One fashion trend that isn't fading away any time soon is sustainability, and rightfully so. Recent reports have found that the fashion industry is a huge generator of environmental waste and energy, and is responsible for 10 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of global wastewater.
What's more, consumers are making 60 percent more purchases than usual and it's reported that 20 percent of the clothing in the United States is never even worn. So, with a heavy focus on climate change today, and an emphasis on what we can do to help our planet, many clothing designers have shifted their focus to pursuing more eco-friendly practices within their brands.
What Is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion is clothing that is manufactured, distributed, and used in environmentally friendly ways. It's also about the entire process behind the brand, and not just the clothes themselves.
Though the industry has a long way to go regarding sustainable practices, as a consumer, you can make a difference by adopting eco-conscious shopping choices whenever possible. For example, you can choose to spend more on a sustainably made dress, rather than buying something from a fast fashion retailer. It's also important to remember that purchasing clothes that are eco-friendly does not mean you have to compromise on style. There are plenty of environmentally friendly clothing brands that provide beautiful pieces and chic wedding guest dresses.
What to Look for in Sustainable Clothing Brands
With an increase in awareness surrounding sustainability and eco-conscious style, the fashion industry has been called out several times for greenwashing (think: deceptive marketing labels that don't actually mean anything, like "all-natural"). So for those who want to ensure they're buying items that are genuinely better for the environment, pay attention to the below.
- Materials used. Look for pieces made out of materials, fibers, and dyes that are eco-friendly. Some popular fabrics include organic cotton, hemp, organic linen, wool, and lyocell. Polyester and nylon are materials that are non-biodegradable and should be avoided if possible.
- Working conditions. Pay attention to the working conditions behind the brands you shop from and ask these questions: Are workers paid a fair wage? Do they have safe working conditions? Is the brand transparent about its process?
- Certifications. Sustainable clothing brands should have third-party certifications for their material and factory standards. Look for labels like GOTS, Oeko-Tex, Certified B-Corp, and Fair Trade.
- Packaging and shipping materials. Truly sustainable companies will think about the impact that packaging and shipping materials have on the planet. Opt for brands that package their items in eco-friendly materials, rather than something like single-use plastic.
- Overall commitment. Check out the brand's overall mission and commitment to sustainable practices. Some will state their goals directly on their website, while others may donate to eco-conscious organizations or offer a recycling program.
To start your eco-friendly shopping journey, below are a few sustainable clothing brands that make beautiful wedding guest dress for all. Take a look below!
Eileen Fisher's trademark of timeless and elevated basics indicates that any dress you purchase will be worn over and over again. The luxury brand is committed to sustainability and focuses on every detail from ethical production processes to sustainable dyes and fibers, with an emphasis on the lifecycle of a garment once purchased and worn. They also use regenerative, renewable, and recyclable fibers, are Bluesign Certified, and don't use any toxic dyes or wastewater pollution.
Additionally, via its Renew website, the brand will buy back and resell any gently worn clothing. And for items that aren't in great condition, they will turn that fabric into art in order to recycle the materials.
For earthy, boho-inspired dresses that feel versatile and feminine, opt for Christy Dawn. The brand repurposes fabrics by using deadstock materials (excess textiles left behind by other fashion companies) to create something new. Their farm-to-closet line is also a new venture, selling pieces that are made from regenerative cotton sourced by farmers, as well as a supply chain of local craftsmen.
Additionally, Christy Dawn is committed to fair working practices, and their website states that they "forge mutually beneficial relationships with all of the people and ecosystems we work with, from the farm and weavers in India to dressmakers and photographers in Los Angeles."
When you're looking for sustainable formalwear, Reformation has the most variety of stylish options. The best part, though, is that they're completely open about their sustainability efforts; and have made it known that they partner with groups like the Fair Labor Association, which conducts on-site social responsibility audits at the brand's Los Angeles factory. To create pieces, they use low-impact materials, deadstock fabrics, and repurposed vintage clothing. They're also a certified Climate Neutral company with a goal to become Climate Positive by 2025.
To take it a step further, Reformation's RefScale allows you to track the company's progress when searching for clothes. You'll find it on every product page, and it tells you how much carbon dioxide and water you save when shopping at Reformation compared to other brands.
Parisian brand Sézane is perfect if you're looking for a "French chic" look. The brand sells trendy pieces that give off an effortless elegance; and while their assortment of options is less casual than formalwear, you can still find a few wedding guest dresses on there. They're also B Corp, GOTS, Oeko-Tex, FSC, RWS, and RMS certified, with a goal of creating clothing that respects the planet.
The brand is also committed to philanthropy and has raised over 4.5 million euros for the program DEMAIN. But their contributions don't stop there. Once a month, 10 percent of global sales and 100 percent of proceeds (from a dedicated design) are distributed to programs that support access to education and equal opportunities for children all over the world.
Looking for gowns, chic jumpsuits, and flowing maxi dresses? Kalita is a luxury brand that offers all of that, as well as impressive sustainability efforts. They use azo-free dyes to minimize water run-off and pollution, and they practice small-batch production using low-impact materials. Committed to zero waste, they also utilize fabric offcuts to create smaller accessories (like bags and masks) and their packaging is made from recycled materials wrapped in reusable muslin bags.
Kalita's commitment to re-wearable clothing is also highlighted in their partnership with My Wardrobe HQ, where you can rent their pieces instead of purchasing them. Their small team is based in London, and they have studios in Bali and India where they pay a fair living wage and support local communities through charities.
At the woman-run Able, you'll find a mix of trendy and casual clothing items, as well as accessories like handbags, jewelry, and shoes. The brand has a big focus on ethical fashion, which started as a mission to provide jobs to women in Ethiopia who were coming out of the commercial sex industry. Today, women comprise 90 percent of the jobs at Able, and all wages are posted on the brand's website.
As far as sustainability goes, they strive to be as eco-friendly as possible. They use materials like upcycled leather and recycled silver, and ensure that all packaging is made of 100 percent recyclable materials, from the product tags to the plastic insert.
For pieces that are feminine, classic, and versatile, check out Amour Vert. Their collection of chic clothes is suitable for work and for going out to an event like a wedding. In terms of sustainability, the brand creates small batches of clothing to reduce waste and works directly with mills to develop their own eco-friendly fabrics.
What's more, Amour Vert will plant a tree, for every t-shirt purchased, in collaboration with American Forests. When it comes to packaging, they're just as dedicated: They use compostable protective bags to store and ship clothing, and all packaging is made with recycled materials and soy-based inks. It's also worth checking out ReAmour, where you can buy high-quality used Amour Vert items at a cheaper price point.
Quince's line of elevated basics is sophisticated and stylish. While they don't have a huge selection of dresses, the pieces are great for those who veer towards a more minimalist style. And, as a bonus, the prices are reasonable.
They also have GOTS, BSCI, Oeko-Tex, RDS, and RWS certifications and are committed to using sustainable materials whenever possible, like organic linen, cotton, and percale. To minimize their carbon footprint, they ship directly from the factory to the customer, and they use as little packaging as possible—plus, by the end of 2022, the brand expects to have 100 percent compostable packaging.
Luxury fashion brand Gabriela Hearst is a pricey option, but if you're looking for high fashion pieces that are also sustainably produced, it's a great choice. In 2015, the brand partnered with a non-profit women's cooperative called Manos del Uruguay, which empowers and employs rural women. They use deadstock fabrics as much as possible, and in 2022 they made a goal to eliminate the use of non-virgin materials by the end of the year.
Innovative sustainable fabrics and materials are key for the brand, as shown in 2017 when they started using a special silver fabric that prevents cell phone radiation from reaching women's reproductive organs. They also utilize aloe-treated linen, which absorbs less water during production, and piqué and twill spun from the sheep on Hearst's family farm. In 2019, the brand achieved its goal of being plastic-free thanks to compostable packaging and recycled cardboard hangers. Lastly, in September 2019, the brand produced the first-ever carbon-neutral runway show, proving they're doing big things for sustainable fashion.
Made Trade sells everything from wedding guest attire to casual everyday pieces to furniture and beyond. The brand calls itself "ethically elevated," stating that they value artistry over efficiency, fair wages over profits, sustainability over mass production, and quality craftsmanship over mindless consumption.
Made Trade, which is a woman-owned, family-run small business, is also dedicated to transparency. Vendors go through an extensive application process before their items can be sold on the site. Every order is 100 percent carbon neutral, and they strive to sell recycled, upcycled, and vegan products, as well as items from BIPOC and women-run brands.
At Boden, you'll find a mix of trendy pieces, as well as fun and whimsical designs that will stand out at any wedding (in a good way). Aside from a large collection of gorgeous looks, Boden also sells clothing for women, men, and even kids, with an emphasis on being as sustainable as possible. The brand produces quality products that are meant to be worn for years and passed down. Specifically, their recycling program, Pass it On, allows you to donate your used clothing items (they'll provide the shipping label), and as a result, you'll receive a $4 account credit for each adult item donated.
They also use eco-friendly materials, like LENZING™ ECOVERO™ fibers, which are derived from sustainable wood and pulp. One main goal is to adopt 100 percent more sustainable cotton by 2023, as well as reduce the use of polyester as much as possible. By 2025, the brand expects to sell all recycled swimwear, and by 2023, all denim will be recycled materials.
Rent The Runway
Rent The Runway is not a brand, but it's still worth mentioning here. By nature, the website is more sustainable: It encourages people to rent clothing rather than individual purchases, meaning garments get to be worn multiple times rather than being wasted. On Rent The Runway, you can rent one-off pieces for special events like weddings, paying only a fraction of the price to wear a designer item.
You can also subscribe to their monthly program, where you can rent several pieces each month. This allows you to save some money, have a constant rotation of clothing in your closet, and cut down on fashion waste.
Columbia Climate School. "Why Fashion Needs to Be More Sustainable." June 10, 2021