Because even the most sustainable shopper might eventually need a new T-shirt
Thanks to everyone who read my last post – The Alternative Shopping Directory – which is a handy guide to avoiding fast fashion and the high street if you’re looking to shop sustainably and ethically. Thanks also to those of you who got in touch asking for a similar post that covers basics – I’d already planned to do it, and here it is!
Basics – which for me, in very general terms, covers T-shirts, sweatshirts and other building blocks of your wardrobe – are, once you start looking, one of the easiest areas to shop better. It’s also an area, unlike dresses and more formal attire, where the prices don’t tend to rocket way higher than what you are used to paying. However, you also need to approach basics with caution, since many are made from cotton – one of the thirstiest crops on the planet with roots not only in the use of pesticides, over-irrigation and land misuse but worst of all, slave labour. Simply buying a plain white T-shirt is said to produce the same emissions as driving a standard petrol car for 35 miles.
T-shirts are also often used for “good” with slogans to raise awareness for causes and charities, but if those same T-shirts are made by women working in terrible conditions and being paid a pittance, or are detrimental to the environment, something doesn’t add up (see the scandal involving the ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’ T-shirts). Put simply, if you don’t know where a good cause T-shirt was made, or from what, or by whom, maybe consider just donating to the good cause instead (as explained beautifully by Venetia La Manna in this piece for The Independent).
That said, there are some brilliant brands out there making great quality basics from sustainable materials and in a way that doesn’t exploit the people in the supply chain. Here are some of my favourites.
(Please note that while I absolutely support shopping from these brands rather than the high street, I still advocate not buying anything if you don’t really need to – consider all your purchases carefully before you reach for your credit card!)
British brand Beaumont Organic is brimming with planet-friendly basics, using organic cotton, linen, wool and end of roll fabrics for its timeless collections. As well as T-shirts and sweatshirts, it’s a great place to shop cool boxy tops that have a high-end feel, and summer skirts in prints including my favourite – gingham. I think now is a great time to make lists of who you want to shop from when lockdown is over, as a brand’s reaction to the crisis, and how they communicate what they are doing to protect their staff, is a great benchmark to judge its ethics by. Beaumont Organic has a clear page dedicated to this, so gets a tick from me.
As well as being the perfect loose fit, profits from sales of this particular T-shirt go to Friends of the Earth to raise money for campaigns to improve global air quality and protect the environment. beaumontorganic.com
I could honestly sing the praises of Rapanui until I was blue in the face, and it’s not just because they’re from the Isle of Wight like me! I was lucky enough to visit their wind powered factory a few months ago and it blew me away (no pun intended!). Started by brothers Rob and Mart 10 years ago, the plan was always to make T-shirts that the customer could send back when they’d finished with them to be made into new T-shirts. They now receive back around a tonne of old garments every month, which are repurposed into “new” yarn and circular cotton T-shirts. Any virgin cotton garments are, and always have been, organic.
I could go on and tell you more about their natural dyes, wooden buttons and recycled paper packaging, but I don’t have space in this particular feature. So let’s focus on their lovely clothes, which are beautiful quality and look great, as road-tested by dozens of my friends and family – all very happy repeat customers. Rapanui is also the brains behind Teemill, a platform where anyone – from an individual to a huge company – can design their own sustainable T-shirts with no minimum order, thanks to their ‘print to order’ business model. Oh, and they’ve been using their 3D printers to make PPE for local care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. I did say I could endlessly sing their praises… rapanui.com
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of Pangaia’s lovely loungewear, because it’s anything but normal. With a focus on technology, the label uses innovative fabrics made from all sorts of stuff, including a seaweed-organic cotton mix that actually retains the nutrients of the seaweed and releases the benefits directly on to your skin while you wear it, and fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles. Perhaps most exciting is FLWRDWN™, a biodegradable alternative to wool and feather down made from wild flowers, ideal for sweaters and puffer jackets.
It works on a pre-order basis, which reduces waste items being produced. For every product sold, Pangaia is currently donating to Doctors Without Borders. thepangaia.com
Another follower of the pre-order model is Two Thirds, which also produces everything in Europe to enable it to keep a close eye on its supply chain. I like that as well as pages on its website explaining its own practices, Two Thirds offers advice on what you can do as an individual, including washing clothes less and considering buying second hand – although it could be seen as counterproductive to the business, it sends the right message.
As for the clothes themselves, I love the retro, muted colours, and there are plenty of stripes. Always a winner! twothirds.com
This is the only brand on the list that could theoretically fall into being classified as high street, because it does actually have stores in plenty of UK towns. High street doesn’t automatically equate bad, but to be honest in most cases it does, which is why it’s important to really do your research. However, this cool Cornish label is doing some great things, having been the first fashion company to achieve Soil Association GOTS certification in 2005 for its innovative Tin Cloth organic waterproof fabric.
Fast forward 15 years and it’s now an easy go-to for plenty of organic cotton basics, all with a really reasonable price tag (this T-shirt is part of a 2 for £40 offer). You can read all of Seasalt’s sustainability and ethics reports on its website. Seasalt Cornwall
Idioma is a new discovery for me, found via my husband who is the proud owner of one of its super soft sweatshirts (which I have stolen for the purposes of posing for the picture at the top of this article!). This particular one is made from organic cotton and recycled polyester, and is made in a Fair Wear certified factory in Bangladesh before being printed in the UK.
Other than all of this good stuff, I really love the simple, graphic designs. idioma.world
Women make up around 80% of all garment workers worldwide, and many of them are exploited. Loskey was founded with the aim of empowering these women through Fairtrade. I think another of the biggest problems with overconsumption is that we just produce too much stuff, so I love that Loskey keeps it simple, only making great T-shirts of varying shapes and colours. I’m particularly fond of the baseball-style contrast colour collars, and, of course, these stripes. loskey.com
I’ve written about People Tree plenty of times before, but I’ve always thought of it as somewhere to find bright, patterned statement pieces. Which it is, but I’ve also discovered its brilliant range of basics, like these simple organic cotton trousers. The ‘Essentials’ range (easy to find using the tab at the top of the homepage) also stocks jumpsuits, skirts, tops and underwear in neutral shades of black, white, khaki and navy. peopletree.co.uk
As usual, I would love to hear any suggestion you have that I may not have heard of, so please leave comments below.