Sustainable & Responsible Apparel FAQs

What is sustainable and responsible apparel?

Sustainable and responsible apparel refers to clothing produced in ways that are kind to both people and the planet (including animals of course!). This means the entire process, from the sourcing of raw materials to manufacturing, shipping, and even recycling, is done in a way that minimizes environmental impact and promotes fair labor practices.

What is carbon neutral shipping?

Carbon neutral shipping refers to the process of offsetting the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced during the transportation of goods. This is typically achieved by investing in environmental projects, such as reforestation, renewable energy, or energy efficiency initiatives, that remove or reduce an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But what actually makes apparel sustainable or responsible?

Well, the truth is, it’s not just any one thing. The best sustainable and responsible apparel brands must take a multi-faceted approach. Below you’ll find some more detail on the key elements to consider:

  1. Eco-friendly Materials: Sustainable apparel uses materials that have a low impact on the environment. This could mean using organic natural fibers, recycled materials, or innovative, eco-friendly synthetic materials. For example, organic cotton uses far less water and is grown without harmful pesticides, and recycled polyester reduces plastic waste.
  2. Ethical Manufacturing: Responsible apparel takes into account the people who make our clothes and even any animals that might be involved in the process. This means ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions, and humane treatment of workers (and animals if applicable) at every step of the supply chain.
  3. Energy-Efficient Production: This means using production processes that minimize energy use and reduce carbon footprint. It might involve using renewable energy sources or improving production efficiency to use less energy overall.
  4. Water Conservation: The textile industry is notoriously water-intensive, especially in the production of cotton (and denim in particular). Sustainable apparel brands work to reduce water use, recycle water, or use less water-intensive materials.
  5. Waste Reduction: This includes everything from reducing fabric waste in the design and production process to offering recycling programs for worn-out garments. It might also mean designing clothes for durability and longevity, so they stay out of the landfill for longer.
  6. No Harmful Chemicals: Sustainable clothing avoids harmful dyes, finishes, and chemicals that can pollute waterways and harm wildlife. Instead, they use safe, non-toxic, and often plant-based alternatives.
  7. Sustainable Packaging and Shipping: From using biodegradable or recyclable packaging to offsetting carbon emissions from shipping, sustainable brands consider every step in the product's journey from the factory to your doorstep.
  8. Transparency and Accountability: Truly sustainable and responsible brands are transparent about their processes, willingly share information about their supply chains, and hold themselves accountable for continuous improvement.

The important thing to remember is that sustainability is a journey, not a destination and that even small changes in these areas can make a big difference!

Is there a difference between calling something “sustainable” versus “responsible” when discussing apparel and brands?

While of course these terms have different dictionary definitions, they are often used interchangeably in this context.

Some in the sustainable fashion movement prefer to use “responsible” instead of “sustainable” because to the casual observer “sustainability” is too often misinterpreted to be thought of as a binary distinction that evokes only environmental considerations (and thus largely misses the ethical manufacturing and fair labor components).

At UNUMSHOP, while we find this reasoning persuasive, our goal is to educate consumers and to promote sustainable and responsible apparel brands to as broad an audience as possible. Thus, we choose to use both terms interchangeably because we feel it’s important to use language that potential customers will most readily recognize and engage with.

So how do I know if a product or brand is truly sustainable or responsible?

As the Bard said, “ay, there's the rub!” There’s a lot to consider, and there’s generally no “right” answer or all-encompassing global standard to refer to. As has been noted, a brand looking to be more sustainable and responsible has many areas to focus on, and no company or brand does everything perfectly. However, there are certainly some that do it a lot better than others.

Certifications like the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or Fair Trade Certified for example are great indicators for sure, but they only focus on part of the story. Every step matters, and it’s certainly great if a brand has one of these or other well-recognized certifications, but that’s not enough.

At UNUMSHOP we believe that a brand is only deserving of being considered sustainable or responsible if it already currently demonstrates a high standard in many or all of the key areas that distinguish a sustainable or responsible brand, and that it also demonstrates a commitment to maintaining and improving in those elements.

With so much to consider, we know it can be overwhelming. But the good thing is, if you’re reading this, all you have to do is shop for your apparel, shoes and accessories here on UNUMSHOP and you can rest assured that all the products you find are only from brands that are among the most sustainable and responsible in the world. (And, as we like to say, don’t just take our word for it! We only use leading 3rd party holistic rating systems to determine brand eligibility. See more about our Brand Criteria here.)

I’ve heard of something called “greenwashing.” What is that?

Greenwashing is the deceptive practice of making misleading or unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company to appear more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

The term is derived from "whitewashing," a metaphor meaning to cover up or gloss over wrongdoing. Similarly, greenwashing involves covering up non-sustainable practices with misleading claims or imagery.

Examples of greenwashing could include:

  • Vague Language: Using terms like "green," "eco-friendly," "natural," or "sustainable" without clear definitions or proof.
  • Irrelevant Claims: Highlighting one small eco-friendly aspect while ignoring major environmental impacts.
  • Hidden Trade-offs: Presenting a product as "green" based on a single environmental attribute or an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important, and perhaps more critical, environmental issues. Like highlighting the use of recycled packaging while ignoring the environmental impact of the product itself.
  • Lack of Transparency: Not providing enough information for consumers to make informed decisions.
  • Overblown Claims: Exaggerating the environmental benefits of a product or service.

Unfortunately, as consumers have become more environmentally conscious, the incidence of greenwashing has become far more prevalent. This is why it's important to research brands and their claims before buying to ensure you're buying from truly sustainable and responsible brands. Or, better yet, to just shop with us at UNUMSHOP so you can be sure without having to do any more vetting or research yourself - since we’ve already done the research and filtering of brands for you!

Why should I choose sustainable clothing over regular clothing?

By choosing sustainable clothing, you're not just buying a garment, you're making a statement. You're voting for the health of our planet and the well-being of those who make our clothes.

It is a simple way to reduce your impact on the environment and support responsible business practices. It promotes fair labor practices and companies that are committed to making a positive impact on the world.

And, importantly, gone are the days when eco-friendly clothing was synonymous with drab or unflattering. At UNUMSHOP our curated selection of sustainable and responsible apparel combines the finest materials with timeless styles and cuts so you can look good while doing good for many seasons to come!

So really, a better question is, why SHOULDN’T you choose sustainable and responsible clothing over regular clothing?!

Is sustainable and responsible clothing more expensive?

Well, not necessarily, and sometimes not at all.

Does the high-quality, classically-styled and long-lasting apparel from truly sustainable and responsible brands like those you’ll find on UNUMSHOP have a higher price tag than what you’ll find at fast fashion or discount stores (whose business practices are opaque at best and who are often the worst offenders of greenwashing)? Yep! We’re not even going to pretend that the price tag is similar. You won’t find $10 t-shirts or $40 jeans from any truly sustainable or responsible brand, and you certainly won’t find that on UNUMSHOP.

But, with that higher price tag you’re getting significantly better and longer-lasting quality and timeless styling which will continue to feature prominently in your wardrobe for seasons and years to come. Thus, even if the price tag is noticeably higher initially, over time the actual cost is often even less (i.e. one $50 t-shirt that looks good and lasts for years is less than 6 $10 t-shirts which would cost you $60 and that you’ll be lucky to be able to wear one or two years from now).

And, of course, this doesn’t even account for the other benefits when you buy from from truly sustainable and responsible brands, like knowing that you’re minimizing your environmental footprint or that workers’ rights were respected in the production of your clothing.

Can I recycle my old clothes through UNUMSHOP?

Unfortunately, not right now. This is something we’re actively exploring though, and we’ll certainly keep this space updated if and when we think we’ve found a method or partner that can do this responsibly. (Because, sadly, the reality is that most of the “clothing recycling” programs out there are actually net-negatives for the environment, and, even worse, too often the clothes you think you’re recycling just end up in the trash anyway.)

For now, the best option is to buy only high-quality clothing and then to care for it (see some suggestions on this here) in order to extend the life of your clothes, shoes and accessories as much as possible. Nothing lasts forever though (we’re just talking about clothes here!), so when you are ready to move on from your apparel, we find reputable local non-profit organizations are typically the best bet (but again, it’s important to check their reputation to ensure the clothes will actually get to those in need as opposed to ending up in another landfill). We at UNUMSHOP obviously like well-respected 3rd party rating systems, so if you’re looking for something that might give you an idea of the quality of a non-profit you might have in mind, we’d recommend checking out Charity Navigator.

How do I best care for my clothes?

As the old saying kind of goes, “Love your clothes and they'll love you back!” Certainly always be mindful of the care instructions attached to any product. Generally though, it’s best to limit washing to when needed, wash using cold water, and let clothes air dry as often as possible. This not only helps your clothes last longer but saves energy too!