Alternative Clothes Shops

Ethical shopping guide to Alternative Clothes Shops, from Ethical Consumer.

Ethical shopping guide to Alternative Clothes Shops, from Ethical Consumer.

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

Is ethical fashion still a niche market? 

In this guide:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 27 alternative clothing brands
  • Best Buy Recommendations
  • Transparency 
  • Animal Rights
  • Pollution and Toxics

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Score Ratings

Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


Score table

The score table shows simple numerical ratings out of 20 for each product. The higher the score, the more ethical the company.

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Full Scorecard

The Full Scorecard shows the 'black marks' for each product, by each of the 17 negative categories. The bigger the mark, the worse the score. So for example a big black circle under 'Worker Rights' shows that the company making this product has been severely criticised for worker abuses.

Scores start at 14.  A small circle means that half a mark is deducted, a large circle means that a full mark is deducted.

Marks are added in the positive categories of Company Ethos and the five Product Sustainability columns (O,F,E,S,A).  A small circle  means that half a mark is added, a large circle means that a full mark is added.

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Best Buys

as of August 2017


As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that the company ratings on the scoretable may have changed since this report was written.


The best option for ethical brands is to buy second hand. 

Best Buys for new clothes are:

Organic and Fairtrade: Know the Origin, People Tree, Nudie, Annie Greenabelle

Organic: MUD, Greenfibres, Kuyichi, Thought, Cock & Bull, Living Crafts, Outsider, Rapanui, Komodo, Nomads, Brothers We Stand, Earthmonk & Where Does it Come From?

Upcycled fabric: Beyond Retro 


On the scoretable [O] stands for Organic, [F] for fairtrade and [S] for reclaimed or recycled. 


to buy



Ethical Consumer makes a small amount of money from your purchase. This goes to fund our research and campaigning. We ethically screen all the sites we link to.

Ethical Business
Directory Links

  • Vegan Vintage     view ethical directory profile >

    Ethical vintage clothing, accessories and homewares to buy online. Free UK delivery and 10% of all sales are donate...

  • Sublow    view ethical directory profile >

    WHAT IS SUBLOW? At Sublow we produce quality, hand printed, environmentally friendly, creatively designed garments...

  • Origine Éthique    view ethical directory profile >

    Graphic t-shirts and tote bags made from 100% recycled material and supporting important causes. 6% of each sale g...

  • Follow The River    view ethical directory profile >

    Independent, organic, outdoor lifestyle clothing. Hand printed in the UK using water based inks....

Last updated: August 2017 





Related Content

Ethical Issues in the Fashion Industry



Ethical fashion: not just a label? 


Most of the companies covered in this guide are small, family-run businesses or sole traders who have close and long-standing relationships with their suppliers.

Their entire business models are often created around the desire to do business better, with the aim of reducing environmental impacts and enhancing social and animal welfare.

This is highlighted by the 58% of companies in this guide that receive our best rating for both Environmental Reporting AND Supply Chain Management. In comparison, only Marks & Spencer receive a best rating for both categories in the High Streets guide.


Image: Know the Origin


A number of the highest scoring brands are arguably going beyond ethical certification labels, such as organic and Fairtrade, and have become key innovators within the slow fashion movement; a movement which like the slow food movement, emphasises the importance of quality and knowing the provenance of a product.

This guide highlights best practice within the ethical clothing sector by reviewing a range of widely available ethical brands, plus a few niche companies suggested by you, our readers. We have also tried to cover companies that produce more than one type of clothing rather than just T-shirts, or yogawear or sportswear.




Transparency in Supply Chains


Three companies featured in this guide have really opened up their supply chains with a range of exciting transparency tools. Although we haven’t awarded them any positive marks on the table for these endeavours, we feel that they deserve to be celebrated and put in the spotlight.

1. Brothers We Stand’s website, provides detailed information about each product on sale; from the materials used to ‘footprint’ information which highlights products’ environmental and social features.

2. Rapanui offers an interactive map feature on its website which traces products ‘from seed to shop’ and provides information about key stages of the product’s supply chain, e.g., transport method used and type of farm sourced from.

3. Know The Origin (KTO)has taken a minimalist approach to clothing that allows for maximum transparency. It offers 100% organic cotton clothing, some of which is also Fairtrade certified, provides detailed information about each stage of its supply chain – from seed to garment – and even invites people to visit its factories. 


Image: Rapanui

Rapanui’s interactive map feature on its website which traces products ‘from seed to shop’


By providing consumers with point-of-sale transparency regarding the origin of products, these tools support the slow fashion movement.

As Ethical Consumer’s Bryony Moore states:

“We should be supporting companies who have shorter and more transparent production lines...We should then vote with our pound and say no to companies making disposable fashion...and embrace a more meaningful and sustainable style.”




Animal Rights


A number of the clothing companies in this guide lose half a mark under the Animal Rights category, and Lowie and Bibico lose a whole mark. 

Companies that sold conventional silk lost half a mark under Animal Rights as the process of harvesting silk results in the killing of silk worms, these include:

  • Greenfibres
  • People Tree
  • Cock and Bull
  • Fashion-Conscience
  • Living Crafts
  • Outsider
  • Komodo
  • Annie Greenabelle
  • Seasalt
  • Lowie
  • Bibico


Brothers We Stand also sold silk products but they were 100% recycled and so the company did not lose a mark.

Leather was sold by Fashion-Conscience, Nudie Jeans, Nomads, Brothers We Stand, Howies, Seasalt, Lowie and Bibico. As Komodo only used recycled leather, it did not lose a mark under Animal Rights for selling leather.

Merino wool was sold by the following companies who didn’t provide a clear statement prohibiting the cruel practice of mulesing:

  • Cock and Bull
  • Living Crafts
  • Rapanui
  • Lowie
  • Bibico


They lose half a mark under Animal Rights. Companies that sold merino wool but could guarantee that mulesing was not used did not lose a mark. These included Greenfibres, Outsider, Komodo, Howies and Finisterre. 



Pollution and Toxics


If companies offer 100% sustainable fabrics (organic [O] or Fairtrade [F] or upcycled fabrics [S]), they receive Ethical Consumer’s best rating for Pollution & Toxics. They also receive positive Product Sustainability marks and a Company Ethos mark. This applies to Know The Origin, Beyond Retro, Greenfibres, Kuyichi and MUD jeans.

If companies use bamboo and other plant fabrics as part of a clothing range (which also includes ‘sustainable fabrics’), but don’t discuss the processing method used or state that they use the lyocell process, they receive Ethical Consumer’s middle rating for Pollution & Toxics.

This includes: Living Crafts, THTC Clothing, Annie Greenabelle, Brothers We Stand, Komodo, Thought Fashion Limited, Seasalt. Rapanui, Outsider, Fashion-Conscience, Lowie, and Cock and Bull.

A middle Pollution & Toxics rating was also awarded to the following companies as they use conventional fabrics such as non-organic cotton in addition to a range of sustainable fabrics: Finisterre, People Tree, Nomads and Howies.

Companies receive a worst Pollution & Toxics rating if they do not offer a significant proportion of sustainable fabrics and do not discuss their approach to reducing their hazardous chemical use. Bamboo Clothing, Bibico and Nudie Jeans received a worst rating in this category.



Sustainable Fabrics


The reality of creating truly ethical clothing in a fast fashion world is tricky considering the complexity of supply chains, and consumer demand for ‘sustainable fabrics’ can result in corners being cut.

Bamboo and tree cellulose-based materials can be presented as ‘sustainable fabrics’ as their production doesn’t often require artificial pesticides.

However, the processing method used to extract and turn plant fibres into fabric often determines whether they are truly sustainable or not. Bamboo highlights this situation perfectly.


Image: Bamboo


There are currently three main ways to produce fabric from bamboo:


1. Industrial method

The cellulose of the bamboo plant is dissolved in a chemical solvent during production. Due to this process, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Soil Association do not certify bamboo fabric despite it being grown organically in many cases. 


2. Industrial method using the lycocell process

One manufacturing process that minimises chemical use, and is therefore environmentally preferred, is called the ‘lyocell process’ (a closed loop process that reuses the water and chemicals and excludes the use of carbon disulphide). 

When the ‘lyocell’ process is used to process bamboo, the fabric is branded Monocel®. It can also be used to make fabrics from wood (branded Tencel®), or to make fabrics from cotton scraps and responsibly harvested wood (branded Refibra™). So, if you see viscose clothing products claiming to be sustainable look out for these names on the label.

However, the chemical that is used in the lyocell process – an organic solvent called N-methyl morpholine-N-oxide (NMMO) – has almost no human toxicity data available about it.


3. Mechanical extraction

This is more environmentally friendly but can be labour intensive and therefore costly. For example, the woody parts of bamboo can be crushed and a natural enzyme can be used to break down the bamboo further to create a ‘mushy mass’. The natural fibres can be mechanically combed out and spun into a thread which is then used to make a slightly coarse fabric – often called “bamboo linen” – as opposed to the commonly silky bamboo fabrics found in shops.

Living Crafts, Kuyichi and MUD jeans appear to be the only companies in this guide that sell fabrics made using the lyocell process.

All other companies that sold plant cellulose-based fabrics failed to discuss the processing method used.



Spotlight on Know the Origin - Leaders in Transparency







Company behind the brand

Seasalt began in 1981 when, according to its website, the Chadwick family went into a clothing shop in Penzance to buy some coats and ended up buying the shop. The company now claims to be the largest producer of Soil Association-certified organic clothing in the UK and is one of Cornwall’s biggest employers.

Despite its organic claims, the company does not provide information about the percentage of organic clothing it uses and as a result, loses half a mark under the Pollution and Toxics, Workers’ Rights and Controversial Technology categories for selling at least some conventional cotton. 


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