The Ultimate Guide To Eco Friendly T-Shirts
If you’re looking for some great eco-friendly T-shirts here you’ll find a carefully curated selection of brands with some of the best t-shirts available. But first, have you ever wondered where the t-shirt comes from? (you can also skip ahead using the table of contents below).
Turns out the conventional version of this fashion staple, named after its T shape, started out as an undergarment for men. Dating all the way back to the Middle Ages (500-1500 AD), the t-shirt back then did not look like what we know now.
Instead of the cropped, more fitted versions we have now, t-shirts then use to have long shirttails meant to be tucked between the legs. A status symbol for men to show their wealth, they were most often made of linen or woven cotton fabrics and served as a practical, hygienic layer between the body and the garment worn over it.
When it comes to the t-shirt we now know and love, originated in the 19th century when the tails were removed (along with other changes in fit), and some technological changes allowed for mass production. If you want to learn more about the very interesting evolution of t-shirts check out this article by Vogue Australia.
Now that we know where this wonderful essential came from, let’s get into everything you need to know about getting yourself the best eco-friendly t-shirts for women, men & children.
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Why consider shopping for eco friendly T shirts
When it comes to t-shirts, the go-to conventional cotton favorite comes at a hefty cost to the environment, farmers, and factory workers, where they are not ethically produced.
To start, conventional cotton is very water-intensive and it can take up to 2,700 liters (or about 713 gallons) of water just to make one t-shirt. (Forbes, 2017) Conventional cotton production is also very pesticide-intensive, with cotton coming in as the fourth largest consumer of agricultural chemicals, according to the Pesticide Action Network UK.
While some make dubious claims about conventional cottons' merits solely based on yield, the adverse effects of conventional agricultural practices are well known. In fact, the United Nations Environmental Programme describes conventional agricultural methods as “fundamentally at odds with environmental health” (UNEP, 2020).
With conventional cotton production specifically, several studies demonstrate cotton-producing communities experience “impairment of the nervous system, lower neurobehavioral performance, delayed puberty, breast milk contamination, blood abnormalities as well as many acute symptoms such as nausea, respiratory problems, dizziness and convulsions.” (Pesticide Action Network UK, 2017) Not to mention the unethical labor practices (including child labor) still happening today in conventional operations.
T-shirts are not meant to cost us $5.99 at H&M and when they do, they bring with them a slew of hidden costs. From there, reaching for the most sustainable and ethical options even when it comes to the good old t-shirt, is a no-brainer where possible. With that, the best fabric options for eco friendly t-shirts are:
Organic Cotton, TENCEL™ Lyocell, TENCEL™ Modal, Hemp and Bamboo.
To make sure these fabrics are ethically and sustainably produced, we recommend you look out for the following third-party certifications when shopping in these sustainable fabrics:
- Better Cotton Standard
- EU Ecolabel
- Forest Stewardship Council
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- Oeko-Tex 100
- Organic Content Standard (OCS)
- Recycled Claim Standard
- SCS Recycled Content Certification
- USDA-Certified Organic
To learn everything you need to know about sustainable fabrics check out The 12 Most (& 5 Least) Sustainable & Environmentally Friendly Fabrics.
Is bamboo a good choice for an eco friendly t-shirt?
Bamboo is a good choice for an eco friendly t-shirt when carefully selected because not all bamboo fabrics are created equal. Some bamboo fabric is produced using chemical-intensive processes that are both harmful to workers and to the environment. So when selecting bamboo fabric tees, make sure they are made of 100% organic bamboo and look out for the following third-party certifications:
- Fair Trade
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- Oeko-Tex 100
- Organic Content Standard (OCS)
- USDA-Certified Organic
What to look for when buying sustainable and eco friendly T-shirts
While secondhand clothing remains the most sustainable option when it comes to sustainable and ethical fashion, here is what you should look for if you need some new sweatshop free eco friendly t-shirts:
1. What kinds of fabrics & materials are used?
As previously mentioned, organic cotton, TENCEL™, hemp, and bamboo make for the best sustainable materials for t-shirts. Generally though, whether you are looking for work from home Canadian-Made athleisure wear, fair trade hats, eco friendly ethical sandals, eco friendly winter coats, sustainable eco friendly bedding, or a nice eco friendly tee, it all comes down to the same thing when it comes to fabrics and materials. Reach for things that are made of natural and organic materials that come with minimal harm to the planet, from production through to disposal.
As such, natural, organic, recycled, and/or biodegradable options like organic cotton, hemp, linen, TENCEL™ Lyocell, and TENCEL™ Modal make for some of the best options when looking for sustainable t-shirts.
2. How are those fabrics sourced?
When looking for sustainable clothing brands or any sustainable products, ethical sourcing practices are also critical for making the right choice.
To make sure that the brands and products we choose employ ethical sourcing practices we consider:
- How materials are produced and where they are sourced, as well as,
- Where items are manufactured, by whom, and under what kind of working conditions.
The idea is to verify that materials are produced as sustainably as possible, and manufactured under safe and fair working conditions.
3. What is the brand's Corporate responsibility?
Corporate responsibility reflects a company's level of commitment to more ethical practices through the actions they take beyond materials and sourcing. So are items also shipped entirely plastic-free? Are they a Certified B Corporation? Do they support their employees and the communities they work in? Are they offsetting their carbon footprint or promoting sustainable practices throughout their company? Is their manufacturing done locally? Corporate responsibility is super helpful for selecting brands and products that are truly about what you stand for.
So when looking for sustainable and ethical fashion, from sustainable sweaters, and fair trade dresses to sustainable swimwear or the more eco-friendly version of the classic tee, you can always look to these three elements to help you make the best decision for you.
Top picks for best eco friendly t shirts
Because there's is nothing better than a really great fitting t-shirt!
Based in Canada, KOTN offers sustainable garment options like sustainable socks for both men and women made entirely of Egyptian cotton. Their selection includes affordable ethical t-shirts in a number of styles and colors, in sizes ranging from XXS-XXL for women and XXS-XXXL for men. You can also find Kotn's basics in our sustainable bras, fair-trade sweaters, organic undies, and pajamas guides.
Kotn's organic fabrics & materials
KOTN’s tees are made of 100% long-staple Egyptian cotton which makes for a finer, softer, and stronger fabric than conventional cotton fabric.
Kotn's Ethical sourcing
When it comes to sourcing, KOTN’s tees are ethically made in Egypt and Portugal. Their cotton is sourced directly from farmers with a Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) certification, and they ensure that factory employees are paid fair wages and work under safe conditions.
Kotn's Corporate responsibility
A B Certified Corporation, KOTN works to promote access to education in Egypt where all of their cotton is grown. So far they’ve successfully built and are now operating 7 new schools in rural areas of Egypt. Through revenue generated from their sales, KOTN has also funded several other social impact projects including providing financial and other resources to smallholder farmers and impoverished communities. They’ve also committed to making 100% of their natural fibers certified organic within the next 5 years.
2. Organic Basics
Based in Denmark, Organic Basics focuses on putting sustainability at the center of its operations and on making products that last. With that, they offer a selection of sustainable organic t-shirts as well as other essential organic basics you may want to check out too. It's no surprise that they are featured in the master list of over 75 ethical and sustainable clothing brands.
Organic Basics Natural or organic fabrics & materials
To make their t-shirts, Organic Basics uses Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton.
Organic Basics Ethical sourcing
Using GOTS certified organic cotton for their tees means that no harmful chemicals were used in the growing process and that workers are employed under safe working conditions, and paid a living wage. You can learn more about their practices.
Organic Basics Corporate responsibility
As part of its sustainability efforts, Organic Basics has created the Organic Basics Fund to support grassroots activists and organizations focused on addressing our planet’s environmental crises. They also offer a Low Impact version of their website and are both B Corp Certified and members of the 1% pledge for the planet. Check out their 2021 Impact Report and their B Impact Report for more information.
3. The Good Tee
Located in Toronto, Canada, The Good Tee’s mission is to humanize the fashion industry by celebrating all of the humans involved in making their products throughout their supply chain. Committed to providing guilt-free, responsibly made fashion basics, The Good Tee offers several fair trade t-shirts which might be just what you are looking for.
The Good Tee’s fabrics & materials
The Good Tees eco-friendly t-shirts for both men and women are made of 100% Fairtrade organic cotton with no elastic, along with biodegradable tags made out of natural cotton or recycled paper.
The Good Tee’s Ethical sourcing
To make their products The Good Tee uses only certified Fairtrade organic cotton sourced from cotton farmers in India. The company is also Fairtrade certified; supporting slower production schedules and ethical labor practices throughout its supply chain. In fact, they offer a fully transparent look at their supply chain, tracing every step of the manufacturing process so we can see who makes their garments and where they are made.
The Good Tee’s Corporate responsibility
A Certified B Corporation, check out their B Impact Report to learn more about what they are doing to support more ethical and sustainable business practices. Use THEECOHUB15 for 15% off.
4. Smash + Tess
Smash + Tess is a Canadian company founded by a self-described mother-daughter-bestie trio. Along with their best-selling Romper made of sustainable rayon, they also offer some great tees. Sizes range up to XXXL making them a great option if you are looking for ethical plus size clothing too.
Smash + Tess fabrics & materials
The S+T Perfect Tee comes in their signature sustainable rayon made from a blend of bamboo and cotton.
Smash + Tess Ethical sourcing
Smash + Tess products are all made in Vancouver, Canada with some small batch runs made in the US on occasion. They ensure that their products are fabricated under ethical conditions and that workers are paid fair wages.
Smash + Tess Corporate responsibility
With the aim of giving back to their community, Smash + Tess supports several charitable initiatives including their Mother’s Day Campaign with the B.C. Women’s Hospital, their Earth Day Shorty Campaign with the Central Westcoast Forest Society, their Short + Sweet Collection Fundraiser for the Black Legal Action Centre, and more.
Whether you are simply going to work or going off on a great adventure somewhere on the globe, prAna strives to responsibly outfit your next adventure with respect for the planet and its people. Their selection of garments includes eco-friendly t shirts for men and women with plus size options as well.
prAna's Natural fabrics & materials
Their t-shirts are made of a blend of hemp, recycled polyester, and TENCEL™ Lyocell; or of a lightweight stretch TENCEL™ Modal jersey mixed with a bit of spandex.
prAna's Ethical sourcing
From the materials used and the manufacturers where items are produced, through to packaging and design, prAna ensures that its operations are carried out with the planet and people in mind. They’ve also partnered with Fair Trade USA and are striving to make 100% of their production in Fair Trade Certified factories by 2028.
prAna's Corporate responsibility
prAna is committed to making diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) a central part of their company through initiatives like the Venture Out Project which leads outdoor journeys for the LGBTQ+ community. They’ve also recently launched their Responsible Packaging Movement in support of reducing and eliminating single-use plastics. Since 2010, they’ve successfully eliminated over 20 million plastic bags from their operations, and plan on providing plastic-free packaging starting in Fall 2021.
Founded by Brandy Mercredi, FRANC offers timeless basics designed and ethically made in Canada and super affordable. Their selection includes a variety of options like The Classic Crewneck Tee, The Ballet Tee, and The Wrap Tee in several color options and in extended sizes.
Franc's fabrics & material
FRANC’s tees are made of TENCEL™ Cotton Blend (Tencel/cotton/spandex) using Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified fabric dyes. Their dyes are also Bluesign® certificated.
Franc's Ethical sourcing
FRANC ensures that all of its products are designed and ethically made entirely in Canada; from the fabric used to make their garments to the finished product. Their factory workers are paid at or above the Ontario minimum wage.
The yarns used to knit their fabrics are spun exclusively for them by a certified (and rigorously vetted) TENCEL™ yarn supplier in Korea.
Franc's Corporate responsibility
FRANC is always striving to improve its operations. From switching to fabrics knit and dyed entirely in Canada, to switching to recycled and recyclable packaging. They are now completely plastic-free by using shipping bags made from 100% compostable materials (that are also reusable), as well as marketing materials and hangtags made from 100% recycled or FSC-certified paper.
FRANC also offsets the emissions associated with shipping their orders and donates seconds, samples, and overstock items to Sistering or to the YWCA Toronto to help marginalized women.
7. The Classic T-shirt Company
Founded by Paul and Olga Garibian, The Classic T-shirt Company came out of a desire to set an example for their daughter. Made in California, The Classic T-shirt Company prides itself on providing quality, ethical, luxury t-shirts for both men and women. Their selection includes up to 13 colors and is available in a range of sizes (from XS-XXL for women and from XS-XXXL for men).
Classic T-shirt Company's fabrics & materials
Their t-shirts are made of only 100% GOTS certified organic cotton and dyed using a premium dying process, ensuring that all chemicals used are ago-free and eco-friendly.
Classic T-shirt Company's Ethical sourcing
Their cotton is sourced from India and then sent to a spinning mill to be made into yarn. Once sourced, the yarn makes its way to a state-of-art, vertically integrated, family-owned partner factory in Los Angeles, California where workers are guaranteed fair compensation, reasonable hours, and safe working conditions.
Classic T-shirt Company's Corporate responsibility
The Classic T-shirt Company ships all of its tees in recycled, plastic-free packaging. They’ve also pledged 1% of their equity, profits, and time to causes that matter to them like clean water, tree planting, and ocean cleanup efforts.
Tentree is a Canadian company offering sustainably made Earth-First essentials from tees to socks to bras, pajamas, and even sustainable backpacks. Their selection of affordable eco-friendly t-shirts includes plain and graphic tees, for both men, women, and kids; available in extended sizes up to XXL for both men and women.
tentree's fabrics & material
Their tees are made of organic cotton, recycled polyester, and/or TENCEL™. Try using their filters to select a tee in the ‘Eco Material’ of your choice.
tentree's Ethical sourcing
Tentree strives to source all of its materials as responsibly as possible while ensuring safe working conditions for all of its workers. Their partner factories are required to comply with international labor standards, as well as their Code of Conduct; and are regularly audited to ensure compliance. Factories also make sure workers are paid fairly, and work reasonable hours, with access to insurance coverage.
tentree's Corporate responsibility
With every purchase of its Earth-First essentials, Tentree plants 10 trees so if you would like to support reforestation efforts this may be a great option for you. Tentree is also a Certified B Corp, reflecting their commitment to employees, the communities in which they work and to the environment. For more information check out their B Impact Report.
Encircled is a slow fashion brand that strives to bring you style, comfort, quality, ethics, and genuine sustainability, without compromise. Their classic and versatile selection includes some great t-shirts with sizes ranging from XS-XXL.
Encircled's fabrics & material
Their tees are made of a linen/polyester blend, an eco-friendly rayon (bamboo/organic cotton/spandex), or a TENCEL™ Lyocell/organic cotton blend. With that, they also ensure that all of the dyes used to dye these fabrics are hypo-allergenic and Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified.
Encircled's Ethical sourcing
Canadian-made, Encircled is very transparent about where their garments are produced, even specifying where specific items are fabricated. Their factories are not only subject to the high labor standards of the Province of Ontario, but each factory also signs the Encircled Ethical Code of Conduct checklist, going beyond what is required by law.
Encircled's Corporate responsibility
A Certified B Corp, demonstrating their commitment to high standards of performance, social responsibility, and environmental accountability, check out their B Impact Report for more information.
With the belief that style, people, and the planet can coexist, TAMGA sets out to be a positive example in the fashion industry. Their selection includes a variety of garments like the classic crew neck you may be looking for, as well as other great pieces like ethical cropped t-shirts or even kimonos available in several hand-drawn prints. And you must check out their dresses!
Tamga's fabrics & materials
Their tees are made of 100% LENZING™ TENCEL, a semi-synthetic fabric that is biodegradable and sustainably produced from eucalyptus and beechwood trees.
Tamga's Ethical sourcing
The raw materials for their LENZING™ TENCEL are sourced from sustainably grown eucalyptus or beechwood forests in Europe or South Africa. In partnership with an ethical factory in Bali, garments are later cut and sewn in Bali by workers who have ensured a living wage. TAMGA also offers a look into all of their factories which you can check out.
Tamga's Corporate responsibility
Your TAMGA t-shirt(s) will arrive packaged in plastic-free, biodegradable bags made out of cassava. And, for every one of their ‘Trees Please Tees’ sold, TAMGA will donate $10 to the Sumatran Orangutan Society (S.O.S.) to help with reforestation efforts in the Sumatran rainforest. TAMGA is also a member of the 1% pledge for the planet.
A few final words on ethical and sustainable t-shirts
Whether you are looking to match them with a great pair of sustainable leggings, to compliment your favorite pair of sustainable jeans, or to complement some of your ethical activewear, there are lots of great environmentally friendly t-shirts to choose from.
And for more sustainable shopping check out our brand directory, where you will not only find the best eco tees but pretty much anything you might need from fashion to skincare to shoes, bags, intimates, and even men’s wear!
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