smiling woman in field of wildflowers

When many of us think of pollution, we think of exhaust from coal plants, factories, and cars or trucks, not our clothing. Sadly, environmental and social issues plague the fashion industry. The scale of the problem is enormous, with almost 150 million tons of clothing sold globally every year and the majority ends up in landfills, according to “Sustainability in the Textile Industry.”

Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, acrylic, nylon, and spandex are petroleum-based and require crude oil. Natural fibers have their issues as well. Cotton is the most pesticide-intensive crop and accounts for 24 percent of global insecticide market. Some fashion retailers are taking a greener approach and are reinventing the way clothing is manufactured.

H&M Conscious Collection

This line features organic linen, organic cotton, organic silk, TENCEL, and recycled polyester and is pushing the envelope with innovative green fashion concepts. This Swedish retail giant recently introduced recycled silver and ECONYL, a 100 percent regenerated nylon fiber containing fishnets and other nylon waste.

model wearing sleeveless blue gown, part of H&M Conscious Exclusive collection. Image courtesy of H&M, photographer: Mikael Jansson
The H&M Conscious Exclusive 2018 collection introduces two new sustainable materials, recycled silver and ECONYL, a 100 percent regenerated nylon fiber from fishnets and other nylon waste. Image courtesy of H&M, photographer: Mikael Jansson

“There are several statement pieces, such as a white ECONYL sleeveless full-length dress with organic cotton embroidery and a green floral metallic jacquard full-length dress made from recycled polyester. Meanwhile, a black floral jacquard trouser suit features an open slit at the back of the blazer and cropped flare trousers for a contemporary touch,” according to a press release about the new H&M Conscious Exclusive collection.


Considering itself an activist company, Patagonia has taken a stand on behalf of the environment repeatedly throughout the globe. In 1993, Patagonia produced the first polyester fleece jacket from recycled bottles. The company has increased its use of recycled polyester and uses it in Capilene base layers, shell jackets, board shorts, and fleece. In 1994, it embraced organic cotton production in its own products to influence a change within society.

Patagonia also challenges how we view new clothing through the Worn Wear initiative that encourages people to keep gear in use longer with repair, reuse, and recycling. The company has also taken on paying a living wage and fair working conditions throughout its manufacturing process. More recently, Patagonia started researching how to stop synthetic microfiber pollution in waterways caused by shedding from synthetic garments.

Eileen Fisher

This company has set some bold sustainability goals for 2020, including a commitment to use only organic cotton, wool from sustainably raised sheep, azo-free dyes, and to have its U.S. operations carbon positive. Eileen Fisher also audits its manufacturing facilities with SA8000’s strict labor standards and pays fair trade wages in Peru.


London-based Thought uses natural, recycled, and organic fabrics in its garments. Think organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, ethically-sourced wool, Tencel, and recycled PET fabrics with eye-catching floral prints and flowing dresses. To keep its carbon footprint to a minimum, Thought makes clothing in one location.

Mud Jeans

This company, based in the Netherlands, is thinking outside the box to boost cotton recycling rates for use in new products. Mud Jeans has reinvented jean ownership by offering a leasing program so it stays the owner of the raw materials contained in the jeans. It also has a fair factories initiative, is using safer chemicals in the manufacturing process, and finding innovative ways to save water.

Feature image by jill111 on Pixabay

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.