‘Sustainable’ is a word that gets bandied around a lot, particularly in the world of fashion – but what does it actually mean? And why should we care? Well, the umbrella term encompasses a plethora of practises, but at its core describes production methods that are kinder to (a) the planet and (b) the people undertaking them. That includes anything from traceability in the supply chain, to safe working environments with fair wages and the elimination of harmful chemicals. It’s slow, conscious fashion, made using recycled or organic fabrics. In other words, the antithesis of the stack-them-high-sell-them-cheap model employed by many high street outlets.
Among those leading the charge in sustainable clothing are a large number of Scandinavian brands that have skilfully fused eco-friendly process with cutting edge design. Whether it’s Gothenburg-based Nudie Jeans’ recycled denim or Stockholm-born label Filippa K’s leasing scheme on last-season items, the Nords know how to do ecologically sound fashion with panache – and one glance at Ann Wiberg’s ethically-made ‘trash couture’ will tell you it’s not all Scandi-cool minimalism, either. Read on for Living It’s pick of the Nordic labels that will sit just as well on your conscience as they will on your body.
Best for: 100% organic denim
Unlike organic cotton, conventional cotton accounts for 25% of the global use of artificial pesticides – and it was with that statistic in mind that Maria Erixon, the brains behind Gothenburg-based Nudie Jeans, set about building a denim brand with a difference.
Manufactured from 100% organic cotton, a pair of the label’s non-toxic jeans are built to last, with no extra treatments or washes, and come with free repairs for life. What’s more, if you donate your well-worn Nudie Jeans back to the brand you’ll receive 20% off your next pair.
These are then given a new lease of life by a team of in-house menders and resold as second-hand in store or recycled. The collection centres on classic cuts instead of fleeting fads (the raven black high tops are a real staple) with the statement pieces thrown in, such as this season’s camo denim jackets.
Best for: recycled knitwear and leased garments
Stockholm’s men and womenswear label Filippa K has swiftly gathered an international fanbase on account of its versatile precision-cut staples and luxurious knitwear, but it’s also hot on sustainable practise, too. In a genius move, the label has introduced a ‘leasing’ policy, whereby a large archive of last-season garments is available to rent out at a reduced cost.
Once these are too worn for leasing, they are sold second hand. In the wake of news stories about brand goliaths like Burberry and Nike deliberately destroying vast amounts of old season stock, it’s a refreshingly conscientious policy that will hopefully be adopted as standard practise by more brands in the coming years.
Buyers can head to the ‘garment care’ section of the Filippa K site for useful tips on how to reduce waste, reuse and build a lasting wardrobe, from using a laundry bag for fine materials to gently removing pilling with an eco-friendly sweater stone. After all, extending the average life of your clothes by just three months leads to 5-10% reduction in carbon, water and waste footprint.
Best for: recycled couture with an urban edge
Danish native Ann Wiberg founded her ‘future vintage’ Trash Couture brand in 2002, after finishing her post-graduate studies at the Danish Academy. The label is characterised by its darkly opulent aesthetic (or baroque and roll, as Wiberg prefers to call it) with everything embellished and embroidered to the hilt, but it’s also a model of sustainable practise, crafting its pieces from diligently sourced antique lace and brocade and hand-sewing everything at the brand’s very own atelier in Copenhagen. If you want to go sustainable for a wedding, Wiberg also does a line of bridal couture.
Best for: seasonless, durable outerwear
Danish-inspired and born in Aalborg, Denmark, RENER has carved itself a niche with its weatherproof outerwear for women. Minimalist cuts and chic colourways are the name of the game, from the longline rubberised ‘robes’ and ‘trenchers’ in forest green and inky tones to the short, boxy anoraks with oversized pockets and contrasting drawstring details. But for RENER, ethical practise is just as important as quality design. The entire range is seasonless and built to last, using fabrics sourced from a Green Energy Mill in Italy, making a trench from here a long-term investment instead of a flash-in-the-pan mac that lasts one festival season.
Best for: t-shirts and merino wool sweaters
Built around one permanent collection with ‘no seasonal, short-lived trends’ Stockholm’s affordable luxury menswear brand Asket – a go-to for exquisitely cut t-shirts and oh-so-strokeable cashmere sweaters – likes to do things differently. For a start, it has its very own sizing system.
That’s right – a short, regular and long version have been added to every standard XS-XL, giving a total of 15 fits, because real men come in a hotchpotch of sizes. Then there’s the transparency policy. At Asket, you can read a full breakdown of the production costs, from the fabric to labour, shipping and the final mark up.
There’s also a comprehensive list of their factories and suppliers and a detailed garment care guide which thankfully advises to ‘wear more, wash less’ and includes handy tips on everything from green laundry detergents to storage.
Best for: vegan underwear
Sisters Arina and Anya Woron’s line of sustainable, plant-based lingerie and loungewear focuses on breathable soft-bras, slim bodysuits and bottoms in flattering Brazilian and high-rise cuts. Crafted from smooth beechwood pulp fibre without toxic chemicals, the collection is delivered in a palette of chic neutral tones and 100% cruelty free. Socks and washbags are made from durable organic cotton, while Woron’s small but perfectly formed swimwear collection (think sleek, minimalist cuts) is made of high-quality polyamide – that’s recycled plastic waste found in the ocean, for the uninitiated.
Writer: Mary-Jane Wiltsher