3 Eco-Conscious Clothing Brands Changing the Game (and 3 that Aren’t)

eco-conscious clothing
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It’s trendier than ever to shop for eco-conscious clothing, and thanks to Greenpeace, it’s also becoming a heck of a lot easier.

In 2011, Greenpeace launched a call for clothing companies to make a commitment to toxin-free fashion by 2020, and so far, 76 brands have joined the movement — accounting for about 15 percent of global textile production. Four years short of the deadline, Greenpeace decided to check in with 19 of them and see how things were going.

The brands were evaluated on their progress towards eliminating hazardous chemicals from their lines along three vectors – transparency of their production lines, elimination of poly-fluorinated compound (PFC), and individual detox plans.

Brands to Love

Only three of the 19 brands surveyed really dressed to impress Greenpeace.

“We applaud H&M, Zara and Benetton for leading the way and setting a new standard in toxic free fashion,” said Kirsten Brodde, Head of the Detox My Fashion campaign at Greenpeace Germany. “These companies prove that cleaning up the fashion industry is possible – both for large and medium-sized companies.”

H&M

Swedish H&M is a detox star, praised by Greenpeace for being the first brand to eliminate dangerous PFCs from its products and for showing support for transparency in its supply chain.

“We apply the precautionary principle – meaning that we preventively restrict chemicals even where there is scientific uncertainty,” writes H&M of its sustainability commitments. “Accordingly, our requirements usually go further than the law demands.”

Regular tests, intensive training with regards to the handling of chemicals, and ever-increasing limits on the use and discharge of hazardous chemicals are all elements of H&M’s policy that make it a surefire green fashion star.

Zara

Inditex, the company behind Zara, the world’s largest clothing retailer, has made good on its 2012 commitment to eliminate PFCs by the end of 2015, one of the fastest eliminations of this hazardous group in the industry.

It has also worked closely with its Global South suppliers to increase transparency with regards to the use of hazardous chemicals and any possible resulting contamination.

Benetton

Since Benetton announced its commitment to non-toxic fashion in 2013, the Italian company has made improvements in leaps and bounds. This year, Benetton completely excluded 11 potentially harmful chemical groups from its production and implemented stringent tests on wastewater to ensure the true cleanliness of its production cycles. The company continues its efforts, increasing transparency and progressively eliminating PFCs.

“We congratulate Benetton for the way it drives the entire industry and imposes a new, worldwide standard for a fashion free from toxic substances,” said Giuseppe Ungherese, pollution campaign manager of Greenpeace Italy. “The company is showing for a fact that ridding the fashion industry of toxic substances is already possible.”

Brands to Watch

These brands are making strides toward true eco-conscious clothing production, but they’re not quite there yet. With a bit of encouragement, these companies could become rising stars before Greenpeace’s 2020 deadline.

Adidas

Adidas once ranked much lower on this list, but thanks to its commitment to move away from poly- and perfluorinated chemicals by 2017, this sneaker manufacturer is moving up in the detox world (and far past former rival Nike).

Burberry

Burberry is quickly moving up in the detox fashion world since the 2014 report that proved the brand guilty of hazardous chemical contamination in eight of nine tested children’s clothing items. Increased cooperation with Greenpeace and efforts in transparency mean that Burberry isn’t totally out of fashion when it comes to eco-conscious clothing.

However, the company is reportedly still relying on the flawed chemical list from the industry group Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC), which is missing important dangerous substances like PFCs, so this English company still has a few more strides to take before it reaches the green catwalk.

Levi’s

Levi’s is slowly working toward the goal of full detox, agreeing to publish discharge data from its supply chain facilities in the Global South and requiring its largest suppliers to disclose pollution data for increased transparency. It has also begun communicating with suppliers about eliminating APEOs, phthalates, and PFCs from its products. That said, this denim brand needs to do quite a bit more work if it intends to meet its 2020 goals.

Brands to Skip

While many of the brands that committed to eco-conscious clothing by 2020 are taking the appropriate steps to meet their goals, some seem to have forgotten that they made the promise at all.

“There are still many uncommitted toxic addicts that have failed to take responsibility for their toxic trail and have yet to make a credible, individual Detox commitment,” says Greenpeace.

Nike

Nike is the only brand on this list to completely fail in all three assessed categories. Nike “paints itself as a detox leader but is way behind on transparency,” according to Greenpeace, and is thus a no-no for those in favor of green fashion.

Nike has made a few small steps, such as its partnership with Bluesign Technologies for sustainable innovation, but it is way behind other brands on the way to true eco-conscious clothing before 2020.

Victoria’s Secret

While Limited Brands – owner of Victoria’s Secret and La Senza – vowed to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from its supply chain in 2013, it hasn’t made as many steps as Greenpeace would like to see towards this goal.

When Greenpeace first investigated Victoria’s Secret in 2012, the organization was shocked to discover the presence of a hormone-disrupting phthalate at levels that would have led to the product being banned in the EU had it been a toy. Victoria’s Secret quickly jumped on the detox bandwagon after consumer pressure, but as of July, moves to fulfill its commitment for change have been paltry at best.

While the company has improved its transparency slightly, it has done “absolutely nothing” to reduce its environmental impact and “has no concrete plan to do so in the future,” Cosmopolitan reported in July.

Gap

Gap is one of a handful of companies that continually refuses to make a commitment to non-toxic, eco-conscious clothing production.

In 2013, Gap was linked to PT Gistex, an Indonesian supplier known for its pollution of the local water supply, and Greenpeace claims that Gap has turned a blind eye to the issue. As of March of last year, nothing had been done to resolve this, to the extent that when Gap opened its first Taiwanese store, activists from Greenpeace East Asia dropped a banner demanding that Gap say no to toxic fashion.

For now, that means that eco-conscious shoppers should avoid not only Gap but also Old Navy and Banana Republic.

Of course, opting for greener big fashion brands is only the beginning of the fight for more eco-conscious clothing options. Choosing smaller sustainable designers and rejecting the fast fashion mindset are great ways to contribute to more eco-conscious clothing options.

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Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.