Stella McCartney, Resort 2020

Do-Good Brands Doing Their Part

With callout and cancel culture on the rise, it’s getting harder for fashion companies to conceal the fact that 85 percent of the textiles in the US are either burned or end up in landfills. But it’s not all bad news. Last year, France made moves, announcing a ban on the industry-wide practice of burning unsold goods. A staged “funeral” to protest the climate crisis took place at London fashion week, and the first carbon-neutral runway show went down in Paris. Even major fast-fashion players are getting on board. In other words, the tone for 2020 has been set: Choosing not to pay attention is no longer the sustainable option.

Which is why each year we do our part to salute the brands—big and small—that are striving for something more. From the new upstarts to the veteran designers to the most improved (because there’s always room for improvement), these are the feel-good frontrunners and planet-first pioneers changing the fabric of the clothing industry for the better.


Maggie Marilyn’s answer to wholesale demands for churning out cheaper, more profitable clothing? Deliver a super sustainable and seriously well-priced collection, but make it seasonless. The Somewhere collection is a mix of minimal tees, well-tailored blazers, and better-than-basic basics you can wear over and over again. The goal: Wear it to the ground. Then give those pieces a second life through a waste-free system that encourages you to salvage your threadbare shirts by mailing them back when you’re ready to part ways.


There’s leather, and then there’s Nanushka’s vegan leather. The latter happens to be a butter-soft, REACH-certified animal alternative that’s indistinguishable from the real thing. And while yes, environmentally speaking, the jury is out on the faux-versus-real debate (many of those synthetic materials are derived from plastics), companies like Nanushka are blazing trails by starting important conversations about sustainable substitutes and taking more-conscious steps in an industry that’s notoriously rough on the planet.


Good tailoring may be her calling card, but sustainability is at the heart of everything Gabriela Hearst does. In 2019, Hearst’s house famously went plastic-free and moved over to compostable packaging. She built a stunning flagship store in London using repurposed materials (even the hangers are recycled). And she was the first—first!—ever designer to put on a carbon-neutral show at New York fashion week.


You’d never buy pesticide-ridden produce, so why would you want traces of the same harsh chemicals in your favorite tee? Bassike’s ethos is simple: Everything is made from organic and responsibly sourced textiles with a low impact to the environment, and everything feels—and looks—so luxurious. The brand is proof that sustainable can be chic.


COS’s new Restore collection might make you think twice about tossing your jacket the next time the zipper toggle breaks off. As part of a zero-waste initiative, the brand teamed up with the Renewal Workshop to give second lives to those well-loved pieces from collections past. How it works: COS takes back the damaged goods (and anything that didn’t make it all the way through production), the Renewal Workshop cleans them using a water-free technology and patches them all up, and then COS slashes the prices and repurposes the items as part of a one-off collection available at select stores.


Stella McCartney has been leading the conscious charge since before it was a thing. Her parents were longtime vegetarians and avid animal rights activists. McCartney followed in their footsteps on both fronts, so it makes sense that her MO has always been to create cruelty-free collections (no fur, leathers, or feathers) with an earth-friendly bent (her viscose pieces that come from trees grown in sustainably managed forests).


You might be surprised to learn that the inspiration for Mulberry’s first fully sustainable bag comes from the very antithesis of the green movement: the plastic bag. And while yes, the Portobello Tote may be playfully shaped like a shopper, the tote itself is beautifully made at a carbon-neutral factory from sustainable leathers that are soft and supple and perfect for every day.


Last year, Gucci announced that the company’s operations and supply chains had gone completely carbon-neutral. The house has also pledged to continue its conservation efforts at the 2020 runway shows by planting a tree for every guest at the events in effort to offset greenhouse gas emissions. All of which is part of a bigger, loftier goal of slicing its emissions in half by 2025.


The first thing you should know about actress Robin Wright and designer Karen Fowler’s line of unapologetically simple yet luxurious sleepwear is that it’s effing adorable. And the second: Many of the styles are made by women in the Democratic Republic of Congo—most of whom are victims of violence or widowers of soldiers in conflict zones. Pour Les Femmes (“for women” in French) is so much more than a pretty pair of pajamas. You can sleep soundly knowing your cozies are capable of impacting someone’s life for the better.


The most impressive thing about Brunello Cucinelli’s eponymous luxury brand is not the impossibly soft cashmere sweaters. Nor is it the spectacular medieval village in Solomeo, Italy, that he memorably restored—now home to his HQ plus an art school. What’s most impressive is Cucinelli’s respect for the craft and the craftsmen and women who work diligently to perfect it. Beyond responsibly sourced fabrics, initiatives like fair wages, exceptional working conditions, and three-course lunches for employees are all part of his program. (Another positive: Twenty percent of company profits is donated back to his charitable organizations.)


Sustainable? Yes. Street-smart? Sure. Kind to the planet? Absolutely. But the French sneaker brand takes things one step further with the idea of radical transparency (it even shares price quotes from Chinese factories to show how much less its shoes would cost to make if it didn’t take social and environmental concerns into account). Also notable: The company does zero advertising. Instead, Veja redirects those funds to things like better compensation and responsible production. And it doesn’t hurt that the retro sneakers are V cool.


Truth: Nobody is doing sustainability with quite as much sophistication as Another Tomorrow. The just-launched brand’s sleek suiting and polished pieces are as elevated as they are ethical. What they don’t use: fur, feathers, skin, or horn. (Even silk is a hard no—the brand cites that over 600 trillion silkworms are slain each year for their silk…and there are plenty more wild stats where that came from.) What they do use: textiles like GOTS-certified organic cotton and linen, biodegradable Tencel sourced from sustainably managed forests, and wool from slaughter-free farms.