We’ve gone deep in the world of sustainable and ethical fashion as of late. In a genuine effort to dot our Is and cross our Tees, our next topic is sustainable and eco friendly T-shirts.
Simple enough, right?
After all, t-shirts are about the most basic and ubiquitous of clothing. Which is exactly why it’s so important to buy ones that are ethically and sustainably made.
I mean, you can’t spell “planet earth” without a few green tees.
But as always, the most sustainable t-shirt is the one you already own and of course, thrifting for t-shirts is sustainable and usually quite successful too.
If you do need to buy new though, read on…
For those of us where time is of the essence, we think the best eco friendly t shirts are those made by Synergy Organic, whose B-Corp certification and garment recycling program are major green flags. Organic Basics, for their unique and super sustainable fabrics (that are also super comfortable based on first hand experience), and Patagonia for the mindful way they approach all sides of big business.
While these are our top picks, every brand on this list is worth a look so let’s see those tees!
About Synergy Fair Trade T-Shirts
Synergy Organic Clothing has been making sustainable men’s and women’s fashion since 1993. It all started with founder Kate Fisher’s trip to Nepal and led to her wanting to help truly empower the artisans there.
Whether you’re a guy, gal, or neither, Synergy offers a fun selection of not just basic eco friendly blank t shirts, but ethical graphic tees, tees that tie in front, crop tops, sleeveless designs, and more. “Every stitch has a story” so make yours a sustainable one.
Synergy Organic Clothing’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Synergy’s line of essential tees are made with 100% GOTS certified organic cotton. Their other dressier tees and tops are also mostly organic cotton, though a few are made with sustainable Modal with a little bit of Spandex. They also use low impact, plastisol-free dyes for all products.
- Supply chain & labor practices: The core of Synergy’s supply chain ethos is this: “how it’s made matters”. That’s why they’re committed to ticking all the ethical boxes. They’re both a Certified B Corporation and their primary Indian factory (where most their line is made) is Fair Trade certified and their other Nepalese factory adhere to fair labor practices though they don’t hold an official certification.
Their GOTS-certified organic cotton is also grown at a Fair Trade plantation in India.
- Green business practices: Synergy also nails the sustainable lift side of things. As a certified Green Business by Green America member, Organic Trade Association member, and certified by the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Program, they’ve been triple checked by these organizations as being low impact.
Their website has a footprint calculator so you see the resources saved per garment by Synergy manufacturing methods as opposed to traditional ones.
The biggest strides they’re making toward sustainability is their work to clothes the loop (see what we did there). By offering a clothes recycling program, they can remake old, unwanted garments into new ones and give 25% off your next order for helping them do so.
- Inclusivity: Synergy sizes run XS-XL for both women and men. They also do a great job of using diverse models to show that their designs are created with everyone in mind.
- Community & charitable giving: Synergy does not have a specific giving partner. They’d rather extend a helping hand to as many different charitable organizations as possible with their rotating five-back campaigns. Take a look at past partnerships here.
2. ORGANIC BASICS
About Organic Basics
It’s hardly a surprise that they’ve once again found themselves here for their super soft and affordable ethical T shirts available in basic flat colors.
Joy recently had the opportunity to try one of their tees (kindly gifted by Organic Basics) from their silver tech range and she’s given it both the comfort and the ‘multi day wear without smelling bad’ seal of approval.
With well-made, durable designs that can withstand the test of time and an impressive list of ethical criteria, OB’s will keep you positively e-cozy. Check out the impact index of each item where you can get a sense of the true cost of your purchase.
Organic Basics’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Organic Basics uses primarily 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, which is sourced from Europe where the garments are also made. They also use recycled nylon and TENCEL for some.
For their Silver Tech active tees, they use organic cotton blended with trace amounts of sustainably-sourced silver. Rated safe by the EPA, Reach Act-compliant, and Oeko-Tex 100-certified, the silver content adds to the durability, anti-odor properties, and greater heat regulating abilities.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Organic Basics is #goals when it comes to transparency. On their website, you can find not just general locations and descriptions of their favorites, but an in depth breakdown of the employees workload there (including vacation days, hours worked, etc.).
While their BSCI-compliance and Sedex membership (a non-profit that empowers ethical supply chains) does a lot to ensure ethical manufacturing, they personally visit their factories on a regular basis and sit down with the employees to make sure they’re happy and satisfied.
- Green business practices: OB says, “Goodbye carbon!” by offering (free!) carbon neutral shipping worldwide. They accomplish this by purchasing carbon offsets through Chooose to fund the Koru Wind Farm in Canakkale, Turkey (which is a UN verified CO2 reducing project).
They write, “For every order placed from now on we offset one hundred kilos of CO2 – which is actually a lot more than we need to – but that’s fine by us.
For exact numbers, check out their published 2019 Impact Report.
- Inclusivity: Sizes range a full XS-XL
- Community & charitable giving: Through the Organic Basics Fund, OB provides biannual grants to two environmental grassroots activists or organizations that submit proposals.See their past supported projects here.
Is there any ethical fashion piece Patagonia doesn’t make?! So far, it doesn’t seem so (except ethical lingerie, that is), especially if we’re talking about durable fashion designed for active and outdoor use.
Of these eco friendly outdoors t-shirts, you’ll find a wide selection for the whole family: women, men, kids, and even babies. Whether you want long sleeves, short sleeves, or no sleeves at all, they make options for both casual and active wear.
In fact, theirs are the best high performance organic sustainable mens t-shirts we found.
Our favorite is their fully recycled Responsibili-Tee®, “Patagonia’s T-shirt with the lowest carbon footprint”. It’s made with 0.26 pounds of scrap cotton fabric and 4.8 discarded bottles and is bluesign® approved.
Patagonia’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Aside from the fully recycled Responsibili-Tee®, some of the most sustainable options are their 100% organic non-GMO cotton ones.
But if you’re looking to sweat in them, Patagonia even makes performance planet friendly with their Capilene line, a performance knit tee with 50+ UPF sun protection and HeiQ® Fresh durable odor control made from 50-100% recycled polyester.
While the heathers and cross dyes look more fun, opt for the solids because they’re the ones made of 100% recycled poly.
All tees are bluesign® approved and screen-printed using PVC-free and phthalate-free inks.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Patagonia consistently scores among top companies in Fashion revolution’s yearly Fashion Transparency Index. Most recently, they were at around 70% transparency which, while not perfect, is impressive for a brand of that magnitude.
With a vow to practice true Corporate Responsibility, Patagonia both adheres to the California Supply Chains Act of 2010 SB 657..
They publicly share every step of its spiderweb of manufacturing through The Footprint Chronicles to the full extent that they are aware.
Though the supply chain is global, every product is FairTrade sewn by workers paid a living wage. In addition to third party audits, Patagonia executive staff members regularly travel to their mills and factories to ensure ethical standards are up to snuff.
At the bottom of each product page, there’s a link to view the factory where that product is made. Their fair trade T-shirts are mostly made in either Sri Lanka and Taiwan.
- Green business practices: Patagonia has “built robust environmental responsibility and animal welfare programs to guide how we make our materials and products.”
For instance, all company cotton is fully organic and 72% of their line utilizes recycled materials. There is so much information about their green manufacturing choices and materials here.
- Inclusivity: As an outdoor company, Pataognia’s clothes are geared more toward active individuals and their branding follows the more stereotypical image of that.
However, their XS-XXL size range is definitely among the most inclusive of outdoor clothing companies.
- Community & charitable giving: Patagonia FOUNDED 1% for the Planet so suffice it to say they do their best to give back. Either 1% of every sale or 10% of pre-tax profits (whichever is more) is donated directly to environmental initiatives and grassroots organizations.
Aside from that, they’ve published books about what it means to be a responsible company (including founder Yvon Chouinard’s lovely memoir Let My People Go Surfing).
They aren’t afraid to take political action when it comes to environmental conservation. See their Activism page for all sorts of projects they have going on.
The Patagonia Action Works makes it easy for you to find local initiatives to get involved with on your own, too.
4. NO NASTIES
About No Nasties
No Nasties makes fair trade t-shirts without fast fashion issues. Synthetic fabrics, toxic dyes, and sweatshops? “NOPE. NAH. NAH-UH.”
Their women’s styles include basic necks, crops, shrug tees, drop shoulders, and more available in either solids or prints. While there may be fewer styles in their mens fair trade t-shirts available, the quality is all the same.
All in all, their products are organic (no GMO, no toxic chemicals, no farmer suicides) , fair trade (no child labour, no unsafe factories, no worker exploitation), [and] vegan (no fur, no wool, no leather, no silk, no animal products)”.
They hold a PETA certification to prove the latter.
No Nasties’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: All No Nast-TEES are made with 100% GOTS-organic, fairtrade cotton slub.
- Supply chain & labour practices: No Nasties is based in Goa, India, and all their products are fully Indian designed, grown and manufactured so they always know #whomademyclothes.
They were actually the first Indian clothing brand to be Fairtrade licensed and only work with other entities that are certified by either Fairtrade International or FLO-CERT.
For cotton, they work with Chetna Organic, is a farmer-owned co-operative with a focus on sustainable farming. This co-op now operates in several Indian states and employs over 40,000 local people.
Cotton is then milled in either Kolkata & Noida through Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills (one of India’s most sustainable) and sewn into the final sustainable organic t-shirts nearby.
Watch videos of the production for EVERY product on the product page!
- Green business practices: Each product page has impact assessment of water saved, driving emissions prevented, and area of land farmed without pesticides.
They use Green Story to compile a full impact report, which you can see the summary of here or read the full report here. So far, they’ve saved over 23 million gallons of drinking water and 70 million hours of LED bulb energy.
They also use plastic-free packaging. Specifically, garments are packed in a reusable (or compostable) cotton drawstring bag and recycled cardboard shipping box.
- Inclusivity: No Nasties sizes run from XS-L. Their product images are inclusive.
- Community & charitable giving: You’ve heard of “buy one, get-one free”, but what about “buy one, get one tree”? For every regular product purchased, No Nasties plant a tree through Grow Trees “complimen-tree”… planting trees and making excellent puns?! This company is our jam!
They also plant a tree for every day they’ve been in business (since April 2011). These trees are planted in the No Nasties Grove located in Odisha, India, where they source their organic cotton.
No Nasties also founded the separate non-profit initiative Once Upon A Doug. This program upcycles factory waste fabric into accessories through the work of women from cotton farming communities in India.
This both reduces textile waste and provides work and financial support for these women.
5. THE CLASSIC T-SHIRT COMPANY
About The Classic T-Shirt Company
The Classic T-Shirt Company makes ethical luxury T-shirts that are both super soft and built to last.
With solid colors available in just four styles (either short or long sleeves and crew or V-necks), they provide enough choice to suit personal style without being superfluous.
The ladies boyfriend-fit tees strike the perfect balance between tight and baggy so as to give you the most flattering, classic fit: “Forget fast fashion: these shirts are never at the whims of the latest trend.”
Founded by Paul and Olga Garibian, The Classic T-Shirt Company was created to prove to their daughter Gabriella “that you can both be successful and do the right thing.”
This is a company that wholeheartedly believes, “It’s not just the T-shirt, but how it’s made.”
The Classic T-Shirt Company’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: All tees by this company are made with 100% GOTS certified organic cotton and dyed with premium, non-toxic Azo-free dyes.
The cotton is also combed (for softness), ring-spun, and pre-shrunk so the final product is designed to maintain color and shape over time.
Resistant to stretching out and getting those dreaded pit stains means these tees will last you much longer than normal.
- Supply chain & labour practices: The Classic T Shirt Company receives a 5/5 for both people and planet on the Good On You fashion index.
Everything is produced in the USA, starting with organic cotton farming and milling. Yarns are then sent to a vertically integrated state-of-the-art facility in L.A. for knitting, handcrafting, and embroidering.
Finally they go to a neighboring Amazon storage and fulfilment facility to limit shipping emissions.
Committed to fair trade principles, all these entities provide fair wages, reasonable hours, and excellent working conditions because “we want everyone involved in the production cycle of our T-shirts to thrive.”
For further transparency, each product page breaks down the percentage of cost in manufacturing the t-shirt.
- Green business practices: Importantly, this company creates products that are designed to last. Durability above all prevents textile waste.
They achieve this by using only premium materials and putting every garment through multiple shrink tests and quality control assurances.
Beyond that, they use only recycled, plastic-free packaging.
- Inclusivity: With sizes ranging from XS to XXL, they’ve got most bodies covered.
- Community & charitable giving: The Classic T Shirt Company is a member of Pledge 1%.
This means they donate an automatic 1% of their time and profits to one of three different causes: providing safe water to communities in need, planting trees, and ocean cleanup. You even get to choose which!
Aside from sustainability and variety, they’re quite popular because they’re reasonably priced. Pact is out to prove you don’t need to be affluent to make ethical choices.
Their affordable eco friendly t-shirts are available for men, women, and kids and in all kinds of styles like raglan ¾ sleeves, V-neck, sporty, and relaxed fits.
They sell crewnecks, V-necks, polos, and long sleeve tees. Most are only solid, simple colors which make them easy to layer and pair with all your favorite outfits.
Pact’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Just about all of Pact’s sustainable organic t-shirts are made from 100% Fair Trade organic cotton. Only the Stretch Fit tee also has some spandex in there, but that is based on current designs so just be sure to double check the materials to avoid this if you can.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Pact clothing is made in Fair Trade certified factories meaning you’re shopping for strictly sweatshop free eco friendly t-shirts.
Though a US brand based in Boulder, CO they choose to manufacture in India where 74% of their organic cotton is sourced. They explain:
“This makes a lot of economical and environmental sense for our clothing to be made where our organic cotton is harvested […] We view this as an opportunity to better the global community and make an impact on lives all over. Our clothing will always be sweatshop-free and child-labor-free.
- Green business practices: Aside from saving massive amounts of water by using organic cotton (which uses 95% less water than traditional cotton), Pact also uses water saving and recycling production methods, as well as energy conservation techniques.
- Inclusivity: For women, their tees are sized XS-XL and for men, S-XL.
Plus, Pact’s motto is #JustWearYou which they literally embody by showing off their products on real women, not just stick-thin models.
- Community & charitable giving: Pact’s Give Back. Wear Forward clothing donation program takes gently used clothes of any brand and donates them to various non-profits who give them to people in need. Charity and reducing textile waste all in one!
7. PEOPLE TREE
About People Tree
They were the very first fashion brand to be given the World Fair Trade Organisation’s (WFTO) “Fair Trade” label. The literal OGs of Fair Trade!
Plus they have a great selection of women’s fashion, like the fair trade dresses we talked about here. All garments are designed to be easily mixed and matched for a “capsule, multi-tasking wardrobe”.
This minimalism is embodied in their simple choices of only sustainable white and black t shirts, available in tanks, tees, long sleeves, turtlenecks, and bodysuits.
People Tree’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: People Tree uses as many natural fibers derived and closed-loop manufacturing methods as possible.
Their silky soft tees are available in two blends: 67% TENCEL™ Lyocell / 33% GOTS organic cotton, and 95% organic cotton / 5% elastane. The former is obviously more sustainable than the latter.
They also use low impact, GOTS-certified, and azo-free dyes.
- Supply chain & labor practices: People Tree’s UK-designed sustainable t shirts are fitting from a brand with so many impressive eco-credentials (and we’re hard to impress).
Their fabrics are certified by Fairtrade International (FLO), the Soil Association, and PETA, of which you can read more about in their 2019 Social Review.
Most of their supply chain is located in Nepal and Bangladesh. They use primarily small producers that they’ve worked with for over 15 years and over 90% of this supply line is WFTO-certified.
- Green business practices: PT production prioritizes manual manufacturing techniques to cut back on emissions and preserve traditional artisan techniques.
While being free from machines isn’t always possible, a lot of their pieces are made via manual processes like hand weaving, hand knitting, hand embroidery, and hand block printing.
- Inclusivity: People Tree tees are sized 8-16, or 2-14 for those looking for US sizes.
- Community & charitable giving: To give back, People Founded a separate entity appropriately called the People Tree Foundation. Through this organization, they raise awareness of environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry, promoting Fair Trade as a needed solution.
They also support other independent projects like Bombolulu, which works to provide opportunities for Kenyans with physical disabilities
Outerknown was founded by 11 time World Surf League Champion, Kelly Slater and acclaimed designer, John Moore. Per John Moore:
“We’re surfers who grew up with surf brands, but we grew out of logos, and we want to wear clothing that’s made better and looks better.”
Outerknown was originally ‘known’ for great quality sustainable menswear but has an incredible range for women too. Their range of sustainable t-shirts include slouchy low neck options, every day basic t-shirts, vintage washed out looks and a few stripes thrown in.
Outerknown’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Pretty much all organic cotton tees, with the exception of a few that are made with 3% ordinary cotton and 97% organic cotton
- Supply chain & labour practices: All Outerknown’s t-shirts have been “sewn in a Fair Trade Certified™ facility” which means the makers have been paid a premium for their work; they collectively decide how to use this extra funding to better their lives.”
Their suppliers “abide by the strict guidelines of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), Bluesign, and Fair Trade (for select partners)”.
- Inclusivity: Outerknown sizes for tees range from XS -L in womens and S-XXL in mens
9. THREADS 4 THOUGHT
About Threads 4 Thought
NYC brand Threads 4 Thought, or T4T for short, encourages people to “wear the change you want to see.”
They’re doing their part by offering all sorts of sustainable fashion alternatives to #wearthoughtfully for both women, men, and kids. This includes ethical activewear, loungewear, and casual wear.
T4T’s tees (try say that three times fast) are primarily loose and comfort oriented, but a few of their styles are more form fitting.
Otherwise, you’ll find V-necks, scoops necks, crewnecks, and even high necks. You might even say it’s a huge varie-tee!
T4T’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: These tees are made from a handful of different fabric blends, comprised of organic cotton, recycled polyester, and Lenzing Modal.
The most sustainable options are their 100% organic cotton tees (like the pictured “Cancel Plastic” one above- we do love an eco friendly T shirt with a message!).
Those are followed closely by their comfort Jersey tees, made of 60% Organic Cotton, 40% Lenzing Modal. The only ones we recommend avoiding if you can are their Triblend Jerseys, made of 50% Recycled Polyester, 37% Organic Cotton, and 13% Rayon (which is the one fabric to avoid).
- Supply chain & labor practices: T4T works hard to ensure every one of their factories operate under the best working conditions, as confirmed by their various Fair Trade and Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certifications.
- Green business practices: T4T reuse 95% of the materials used in production in order to eliminate textile waste as best they can.
Their main factory where the bulk of garments are made is WRAP-certified and recycles 80% of the water used in production.
- Inclusivity: T4T’s tees come in all manner of sizes, XS to XXL. Aside from size inclusivity, they aim to be budget and lifestyle inclusive by offering interest-free payments installments.
- Community & charitable giving: T4T donates a percentage of their profits to the International Rescue Committee, a program committing to helping refugees and other communities in-need.
Their soft organic cotton tees are suitable for anyone looking for a comfortable option, whether it’s in the form of a fun graphic tee or a plain, flowy slouch tee.
Because they’re so light and breathable (being made with an active bend in mind) they make a good option for ethical summer t-shirts.
While not all prAna garments bear the Fair Trade certified badge, they make it easy to filter those that are to ensure you’re buying ethically made products. However, because prAna takes their social responsibility seriously, even those that aren’t necessarily certified as fair trade still come from ethical suppliers.
prAna’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: prAna’s sustainable fabrics include organic cotton, recycled polyester, hemp, and TENCEL modal.
Some of their less sustainable fabrics include virgin polyester and spandex, which are sometimes blended with the previous organic materials. Try to opt for those that are fully organic or recycled if you can.
To help, prAna’s website allows you to filter the tees by qualifiers like Responsible Forest Material, Recycled Content, Organic, and Bluesign certified.
- Supply chain & labour practices: prAna is a pretty big company which means they have a supply chain to match. While that makes it more difficult to obtain full traceability, prAna does remarkably well for their scale, and they’re always seeking to improve.
Wherever possible they use Fair Trade factories and bear a Textile Exchange membership. All t-shirts come from factories in either Vietnam, India, or China. You can shop by country of origin.
- Green business practices: prAna is an official bluesign® partner which means they audit their manufacturers against the use of harmful substances. This means a more safe work environment, minimized chemical leach into the environment, and a less toxic final product.
- Inclusivity: Their sizes still run from XS-XL and they include diversity in their product images.
- Community & charitable giving: An avid supporter of Outdoor Outreach, prAna’s contributions provide disenfranchised, mostly urban youth the opportunity to get outside and experience the outdoors.
In addition to this, their sponsored athletes receive company support and backing to implement their own individual outreach efforts.
Thought started with a thought that occurred on vacation in Australia in 1995. Seven years later in 2002, the then titled Braintree Clothing made its debut at various London pop-up markets.
Their mantra is: “Wear me, love me, mend me, pass me on,” and they encourage you to make it your mantra, too.
They have a decent range of t-shirts and a variety of styles. Shopping is easy with tons of filters, including by fabric type.
Thought’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: This ethical t-shirt brand makes use of three base fabrics: hemp, bamboo and certified organic cotton. These are then blended with additional fabrics like elastane, rayon made from recycled tree pulp, and viscose derived from bamboo.
Because it’s likely that harsh chemicals are used in the rendering of these fabrics (viscose and rayon are famously chemical heavy), the best options are those made from hemp, organic cotton and recycled polyester.
Finally, these fabrics contain only azo-free dyes and OEKO-TEX 100 compliant finishes.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Just about all fabric is sourced from China where it is also manufactured. It’s chosen for its quality fiber offerings and the ability to keep shipping emissions lower across production.
While not officially certified by Fair Trade entities, they are a Common Objective member and uphold their supply chain to equivalent standards. Unfortunately, other than their published supplier code of conduct and animal welfare policies, they don’t get more specific about their factories. Thought could provide more transparency on this.
- Inclusivity: Thought is considerate in their product marketing and modeling. Aside from US sizes 2-14, they use a unique range models of all shapes and ages.
- Community & charitable giving: Thought works with a variety of charitable partners. Most notably, they are founding partners of Common Objective, an impact initiative that champions ethical fashion production by incentivizing it with financial returns.
12. AMOUR VERT
About Amour Vert
Amour Vert’s ethical t-shirt collection is vast, including everything from plain basics to dressier tees with elements like shoulder ruffles, wide neck lines, and billowing sleeves.
Amour Vert’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Amour Vert is aware of the crucial fact that 60% of a garment’s impact comes from fabric production alone. That’s why many of their tees are made with low impact fabrics like cotton jersey and modal. Of course, they’re dyed with only non-toxic dyes.
However, be aware that some designs utilize a blend of either modal and spandex or cotton, modal, and spandex. While these tees are certainly better than purely synthetic ones, they aren’t as good as the completely compostable ones so try to shop for those instead.
- Supply chain & labor practices: 97% of all Amour Vert garments are produced in one of six factories, all located within a few miles of their San Francisco offices. Have a look in the product descriptions for which one exactly that particular design is made in.
Their website contains further details on each factory, such as the number of employees, gender ratio of employees, and who the owner/manager is.
- Inclusivity: To match their wide range of styles, Amour Vert uses an inclusive range of models and their tees run from XS-L
- Community & charitable giving: Through the Tees = Trees campaign, Amour Vert will plant a tree through American Forests for every t-shirt purchased. Extra incentive to support this environmentally friendly t-shit brand! By the end of 2019, they’ve planted 292,538 trees over a span of five years.
13. GROCERIES APPAREL
About Groceries Apparel
Groceries Apparel offers a wide selection of ladies tees including ethical cropped t-shirts, classic crews, tank tops, v-necks, scoop necks, ¾ sleeves, and tees with a twist…literally in the case of the Marley Twisted Tee pictured above.
Gentlemen, they haven’t forgotten about you either, even if you don’t get quite the same variety.
No matter what you buy, you can purchase soundly knowing it was made in the most ethical way possible. According to this US brand’s manifesto:
“We are redefining transparency and human responsibility by supporting family farms, localized manufacturing, living wages, and Monsanto-free post-consumer ingredients. […] We are the future of our industry and we are here to create a demand for our values and would rather go out of business than compromise.”
Groceries Apparel’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Because they make a wide range of tees, they use a wide range of materials, but their 100% California-grown GOTS organic cotton California Tee “is undeniably the best tee in the game”.
Other styles like the Milk Top and Temescal Tie-Back are made of 95% Tencel and 5% Thiuram and Caba-free Spandex (meaning it’s just about as sustainable as spandex can get). We’d suggest avoiding those that have blends of regular spandex
Other materials in Groceries Apparel tops include Lyocell, cotton, hemp, and recycled plastic, and you can easily shop “by ingredient” for your favorites.
- Supply chain & labour practices: In order to ensure they are truly able to claim they manufacture using ethical and sustainable methods, Groceries Apparel operates their own California-based factory. There they seek to empower all their employees through good working conditions and fair wages, paying an average well above Californian minimum wage.
Aside from manufacturing in California, they purchase 98% of their materials from fellow Los Angeles based vendors to support the local economy.
- Green business practices: Because Groceries Apparel couldn’t find a single certification to embody all their beliefs, they created their own. Calling themselves Seed to Skin certified means all of the following:
“We source directly to the seed and trace all of our fabrics from the farm to our factory. We only use 100% GMO-free, Pesticide & Herbicide-free, Recycled & Fair-traded Ingredients. From seed to skin we are committed to developing awareness of all lifecycle stages of our fabrics and garments.”
- Inclusivity: Groceries Apparel uses a wide array of models and have a XS-L size range.
14. LA RELAXED
About LA Relaxed
Their t-shirt collection includes essential v-necks, graphic tees, crop tops, and luxuriously loose, slouchy tees.
LA Relaxed’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: LA Relaxed uses mostly plant-based fabrics for their fashion, like non-GMO organic cotton, linen, hemp, Lyocell, and Modal. However, their Lyocell and Modal designs also contain a 5% blend of spandex. We prefer the 100% organic cotton tees!
- Supply chain & labour practices: LA Relaxed prioritizes local sources and vendors because it both creates jobs and minimizes their carbon footprint. As such, most of their supply chain is US-based, from design through to manufacturing.
With a few exceptions (i.e. TENCEL Modal from Austria), they knit almost every fiber in their Los Angeles factory.
All workers receive fair treatment, good working conditions, and living wages: “We strive to treat everyone from customers to employees with care and kindness.”
- Green business practices: Keeping manufacturing local also helps LA Relaxed stay green, not just by reducing shipping miles, but by allowing them to better use renewable energy and materials at their disposal to minimize waste in all entities of their production process.
- Inclusivity: LA Relaxed tees come sized XS-XL and they use a diverse cast of models to promote an inclusive brand image.
- Community & charitable giving: They donate clothing to Safe Place for Youth, which in turn gives these clothes to homeless youth in Venice, CA. They also organize events which support Safe Place for Youth by providing meals, housing, education, healthcare, and employment opportunities.
15. MATE THE LABEL
About MATE The Label
MATE the Label is based in Los Angeles, California where all their products are knit, cut, sewn, and dyed. If you’re a woman (sorry guys), join Team Dress Clean by supporting this vegan “Clean Essentials brand”.
While their main styles include boxy cropped crews, classic v-necks, and classic crews, there are so many ways to personalize between color choice and vintage-inspired graphics, great for those looking for a slightly edgy sustainable T shirt.
MATE The Label’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: MATE is “committed to using non-toxic, natural and certified Organic materials” meaning most their fabrics are 100% GOTS organic cotton.
A handful are made using also sustainable TENCEL and flax, and they’ll be adding hemp to the fabric lineup soon.
With no protein derived fibers, they make fully ethical vegan T shirts.
Of course they use low impact and dyes and even cotton thread (a detail so many companies overlook but does indeed affect the compostability of the garment).
Their thread isn’t certified organic yet but they’re hoping to switch to one that is in the near future.
- Supply chain & labour practices: MATE sourced their cotton from ethical farms in Maharashtra, India, but the rest of production takes place at home in the United States (all right in L.A.). In their words, “Our supply chain is v localized. Ten miles to be exact.”
While their factories are not fair trade certified, they are held to the same criteria, and to California’s strict labor laws.
- Green business practices: Because of their highly localized manufacturing process, MATE greatly reduces their carbon footprint by essentially eliminating shipping emissions post fabric sourcing.
They also have a garment recycling program in the works (“so we can recycle them and (poof) turn them into new product”), use plastic free hang tags, and use 100% recycled materials for shipping, either paper envelopes or cardboard boxes.
Each garment is currently delivered in a protective poly bag (as of March 2020) made of a proprietary blend of plant-based and petroleum polymers. They hope to switch to a fully compostable bag soon.
All in all, they try to eliminate single use, both in their products and their general business.
This means using eco-friendly office supplies (like stand up desks made of scrap wood and sustainable harvested bamboo), composting their food scraps through LA Compost, and stocking the bathroom with organic tampons, eco toilet paper, and earth-friendly soap.
- Inclusivity: MATE is a brand that is here for female empowerment. According to founder Kayti O’Connell Carr, “Our goal is to offer Women everywhere a Clean product that is just as beautiful as it is sustainable. We are proud to be a female founded company that is predominately operated by Women.”
Their XS-XL sizes and varied styles have something to offer for any woman in the market for comfortable ethical T shirts.
HOW WE CHOSE THESE ECO FRIENDLY AND ETHICAL T SHIRTS
We put a lot of thought into what sustainable and ethical fashion mean. We wrote a comprehensive guide on it here, which you can always use a refresher or reference if needed.
Here’s the gist of our criteria:
- Materials: First and foremost, we want to see companies choosing sustainable materials for t-shirts. This is a HUGE one so well touch a little more on that in a dedicated section below.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Here we look for things like transparency, small and controlled supply chains (ideally), and fair trade labor practices. Specifically, we look for third party auditors and verifiers.
There’s unfortunately a lot of greenwashing in the world of “ethical” fashion and third party certifications help us differentiate real sustainable crews from “fake news”. Some of these include:
- Fair trade: The big one. Fair trade is basically what it sounds like: that the materials or products were acquired in exchange for fair labor conditions and compensation.
- This certification wards against unsafe work environments, discrimination, harassment, abuse, or child/forced labor. All employees must be properly trained, paid a fair living wage, and have reasonable working hours.
- OEKO-Tex 100: Checks that no harmful chemicals (i.e. colorants, heavy metals, formaldehyde, azo-dyes) were used in manufacturing.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): Certifies that fabrics have been grown and made into final garments without chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, or machine harvesting. This is especially relevant to sustainable T shirts where organic cotton is the most common material.
- B-Corp: The gold standard certification which requires a yearly audit of ALL entities in the supply chain and assesses them in over 80 impact areas.
- Green business practices: A catch all for all other ways brands try to reduce their environmental impact: carbon offsetting, renewable energy, and low waste/plastic free packaging.
- Inclusivity: The fashion industry isn’t known for its promotion of a healthy body image, so we like brands that are trying to change that by using inclusive models and branding and offering a range of sizes to fit ALL bodies.
- Charitable endeavors: While we understand this can be hard for smaller brands and upstarts, we love to see companies giving back to social or environmental causes, whether it’s by giving money, time, or a nice shout out to raise awareness.
SUSTAINABLE T SHIRT FABRICS
Fabric choice is important; it’s basically the single biggest determinant for a sustainable garment. So what is the most sustainable fabric for t-shirts?
Well, there are a few. Mostly, we want eco friendly organic T shirts, or those made from natural and biodegradable fibers that can be composted at end-of-life. Such fabrics include:
- Organic cotton: The most common fabric in our list, this refers to cotton grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers (which means it’s better for the workers and the wearers!).
Organically grown cotton also requires far less water and land area to grow than traditional cotton, which is one of the world’s dirtiest fibers. Plus organic cotton makes for some incredibly comfortable eco friendly t shirts!
- Organic Hemp / Linen: Hemp and linen are also biological plant-based fiber (from hemp and flax plants). Both are non-water intensive crops and can sustainably be woven into materials that are breathable and UV protective.
- TENCEL (Lyocell/Modal): From the Austrian company TENCEL, Lyocell and Modal are renewable and compostable fabrics made from eucalyptus and beech wood pulp, respectively. Best of all. They’re made from an entirely closed-loop,solvent-spinning process, which recycles water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%.
Second to organic fibers, we opt for recycled synthetics (as opposed to virgin petroleum-based fibers that draw on our world’s dwindling reserves). These are fabrics like polyester, nylon, and spandex.
Recycled fibers are good in the sense that they’re making use of materials already in existence that would likely otherwise go to the landfill and produce greenhouse gases. However, they’re less ideal than organic fibers because they can’t be composted when the garment wears out and will still leave behind microplastics from washing.
What about bamboo? If you noticed we didn’t include any bamboo options on this list, you may be wondering, “Are bamboo t-shirts sustainable?”
The answer is: it’s complicated.
As a plant, bamboo is amazing. It’s one of the fastest renewing plants on earth, requires only natural rainfall to grow, can be harvested without killing the whole plant, and consumes more carbon dioxide than hardwood trees.
However, how it’s turned into a fiber is often incredibly unsustainable. The process of turning bamboo into viscose or rayon uses a whole host of harmful chemicals. This can be balanced and made more sustainable by using a closed loop process where the chemicals are re-used over and over again instead of thrown out into waterways.
However, past experience has taught us it’s almost impossible to tell whether companies actually employ closed loop processes so we try to avoid bamboo unless we’re absolutely sure.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON SUSTAINABLE AND ECO FRIENDLY T-SHIRTS
As always, our list of the best eco friendly T shirts is intended to be a resource if you need to buy new.
Until then, the most sustainable options are to 1) wear what you already have, and 2) buy used (though we know tees often get worn thoroughly so this may not always be easy).
Buying something as basic as a tee may seem like a small, inconsequential decision, but think about how many t shirts have you owned?
Take the opportunity to turn those simple choices into more sustainable ones, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Give this article a share if you found it useful and help spread the cozy eco-minded feels of donning a truly environmentally friendly T shirt.