Alternative Clothes Shops

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 27 ethical fashion retailers

We also look transparency, animal rights, shine the light on the ethics of Seasalt and give our recommended buys. 

About 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.

What to buy

What to look for when buying clothing:

  • Does it use organic cotton? There are many problems associated with cotton production, from the use of child labour to the widespread use of toxic pesticides. Look for 100% organic cotton.

  • Is it Fairtrade? Many high street retailers rely on overworked and underpaid garment workers to continue to churn out fast fashion. Buy Fairtrade clothing to ensure that you are supporting the livelihood of the person who made your clothes. 

  • Is it recycled? The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the UK. Most clothing is worn only a handful of times and then sent to landfill. Help the environment by shopping secondhand.

Best Buys

The best options for buying new clothes are organic, Fairtrade or upcycled including:

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying clothing:

  • Is it fur or leather? Over one million animals are killed every year for their fur, and leather has a high cost in terms of the environment as well as animal rights. Avoid clothes containing these fabrics.

  • Does it use toxic chemicals? Clothes manufacturing often uses numerous chemicals that are then released, seriously damaging the environmental. Avoid companies that use toxic chemicals.

  • Is it viscose? This synthetic fibre is increasingly popular with designer and high street retailers alike. But its manufacture is causing serious water pollution, which has led to human rights as well as environmental harm.

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Know The Origin [F, O]

Company Profile: Know the Origin Limited
17

Earthmonk [O]

Company Profile: Earthmonk
16

Know The Origin [O]

Company Profile: Know the Origin Limited
16

Beyond Retro recycled clothes [S]

Company Profile: Beyond Retro
15.5

MUD clothes [O]

Company Profile: MUD Jeans International B.V.
15.5

Greenfibres organic clothing [O]

Company Profile: Greenfibres Ltd
15

Where Does It Come From? [O]

Company Profile: Where Does It Come From?
15

People Tree clothing [F,O]

Company Profile: People Tree Ltd
14.5

Thought Organic [O]

Company Profile: Thought Fashion Limited
14.5

Thought Recycled [S]

Company Profile: Thought Fashion Limited
14.5

Cock and Bull Mens Organic Clothing [O]

Company Profile: Insider Trading
14

Kuyichi clothing [O]

Company Profile: Kuyichi Europe BV
14

Living Crafts Clothes [O]

Company Profile: Living Crafts GmbH & Co. KG
14

Outsider [O]

Company Profile: Outsider
14

Rapanui clothing [O]

Company Profile: Rapanui Clothing Limited
14

Thought

Company Profile: Thought Fashion Limited
14

Nudie clothes [O][F]

Company Profile: Nudie Jeans
13.5

People Tree clothing [O]

Company Profile: People Tree Ltd
13.5

THTC organic clothing [O]

Company Profile: THTC CLOTHING LIMITED
13.5

THTC recycled clothing [S]

Company Profile: THTC CLOTHING LIMITED
13.5

Annie Greenabelle clothing [O][F]

Company Profile: Annie Greenabelle
13

Cock and Bull Mens Clothing

Company Profile: Insider Trading
13

Komodo clothing [O]

Company Profile: Yakit Rackit Ltd (The)
13

Komodo clothing recycled [S]

Company Profile: Yakit Rackit Ltd (The)
13

Outsider clothing

Company Profile: Outsider
13

Nomads organic clothing [O]

Company Profile: Nomads Clothing Ltd
12.5

Nudie clothes [O]

Company Profile: Nudie Jeans
12.5

THTC clothing

Company Profile: THTC CLOTHING LIMITED
12.5

Annie Greenabelle clothing [O]

Company Profile: Annie Greenabelle
12

Komodo clothing

Company Profile: Yakit Rackit Ltd (The)
12

Brothers We Stand organic clothing [O]

Company Profile: Brothers We Stand
11.5

Brothers We Stand recycled clothing [S]

Company Profile: Brothers We Stand
11.5

Finisterre clothes [O]

Company Profile: Finisterre UK Limited
11.5

Nomads Clothing

Company Profile: Nomads Clothing Ltd
11.5

Annie Greenabelle clothing

Company Profile: Annie Greenabelle
11

Howies organic clothing [O]

Company Profile: Howies Ltd
11

Lowie organic clothing [O]

Company Profile: Bronwyn Lowenthal
11

Seasalt organic clothing [O]

Company Profile: Seasalt Limited
11

Finisterre clothes

Company Profile: Finisterre UK Limited
10.5

Bamboo Clothes

Company Profile: Bamboo Clothing Ltd
10

Bibico Clothing [F]

Company Profile: Bibico
10

Howies clothing

Company Profile: Howies Ltd
10

Lowie clothing

Company Profile: Bronwyn Lowenthal
10

Sesalt clothing

Company Profile: Seasalt Limited
10

Bibico clothing [O]

Company Profile: Bibico
9.5

Bibico clothing

Company Profile: Bibico
9

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

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 Street clothing guide.

Image: Know the Origin label
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. 

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

“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.”
Bryony Moore, Ethical Consumer.

Spotlight on Know The Origin

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 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.

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.

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.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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