Ethical Clothing Brands

Which are the real ethical clothing brands? Ethical ratings for 28 UK ethical clothes brands, with Best Buy recommendations.

See how brands rate on key areas including use of sustainable fabrics, climate impact, fair wages and working conditions, animal rights, and supply chain transparency. We look at their range of clothing and at the innovators that are going beyond fairtrade and organic.

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.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying clothing:

  • Is it second-hand? The UK clothing industry has an estimated annual carbon footprint close to that of all 28 current EU states combined – at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 yearly. As clothing production has increased, the number of times clothing is worn before being thrown away has declined. Help the environment by reducing the amount of new clothing you buy and shop second-hand.

  • Does it use organic materials? There are many problems associated with the production of non-organic materials. In particular, uncertified cotton can be linked to the use of forced labour and the widespread use of toxic pesticides. Look for 100% organic.

  • Is it fairly traded? Many high-street retailers rely on overworked and underpaid garment workers to continue to churn out fast fashion. Opt for our Best Buys in this guide and those that score a best under Supply Chain Management to ensure that you are supporting the livelihood of the person who made your clothes.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying clothing:

  • Does it use toxic chemicals? Clothes manufacturing often uses numerous chemicals that are then released, seriously damaging the environment. Avoid companies that use toxic chemicals, including non-organic textiles.

  • Is it dirty viscose? Campaigners are targeting viscose clothing, which may also be labelled as rayon or bamboo because it has a very polluting manufacturing process. Cleaner viscose will be labelled as lyocell, Tencel or Monocel.

  • Is it fur or leather? Around 100 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.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

What makes an ethical clothing brand?

All of the companies covered in this guide sell their products via online shops. We have tried to cover companies that produce more than one type of clothing rather than just T-shirts or yoga wear.

The most ethical clothing companies are arguably going beyond ethical certification labels, such as organic and Fairtrade. They have become innovators within the slow fashion movement; a movement which, like the slow food movement, emphasises the importance of quality, building direct connections with producers and knowing the provenance of a product.

We look at sustainable fabrics, companies’ approaches to reducing their climate impacts and managing workers’ rights in their supply chains, animal rights, consumer actions, and give our Best Buy recommendations.

At a time when many high-street clothing retailers have acted appallingly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, some of these companies offer inspirational case studies for another way to dress ourselves on our one planet journey.

Ethical and sustainable fashion

Ethical clothing (sometimes known as slow fashion or sustainable fashion) is a way of producing and buying (or not buying) clothing that takes into account environmental and social concerns, alongside other ethical considerations. It seeks to minimise the clothing industry’s impacts on people and planet whilst protecting and enhancing the earth’s resources for the future.

Ethical clothing concerns can range from the fair treatment of workers and animals to the use of organic textiles and the creation of localised, non-toxic and closed-loop supply chains.

For consumers, ethical clothing is also about buying fewer, better quality garments that last much longer.

Why is ethical clothing so important?

Ethical clothing offers an essential alternative to fast fashion. With fast fashion the consumer has little or no visibility of how the clothes are made and what impact production has on workers and the environment.

As highlighted in the high street clothing guide, these impacts often have devastating consequences for the people that make clothes, their communities and their local environment, whilst also contributing to global environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Fast fashion also promotes a culture of over consumption with brands releasing new ranges and trends that encourage consumers to buy more and more clothes, and dispose of more and more clothes without considering the consequences.

In contrast, ethical clothing seeks to slow, things, down. It has the potential to build resilience in the face of the climate and ecological emergency and can play a role in reconnecting us with the soil that most clothes ultimately come from and return to.

Life story cartoon of ethical clothing and cost
Image by Mike Bryson

Is ethical clothing affordable?

The very aspects that make a clothing brand ‘ethical’ – fair wages, transparency, sustainable fabrics, durability – mean that brand new ethical clothing is more expensive than the clothes you find on the high street.

With ethical clothing you are essentially paying for the real cost of your garment. In contrast high-street fashion pushes these costs (externalities) onto others – resulting in environmental pollution at the place of production and disposal, hazardous work conditions and factory farming.

This high price and quality hopefully means that you’ll buy fewer new clothes which is essential if we are to make our clothing habits more sustainable, and will presumably result in less being spent on your clothing overall.

But ethical clothing is not just about buying new clothes, and this is where the discussion around affordability becomes interesting.

Buying second-hand, running and participating in clothes swaps, making your own clothes from scratch, upcycling, repairing and renting – all these options are not only financially affordable, but they offer other benefits as well, e.g. they can lead to upskilling, building community connections and greater appreciation around what it takes to make a piece of clothing. We write more about all this further down.

Where buying new is important and you can’t afford the full price, you could wait until clothes go on sale (if they do). Although we haven’t reviewed all the brands on the Ethical Clothing platform, it does feature some of our recommended and Best Buys and alerts you when there are price drops.

Key indicators of an ethical clothing brand

1. Fair wages and working conditions for all working in a supply chain

From those producing raw materials (such as farmers growing cotton) to the workers stitching together a garment, or shredding and repurposing unwanted clothing, all workers should receive a living wage and should be treated fairly as defined by the International Labour Organisation.

Of the companies covered in this guide, 24 get a best rating for Supply Chain Management, for upholding workers’ rights in their supply chains, with many going above and beyond what Ethical Consumer would normally expect the average small company to do.

For example, Brothers We Stand has a six-point standard that brands (sold via its website) must comply with and have systems in place that ensure important labour standards are met. It is a member of Social Enterprise UK (a national body for enterprises with a social or environmental mission), and its suppliers and partner brands are working with initiatives like the Fair Wear Foundation and GOTS. 100% of its own-brand t-shirts are made from GOTS-certified organic cotton and approximately 98% of items from other brands on its website are made with certified organic cotton. To get into its collections, products also must have a social or environmental impact that sets them apart from the mainstream. Examples of stand-out social impact included “schemes for worker engagement with decision making, working to fair trade criteria, programmes of worker training and capacity building, clear examples of how workers are valued and their needs prioritised.”

Only four companies get a middle rating for Supply Chain Management in this guide: Gintare Business Solutions Limited (Amberoot), Bronwyn Lowenthal (Lowie), Howies, and Bibico.

Read our detailed article on workers' rights in the clothing industry to find out more about what the conditions are and campaigns you can support to help bring about change.

2. Transparency and traceability

Information about suppliers, raw materials and production processes is readily available on a company’s website or via email when asked.

3. Environmental practices are embedded into how they work

They seek out sustainable fabrics (such as organic and recycled fibres); less polluting production processes such as the use of natural plant-based dyes; use renewable energy to process fabrics; develop systems to take back and upcycle worn clothes.

In this guide 19 companies received our best rating for Environmental Reporting, eight a middle rating and only one, Oxfam, a worst rating. Oxfam was one of the few organisations in this report to be rated against the higher standards we expect of larger organisations.

Nine companies also received our best rating for their approach to Carbon Management and Reporting: Amberoot, Beyond Retro, Where Does It Come From?, Living Crafts, Rapanui, Kuyichi, THTC Clothing, Birdsong, and MUD Clothes.

Not only were their products offering an environmental alternative, but they had taken steps to actively reduce their carbon footprints. For example, MUD Jeans is striving to create a circular business model that sees its jeans made from 100% post-consumer waste. It has 2030 targets in place to decrease kgCO2e per pair of jeans by 80% whilst reducing its total land use by 80% and reducing the total energy used per pair of jeans by 60%.

All remaining companies received a middle rating, offering environmental alternatives with lower carbon impacts, but failing to actively discuss their carbon footprint and steps they were taking to reduce emissions in line with international agreements.

4. Timeless clothing that lasts

In many cases, companies avoid offering new seasonal ranges each year to try and combat our fast-fashion appetite; opting instead to produce clothes that are built to last and offering a repairs service or clothes that you can lease.

We are really aiming to inspire behavioural change in our customers through designing long-lasting versatile items. We do not bring out a new collection every season, we offer perhaps a new colourway and a slow evolution. We encourage customers to style their garments in many ways rather than buy many styles” – Outsider.

We offer two collections per year, doing small runs that give exclusivity. We focus on timeless styles (not trend led), that are well made and durable” – Bibico.

5. Moving toward circularity?

At least seven companies in this guide are working towards developing closed loop, circular business models: reclaiming fibres and garments, designing out waste and investing in the innovation of new materials that support a circular textiles economy, and discouraging excessive consumption.

These include Finisterre, Lucy and Yak, Mud, Ninety Percent, Nudie, KoolKompany, and THTC clothing.

There is some critique around circular economies however, namely:

  • The more complex a product, the more complex it is to recycle. Each step of this process also results in resources and energy being lost.
  • Energy spent on creating things cannot be recycled. Even if we move towards renewable energy, the infrastructure needed to generate and maintain renewable energy still currently requires new resources and energy.
  • Growth makes a circular economy impossible. The amount of recycled materials will always be smaller than the material needed to support growth, resulting in further extraction and use of new materials. Even if we achieved a steady state economy, it is unlikely that we can meet all needs with recycled or reclaimed materials.

For us to truly move towards more circular economies would therefore require more than simply recycling. It requires us to reduce energy and resource consumption, to decouple sustainability from financial economic growth, to produce and consume much less and to simplify the goods we use to ensure they can be easily recycled and composted – becoming soil once again.

cattle in pens factory farming

6. Animal rights policies

Ethical clothing brands often do not use animal products like leather, wool or silk and don’t seek to replace them with fake synthetic options. Where they do use animal products, it’s often reclaimed, organic or peace silk.

All of Know the Origin's products are marketed as vegan and organic. Monkee Genes and MUD Clothing also offer vegan clothing ranges.

KoolKompany Ltd, Rapanui, Lucy and Yak, and THTC Clothing did not appear to sell animal products at the time of writing.

Gintare Business Solutions Limited (Amberoot), Outsider, Greenfibres, and Nudie used peace silk where possible (silk is harvested without killing the worms).

Birdsong used reclaimed leather, Beyond Retro sold second-hand clothes made from animal products and Nudie used ‘gold standard’ leather (certified organic animal husbandry and vegetable tanning processes).

Which brands make what ethical clothing

Brand Men's clothing? Women's Clothing Kids' Clothing Range
Amberoot Yes Yes No Full range of clothing made "from natural and sustainable fabrics", <5% synthetic
Beyond Retro Yes Yes No Full range of vintage and upcycled clothing
Bibico No Yes No Dresses, skirts, tops, jumpers, jumpsuits, trousers, shorts. Uses organic cotton, linen and hemp, wool, Tencel and leather
Birdsong No Yes No Dresses, t-shirts, knitwear and shoes. Uses Tencel, bamboo (closed loop), recycled polyester, khadi (fairtrade) cotton, organic cotton and wool.
Brothers We Stand  Yes No No Full range of clothing. Materials used include organic cotton, Tencel, wool, Euroflax, SEAQUAL (fabric made from recycled plastic from ocean), organic
linen, EcoVero™ (a fabric made from renewable wood sources).
Earthmonk Yes Yes Yes T-shirts and hoodies and jumpers. Materials used include organic cotton, recycled cotton and polyester.
Finisterre Yes Yes No Full range including swimwear. Materials used include linen, wool, bamboo, hemp, kapok, organic cotton, ECONYL® (nylon waste collected from landfills and oceans and then turned into a usable fabric).
Greenfibres Yes Yes Yes Full range of clothing. Materials used include organic cotton, organic merino wool, hemp and linen.
Howies Yes Yes No

Full range of clothing. Materials used include merino wool, organic cotton, organic denim, Modal.

Know the Origin Yes Yes No Full range of clothing. Materials used include organic cotton, fairtrade cotton, vegan leather (one bag).
Komodo Yes Yes No Full range of clothing. Materials used include organic cotton, recycled PET, Tencel, bamboo, linen, rayon and hemp.
Kuyichi Yes Yes No Full range of clothing. Materials used include recycled cotton, organic cotton, elastane, post-consumer recycled denim, Tencel (Lenzing), vegetable tanned leather, recycled polyester, Micro Modal (Lenzing), linen.
Living Crafts Yes Yes Yes Full range of clothing. Materials used include organic cotton, recycled plastics, bamboo, hemp, linen.
Lowie No Yes No Full range of clothing. Materials used include organic cotton, linen, lyocell.
Lucy & Yak Yes Yes No Full range of clothing including dungarees. Materials used include organic cotton, recycled polyester, Seacell.
Monkee Genes Yes Yes No Trousers, t-shirts, shorts, jeans, hoodies, jackets and sweatshirts. Materials used include certified organic cotton & denim.
MUD Jeans Yes Yes No Jeans, shorts, skirts, shirts, t-shirts, jackets. Materials used include organic cotton, recycled cotton and Tencel.
Ninety Percent No Yes No Full range of clothing. Materials used include organic or recycled cotton, sheep’s wool, EcoVero, Micro Modal, Tencel, linen.
Nomads Yes Yes No Full range of clothing. Materials used include organic cotton.
Nudie Yes Yes Yes Jeans, canvas trousers, sweatshirts, shirts, jackets, tops, underwear. Materials used include organic, fairtrade and recycled cotton, reused denim,
recycled elastane, recycled polyester, lyocell TENCEL, polyamide (nylon used in socks etc), wool- recycled and virgin, alpaca hair, peace silk, leather (gold standard), Jacron (FSC certified cellulose fibres and acrylic polymers made in Germany).
Outsider No Yes No Dresses, tops, skirts, jackets and trousers. Materials used include linen, viscose, wool, organic merino wool, organic cotton, hemp, silk and cupro.
Oxfam 2nd hand Yes Yes Yes Full range of second hand clothes.
People Tree No Yes No Full range of clothing. Material used include organic cotton, TENCEL™ Lyocell, organic linen, wool, lycra, elastane, recycled nylon and recycled elastane.
Rapanui Yes Yes No T-shirts, hoodies, socks, underwear. Materials used include organic cotton, recycled cotton, some bamboo socks.
SU-stainable and KoolSchools Yes Yes Yes - school uniforms Sweaters, hoodies and school uniforms. Materials used include organic fairtrade cotton, recycled polyester.
Thought Yes Yes No Full range of clothing. Materials used include bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, Modal, Tencel and wool.
THTC Yes Yes t-shirts and sweatshirts t-shirts, hoodies, and sweatshirts
Where Does it Come From? Yes Yes Yes Adults' shirts and scarves, and children's range. Materials used include organic cotton and second hand clothes.

Ethical and sustainable fabrics

Choosing the most sustainable fabric depends on a complex range of factors: from carbon footprint and toxic chemical use to workers’ and animal rights. We try to balance across a set of complicated issues in the table below, and in more depth in a separate article on fabrics.

Best of the bunch Next best Best to avoid
Organic hemp Linen Acrylic
Organic linen Hemp Leather

Recycled cotton

Organic cotton Polyester
Recycled wool Recycled cotton Nylon
  Fairtrade cotton Silk
  Organic bamboo Elastane
  Bamboo linen Conventional bamboo
  In-conversion cotton Conventional viscose, rayon or modal
  Lyocell or Tencel™ Conventional cotton
  Lyocell bamboo or Monocel® Wool
  Recycled polyester  
  Recycled nylon  
  Recycled elastane  
  Organic wool  

Is Fairtrade Certification Enough?

Back in 2016, Fairtrade International (FI) faced criticism from the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) over its Fairtrade Textile Standard.

CCC argued that a product label approach was not right for an industry with pervasive worker exploitation and that a long-term business and sectorwide approach was needed to tackle widespread labour and human rights violations.

They also criticised the certification’s six-year implementation period for a living wage that offered no guarantee that buyers would stay as the supplier’s prices go up. “Marking garments as 'fairtrade' before a living wage has actually been paid to the workers is unacceptable for CCC.”

FI defended itself, stating that no other standard or approach covers the entire production chain, and has a higher standard of core labour rights. It also stressed that its product label provides consumer transparency.

The same critique still appears relevant today.

In many ways a number of the ethical clothing brands demonstrate how a combination is possible – showing how you can opt for Fairtrade certified clothing whilst embedding company-wide supply chain management principles that commit to long-term working relationships and ensure workers are treated fairly and are paid a living wage.

Summer clothes on rail

Ethical clothing in a pandemic?

The 2020 Ethical Consumer Markets Report highlighted an increased trend towards buying second-hand clothing during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite second-hand buying of goods in general reducing due to shop closures, 42% of people planned to buy second-hand in the future, and spend on second-hand clothing fared much better during the pandemic. This may be attributed to the rise of apps such as Depop, which doubled in subscribers between March and May 2020.

We asked our readers:
‘How have your clothing habits changed, if at all, during the pandemic?’

Of those who said their clothing habits had changed, 52% said they’d bought less clothing or bought nothing new, 20% said they'd bought second-hand, 16% said they’d tried to use more ethical suppliers and 16% said they’d repaired, altered or made a piece of clothing. Everyone hoped to retain these new habits or start adopting more sustainable habits going forwards.

We asked the companies covered in this guide:
‘What (if any) trends have you observed around ethical and sustainable fashion during the Covid-19 pandemic?’ and ‘How has your company responded and adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic?'

Of the companies that responded, all mentioned the need to support working from home across their supply chains and the temporary closure of factories, for safety reasons. A couple had also set up or supported fundraisers to support their suppliers, e.g. Bibico raised some funds to support its Indian fair-trade co-op.

Regarding trends, People Tree commented “There has been an increase in buying online, and an increased
awareness of being part of a global community. That we were all in it together, bringing a better understanding of the importance of buying sustainably and looking after the planet.”

Birdsong Limited described how “The fragility of global supply chains was highlighted by Covid-19, as countries
restricted international trade, supply chain logistics were disrupted, and orders were cancelled due to a sudden drop-off in demand. This left a lot of makers abroad in precarious situations, as many big fashion retailers didn’t pay for garments. As this was highlighted in the media, consumers came to realise the fragile and unsustainable supply chains that many fast-fashion retailers rely on. There is also an increased sense of responsibility amongst consumers. The pandemic laid bare the inequality of our social structures, causing consumers to realise their role in their own communities. This increased local and social spending, supporting those most affected by the pandemic and helping to ‘build back better’."

Brothers We Stand commented: “The enforced isolation of the pandemic has given us all more time to think and consider afresh important questions such as where and how our clothes are made. I think events of the last year have also encouraged us to reflect on the importance of community and looking out for others. I think this is only adding to the enthusiasm for ethical and sustainable fashion which was already growing before the pandemic”.

Spotlight on Know The Origin

Ethical Fashion – 10 consumer actions

1. Buy less clothing

This is the most important thing that anyone can do. There are numerous schools of thought on how much is too much; Extinction Rebellion is currently asking people to stop buying new clothes for a year while others suggest trying not to buy anything for a month as a starting point to help you reduce your consumption.

The Project Cece ethical fashion website suggests asking yourself before you buy whether you will wear a piece of clothing 50 times. If not, don’t buy it. 

2. Buy second-hand, use clothes swaps or rent clothes

There are now loads of great options for buying second-hand. From charity shops like Oxfam to recycled clothes shops like Beyond Retro, it’s never been easier to shop pre-loved.

We can also swap clothes with friends and families or as part of local clothes swaps. Or you could rent clothes for those big occasions when you need impractical clothes that you might only wear once or twice a year.

3. Upcycle and repair old clothes or give them to charity (ie. try and avoid landfill)

In 2018, UK consumers threw away 300,000 tonnes of textiles and researchers say that on average each person puts eight items of clothing in the bin every year.

We can dramatically cut this amount by buying less in the first place. Then try repairing or upcycling clothes or donate them to charity.

4. Buy clothes made from ethically sourced materials

If you do need to buy new clothes it’s good to buy those made out of recycled and natural or organic fibres. This reduces the need to manufacture fabrics from petrochemical-based plastics and cuts down on toxic herbicides and pesticides used on crops such as cotton. Read our feature on choosing the right fabric to find our more

5. Buy clothes that have been produced in fair working conditions (e.g. workers are paid a living wage)

The best way to ensure your clothes are made fairly is to opt for our Best Buys in the Ethical Clothing guide and those that score a best under our Supply Chain Management category.

You can also look for those companies that are transparent about their supply chains so that you can be surer that working conditions were fair.

6. Buy clothes that don’t use animal products (e.g. leather or silk)

Thousands of people are currently turning to plant-based diets, and you can extend this into your fashion buying by avoiding clothing that has been produced from the exploitation of animals.

Companies that offer animal product-free clothing only include Know the Origin, Monkee Genes and MUD Clothing ranges.

KoolKompany Ltd, Rapanui, Lucy and Yak and THTC Clothing also do not appear to sell animal products at the time of writing.

7. Wash your clothes less frequently and at lower temperatures so that they last longer

Wash at 30 degrees and try to avoid washing your clothes too much.

Nudie recommend only washing your jeans every six months!

8. Go minimalist

While some advocate not buying more, others also advocate slimming down what you have now. Project 333 (wear 33 items for 3 months) and the Capsule Wardrobe Challenge (never own more than 37 items) help people to buy less by demonstrating how easy and stress relieving it can be to have a clearer, ‘capsule’ wardrobe.

9. Buy quality clothing that will last a long time

Some things that you should look out for are:

  • Regular, straight and neat stitching.
  • Double-stitched (French) seams.
  • Well-finished buttonholes and buttons. 
  • The feel of the fabric, is it heavy? Well textured?

10. Lobby the government for regulation of the clothing industry

The Environmental Audit Committee ‘Fixing Fashion’ report of 2019 recommended new laws including a tax on clothes which are less than 50% recycled fabric, and a charge of 1p per garment to invest in clothes collection and sorting.

Additional research by Clare Carlile and Alex Crumbie.

Companies behind the brands

Beyond Retro began in 2002 in a disused dairy in East London. Beyond Retro now sells second-hand clothes both online and at five bricks-and-mortar shops in London, Brighton and Bristol, and four in Sweden.

The company claims to have “a minus carbon footprint” with it focusing on second hand and retro clothing only.

In 2014, WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) audited its processes and concluded that “by recycling and upcycling from second-hand materials, every year, we save: 608 tonnes CO2e". As part of its work diverting textile waste from landfill, it crafts clothes from a factory across the street from its sorting facility – creating its LABEL collection.

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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