’m also still happy to wear wool because it has so many advantages, being naturally water resistant, antibacterial and temperature regulating. There’s a reason we’ve been making clothes out of it for hundreds of years. 

But if wool’s not for you, don’t beat yourself up about choosing a polyester alternative. Being sustainable is HARD, and nuanced, and is about making priorities for YOURSELF. Just make sure you choose something you love that you think you will own for years and years, and you’re still being ASAP – as sustainable as possible. There are also some organic cotton jumpers here, which are generally a more affordable option as well as not being derived from an animal.

Of course, the best (and most economical) way to bag yourself a sustainable sweater is to buy secondhand or knit one yourself from responsibly sourced wool or cotton, but I know that’s not an option for everyone, so here we go with some lovely brands doing lovely things…

Rapanui

I visited the Rapanui factory on the Isle of Wight recently, and it blew my mind! The sustainability of this jumper doesn’t stop at the organic cotton it’s made from. It’s circular, which means it’s been designed to be sent back to Rapanui when the customer has finished with it in order to make it into new garments (they’ll even provide you with a freepost label). The factory is solar powered and is full of amazing AI technology that they programmed themselves in order to make the business run more efficiently. All the packaging is paper. I could go on (and on!) but for now let’s just appreciate the amazing colour of this mustard jumper…

Rapanui

Organic cotton knitted jumper, £55 (rapanuiclothing.com)

Sanchos

There is so much to love about Sanchos, an independent ethical and sustainable store based in Exeter in the UK. As well as their own brand (which doesn’t currently make knitwear but is worth checking out for dungarees in particular), they stock other labels that share their ethos, including Armedangels. This jumper is actually made from organic cotton rather than wool, and I love the caramel and pumpkin colour palette.

Sanchos

‘Antonellaa’ jumper, £89 (sanchosshop.com)

Valentina Karellas

This brand was a new discovery for me this week. Made in London (this particular jumper is knitted on a vintage machine), every piece is one of a kind made from surplus yarn that wouldn’t have otherwise been used. Even the leftover yarn from making these jumpers is used to make accessories, so nothing goes to waste.

Valentina Karellas

‘The Walton’ jumper, £250 (valentinakarrellas.com)

People Tree

People Tree have been making sustainable clothes since 1991, so they know their ethical onions. If you click on the product details for each garment, you can see exactly where it was made, which in this case was in a vocational training centre in Nepal. This jumper empowers the local people of Kathmandu as well as being gorgeous. And the wool is sourced from New Zealand and is mulesing free, too, so it’s good news all round!

People Tree

‘Liz’ striped jumper, £139 ([AD] peopletree.com)

Lowie

The jumper I am wearing in the top image is from Lowie (they have similar styles available now) but this colourblock cardi is amazing so I had to share it with you! It’s a limited edition; only 22 of them have been made. Lowie uses natural materials, has a clear list of its makers in its website for traceability, and the label also offers free repairs for life, which is brilliant! Imagine if every clothing brand offered that service…

Lowie

Colourblock cardigan, £325 (ilovelowie.com)

Genevieve Sweeney

I’m a big fan of Genevieve Sweeney’s socks, and she makes rather handsome jumpers as well. Genevieve’s designs always brilliantly straddle minimal and statement as this jumper perfectly demonstrates – it’s an easy-to-wear grey with a flash of red on the cuff, giving it a sporty edge. She sources eco and sustainable blends from Italy, as well as British spun fibres, and this jumper was made in the UK – finding clothes that were made as locally to you as possible is a brilliant way of being more sustainable.

Genevieve Sweeney

‘Ayles’ lambswool sweater, £125 (genevievesweeney.com)

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The Keep Boutique

This store in Brixton has a wonderfully curated edit of sustainable and ethical clothes and accessories. This particular jumper is by a brand called Thinking Mu, which uses 100% organic fibres. It’s made from 70% organic wool and 30% organic alpaca, which also protects the soil as well as the animals that are farmed on it.

The Keep Boutique

Block colour sweater, £149 (thekeepboutique.com)

Jaggery London

You may remember Jaggery from a competition I ran with them earlier this year. One of the things I love about them – in addition to the gorgeous knitwear – is the wealth of information you can find on their website. Want to know where they source their buttons from? It’s recycled shells. Fancy seeing a picture of the ladies who knit the garments in south India and are paid a living wage? Head to the makers page.

Jaggery London

Sunshine yellow cotton jumper, £105 (jaggerylondon.co.uk)

Country Of Origin

Technically this is a menswear brand, but I don’t see any reason why it can’t be unisex! The hat I am wearing in the top picture is from this lovely label, which makes everything in a purpose-built factory in Leicestershire in the town of Wigston. The area had a rich knitting heritage which had all but disappeared until Country of Origin set up their new factory, which now takes advantage of the skilled local knitwear workers who had been put out of work.

Country of Origin

Updown lambswool crew, £145 (countryoforigin.co.uk)

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