These sustainable fashion brands tell stories of global explorations.
Passports aren’t the only things stamped with destinations. Take a peek inside the average closet and you’ll find textiles from around the world, from Turkish cotton to Peruvian alpaca wool. While there is little transparency when it comes to the manufacturing standards of fast fashion brands, several ethical labels have made a point of championing fair trade and environmentally-friendly business practices. Whether partnering with artisan communities or using recycled, sustainable or locally-sourced materials, these lines are practically a love letter to the planet—and may just inspire you to see more of it.
Tio y Tia
Inspired by: The American Southwest
After buying a wide-brimmed hat for sun protection during her trip to the Mojave Desert, Nicole Najafi discovered that her new vintage find was earning compliments from her friends back home in New York. So, she decided to recreate its magic. In 2018, Najafi launched hat label Tio y Tia with her friends Lucy Laucht and Johanna Peet. The brand has since developed a cult following and prides itself on its sustainable bent—right down to its wool, which is sourced from an ethical farm in Texas. The hats are handmade in the Pennsylvania countryside by America’s oldest hat maker, which manufactured the hats famously sported by artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
Inspired by: The Pacific Ocean
Created in 2018 by Vancouver-based Courtney Chew, swimwear line OCIN was devised to celebrate and protect the ocean, and the freedom it symbolizes. Suits are made from 100-percent regenerated polyesters via plastic bottles rescued from landfills, as well as recycled nylon fabrics, including chemical-free ECONYL yarns that offer UPF 50+ sun protection. Not only are the minimalistic bathing suits stylish enough to warrant a beach photo shoot, but they also help the planet. A percentage of the proceeds are donated to ocean conservation organizations like the Surfrider Foundation, and packaging is made from post-consumer recycled paper and plant-based materials.
Inspired by: South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Morocco
Though the velskoen (pronounced fell-skoon) is a traditional South African walking shoe, you may see it popping up more on New York City sidewalks thanks to ethical footwear brand Brother Vellies. Founded in 2013 by Toronto-native and New York City-transplant Aurora James, the company is devoted to supporting the art of shoemaking in South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Morocco. From sustainably-sourced materials including Kudu leather to partnerships with artisans and farmers, Brother Vellies’ transparent manufacturing process invites the public to appreciate the beauty of Africa’s traditional shoemaking workshops and materials.
Inspired by: The French Riviera
Born from a love of people-watching on the French Riviera, Pampelone was founded in 2016 by Holly Anna Scarsella, a former fashion publicist. Scarsella spent her formative years splitting her time between the UK and St. Tropez, and would always admire the glamorous women that would vacation in the Cote D’Azur during the summer. This inspiration is translated into a line of 100-percent organic cotton pieces responsibly manufactured in India. All intricate embroideries and beading are hand-finished by local artisans, while any dyes used are also organic to ensure the brand’s environmental footprint is as airy as its white cotton dresses.
Pink City Prints
Inspired by: Jaipur, India
Bursting with color and life, Jaipur (India’s Pink City) is an artist’s dream. Just ask Molly Russell, a Glasgow School of Art graduate who found herself so inspired by the city that she launched a label named after it. The energy of Jaipur’s markets has made its way into Pink City Prints’ collections of hand-printed, hand-loomed, and hand-embroidered dresses. A single embroidered dress often takes up to three days to complete. Throughout the process, Russell works alongside block-printers, indigo dyers, embroiderers, and weavers to create her printed pieces out of natural fibers. Working in close proximity to her manufacturers allows for a stringent vetting process and an opportunity to empower a community of women by teaching them hand-embroidery skills.
Inspired by: Athani, India
Founded in 2013 by Michael Paratore, a former San Francisco-based lawyer, Mohinders is a cooperative shoe company that works in collaboration with third- and fourth-generation master shoemakers in Athani, India. The brand’s iconic slippers are primarily made from locally-sourced water buffalo leather, which is organically tanned using a plant-based method that’s free of environmentally-damaging chemicals. The business’s manufacturing process is facilitated by a local NGO, ensuring fair wages, benefits, and the utmost respect for all shoemakers involved.
Inspired by: Ethiopia
Artisan-driven line lemlem was founded in 2007 by supermodel Liya Kebede, who noticed a decline in the amount of work available for traditional weavers in her native country of Ethiopia. In an effort to inspire economic growth, Kebede created the first international made-in-Africa brand with a core mission of preserving and bolstering the local craft of weaving. Over the past decade, lemlem has created jobs for over 250 weavers who specialize in yarn-spinning, handweaving, and the creation of traditional Tibeb patterns. Collaborating with international fashion designers, yet always investing in local fabrics and artisans, lemlem has turned the caftan into a stirring conversation piece.
Inspired by: Sri Lanka
When fashion designer Samaadhi Weerasinghe discovered just how much fabric was being discarded by factories in her home country of Sri Lanka, she set out to launch a zero-waste collection. Today, her patchwork silk kimonos and wrap skirts made from recycled off-cuts are an instant hit among travelers—especially those who prescribe to Anuk’s “lazy elegance” modus operandi. In addition to supporting local pattern makers and dying mills, Anuk pieces eschew the trends of fast fashion in favor of timeless clean cuts. After all, donning a chic 100-percent-silk ensemble will never go out of style.
Inspired by: Colombia
Celebrating Colombia’s indigenous textiles, Mola Sasa bags showcase the colorful, multicultural fabric of founder Yasmin Sabet’s homeland. The brand is best known for its Kuna textile bags, which are created using an ancient applique technique that involves hand-sewing cut-out layers of fabric to form an intricate work of art. Since launching in 2015, Mola Sasa has made a point of working hand-in-hand with Colombian artisans—from the Kankuamo indigenous communities of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region to the Afro communities of the coastal region of Cesar—to bring their stories to life.
Inspired by: Zambia
For designer Kate Wilson, the motto “there is no sweet without sweat” goes beyond simple work ethics. Wilson’s female-run Zambia-based jewelry line features pieces made out of recycled materials that support wildlife conservation in the African bush. The recognized Snare Wire collection, for example, is crafted out of repurposed snare wire that was once used illegally by poachers to trap animals for the black market trade. The zinc and steel wire is reformed into beads—a process that takes about 26 hours per necklace to complete. Through this “beauty from brutality” transformation, Mulberry Mongoose is able to employ eight artisans, five of which were orphans without the financial means to attend high school. The small but mighty business has since raised over $86,000 to fund anti-snare patrols, which are essential to wildlife conservation.
Inspired by: Peru
In an effort to push the leather goods industry in a sustainable direction, Nisolo founders Patrick Woodyard and Zoe Cleary work closely with a factory in Trujillo, Peru, to ensure their company is ethical on all levels. Materials are sourced from eco-friendly tanneries committed to the ethical treatment of animals (for instance, all the leather used is a byproduct from the meat industry), while workers are paid and treated fairly. Since launching in 2011, the Nashville-based company has invested $3.5 million into the local economy of Trujillo, while also offering healthcare, education, and skills training for their employees. Slip on a pair of their Chelsea Boots and you’ll likely feel like your floating on a cloud to your next destination, partially thanks to their conscience-clearing ethos.
Inspired by: India
Launched with the mantra of “pants to see the world in,” Singapore-based clothing brand Matter first garnered attention for its line of slacks inspired by the traditional Indian dhoti. Founders Renyung Ho and Yvonne Suner met while traveling in Mexico, so naturally, it made sense to create garments designed for globetrotters. With pants being associated with freedom and equality for women, they were the perfect entry point—though Matter has since expanded its offerings. While the line’s colorful patterns are often eye-catching, it’s actually the stories behind them that are most intriguing. Through socially-driven collaborations with rural artisans in regions like Rajasthan and Kolkata, Matter is an advocate of alternative production models. Since launching in 2014, Matter has remained dutifully devoted to preserving ancestral textiles and encouraging customers to value the provenance of their purchases.