THE BRANDS

EILEEN FISHER

The sustainability champions, leading by example.

👫 : Women

🌎 : Sold online with worldwide shipping, and offline in stores around the world.

💸 : Approx $150 – $500

🌐 : eileenfisher.com

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: Eileen Fisher uses organic cotton, is committed to the Responsible Wool Standard and sources recycled cashmere for some of its products. They also use alpaca, one of our favorite knitwear fibers. But seriously though, read up on this wonderful knit! 👓 It’s super warm and it’s sustainable – alpaca herds roam free for the most part, grazing on rotating pastureland. But the best part is that there’s limited risk of any animal harm during the shearing process, given the nature of the alpaca coat. When Eileen Fisher does use new cashmere, it’s sourced from Mongolia and either un-dyed or minimally treated only using OEKO-TEX 100 certified dyes, We’re still waiting to hear back from them on their ethical treatment of animals policy.

Labor: Eileen Fisher is a big company, so it’s hard to nail down what’s going on in its knitwear section alone. That said, they do ask their facilities to follow Social Accountability International’s 8000 (SA8000) guidelines, and they have a fair trade program in Peru for some of their knitwear.

Environment: Eileen Fisher is B Corp certified and a signatory to the Responsible Wool Standard. ✔︎ Their goals for 2020 include the use of 100% organic cotton and linen, reduction of CO2, and bluesign certifications in 30% of their supply chain. They’ve also got a commercially scalable clothing take-back and recycling solution to close the loop ♻️ NBD.

Innovation: This brand has been pushing the industry forward for such a long time – and they continue to find the appropriate strategy on a contextual basis. We especially appreciate their recognition that a blanket solution doesn’t work for everything. For the shopper, their website provides a wealth of information and education around sustainable and ethical fashion. AND they have free repairs – which really helps make their price tag a little bit easier to swallow 😉

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

Eileen and team are still working towards full traceability of their supply chain, which means that we don’t know the origins of all of their products and raw materials. We’d also love to see progress towards a guaranteed living wage, or a commitment to fair trade, for its supply chain and their workers. We fully recognize, though, that they’re a big ship to turn – so we commend them on their progress so far, and how thorough they’ve been in addressing multiple different issues and challenges throughout their supply chain. And so we say to them, and to other large / growing brands in the industry: Need any evidence that an established brand can embrace transparency, traceability and a sustainable business model? Look no further than Team Eileen. 💯

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Read more about Eileen Fisher on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

KOWTOW

They’re truly kowtowing to sustainability 🙏🏼

👫 : Women

🌎 : Sold online with worldwide shipping, and offline in retail stores around the world.

💸 : Approx $250 – $350

🌐 : kowtowclothing.com

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: All cotton, fair trade and organic. 👍🏼 Any dyes they use are also GOTS certified (that’s Global Organic Textile Standard, for anyone who’s wondering! 🤓)

Labor: What fair trade standards for cotton means is that farmers are guaranteed a higher market rate for their cotton. All their factories are SA8000 certified, and for their supplier factory in Kolkata they’ve also provided free schooling, free transport, medical insurance and benefit from workplace unions. 👏🏽 Their workers here are also paid a living wage.

Environment: Beyond using 100% organic cotton for all their products, even their buttons are made from recycled hemp 👌🏼 These guys won’t use zippers because they can’t find a sustainable enough source, so they design around it! #commitment

Innovation: Kowtow’s dyeing unit is powered by rice husks 🌾 – and they’ve also stuck with one facility for over ten years. Given how frequently contracts are changed and countries switched for lower wages in the fast fashion space, we think this old school approach of staying with the same facility is ironically pretty innovative: a strong relationship and a long term relationship builds trust, quality and impact.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

We weren’t able to get a full list of suppliers from the brand’s website or from our communications with them. We have a ton of information on their Kolkata facility, and have learned that they have another supplier in Mumbai that they’ve recently started working with – but we don’t know much more about the Mumbai facility beyond that.

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

AIAYU

Keep your eyes on Aiayu! 😉 (pronounced: eye-you)

👫 : Women

🌎 : Sold online with worldwide shipping.

💸 : Approx $150 – $600

🌐 : aiayu.com

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: Aiayu uses llama fibre sourced from farmers right near their facility in Bolivia, and organic cotton from India for their bedding collection. They also have a limited range of cashmere and yak products from Nepal – the brand reports it takes a spinner approx 1 month to spin enough yarn for 5 shawls. Their yak fibres are un-dyed, as is 70% of their llama wool. We’re still waiting to hear back from them on their ethical treatment of animals policy in procuring their lllama fibers, cashmere and wool.

Labor: Aiayu’s factories are WRAP and SA8000 certified, coupled with a centralized supply chain that allows for stronger relationships, and improved collaboration on improvements and innovation. Workers in their supply chain are members of a union, and the brand is committed to the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. Our favorite extra: each product made in Bolivia is signed by the woman who created it. 😍 

Environment: The brand has a really close “knit” (😉) supply chain in Bolivia, where raw llama fiber is sourced from local farmers right near the facility. The llama fibre is naturally organic, too: the llamas feed out in the open and roam freely. Their Bolivian facility also has a water treatment plant that recycles 75% of its water. Their facility in India also has a zero waste program – cuttings are used to make tote bags, quilts and rugs. ♻️

Innovation: We like that the brand is very upfront about their “made to last” tagline – their products should last you at least five years, and while that’s not a lifetime, we appreciate the thoughtfulness in design. They also back this promise up with free repairs! 👏🏼

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

We’re not crazy about their use of cashmere – sustainability problems abound with overgrazing, which you can read about below. Although Aiayu does seem to have thought carefully about its cashmere and yak, and where it’s sourced from, we’d still like to know more. 👀 As this brand grows, we’d also love to see more efforts for the workers in their supply chain, like guaranteeing a living wage and employee benefits.

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

PEOPLE TREE

Firmly rooted to ethical and sustainable fashion 🌳

👫 : Women

🌎 : Sold online with worldwide shipping, and offline in retail stores around the world.

💸 : Approx $120 – $240

🌐 : peopletree.co.uk

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: Only natural fabrics here – no synthetics 👍🏾 For their knits, People Tree uses almost entirely fair trade and organic cotton. They also offer a few wool products, all of which is sourced from non-mulesed wool production from New Zealand (read more on that below). Some of their products are hand-knit, and all of them are dyed using dyes that are “azo-free” and GOTS certified, meaning you can say goodbye to any yucky chemicals.

Labor: People Tree is Fair Trade certified across almost their entire supply chain; in fact, this brand has been at the forefront of fair trade production for over 20 years, and does a huge amount of work to promote this standard and educate shoppers about why it’s important. They also provide a ton of additional community services for their suppliers, too, including supplemental healthcare and schooling, and working with several artisan groups.

Environment: 91% of People Tree’s current product line is made from organic cotton, with zero harmful chemicals allowed. Also, a remarkable 89% of their suppliers are currently undertaking environmental initiatives. 😮

Innovation: We love that People Tree is staying true to their brand name: even their buttons are made with all natural materials like shell and coconut, and a third of their fabrics are handmade. They think deeply about how to interact with each community with whom they work, and even have a “market exposure” program, where representatives of producer groups visit stockists, customers, journalists and the People Tree team. They’re holistic and fair, working for both people and planet (tree). 🌎

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

We didn’t see a lot of areas of improvement for this brand – they’re basically doing it all! 💯 An innovation we hope to see in the future would be a product take back program, or a cradle to cradle strategy. Keep an eye on these guys, we have a feeling they’re already working on it.

• • •

Read more about People Tree on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

RISING STAR 💫 – KROCHET KIDS

Knitting their values firmly into their brand ❤️

We love so many things about Krochet Kids – the incredible impact they have on the lives of the women that work with them, and a fierce devotion to measuring that impact to ensure their progress. We also love how each woman personally signs the item she makes, allowing a shopper to connect directly with the maker of their product. Not to mention their relevant designs and powerful storytelling: the brand is actually an NGO killing it as a fashion brand. 💯 However, we also think that we need to see more from them on the environmental side; for instance – less use of acrylic, more organic cotton, and greater traceability in terms of where their fabric comes from. That said, we think these guys have enormous potential, and so we tip our beanies to you, KK! 

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Read more about Krochet Kids on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

 

A FEW NOTES ON THIS CATEGORY

– 52 SHADES OF ALPACA –

No need for dyes! Alpaca fiber comes in more than 52 natural colors as classified in Peru, 12 as classified in Australia and 16 as classified in the United States. (Wikipedia)

COZYING UP TO KNITWEAR

Whether you’re braving the icy wind chills of winter, or the excessive air-conditioning of a summer office building (no shame), when it’s time to cozy up, we’ve got to get serious about knitwear. We learned a ton about sustainable and ethical knits through our research for this Seal of Approval category – because after all, how can you get cozy with someone (thing?), when you don’t know the first thing about them!? We learned, for example, that cashmere isn’t the best option for staying warm and comfy – look out for friendlier alternatives alpaca and llama instead. We also found plenty of organic cotton knits (super cool), and some beautiful hand-knit and artisan collaborations, as well 👌🏼

We ended up approving four brands and discovering a rising star (see above), all with gorgeous designs and aesthetics, and sustainability at their core. The brands on the list offer a variety of fabrics and styles in sweaters, beanies, scarves, jackets and more. Check out their profiles, get to know them better, and if you feel like getting cozy, too – take the plunge and treat yourself through the Project JUST online shop ✨

A NOTE TO OUR VEGAN READERS

We’re looking out for you. With any brand that was using animal fibers, we did our best to verify the ethical treatment of animals. In some cases we didn’t find much, and we’ve been upfront about that in their brand pages and their profiles above. We also researched and approved a few knitwear options made from cotton and tencel – no animal fibers whatsoever! We got you covered ✔︎

THE COMMITTEE

JULIETTE DONATELLI

Founder
spades + SILK
Industry Expert

QIULAE WONG

Head of Marketing
Mysource + Ethical Fashion Forum
Industry Expert

CHERE DI BOSCIO

Editor in Chief
Eluxe Magazine
Context + Style Expert

SHAHD ALSHEHAIL

Co-Founder
Project JUST
Project JUST Committee Member

JACINTA FITZGERALD

Head of Research
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 87 nominations for Knitwear. Click here to see the full list!

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

THE CONTEXT

Alpaca Fibers. Angora. Cashmere. Mohair. Wool can be confusing because of the number of animals (and non-animals! think cotton and acrylic yarn) it can be obtained from. Each type of knitwear has its own set of issues and innovations, and we’ll give you an overview of each of them below.

But first, here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you know your animals so that you know your knits. 🐑

• • •

KNOW YOUR KNITS + KNOW YOUR ANIMALS

SHEEP WOOL

Although arguably the most well known, sheep wool has recently become the subject of much controversy because of issues related to animal cruelty, like mulesing, inhumane shearing and sheep dipping, to environmental concerns related to overgrazing, over-farming and the use of harmful chemical pesticides. However, the Responsible Wool Standard accounts for many of these issues, and brands that are RWS certified have taken steps to address them.

CASHMERE

Cashmere-producing goat breeds are found in different parts of the world, like China, Mongolia, Tibet and even Australia – but the word itself is derived from an old spelling of Kashmir – with it’s famous Pashmina goats. Although considered a luxury product because of its softness, the rearing of cashmere producing goats – particularly in Mongolia – has lead to extreme overgrazing and desertification, severely threatening local communities and natural environments.

ALPACA FIBERS

Native to the Andes mountains in South America, alpacas are gentle, beautiful animals that produce particularly durable fibers that are warmer and stronger than wool, and just as luxurious as cashmere. Unlike cashmere goats, however, alpacas have a much smaller environmental footprint – consuming much less water, and grazing without destroying natural root systems.

YAK HAIR

Found high up on the Tibetan Plateau, yaks are large, shaggy animals that outnumber Tibetan nomads by 5 to 1, but have supported them over centuries. Yak hair is known to be just as soft as cashmere, tough as camel, and warm as merino. However, climate change is increasingly threatening their natural habitat, forcing yaks to climb higher in search of better vegetation.

A Note on Animal Free Knitwear: Not all knitwear needs to be sourced from animals – cotton and acrylic knits are also popular alternatives, although not necessarily sustainable ones! The production of cotton – if it isn’t organic – consumes an enormous amount of water, and frequently involves the use of harmful pesticides or herbicides. Acrylic knits are made from polymers, mainly acrolinitrile monomer, and are non-biodegradable, release noxious fumes when burned, and are extremely energy intensive in their production.

• • •

RAW MATERIALS

As we’ve seen in the section above, knitwear can be made using a host of different raw materials, each of which have issues specific to them, as well as issues in common with each other. We’ve highlighted three that we think are important to be aware of, and the innovations in the industry that have been designed to address them.

OVERGRAZING & DESERTIFICATION

Issue: Overgrazing, a consequence of keeping livestock (including sheep) in the same pasture for long periods of time, threatens the quality and utility of soils, frequently leading to land degradation and soil erosion. An extreme form of overgrazing can result in desertification – as seen in the Gobi desert, where the population of cashmere goat herds increased from 2.4 million to an incredible 25.8 million between 1949 and 2004 😮

Innovation: The goals of the Responsible Wool Standard include establishing best practices of farmers and ensuring that wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land. ✅ Selective breeding methods have also been adopted in some cases by Mongolian cashmere herders, and alternatives to cashmere like alpaca, which have much smaller environmental footprints, have also become increasingly available and popular.

PESTICIDES & HERBICIDES

Issue: The use of herbicides and pesticides, which are harmful because they contaminate local water sources and contribute to soil depletion, is not only prevalent in the production of conventional cotton (for cotton knits), but is also sometimes used on pastures that sheep graze on. The use of sheep dip, which is a combination of insecticide and fungicide that farmers use to protect their sheep from parasites, also bears a high risk of groundwater pollution.

Innovation: Organic cotton is the natural alternative to conventional cotton knits. Organic sheep wool is sourced from sheep that are reared on organic feed, and graze on land not treated with pesticides. The sheep themselves are treated with safer preparations than sheep dip, which minimize the use of chemicals and their impact on water downstream. Sheep showers have also recently come in to the market as a safer and more ecologically friendly alternative to the pools used for sheep dips.

ANIMAL CRUELTY

Issue: The production of sheep wool, in some cases, involves practices that are extremely abusive towards the animals. Mulesing is the cutting of skin flaps around the tail and hind area of sheep to prevent contamination and infection, and is known to be unbearably painful. Rough, careless shearing of sheep by shearers who are paid by volume (vs time), as well as high exposure to sheep dip can also cause harm and stress. 

Innovation: The Responsible Wool Standard bans mulesing, and has introduced a certification that ensures “that sheep are treated with respect to their Five Freedoms and also ensures best practices in the management and protection of the land. Through the processing stages, certification ensures that wool from certified farms is properly identified and tracked.”

• • •

PRODUCTION PROCESS

Fabric production for knitwear has several stages including sorting, weaving, spinning, dyeing and finishing. The yarn spinning + dyeing stages, as well as the finishing stage, are the most problematic due to the scouring and bleaching involved. That said, watch out for chemically dyed knits – they’re harmful not just for the environment, but can have consequences on your health, too.

CHEMICAL DYEING

Issue: Chemical wool dyeing involves the use of chrome dyes, which produce highly toxic heavy metal salts that are non biodegradable, acid dyes that are also difficult to biodegrade, or metal dyes that discharge heavy metals into water. Cotton is chemically dyed using azo dyes, which are basically poly-azo compounds that can rub off easily on skin, some of which can release cancer causing amines. The dyeing process itself is extremely resource intensive (water, energy, chemicals), and produces highly colored and toxic effluents, with dyes being the most likely source of major metal pollutants such as zinc, copper and chromium.

Innovation: Substitutes for chemical dyes for wool include reactive dyes for chrome dyes (or ultra low chroming methods), auxillaries for metal dyes, which enhance dye uptake, and pH controlled processes for acid dyes, which maximize dye exhaustion and minimize the use of levelling agents. Alternatives to chemical cotton dyes include OEKO-TEX® certified dyes, GOTS certified fabrics, bluesign approved substances and natural dyes.

Still unconvinced? Go dye free! Opt for natural, undyed fibres or recycled fibers that do not require dyeing at all.

Source: Kate Fletcher: Sustainable Fashion & Textiles

SCOURING & BLEACHING

Issue: Wool invariably contains lanolina wax secreted by wool-bearing animals. The process of scouring or bleaching that is used to clean out lanolin, natural oils and impurities found in wool fibers, is chemical, energy and water intensive. Wool is scoured with water at extremely hot temperatures to emulsify the grease, and as a consequence produces an effluent with both high amounts of suspended solids and pollution load (from pesticides used on the sheep). Chlorine, a by-product of bleaching carried out during the finishing process (to prevent shrinkage), is also a toxic chemical and a serious water pollutant.

Innovation: Bio-Scouring is a process that uses enzymes that save more water, and as a bonus makes organic fertilizer by composting the residual lanolin, perspiration, chaffy, short wool and silt. Alternatively, look out for wool scoured from factories with strict effluent treatment protocols, or cleaned using the Wooltechs wool cleaning system, which replaces the use of water with a fancy sounding solvent named trichloroethylene. There has also been some innovation around chlorine free wool: ozone and hydrogen peroxide are two alternatives that break down into oxygen and water when their wastewater is treated.

If you’re looking for a completely chemical-free option – try alpaca, which conveniently does not have any lanolin, and can happily remain chemical free. 🙃

LABOR PRACTICES

Issue: The knitwear industry employs a large number of women workers who spin on traditional hand looms or wheels. Research suggests that many of them are at risk of muscle-skeletal pain because they sit for extended periods of time without any kind of back rest. This specific posture can have consequences on their health by affecting both digestion and breathing, which can also lead to lower productivity in other areas of their life. Unfortunately, the knitwear industry is subject to the same risks and issues as many other types of apparel in their worker conditions, wages and labor rights violations, as well.

Innovation: In order to address the health issues related specifically to spinning on hand looms, several factories now provide back rests and mandate resting periods for their women spinners, as well. Although steps have been taken by a few brands to move towards establishing better working conditions and affirming labor rights, through organizations such as the Fair Labor Association, LaborVoices and Clean Clothes Campaign – there’s still a lot of progress to be made.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Basics! 👯 Coming March 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.