THE BRANDS

BRAND HIGHLIGHTS

LOOMSTATE

If it’s good enough for Chipotle, it’s good enough for us.

👫 : Women + Men

🌎 : Sold online with worldwide shipping.

💸 : Approx $30 – $135

🌐 : loomstate.org

WHAT WE ❤️

#pro-tip: check out the raglan sweatshirt and the chambray shirts for men and women. Wardrobe STAPLES for life 💯

Textile: Organic and fairtrade cotton with a 100% traceable supply chain, down to the villages where the cotton is grown. They also have a long term commitment with their cotton supplier ChetCo, which makes the investment to transition to organic for new farmers totally worth it, and helps protect against fluctuations in price.

Labor: ALL of Loomstate’s apparel suppliers in India are Fair Trade Certified. This means from the farmer up, they’re making sure workers and farmers are not only being paid well, but that high health and safety standards plus collective bargaining is also ensured. Loomstate relies heavily on its third party certifiers and verifiers (WRAP, BSCI, GOTS, Fair Trade, SA 8000, and Fair Wear Foundation!) to ensure that workers’ rights are protected and supported throughout its supply chain. The brand also has a team that visits each factory 5-10 times per year 📋 – that’s quite a bit more than we usually see. 

Environment: Back in 2014, Ecouterre highlighted Loomstate’s position on why it’s important for people to choose organic cotton, challenging the idea that we don’t need to care about it because we don’t eat it. They pointed out that American dairy cows eat as much as one pound of cottonseed for every 10 pounds of regular feed, so the chances are pretty reasonable that it might make its way into our stomachs. Holy cow 🐮

Innovation: It’s crazy to think that this is considered innovative, but considering industry standards it is: they design their basics for a reasonable amount of wear and tear. Since they’re in the business of making uniforms that people wear every day – you can imagine that the wear and tear test on your own t-shirt will pass with flying colors. ✅

Also, they were the leads on a huge initiative called ChetCo, a multi stakeholder association of brands working pre-competitively in a shared supply chain to enhance uptake of organic cotton. In other words, they were among the first to commit to farmers growing organic cotton, and now have a model they’re sharing with the industry to guarantee prices, contracts and positive impact in the supply chain. 👏🏼

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

They’re not telling us the exact names of their suppliers, but they did share a ton of other info about where they are and what they do. They also have their suppliers reporting into the SAC Higg Index (what’s that? a huge apparel industry effort to be more transparent and accountable about supply chain practices), and they’re among the first. 🥇 You’ll also notice a bit of a limited range once you click through, because most of their business is producing uniforms. In fact, they make the shirts worn by employees at Chipotle. 🌯

• • •

Read more about Loomstate on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

NO NASTIES

We love a Nasty Woman, but agree on no nasties in our clothing! 😜

👫 : Women + Men

🌎 : Sold online with worldwide shipping, and offline in retail stores in India.

💸 : Approx $10 – $40

🌐 : nonasties.in

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: 100% all organic fairtrade cotton – plain and simple 🙃 Bonus points: they pick their cotton from excess stock left over from other orders at the factory, so they don’t have to place large orders for made-to-order fabrics. 

Labor: No Nasties works with a cut and sew supplier, Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills (RCM), which has three factories in Kolkata, India. Not only do they tell us who their supplier is, RCM has a ton of info available about their production process available online. RCM negotiates with two trade unions for fixing worker wages, and beyond wages, gives special allowances for rent, canteen, medical and transport. ⭐️

Environment: In addition to only using organic cotton – which means no pesticides in our soil, our water, or in farmers’ lives – No Nasties’ supply chain’s dye houses use reverse osmosis to clean and reuse wastewater 💦, are powered by rice husks 🌾, and use low impact fiber reactive dyes. Bye fossil fuels! 👋🏽

Innovation: We love how the brand states its aims “to be a lighthouse” for the industry – and as the first Fair Trade certified brand in India, we appreciate it’s effort! Plus, all the rad prints for their clothing are designed locally by artists and graphic designers, exclusively for them. 🎨

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

The stitching facility is SA8000 verified, which hasn’t been known as the highest standard to protect worker’s rights. 😕 However, Fair Trade USA Association audits all of RCM’s facilities, which we believe is generally more stringent. The factories appear to be putting themselves through the ringer for their own verification, and are very open on their own supplier website!

• • •

Read more about No Nasties on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

BEAUMONT ORGANIC

Well doesn’t that sound très chic? 

👫 : Women

🌎 : Sold online with worldwide shipping.

💸 : Approx £45 – £115

🌐 : beaumontorganic.com

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: 80% of the brand’s range is made from certified organic cotton, 10% from natural fibres such as linen, wool and lyocell, and 10% is deadstock materials. ♻️ Plus, all of the cotton comes from GOTS certified suppliers in Europe!

Labor: Beaumont Organic has been working with the same small, family-run factories in Portugal 🇵🇹, near Porto, for over 6 years. Because their manufacturing is in Portugal, the minimum wages paid are at least 530 euros per month – which means a higher price point, but also allows this British brand to visit their facility several times a year, in addition to a staffer who checks in weekly. 

Environment: Beyond using really rad fibres including organic cotton, deadstock fabric, and natural fibers like linen and wool – all of the brand’s waste is recycled, and they’re using Oeko-tex 100 processes for dyeing which = toxic, harmful chemical free. ✅

Innovation: We love their Made in UK line, bringing production back to the local market where it’s sold 🇬🇧, and their melange fabrics made from 50% undyed ecru organic cotton yarn and 50% dyed organic cotton yarn. Cool. They also use a really neat system of symbols on their website, which helps shoppers learn more about the different sustainability criteria for each of their products. #themoreyouknow

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

As this brand grows, it will want to make sure it’s putting policies in place to protect workers in its supply chain. The brand is manufacturing most of its clothing in Portugal, except the Made in UK line, but the factory doesn’t have any certifications or other data to report beyond being under the EU’s regulations. While manufacturing in the EU does ensure a stronger regulatory environment, it’s important to not only rely on government for this – we’d like to know and see more on what the brand itself considers a standard for its workers in its supply chains, particularly with so many migrant workers in Southern Europe. Also – more diversity in advertising, please! 🙋🏻🙋🏽🙋🏼

• • •

Read more about Beamont Organic on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

RISING STAR 💫 – DORSU

From Cambodia with love 🇰🇭

👫 : Women + Men

🌎 : Sold online with worldwide shipping, and offline in stores in Cambodia.

💸 : Approx AUD 40 – AUD 80

🌐 : dorsu.org

This brand makes limited runs of timeless basics pieces at their own facility in Cambodia. Still tiny, with only 18 people working at their facility, they’ve got room and ideas to grow into. The brand was started to “create fair and positive employment opportunities and financial support for community education in the area.” They’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to policies and practices with workers – in addition to above minimum wage, accrued leave, and bonuses – the brand offers 2.5 months paid maternity leave plus a month for partners, a bicycle or motorcycle helmet to get to work, and a full time annual contract. 💯 They’re also using entirely deadstock fabrics to make cool timeless designs.

• • •

Read more about Dorsu on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

 

A FEW MORE OPTIONS

In addition, we want to highlight brands that have already been awarded a Seal of Approval from Project JUST for a different category, but also have really wonderful Basics options to choose from:

 

A quick note: Since we want to research and introduce as many positive brands as possible to our users, and since our research process for Seal of Approval involves 360° coverage of the brand, we have intentionally chosen not to repeat evaluations of brands that have already received the Seal, and instead, to automatically include them in any additional categories that they may be qualified for in the future. That said, we haven’t researched these brands since we covered their category, so we encourage you to look at them closely in terms of our SOA criteria, as well.

A FEW NOTES ON THIS CATEGORY

📷: Loomstate • Cotton is grown in around 80 countries worldwide representing around 32% of global fibre usage. 😯

NOT SO BASIC

One of the most eye-opening bits of the Seal of Approval process is digging deep into the context research for the category we’ve selected. For Basics, our team unanimously agreed that it was important to highlight raw materials and fabrics – the good, the bad and they ugly – and we’re excited to share our research with you below.

Since it’s standard practice for brands to mention materials on their product labels, we also believe that considering fabrics is an easy way for us, as shoppers, to consciously make more responsible purchasing decisions. So the next time you’re choosing between viscose and cotton, check out our cheat sheet below and #votewithyourwallet. 💸

• • •

Note: Although we are focusing only on materials in the context research section of this pagewe investigate all stages of production, including the sourcing of raw materials, fabric production, manufacturing, shipping and end of life, during the Seal of Approval research process. For access to the full research for Basics, please submit a request for research hereDonations to support our research work are always welcome! 😘

THE COMMITTEE

We’re so honored to have an all star committee of style, context and industry experts join us in selecting the top Basics brands to receive our Seal of Approval ⭐️ They are:
NATALIE KAY SMITH

Founder
Sustainably Chic
Context + Style Expert

CARMEN ARTIGAS

Collaborating Partner
Green Strategy Sweden
Industry Expert

RICHA AGARWAL

Founder
Global Shokunin
Industry Expert

KATIE SHAW

Lead Researcher
Project JUST
Project JUST Committee Member

RHEA RAKSHIT

Chief Product Officer
Project JUST
Project JUST Committee Member

THE BASELINE

Before we do a deep dive into any brand, we look at the environmental and social practices of each of the nominated brands and whether or not they share enough information for us to research. In some cases, brands are doing great work from an environmental perspective, but share little or nothing on their labor practices, and vice versa – which isn’t enough to get them shortlisted. In addition to looking at how transparent the brand is, we also consider availability, accessibility (size and price) quality and aesthetic. Unfortunately, even if a brand self identifies as ethical but doesn’t share how, we can’t shortlist them for in-depth research.

We had 92 nominations for Basics. Click here to see the full list!

Looking for information on the Seal of Approval process + criteria?FIND OUT MORE

THE CONTEXT

Did you know that synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon are basically made from petroleum? Slimy. 🛢 Or that it takes over 20,000 litres of water to produce a single kilogram of cotton? Blimey. 😓

• • •

If there’s one thing that’s really easy to identify when you’re shopping around for clothes – it’s the fabric(s) they’re made from. And especially when it comes to basics, most of us look for quality pieces that feel good, look good, and stand the true test of (almost?!) everyday wear.

But how much do we actually know about any of these fabrics? What are they made from and how are they made? It’s time we get down to the basics.

Fun fact: The production of ECONYL® (recycled nylon) reduces carbon dioxide emissions by half and requires 50% less energy than virgin nylon yarn. ♻️

• • •

Be wary of: Polyester, Acrylic, Nylon, Spandex, Acetate

Look out for: Recycled Polyester (r-PET), Recycled Nylon (Econyl)

Not so fun fact: Although only 2.4% of the world’s arable land is used to grow cotton, it accounts for 24% and 11% of global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively. 😷

• • •

Be wary of: Conventional Cotton

Look out for: Organic Cotton, Recycled Cotton, Hemp, Linen

Fun fact: Turns out you can make clothes from coffee ☕️ S.Cafe® is a sustainable technology that is Cradle to Cradle certified, which turns coffee grounds into yarn.

• • •

Be wary of: Viscose, Rayon, Bamboo Rayon

Look out for: TENCEL®, Monocel®, Modal®, S.Cafe®, QMilk®

THE BASICS

Grown in over 80 countries worldwide, cotton represents around 32% of global fibre usage. 😯 A remarkable 90% of cotton farming takes place in the developing world (ex. China, India and Pakistan), on smallholder plots of land less than 2 hectares each. In total, that works out to around 35 million hectares globally, accounting for 2.4% of global arable land. 🌎

WHAT’S WRONG WITH CONVENTIONAL COTTON?

Nasty chemicals: Given that cotton is only grown in 2.4% of the world’s arable land, it’s extremely alarming that conventional cotton accounts for 11% of the world’s pesticides and 24% of the world’s insecticides. Yikes. 😨 With conventional cotton increasingly being grown as a monocrop, it also severely impacts the land and soil it is grown in by reducing its biodiversity, and contributing to its contamination and erosion.

Way too thirsty: Cotton is also an extremely thirsty crop – a single t-shirt = 1kg of cotton can require up to 20,000 litres of water. This puts a massive strain on water resources, particularly since 73% of global production currently dependent on irrigation. 💦 To make matters worse, these irrigation systems allow for pesticide and insecticide generated chemicals to contaminate local freshwater sources, as well.

THE ALTERNATIVE? ORGANIC + FAIR TRADE + RECYCLED COTTON

Organic cotton production does not allow for the use of pesticides and insecticides, substituting them with natural fertilisers, instead. It also prohibits the use of genetically modified (GMO) cotton seeds. Organic cotton also bans the use of heavy metals, azo dyes, chlorine bleaching (and other frightening toxic stuff), as well as the use of child or forced labor – particularly important as both are prevalent in cotton producing countries like Uzbekistan.

Fairtrade cotton focuses primarily on guaranteeing cotton farmers a fair price for their produce, and protecting their health and safety by promoting and training them in the use of sustainable methods of production, and prohibiting the use of hazardous chemicals and GMOs. Note, however, that not all fair-trade cotton is certified organic.

Last but not least – recycled cotton, which produces yarn from post-consumer cotton waste, is gaining a lot of traction and interest. We’re especially excited about this because although organic cotton is a massive step forward from conventional cotton, it still requires a large amount of water to grow; recycled cotton promises to reduce this water footprint substantially.

For more info, check out: ReCoverGiotexEvrnu and Re:Newcell.

STANDARDS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Fairtrade Cotton, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Connect (REEL)

 

Fossil fuel fabrics. Just the name is enough to make us cringe. 😖 Polyester, like other synthetics, is a petroleum-based fibre that unfortunately, because it doesn’t require much special care and is fairly durable, is now the most commonly used fibre in clothing.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH POLYESTER?

Made with petrol: Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fibre. Its production is both carbon intensive and non-renewable, 🛢 A polyester knit t-shirt emits roughly 20% more greenhouse gas than cotton, while a woven shirt emits twice as much.

Energy intensive: Although polyester requires less energy to produce than its synthetic counterpart, nylon – it requires more than double the energy required to produce conventional cotton. ⚡️

Air and water pollution: The production of polyester also uses harmful chemicals, including carcinogens (!), that can adversely affect environmental and human health through air and water pollution. Factories that do not treat their wastewater can release dangerous substances like antimony, sodium bromide and titanium dioxide into local water systems. ⚠️

Non biodegradable: Most of the world’s clothing and textiles end up in landfills, and with polyester – it could take up to 200 years to decompose. To make matters worse, synthetic fibres release toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, heavy metals and PFCs into the environment – over all those 200 years. 😷

THE ALTERNATIVE? RECYCLED POLYESTER

Almost all recycled polyester in textiles comes from recycling plastic bottles ♻️, and its manufacturing requires 70% less energy than virgin polyester production. 

Thread International works with plastic bottle collected by hand in Haiti, which is then processed into the plastic “flake” that is shipped to the US to produce their Ground to Good™ fabric. They claim a 50% reduction in water use compared to a cotton t­ shirt – enough for a 35 minute shower! 🚿

Repreve is an American company that also produces its REPREVE fibre from recycled plastic bottles. They state that 6 recycled plastic bottles make a shirt, while 50 recycled plastic bottles could make a fleece jacket.

Teijin, based in Japan, has built a first of its kind technology that takes old polyester garments and recycles them into new polyester raw material equivalent to that made of petroleum, using a closed loop recycling system. ♺

Note: you may still want to consider natural fibres over recycled synthetics – although only 14% of the world’s plastics are recycled, the demand for recycled plastics, particularly in the packaging industry, is enormous and growing.

 

Another synthetic, petroleum-based fabric – nylon is essentially a thermoplastic that undergoes a super intensive chemical process (condensation polymerisation), resulting in a polymer, which is ultimately melted and woven into a stretchy, durable fabric. Have we lost you yet?

WHAT’S WRONG WITH NYLON?

Nitrous dioxide: Apart from being a non-renewable, carbon-intensive, petroleum-based fibre, the production of nylon itself is responsible for 5 to 8% of global anthropogenic emissions of nitrous oxide, an especially potent greenhouse gas that heavily contributes to global warming. To put that in perspective, a single pound of nitrous oxide on global warming is almost 300 times that of the same amount of carbon dioxide. 😱

Energy intensive: Nylon production is also extremely energy intensive – it requires more than three times the energy required to produce conventional cotton: 1kg of nylon fabric consumes 150 MJ, compared to 109 MJ for polyester and 50 MJ for cotton.

Non biodegradable: Nylon isn’t biodegradable, which means that it will persist in the environment for ever and ever. This is particularly alarming because two of the largest sources of micro plastic pollution in our oceans are – you guessed it – nylon fishing nets and micro-fibres that wear off from washing, contributing slowly but surely to the diets of marine animals and the Great Pacific garbage patch. 😟

THE ALTERNATIVE? RECYCLED NYLON

Recycled nylon in the form of ECONYL® yarn is made using both post-consumer waste in the form of discarded fishing nets and “fluff” – the upper part of old, spent, nylon carpets, and pre-consumer waste in the form of fabric scraps and industrial plastic waste. Waste collected from around the world is sent to its treatment facilities in Slovenia, where it is transformed using a closed loop system into 100% regenerated and regenerable Nylon (read more about their process here).

Apart from avoiding the extraction of crude oil completely, Econyl textile yarn requires only half the amount of energy to produce as its supplier, Aquafil’s, virgin nylon, and reduces CO2 emissions by 50%. No wonder that it has been widely adopted by a number of swimwear and sportswear brands, including Elle Evans, Speedo and Adidas. 🏊‍♀️

 

Conventional viscose or rayon is made from cellulose from trees or plants (hence the mouthful “cellulosic”), so in terms of raw materials – they’re definitely natural and generally renewable / carbon neutral. That being said, it’s production process can get tricky quickly, so we’re here to tell you why.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH VISCOSE / RAYON?

Water Pollution: In order to produce viscose, cellulose from plants like bamboo, cotton linter and wood pulp are processed with heavy chemicals like sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), carbon disulfide and sulphuric acid. Needless to say, if they’re not disposed of safely through a closed loop system, but dumped untreated instead, these chemical heavy weights can have serious negative environmental impacts on surrounding areas and local water sources. Case in point: one of the largest superfund cleanup sites in the US, was a viscose production factory.

Deforestation: In most instances of viscose / rayon production, very little is revealed about the origin of the raw plant material, which makes it often impossible to find out where the material comes from, and consequently gauge the impact of harvesting it. It is estimated that 30% of rayon and viscose used in apparel comes from pulp sourced from endangered and ancient forests.

THE ALTERNATIVES? LYOCELL / TENCEL® + MODAL®

Introduced by the Austria-based company Lenzing, both Tencel® and Modal® are produced using an award-winning closed loop process that ensures an almost complete (99.8%) recovery of the solvent. They are fully biodegradable, and suitable to both natural and low-impact dyes.

Modal® is made from sustainably harvested beech trees in PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) certified European forests. Tencel® is made from lyocell, a cellulose-based, biodegradable fibre made from eucalyptus trees. Although the trees are reportedly grown on marginal land unsuitable for food crops, with minimum water, using sustainable forestry initiatives – it’s worth mentioning that the eucalyptus tree can sometimes be competitive: its long and deep roots absorb a lot of nutrients and water from the soil, and in extreme cases can result in desertification.

 

Once considered the darling of eco-friendly fabrics, bamboo has quickly lost it’s royal green status because of the lack of transparency regarding how its processed.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH VISCOSE / RAYON?

Chemical processing: A lot of yarn and fabric sold as eco-friendly bamboo may have started out as bamboo pulp, but is finally produced in basically the same chemical-heavy way as conventional viscose. About 50% of hazardous waste from rayon production (including the bamboo variety) cannot be recaptured and reused, and instead goes directly into the environment – not so green 😕

Fake news: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recently cracked down on bamboo labeling, forcing companies to list “rayon made from bamboo” when items are made from bamboo manufactured using the viscose process. They’ve also pointed out that rayon made from bamboo has not been shown to retain any natural antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant. 🕵️

THE ALTERNATIVE? MONOCEL®

Monocel®, which is still in its early stages of development, is essentially bamboo lyocell – it’s made with sustainably sourced bamboo, using the Lyocell process (the same closed loop one that’s used for Tencel), and dyed using plant based dyes. So if you’re really keen on wearing bamboo, make sure that it’s truly green, and you’re not being “green washed” by some good old-fashioned marketing. 👀

Milk and coffee? Yes, please! We couldn’t resist throwing these cool, new fibres into the mix. Although they’re fairly young, we’re excited to keep a look out for them and other innovative new fabrics in the near future:

QMilk®: 100% organic, made from milk (!) with zero chemical additives, it only takes two litres of water to make one kilogram of fibre. 🍼

S.Cafe®: cradle to cradle certified, this technology converts used coffee grounds into fully functional yarn. ☕️

Interested in looking at all the research we did for this category, beyond just the basics?
REQUEST THE FULL CONTEXT FRAMEWORK HERE

WHAT'S NEXT?

Party Wear! 🎉 Coming April 2017.
DISCLAIMER:

Project JUST does not receive any compensation for our research and selection of Seal of Approval lists.

To continue to provide you, the shopper and member of our Project JUST community, with credible research and analysis, we have partnerships with some of the Seal of Approval brands to serve as their affiliate. Once and only if a brand is selected, do they have the opportunity to participate in our online shop and we at Project JUST receive a small percentage of the sale if a reader discovers and chooses to shop a Seal of Approval brand. This allows you to directly shop from sustainable, ethical Seal of Approval brands and allows Project JUST to continue our due diligence and research work. If you have any questions or comments about our partnerships with Seal of Approval brands or Project JUST, please send them to info@projectjust.com.