In the spirit of snuggling in, here’s another comfy article of sustainable fashion: the ethical and fair trade sweater.
Who doesn’t love lounging around at home in their favorite sweater with a hot cuppa and a good (sustainable?) living book? And since so much of the world is currently living under some form of isolation, we wanted to look for the best fair trade sweaters online, so you can get cozy and stay cozy, without ever leaving the safety of your quarantine.
For all the knitwear know-how on how we chose the brands in this list, be sure to unravel the whole article, all the way to the bottom (or click here to jump down). Note that while finding Fair Trade knit sweaters is our gold standard, not all these options are officially certified fair trade. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still ethical and uphold fair labor standards. It just means we had to look at their practices with a little more scrutiny.
While all brands listed here are positively e-cozy, there are some jumpers that jump to the top. Tentree has tip-top standards and products, especially including some of the best mens ethical sweaters (though they have the ladies covered, too). For Fair Trade wool sweaters, Naadam has some luxurious options, and for vegan sweaters, Patagonia is a clear winner.
As always, we encourage you to only buy new if you have to. Where you can, opt for thrifting first. If you do buy a new sweater with recycled (or virgin) synthetics, we suggest using a Guppy Friend wash bag to prevent micro plastics washing into the ocean. You can find one at Reformation or REI.
QUICK LINKS FOR SUSTAINABLE AND ETHICAL SWEATERS
SUSTAINABLE AND ETHICAL SWEATER BRANDS IN THE USA / CANADA
Certified B-Corp and Canadian brand Tentree creates stylish yet outdoor clothing to “motivate and encourage environmental stewardship through earth-first apparel”.
This includes a huge selection of items for men and women, like graphic tees, tanks, button-ups, shorts, pants, jackets, all manner of accessories, and of course, some really affordable Fair Trade sweaters.
Tentree combines durable, outdoorsy designs with luxuriously cozy cuts and fabrics. Overall, we love these styles and we love Tentree’s brand philosophy:
“We believe in the power of small acts, so by empowering everyone and anyone with easy access to sustainable solutions, those tiny seeds of change, can grow to change the world. #ItTakesAForest”
Tentree’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: We consider almost all of Tentree’s fabrics sustainable. Their vegan sweaters are made of organic cotton (many of them 100%), recycled polyester, and REPREVE® recycled polyester. A couple of styles include very minuscule additions (like 2%) of elastane.
You can sort items made of your favorite fabric on this page.
- Supply chain & labor practices: To “ensure that all the people who work with Tentree are respected, valued, and feel safe”, they require all suppliers and partners to sign their code of conduct. And as per their B-Corp certification, it has some pretty high standards.
Plus, they’re not just a regular B-Corp, they’re currently ranked in the top 1% for manufacturing as compared to other B-Corps.
You can also see where each product was made on their website, as well as their full Factory Ledger. All factories bear one or more certifications by WRAP, BSCI, SA8000, Fair Trade, and/or Fair Wear Foundation.
- Green business practices: Like some other brands listed here, Tentree tracks the impact of their garments, or rather the lack thereof by tallying water, CO2, and waste saved compared to industry standards. These “Eco Logs” are created pre-production with the assistance of GreenStep so they know the impact of new designs before giving it the green light.
- Inclusivity: Tentree has three company goals. Accessibility (in both affordability and body inclusivity) is one of them. Their products are designed “for those who identify with the outdoors, but are not defined by them”.
For sizing, ethical mens sweaters come in the S-XXL range, and women’s a slightly smaller XS-XL range.
- Community & charitable giving: Tentree is an unusual name, but after learning how they plant ten trees for every item purchased, it all makes sense! As of March 2020, they’ve planted over 41 million trees, but have a 1 billion tree goal by 2030.
Planting trees doesn’t just counter climate change; it also aids greatly in land restoration, especially since Tentree plants them in areas of damaged biodiversity across Madagascar, Indonesia, Senegal, Nepal, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and Haiti. By choosing fast-growing multi-purpose trees, they can achieve “rapid and continued return of indigenous diversity to these lands”.
Be sure to register your trees so you can track their planting location and impact over the years. You can even get photos of your tree geotagged with its coordinates on request.
If you’ve read even a few of our sustainable fashion articles, you’ll know we’re gaga for the ‘Gonia. Patagonia, that is. We’ve personally owned a lot of their garments over the years and can attest to their quality and durability.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re one of the most conscious companies around (and have been long before sustainable fashion was trendy).
As an outdoor-focused brand, Patagonia’s sweaters aren’t just comfortable but designed for a little bit of rough wear in harsh and cold environments. Shop sweater tanks, sweater vests, quilted cotton pullovers, heathered fleece zip necks, and more.
Their eco friendly Fair Trade sweaters are available for kids, women, and men alike.
Patagonia’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Their sweaters, by and large, are made of either organic cotton or recycled fibers. Even their ultra-classic Synchilla Snap-T fleece and Better Sweater (pictured) heathered fleece (which has the aesthetic of wool knit but is vegan and easier to care for) are made of 100% recycled polyester.
They even have some made of recycled cashmere, making for the most sustainable cashmere sweaters available.
PS: All fabrics are dyed using PVC-free and phthalate-free inks.
- Supply chain & labor practices: For the last few years of Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index, Patagonia has ranked top of the pops.
This is super impressive when you consider their long history and sizable supply chain. If you want to see why they’re so transparent, look no farther than The Footprint Chronicles on the bottom of each product page, which tells you exactly what factory and what country the item was made.
They use FSC-certified TENCEL and Responsible Down and Responsible Wool-certified sources. Their factories are also Fair Trade certified and subject to regular third party and Patagonia executive staff audits.
- Green business practices: Patagonia honestly has more green business initiatives than we can list. But to name a few, they recycle machinery and chemicals, are working toward creating a regenerative farming certification, and have a number of Bluesign® approved garments.
100% of Patagonia’s cotton is organic and 72% of garments utilize recycled materials (as of early 2020).
Aside from offering a clothing buyback program and reselling items through their Worn Wear initiative, they encourage fashion circularity by improving the same classic designs (some that have literally been around since the 1980s!) rather than continually producing new ones so as to improve the longevity and demand for their vintage pieces.
- Inclusivity: Patagonia is one of the most renowned outdoor athletic brands on the market, and they still offer one of the most inclusive size ranges around, running from XXS-XXL for most tops They also now display a much more diverse range of models in their product photos.
- Community & charitable giving: Lots of fashion brands are members of 1% for the Planet, but Patagonia FOUNDED it and donate 1% of sales or 10% of pre-tax profits (whichever is more) to grassroots environmental initiatives.
Patagonia not only assumes political and corporate responsibility themselves but is out to change the industry and help other brands do so as too. Through books like The Responsible Company and CEO Yvon Chouinard’s memoir Let My People Go Surfing, they’re spreading awareness and sparking change.
If that doesn’t inspire you to get involved, maybe their Patagonia Action Works will, by connecting you with causes and events to support rights in your own community.
With the primary objective of “embed[ding] social and environmental responsibility into each product from beginning to end”, Naadam makes ethical cashmere sweaters for women and men. Their styles include cropped hoodies, flatlock seams, ribbed sweaters, cardigans, and so much more. For a work at home day, try their cozy Boatneck sweater (pictured above)
Naadam was founded in 2013 by Matthew Scanlan and Diederik Rijsemus after visiting Mongolia. Inspired by the country but dismayed at the unfair prices the herders received for their quality cashmere, Matt and Diederik designed a company that cut out the middle man. That way, they could pay the herders more.
Naadam’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: 100% of Naadam’s materials come from either renewable or recycled sources, including mostly cashmere along with some silk, wool, and cotton. They also have a new preferred purchasing policy that prioritizes materials with GOTS, OEKO-tex 100, Responsible Wool Standard, and Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certifications.
Their organic cashmere (which makes up 75% of their products) comes from the Zalaa Jinst white goat, the only entirely white breed of cashmere goat in Mongolia that yields an extra long and luxurious fiber measuring only 15 microns in size. For reference, human hair averages 100 microns.
The cashmere is harvested through old school hand combing, which they call “the only cruelty-free cashmere” since even hand shearing with electric clippers can be stressful for the animals. They also invest in veterinary care and sustainable breeding programs for their herds.
All cashmere suppliers must agree to their animal treatment policy based on the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s Five Freedoms, American Veterinary Care Association Standards, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and A Greener World.
- Supply chain and labor practices: They use two main BSCI compliance factories in Chifeng, China where about 90% of their product is manufactured. All suppliers and workshops must have documented and third-party audited labor and environmental certifications, as well as agree to their ILO-equivalent Code of Conduct and pay fair wages (including making regular wage adjustments based on regional cost of living).
Aside from providing higher direct-to-supplier prices for their cashmere, they also invest in their herder’s’ livelihoods by providing livestock insurance, healthcare coverage, a 401K retirement fund, commuter benefits, clean drinking water to over 700 Gobi desert families, and opening community parks complete with new trees and soccer fields,
For even more facts and goals they hope to hit by 2025, check out their 2019 Sustainability Report…Na-damn- there’s some transparency!
- Green business practices: Naadam is trying to “graze the bar” by preventing overgrazing and grassland desertification by securing an area the size of Manhattan specifically for their goats. This way they have tons of room to roam without risk of damaging greater environmental areas.
They also raise their goats in the Bayangovi region of the Gobi desert which studies show to be less impacted by desertification than other parts.
Aside from using 100% FSC-certified recycled paper hang tags and filler and 100% recycled plastic mailers rated to break down in a couple years (rather than hundreds), other green acts include: using clean energy to power production facilities, implementing closed-loop water dyeing systems, having a concentrated supply chain, and offsetting all shipping emissions through Carbon Fund.
They hope to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2025.
- Inclusivity: Naadam sweaters are sized XS-XL. They use a diverse range of models in their marketing
- Community and charitable giving: Naadam continues to go green by reducing textile waste and being charitable at the same time by donating returned or damaged products to Green Tree Textiles.
Naadam also regularly contributes to the Gobi Revival Fund, a Mongolian non-profit that invests in rural herding communities and helps them build resilience against issues like climate change, extreme weather, desertification and urbanization.
They’re also working with this fund to establish the Tsagan Yama Cooperative to help further secure fair cashmere pricing for Mongolian herders.
In the words of our next brand, “Sustainability is the destination, Outerknown is the journey.” Founded by eleven-time World Surf League champion Kelly Slater and designer John Moore.
Outerknown believes “we have a responsibility to make clothing that respects the world around us” which is why they’re certified by both the Fair Labor Association and Bluesign®. Their S.E.A. (Social and Environmental Accountability)-approved garments represent the best of the best, meeting the strictest sustainable and ethical manufacturing standards.
They’re definitely one of the top notch ethical menswear brands on the market and their ethical mens sweaters and knitwear do not disappoint. While the design is limited to the same classic crew cut (because what else do you really need?) you can choose between many different materials.
Womens styles are a little more varied, including Fair Trade cashmere sweaters, ponchos, turtlenecks, cardigans, boxy flare bottom sweaters, and sparse-knit sweaters to curate a more layered look.
Outerknown’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Organic cotton is the superstar fabric of choice for Outerknown sweaters. Their line of “Waterless” sweaters, like the one pictured above, are 100% Organic Cotton that’s been dyed with a closed-loop GiDelave™ diffusion process. It’s so named because it uses 98% less water and less energy than traditional dying (on top of all the water organic cotton growing saves).
Other fabrics include upcycled cotton, COOLMAX® recycled polyester, recycled cashmere and extra-fine merino wool. All fabrics are made with minimal or no chemicals, which earns them their Bluesign® approval.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Outerknown garments are made in Peru, Mexico, and China in Fair Trade certified factories. Their suppliers are also made to agree to Fair Labor Association (FLA) standards by signing Outerknown’s Code of Conduct. You can find all their suppliers here because “sustainability starts with transparency.”
- Inclusivity: Outerknown offers fully inclusive mens sizing ranging from S-XXL in tops. Their womens sizing is, unfortunately, a little more limited, from XS-L.
Everlane is a San Francisco based fashion brand co-founded in 2010 by Jesse Farmer and Michael Preysman (who was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for the feat).
And no wonder. Between their massive selection of women’s and menswear in about every conceivable category and their incredibly transparent practices, they’re certainly a company to be admired.
Their sweaters are a little less “couch potato” and a little more “casual professional” with slim-fitting crop tops, elegant cardigans, and sustainable cashmere sweaters in many different looks.
For men, they make mainly classic crews to be worn alone or with a collared shirt underneath.
Everlane’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Everlane sweaters are made of various blends of organic cotton, linen, COOLMAX® EcoMade (recycled) polyester, merino wool, and Grade-A cashmere sourced from Inner Mongolia. Since “not all cashmere is equal”, this represents the longest and finest available.
They also use a fair bit of Alpaca, which is sourced through cruelty free methods and is a pill-resistant. It’s also considered more eco friendly because, as Everlane explains, “alpacas are soft-hooved and gentle grazers, which makes them easier on pastures than other herd animals.
Just be on the lookout for a few styles that have nylon and elastane. While minimal in amount, try to stick with the fully biodegradable options if you can.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Everlane was founded on three guiding principles: “Exceptional quality. Ethical Factories. Radical Transparency.” We’ve already covered the first so let’s touch on the next two.
Each product description tells you where its fabric is sourced, where it’s made, and the true cost of production. Click on the factory for details and for that specific vendor code of conduct. Alternatively check out their factory map for the full (and interactive!) picture. All factories are audited yearly in compliance with CA SB657 Supply Chain Transparency Act.
- Green business practices: Everlane’s latest green endeavor is their ReNew line which seeks to replace virgin synthetics with recycled ones. The goal is to eliminate virgin plastic from production by 2021.
- Inclusivity: Everlane sweaters are available in sizes XS-XXL for men and XXS- XL for women. To match their styles, they use lots of diverse models (even older models which is so rare and refreshing to see) and promote body positivity.
Reformation’s sustainable womens sweaters (sorry guys) are modern, elegant, and versatile with at-home comfort and on-the-town class. Choose between fashionable designs like cropped turtlenecks, wrap cardigans, off the shoulder shrugs, and even some sexy ones that show a little skin.
And top of all that, Reformation is one of the most impressive brands out there for sheer volume of ethical and sustainability initiatives and commitment to steady improvement.
Reformation’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Reformation’s eco friendly sweaters are made of a variety of biodegradable materials, like recycled and virgin cashmere, responsibly sourced yak wool, and organic cotton (and yes, they do have some vegan options). Still, a handful of these (like the Finn and Amelia models) also contain virgin synthetics like polyamide or nylon so avoid these if you can.
At the moment, 56% of dyeing partners are either Bluesign® or OEKO-TEX 100 certified. Those that aren’t are still tested for these restricted substances.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Over 65% of production comes from Reformation’s very own Los Angeles factories, 32 in total (because what better way to have full control over manufacturing practices?). Take a tour in person or meet the employees virtually.
Other factories include one in Morocco, one in Turkey, and 16 in China which are regularly audited against unfair labor practices and are held to the Global Social Compliance Programme’s (GSCP) Code of Conduct. This is equivalent to Fair Trade standards.
- Green business practices: Reformation signed onto the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment and are aiming to recirculate 500,000 garments by 2025. Less than a year in and already over halfway there!
Other great green initiatives include using wind power suppliers, impact counters in each product page, e-commerce marketing (which saves 30% energy), Green Business certified office buildings, bio-based packaging and eco-friendly office supplies (like recycled tire pens).
They also buy offsets for literally everything related to their products (like the energy your computer takes while browsing) through Brazilian Rosewood Amazon Conservation Project and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF).
They’ve been carbon neutral since 2015, but are only just now jumping through periodical loops to get the “fancy seal of approval” through Climate Neutral.
They give consumers the chance to reduce their impact by allowing you to purchase Native Energy climate credits on their site and even offering a $100 store credit for customers that switch to wind energy.
- Inclusivity: Reformation sizes are inclusive and they have additional offerings for both petite and plus-sized women.
- Community & charitable giving: Reformation donates to rotating organizations like ACLU and Planned Parenthood.
From there, they encourage others to get involved by giving their staff a paid day off each month to volunteer and hosting company-wide volunteer days. They even “give” their staff birthday gifts by planting a tree on their behalf through L.A.’s TreePeople.
7. PASSION LILIE
About Passion Lilie
Their womens Fair Trade cotton sweaters include a modest but essential lineup of printed sweaters, long duster cardigans, and even more summery ¾ sleeve knits. While Passion Lilie has some impressive sustainable mens clothing options, they’re yet to offer ethical mens sweaters.
Passion Lilie’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Passion Lilie makes their sweaters out of either 100% organic non-GMO cotton. Some models are a thicker sweater fleece cotton while other lighter designers feature a stretchier knit organic jersey cotton.
They also use azo free, Ikat eco dyes.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Passion Lilie manufactures entirely in India, through World Fair Trade Organization certified family factories in Bangalore, Jaipur, Tirupur, and Hyderabad.
Aside from providing safe environments and meaningful work, their workers are also given health care, fair wages, and even loan opportunities.
- Green business practices: Passion Lilie’s earns its Green America Business certification by remaking fabric trimmings into accessories and minimizing machine usage. They start by hand washing and sun drying the raw fibers. These fibers are then woven and block printed by hand.
- Inclusivity: Passion Lilie’s sizes run between XS-XL and they ensure that a person’s budget doesn’t stand in the way of buying sustainable fashion.
Their affordable sustainable sweaters are regularly just $56 and often on sale for even lower.
- Community & charitable giving: Passion Lilie supports communities and causes through their customers. With their help, you can organize a trunk show and donate the proceeds to any charity of your choice.
When it comes to sweaters, prAna may as well be called pr-ahhhhhh-na, because their ultra-cozy cardigans and fuzzy pullovers are nothing if not sigh-inducing. Even their more outdoor oriented and yoga-specific shrugs look like something you could just as easily snooze in.
Despite their softness in appearance, this Columbia Sportswear company is known for durability and designing clothing that can withstand rock climbing, hiking, and more. They’re another brand that sells both womens and mens Fair Trade sweaters.
prAna’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: prAna’s most sustainable sweaters are those made of recycled polyester (like the AMAZINGLY soft looking high pile Permafrost Half Zip), recycled wool, sustainably harvested merino wool, or a blend of the above.
Since they make a range of sweaters not all fabrics used are sustainable, though they are committed to steady progress toward that end. For instance, some of their sweaters are made of acrylic and nylon so be sure you double-check the fabric contents and avoid these if you can.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Despite a large, multinational supply chain, prAna is dedicated to keeping it traceable and transparent. They’ve members of the Textile Exchange to help them in this task.
A good number of products are now also made in Fair Trade certified factories. You can shop by filtering for specific Fair Trade options on prAna’s website. Alternatively, shop by country of origin.
- Green business practices: As a certified Bluesign® partner, prAna’s garments contain minimal levels of anything remotely toxic. Bluesign® audits the factories and fabric mills of their partners to ensure no harmful chemicals are used in processing. Safer for the workers, the wearers, and the world.
- Inclusivity: prAna is an outdoor brand and their marketing and branding therefore have an athletic bent. Yet they’re also trying to break the outdoor brand stereotypes by using all sorts of diverse models and offering a specific range of Plus Sized sweaters available in 1x, 2x, and 3x. That’s of course on top of their XS-XL standard sizes.
- Community & charitable giving: prAna’s primary giving partner is Outdoor Outreach, a program that takes disenfranchised urban youth and gives them outdoor leadership experiences.
They also encourage their ambassadors to get involved and thus helps them pay for any events or initiatives they want to host.
9. SYNERGY ORGANIC CLOTHING
About Synergy Fair Trade T-Shirts
Synergy Organic Clothing is one of the OG ethical fashion brands. They’ve been making eco-friendly womenswear (and now a few men’s t shirts) since 1993.
Their motto is, “Every stitch has a story” and theirs begins when founder Kate Fisher traveled to Nepal and discovered a desire to empower the world’s talented yet underprivileged artisans. Almost three decades later, nothing has changed.
Their environmentally friendly sweaters, which fall under the “outerwear” category on the website, include a cardigan, crew neck sweatshirt, and a sweater fleece “bomber” jacket.
Synergy Organic Clothing’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Both the sweatshirt and Nourish Cardigan are made of 97% Heathered Organic Cotton and 3% Spandex. The Bomber Fleece sweater is even better as it’s made from 80% Organic Cotton and 20% Recycled polyester.
- Supply chain & labor practices: “How it’s made matters,” and this Certified B Corporation is committed to ensuring their clothing benefits everyone involved in making it. This starts at the supply level, which is why they source GOTS-certified organic cotton from a Fair Trade plantation in India.
The bulk of manufacturing occurs in yet another Fair Trade certified Indian factory, but their Nepalese factory still adheres to fair labor practices sans the official certification.
- Green business practices: Synergy is a certified Green Business by Green America, an Organic Trade Association member, and certified by the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Program. All these memberships and certifications involve third-party audits on the environmental impact of the brand.
For proof of impact, see the footprint calculator of saved resources on each product page.
In the spirit of making fashion circular, they also offer a garment recycling program. Send in your unwanted or even worn-out Synergy sweaters in exchange for 25% off and the knowledge that they’ll remake it into a new piece for someone else to treasure.
- Inclusivity: With sizes from XS-XL and plenty of diversity among their models, we consider Synergy to be an inclusive brand.
10. AMOUR VERT
About Amour Vert
Just because you’re making conscious choices regarding your closet, doesn’t mean you can’t still have lots of options. And Amour Vert has one of the best selections of men’s and women’s clothing.
With a name that’s French for “green love”, you’ll love the flattering, drapey silhouettes and cozy chic elegance of these sweaters. Styles include sweater tanks, cardigans, crop sweaters, flowy knit housecoats, and some tighter fit designs for more professional wear.
Amour Vert’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Did you know 60% of a garment’s impact comes solely from fabric production? Amour Vert does, and hence their sweaters are made of either 100% organic cotton or merino wool, both biodegradable and both dyed with non-toxic dyes.
- Supply chain & labor practices: 97% of all Amour Vert garments are made in the USA, in one of six San Francisco factories (all mere miles from each other). You can read details on each of these here, like the number of employees, gender ratio of employees, and who the owner/manager is.
While many of their sweaters are made in these, note that some are part of the 3% of garments are made through outsourced labor in China.
- Inclusivity: Some of the boxier fit sweaters and cardigans are available in just two sizes: XS/S and M/L. Most others are available in standard single sizes from XS-XL.
They also use a really inclusive and fully representative range of models.
While Pact’s sweaters are less knits and more sweatshirts, we couldn’t help but include them. As one of our favorite brands for basics like ethical underwear and T shirts, if there’s one thing Pact does really well, it’s comfort of both body and conscience.
Just think of their zip hoodies, crew-neck pullovers, and long lounge cardigans as activewear sweaters. Try them for an at-home cozy yoga sesh to stay fit and healthy. Based in Boulder, Colorado, all Pact garments are made to move in (and maybe take a nap after).
Pact’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Pact loves their Fair Trade organic cotton. So much so that most of their products are made of just that. While some products also contain a bit of spandex, their sweatshirts are all 100% cotton.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Because 74% of Pact’s organic cotton comes from India, they manufacture there as well (in Fair Trade certified factories only). Pact states:
“It 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.”
- Green business practices: Pact uses water and energy-saving production methods and tries to use as much fabric as possible to reduce trimmings.
- Inclusivity: Pact’s motto is #JustWearYou, and they offer the full gamut of S-XL sizes for men, and XS-XL sizes for women. Anyone a little smaller can always shop their kids sizes (which will actually save you money, too!)
- Community & charitable giving: If you’re looking to get rid of old sweaters gathering dust to make room for your new Fair Trade organic cotton sweaters, consider donating them to Pact’s Give Back. Wear Forward program.
Even if it isn’t a Pact item, they’ll take any gently used clothes and give them to non-profits who in turn give them to people in need.
SUSTAINABLE AND ETHICAL SWEATER BRANDS BASED IN THE UK / EUROPE:
12. PEOPLE TREE
About People Tree
People Tree, the world-renowned London-based ethical fashion brand, founded by designer Safia Minney way back in 1991, long before there even was a market for sustainable and ethical fashion. PT was actually the first fashion brand to be labeled by the World Fair Trade Organisation as Fair Trade certified.
Their Fair Trade sweatshop free sweaters are equally as impressive, especially because they’re designed with the rest of PT’s designs in mind so you can easily mix-and-match and build a “capsule, multi-tasking wardrobe”. With super soft cardigans, turtle necks, tunic sweater dresses, and classic Arran knit fisherman’s jumpers, they have all the snuggly staples.
People Tree’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: These sweaters are made of either 100% organic merino wool or wool and PETA-certified organic cotton blends. They choose wool over other vegan fabrics because it’s natural, biodegradable, and renewable (while being warmer and thicker than many other fabrics that meet these same criteria).
People Tree’s ethical sweaters and knitwear may not be vegan, but they are still cruelty-free, sourced only from New Zealand (which has an Animal Welfare Act and does not practice mulesing).
They dye the yarn with GOTS-certified eco-safe and azo-free dyes and use biodegradable corozo nut buttons. It truly is the little things that count!
- Supply chain & labor practices: People Tree kicks off their eco-credentials by sourcing sustainably. In fact, all fabrics Fairtrade International (FLO) and Soil Association certified. Their 2019 Social Review has all the clean details (which may not be as fun to say as “dirty details” but is much preferred in the long run!).
On the labor side, over 90% of their supply chain is Fair Trade certified and located in Nepal and Bangladesh.
Their sweaters are hand-knitted by the Kumbeshwar Technical School in Nepal, a co-op style organization that employs over 2,000 knits, mostly women working from their own homes.
- Green business practices: By using closed-loop, emission minimal manufacturing methods, PT keeps its environmental footprint low. While machines are necessary for some of the garments, their sweaters are truly hand-made.
- Inclusivity: People Tree sweaters are available in small, medium, and large, which according to their size charts, encompasses 8-16 UK sizes (or 2-14 US sizes). They also use a diverse range of models.
- Community & charitable giving: The People Tree Foundation is PT’s charitable entity, seeking to promote Fair Trade manufacturing by raising awareness of the fashion industry’s many environmental and human rights abuse problems.
It also supports other grassroots organizations, like Kenya’s Bombolulu, providing opportunities for Kenyans with physical disabilities.
The UK’s Thought clothing invites you to think circularly, begging customers to “wear me, love me, mend me, pass me on”…. though with how cozy these sweaters look, you may just never want to let them go.
Whether you’re looking for cardigans, edgy balloon sleeves, cutesy slogans, or classic cable knits, we encourage you to think about Thought.
While Thought’s beginnings can be traced to 1995, they didn’t actually open until 2002, then under the name Braintree Clothing. Lots of London pop-ups and multinational expansions later, Thought’s, well, thoughtful clothing is available worldwide.
Thought’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Thought makes it easy to sort by fabric when shopping, but that feature isn’t necessary when it comes to these ethical fashion sweaters. They’re made of only three OEKO-TEX 100 verified fabric combos: organic cotton and hemp, organic cotton and wool knit (always traceable and cruelty free, of course), or 100% organic cotton.
- Supply chain & labor practices: While they don’t bear an official Fair Trade certification, they are a Common Objective member meaning the supply chain is held to equivalent standards.
Besides this knowledge and their published supplier code of conduct and animal welfare policies, we don’t know much else about factories or suppliers. We have reached out to get further information but haven’t received a response yet.
- Green business practices: One of the main reasons Thought chooses to source and manufacture in China is to keep the supply chain more central, and thus keep shipping emissions between stages of production to a minimum.
- Inclusivity: Thought uses inclusive models and offers sizes from 6-18 UK and 2-14 US. Despite the looser nature of sweaters, they offer more individual sizes than most.
Plus at an average of £50, these ethical sweaters under $100 are affordable for most budgets, which is another important form of inclusivity!
- Community & charitable giving: Thought is not only one of the founders of the fashion impact initiative Common Objective, which encourages ethical fashion production by incentivizing it with financial returns, but they also donate any extra stock to those in need through UK nonprofits like Traid, Smart Works, and In Kind Direct.
For undeniably cute sustainable sweaters and positively joyous jumpers, Cornish fashion company Seasalt is pretty much the salt of the earth.
The brand actually kicked off in 1981 as a workwear and fishing wear shop serving local sailors. Passed down among members of the Chadwick family, brothers Leigh, David, and Neil rebranded the company in 2001 and turned fishing gear into eco-friendly women’s fashion and footwear.
Inspired by their own maritime roots, Seasalt’s designs are full of little nods to sailors and ocean workers, like striped patterns, primary colors, and anchor accents.
However, their sustainable sweaters and knitwear features just as many unconventional cuts and bold prints as it does classic ones. Lots of cute florals and bright pops of color.
Which reminds us, there’s also a sweater for every season, whether it’s a light cardigan for a breezy beach walk, or a heavy knit to layer over other garments. Coming from those who lived in London, you just never know what weather the UK will throw at you.
Seasalt’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: When it comes to fabrics, Seasalt “select[s] natural fibres wherever possible” which includes Linen, TENCEL, organic cotton, and various types of wool specific to their knitwear.
These knitwear wools consist of merino wool, lambswool (for hardy winter knits because it’s so fine it insulates better than most other wools), and alpaca (which is hypoallergenic since it has no natural lanolin coating like lambswool).
If you’d prefer your sweaters vegan, don’t worry, there are plenty made from 100% organic cotton.
- Supply chain and labor practices: Since sourcing is always a concern when animal-based fibers are involved, Seasalt says, “We only use suppliers that are committed to the highest ethical and sustainable standards and source our merino and lambswool exclusively from non-mulesed sheep.”
Each product description details the country in which it was made. While they do manufacture in China, they also keep a lot of work local and are actually one of Cornwall’s biggest employers.
For more proof of transparency, scroll to the bottom of this page to download all Sustainability Reports of recent years, as well as their Environmental Policy, Slavery & Human Trafficking Statement, and Gender Pay Gap Reports.
- Green business practices: Seasalt has a whole team of three lovely ladies dedicated to sustainability issues and improvements.
Among little environmental initiatives like volunteering at The Great British Beach Clean and using refillable glass milk bottles at the studio, they also became the First Ever non-food Organic Retailer of the Year in 2010.
- Inclusivity: Seasalt’s sizes run all the way up to a UK 28 (UK 6-28) to be exact, which is 2-24 in US sizes. They also use lots of diverse models and don’t perpetuate ageism in their brand image like many others.
- Community and charitable giving: We’ve seen some pretty good giving models out there, but none come quite as close as Seasalt’s web of charitable efforts.
First, they donate 20p from all socks to whatever their yearly giving partners are. This year, it’s Hospital Rooms (which helps those with mental illness) and Mylor Sailability (which gives people with disabilities the opportunity to learn to sail).
As members of the Cornwall Community Foundation’s C100 Club, they donate £1000 every year toward locals most in need
They also donate window display props to local schools and donate time by hosting workshops, charitable fundraising events, and more. All Seasalt employees are given a full day of paid volunteer leave.
Finally, they work with non-profit City to Sea to promote National Refill Day and raise awareness about marine plastic pollution.
SKFK was born in Basque Country of northern Spain (though their offices now lie in 38 different counties), with colorful and artsy styles blended with a sophisticated edge suitable for professional or party wear.
Their sweaters come in a huge selection from sweater dresses to cardigans, all that look just as cozy as they are fashionable. They even make chunky knits look elegant and chic.
Coming in around $100, these are more ethical affordable sweaters. Plus you can typically find past season styles for far less, as SKFK ensures all stock gets used and only designs two collections a year.
SKFK’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Most SKFK sweaters are made out of either 100% organic cotton or 50/50 Tencel Lyocell / organic cotton blends. Others are made of Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and Recycled Content Standard (RCS) recycled synthetics (like acrylic and polyamide).
Only a small few have a minor blend of elastase and other various elements like wool or silk, but no mention as to the sourcing of these. As with the dresses that we’ve covered before, be sure to read all the materials and stick with those we know to be sustainable.
SKFK has an extensive list of restricted materials and chemicals that all garments and raw fibers are processed without.
- Supply chain & labor practices: SKFK is a member of the Chetna Coalition, meaning they source all organic cotton from smaller Indian farming cooperatives of whom they’ve partnered with for a minimum of one year. You can access their Supplier Code of Conduct here.
- Green business practices: SKFK is a circular fashion brand and they offer an in-store repair department, garment recycling program (through the organization Koopera which turns the garments into raw reusable fibers), and even fashion rental service.
Each product page features a Carbon Footprint calculator so you know exactly how many CO2 emissions that garment’s full life cycle created, detailed down to the recycled cotton paper tags.
With the goal of reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 37% by 2025, they use green energy powered workshops, UPS carbon neutral shipping (no air transport whatsoever), and reusable/returnable Repack packages.
- Inclusivity: SKFK clothing runs XS-XXL, but before you get too excited, their size charts indicate that’s equivalent to 2-12 in US sizes. Aside from that being somewhat limited, their models and designs promote diversity.
- Community & charitable giving: They donate to a local Basque NGO, the Berrizan Foundation, which aims to protect biodiversity to counter industrial pine and eucalyptus plantations.
HOW WE CHOSE THESE ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE SWEATERS
In order to unravel our reasons behind these ethical and sustainable sweaters, you’ll need a rudimentary understanding of what sustainable and ethical fashion is in general. For that, read our comprehensive guide on the matter.
To summarize, we look at five main categories of criteria:
- Materials: Material choice is obviously a big concern; it makes up the majority of a garment’s impact so read just below for more on this.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Transparency is the golden ticket. Even if a brand isn’t perfectly ethical and Fair Trade across their supply chains, the most important thing is being open about problematic areas.
Third party certifications can help ward against false transparency and greenwashing, with use of supply chain audits to provide a totally objective look at the various components in a brand’s operation (both on the supply side and manufacturing side). 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.
Worth noting that even if a company isn’t officially fair trade certified, they may have Code of Conducts that bind supply chain entities to equivalent standards.
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 sweaters where organic cotton is one of the most common materials.
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.
Companies with small, controlled supply chains and those that choose to manufacture in countries with low risk of human rights abuses (I.e. the USA) are positive traits here, too.
- Green business practices: A catch all for any other ways brands try to reduce environmental impact. Most commonly, this includes carbon offsetting, using renewable energy, operating on green buildings, offering garment recycling programs, and using low waste/plastic free packaging.
- Inclusivity: Promoting a healthy body image in an industry rife with body confidence issues is super important. Being a body positive and inclusive brands means offering a wide range of sizes and using more diverse models to actually represent the real women and men who will be buying these ethical sweaters.
- Charitable endeavors: This one isn’t a hard requirement (smaller startups may simply not have the funds to do this) but it’s really a big bonus if companies give a portion of their profits or time to other good causes.
Sustainable & Ethical Fabrics for Sweaters
Fabric has its hand in every part of the production and even post production: sourcing (petroleum mining, chemical farming, etc), raw fiber processing (traditionally involving chemicals), dyeing, weaving and sewings (energy use and machine emissions), washing the garment throughout its life (micro plastics released into waterways), and disposal.
So what fabrics minimize these impact areas?
Truly environmentally friendly sweaters are biodegradable, meaning they can be composted (or recycled into new garments) rather than rot in a landfill at the end of life. These include:
- Organic cotton: The most common fabric in our list of ethical sweaters, this refers to cotton grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers (which means it’s better for the workers and the wearers!). It also uses far less water and land area to grow than traditional cotton, which is one of the world’s dirtiest fibers and thirstiest crops.
- Organic Hemp / Linen: Hemp and linen are woven from hemp and flax plants, respectively, both of which are non-water intensive crops.
- TENCEL (Lyocell/Modal): From the Austrian company TENCEL, Lyocell and Modal are made from eucalyptus and beechwood pulp. They’ve renewable, compostable, and made from an entirely closed-loop,solvent-spinning process, which recycles water and reuses 99% of the chemical solvent.
Then we have recycled synthetics to replace virgin petroleum-based fibers like polyester, nylon, elastane, and spandex. Recycled versions of these fabrics are either made from recycled fabric or other plastic materials, like PET bottles, fishing nets, and more.
While recycled synthetics can’t be composted and still release microplastics with each washing (pro tip: use a Guppyfriend wash bag to prevent these), these garments can still be further recycled and also make use of waste already in existence.
Another common type of material in regards to sustainable sweaters specifically are animal-based fibers like wool. But for those of us who eat and shop vegan, these may present a small ethical dilemma so let’s investigate further: .
Vegan Sweaters vs Cruelty Free Ethical Sweaters
We typically go for vegan, but lots of sweater materials are simply not vegan: merino wool, alpaca, cashmere, and lambswool to name some of the most common ones.
That doesn’t mean they can’t be cruelty-free, however, though this is an area to tread lightly, as it is easy to fall into the ethical gap.
Ethical wool sweaters are possible. You see, sheep actually need occasional shearing to stay healthy, so wool as an animal byproduct is not inherently wrong. But it’s crucial the animals have good lives (free range, no cage) and that they’re shorn BY HAND (machines can damage the skin and frighten the animals) in warm weather only. All in all, sourcing matters.
Look for companies that source from herds in ethical countries. Merino wool is good because it usually comes from New Zealand, which has an Animal Welfare Act establishing a duty of care to animals and does not practice mulesing. Note that some Merino wool can come from Australia where mulesing is still practiced.
Mulesing is a shearing process that actually removes the rear of the Merino sheep… typically without analgesia! This leaves the sheep’s rear scarred and smooth, so flies can’t lay larvae in the sheep and cause infection. Here is a case where, for us, the end simply does not justify the means.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON FAIR TRADE, ETHICAL SWEATERS
We hope this list of ethical and eco friendly sweaters will help make your days in quarantine just a little more comfy.
All in all, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us all to redefine our deficiencies of “need”, so just remember how to use it as a resource only when you need it. First, suss out your used options or online thrift stores which have plenty of options at great prices.
Feel free to spread the love and comfort during these tough times by sharing this article with friends and family. Thoughts, suggestions, or just want to say, “Hi” hit us up in the comments, and until next time: stay comfy, stay safe.