Staying warm during the winter months is super crucial, but you don’t have to sacrifice any poor geese or oceans to do so. From ethical winter boots and hats to ethical winter coats, there are lots of options available to lighten your ethical and environmental footprint while keeping warm this winter.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about ethical winter coats, including why we should shop for ethical winter coat options in the first place, how to go about choosing one of your own, and some of my favourite brands to reach for when shopping for this winter essential.
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Why shop for an ethical winter coat?
As it stands, most winter coats are made from synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, spandex, and fleece. While excellent at keeping water out or trapping heat, these fabrics also shed microfibers (a type of microplastic) that are stripped and carried off from garments by friction and turbulence in the washing machine. From there, they enter our wastewater and eventually end up in the environment.
Recent estimates attribute about 35% of the global release of primary microplastics into oceans to synthetic clothes alone. Once in the ocean, microplastics harm aquatic creatures like turtles and birds, blocking their digestive tracts, diminishing their urge to eat, and altering feeding behaviour. All of this impacts growth and reproductive rates. With stomachs full of plastic, some species eventually starve and die.
Microplastics also absorb free-floating pollutants that wash off from coastal areas into the ocean and act as carriers of contaminants to wildlife. It is still difficult to determine the impact of eating marine organisms that have been contaminated by microplastics, but we can probably assume that it's isn't good for the entire food chain.
Overall, an estimated 9.25 to 15.86 million tons of microplastics can now be found on the ocean floor. An estimated 5.25 trillion plastic particles (weighing above 268,000 tons) have been discarded into the ocean, making plastics the most dominant form of marine litter. As of 2014, the ratio of plastic to fish found in the ocean was estimated at around 1:5, or 1 plastic bottle to every 5 fish.
I don’t know about you but if opting for more sustainable fabric options like organic cotton will help reduce our contribution to microplastic pollution, going the extra mile seems very much worth it.
How to choose an ethical winter coat
The fashion industry is notoriously unkind to the planet, people, and animals, which is why things like the slow fashion movement came to be.
As mentioned above, winter coats are typically made of synthetic fabrics that are petroleum-based (byproducts of the fossil fuel industry). Not only that but they're then stuffed with down which is often sourced from waterfowl from the foie gras industry. These animals are commonly force-fed and/or have suffered from inhumane practices like live-plucking.
Despite these ethical issues, choosing a more ethical winter coat doesn't have to be difficult. You can consider the fabrics and materials used, ethical sourcing practices, and corporate responsibility initiatives of the company as a whole.
With some practice, you will find that you can even apply these criteria to choose all sorts of sustainable and ethical fashion topics. Let’s get into the details:
Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Most winter coats are composed of three main parts: an outer shell, fill, and a liner. The outer shell, which is most often made of a tightly woven synthetic material with a hydrophobic coating, protects you from wind and moisture.
The inside fill is meant to help trap the heat leaving your body, and it's most often made with down. You will also find synthetic insulation options made with as well.
A coat's inner lining is used to keep the fill inside and helps to create another layer of heat. It is most often made of synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon, but some silk and satin options do exist.
When shopping for ethical winter coats, it's best to consider materials that cause the least harm to the environment, from sourcing all the way through to disposal.
You will likely find fills, liners, and shells made using recycled synthetic fabrics which are a lot better for the environment because they divert plastic waste from landfills and ecosystems while avoiding the need for virgin fibers derived from fossil fuels.
You can also look for more sustainable fabric options that are ethically sourced from plants, like bamboo or beechwood.
In terms of fill, down remains the most popular option because it's often the warmest and most durable. If down is the best option for you, make sure to look for certifications like the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certification to verify that practices like live-plucking were not used to source the down used in your coat.
Some ethical winter coat options are made of ethical wool, which is also derived from animals. In this case, look for certifications like the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certification to ensure ethical and cruelty-free practices.
Ethical sourcing simply has to do with the production methods, practices, and conditions under which your garment is made. I favour locally made, sustainably produced, and ethically manufactured products with certifications (like Fairtrade) that reflect sustainable production methods, traceability, and ethical labour and production practices.
Here we consider what else a given brand is doing in terms of social and environmental responsibility. This includes practices like plastic-free packaging, social and environmental initiatives like carbon neutrality, and/or certifications like B-Corp.
Other Factors to Consider
When selecting the right winter coat, we must also consider what temperatures you need your jacket to withstand. This really depends on how cold it gets in your area, whether or not you are wearing base layers, and whether your body runs hot or cold.
According to Patagonia, there is one basic rule that determines how warm a jacket will be: thickness equals warmth. So if you’re looking for a jacket for temperatures well below zero, simply reach for a very thick jacket.
With that said, shopping secondhand remains the most sustainable option when it comes to clothing, especially when it comes to eco-friendly coats, so be sure to check out your local thrift store or some online thrift stores. If you don’t know quite how to go about it or would like to sharpen your skills, here are my 10 Best Thrift Shopping Tips.
Our Top Picks for Ethical Winter Coats
Whatever your needs, I’ve got tons of options to help you stay warm this winter. Here are the brands with the best ethical and sustainable winter coats on the market:
On a mission to offer beautifully designed, quality outerwear for the modern woman on the go, Bernardo Fashions makes a great option for anyone looking for ethical down winter coats. With a commitment to becoming a fully sustainable brand, their selection of stylish options includes several sustainable collections like the Full Circle collection made of 100% recycled materials. Sizes range from XS to XXL.
Bernardo’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
All of the materials used in their Full Circle jackets, including the shell, Ecoplume Insulation, lining, packaging, hangtags, and label are all 100% recycled. Their fabrics are also bluesign® Certified.
Where down is used, it is only sourced from Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified farms to ensure it does not come from farms that live-pluck or force-feed.
Bernardo’s Ethical sourcing;
By using recycled rather than virgin materials in their Full Circle collection, Bernardo is diverting waste to landfill and reducing their consumption of virgin fossil fuel-based materials. These materials are also Global Recycled Standard certified.
They also work with the bluesign® system to eliminate harmful substances and guide standards for environmentally friendly and safe production practices.
Bernardo’s Corporate responsibility;
In addition to only using down that is RDS-certified, Bernardo ensures the traceability of their down in partnership with DOWNLITE, an RDS-certified supplier, to guarantee that every down cluster used in their outerwear is 100% traceable from the time the eggs hatch to when the feathers are plucked.
Using clean design and responsible innovation, Outerknown is a coastal-inspired clothing brand that explores the connections between style and sustainability. Their selection of consciously made garments includes jeans, swimwear, and of course outerwear options for both men and women. Their Men's Hooded reversible Puffer might make the perfect addition to your minimalist wardrobe. Sizes range from S-XXL.
Outerknown ’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Materials used include recycled polyester, polyester with PFOA-free durable water repellent (DWR), and RDS-certified down.
Outerknown ’s Ethical sourcing;
Outerknown ensures that 90% of the fibers uses are either organic, recycled, or regenerated. They also only use 100% RDS certified down which ensures the welfare of the geese and ducks that provide the feathers for our clothes.
In terms of fair labour standards, Outerknown was the first brand to pursue Fair Labor Association (FLA) accreditation before ever shipping a product. Through Fair Trade USA, the brand also invests in the livelihoods of over 5,000 workers, which ensures that the people making our clothes are treated with respect.
Outerknown ’s Corporate responsibility;
With sustainability as a founding principle, Outerknown is constantly innovating and advocating for greater sustainability. Embracing a circular model, they continue to strive for greater sustainability and have committed to achieving full circularity by 2030. They are taking initiatives like: phasing out all harmful chemical and materials synthetic fibers, reimagining their supply chain and making products that are easy to disassemble and recycle; and creating more collection and take-back programs, to name a few.
Frank & Oak is a Canadian clothing brand striving to make a contribution to a more sustainable future by creating thoughtfully designed garments. Their selection of affordable ethical clothing also includes durable winter outerwear designed with recycled materials and high-performance features that can adapt to Canadian winters.
Frank & Oak’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Fabrics and materials used include a water repellent coating (which is fluorocarbon-free and doesn’t use fluoropolymers), along with recycled polyester and PrimaLoft® insulation.
Frank & Oak’s Ethical sourcing;
In addition to meeting external certifications and requirements, Frank & Oak ensures that all their suppliers meet a list of requirements around sustainability. They also work with these factories on meeting their goals and helping them grow as they do. Their factories are located in China, Bangladesh, Dubai, Portugal, and Canada.
Frank & Oak’s Corporate responsibility;
In terms of corporate responsibility, Frank & Oak is a B-Corp-certified brand, which reflects its commitment to meeting the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability in its industry.
Inspired by a love of wildlife and a vision of providing cruelty-free outerwear, Wuxly prides itself on producing the world's warmest sustainable outerwear. With options for both men and women that are ethically made in Canada, Wuxly is a great option for ethical sustainable winter coats. Sizes range from XS to XXL in both men’s and women’s, depending on the style.
Wuxly’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Their products feature materials including PrimaLoft® Gold Insulation (made from 55% post-consumer waste plastic) and a water-proof, breathable, vegan-tech outer shell fabric.
Wuxly’s Ethical sourcing;
In terms of ethical sourcing, Wuxly ensures that it sources the latest environmentally-friendly and accredited materials that are bluesign® approved so that its products are long-lasting and cause minimal harm to the environment. All of their products are also manufactured in Canada, which helps to decrease their carbon footprint and minimize pollution while also ensuring high labour standards and practices.
Wuxly’s Corporate responsibility;
Along with their commitment to providing cruelty-free outwear, Wuxly is dedicated to rebuilding craftsmanship within Canada. As such, their Canadian apparel is crafted with care by Canadian experts and designed to last for years to come.
Wuxly also offers the Live Warm Trade-Up program where down-filled or fur-trimmed outerwear items can be traded for a credit of $100 CAD to help both humans and animals stay warm while keeping products out of landfills.
Everlane is an American retailer on a mission to make the most beautiful essentials, at the best factories, without traditional markups. (They're also featured as one of our favourite sustainable clothing brands.)
Everlane offers several winter coat options for both men and women. Sizes range from XXS to XXL for women and from XS to XXL for men.
Everlane’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Their offerings feature materials like 100% recycled and bluesign®-approved polyester with a fluorine-free water-resistant treatment, along with 100% recycled high-performance PrimaLoft® insulation.
Everlane’s Ethical sourcing;
As a brand, Everlane strives for exceptional quality, ethical factories, and radical transparency. As such, it ensures that all of its products are traceable and produced in ethical factories. You can learn where specific products are manufactured by checking out the product description.
Everlane’s Corporate responsibility;
In 2018, Everlane set out to remove all virgin plastic from its entire supply chain by 2021. They are now 90% of the way to their No New Plastic goal. Having successfully recycled 1 million pounds of nylon, 9 million plastic bottles, and used 400,000 shipping bags made out of recycled plastic, they are continuing to work on the last 10%.
Patagonia is a well-reputed brand in all things outerwear and sustainability. Their selection of products includes sustainable winter coats for women and men as well as backpacks, sweatpants, winter hats, and much more.
Patagonia’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Materials and fabrics featured include recycled nylon, recycled polyester, 100% recycled down, 100% Advanced Global Traceable Down Standard certified virgin down, and fluorinated DWR (durable water repellent) for waterproof/weatherproof garments (many of which do contain perfluorocarbons, or PFCs, so be aware of that).
Patagonia’s Ethical sourcing;
82% of Patagonia’s jackets are Fair Trade Certified™ sewn. The company has been making Fair Trade clothing since 2014 in order to ensure their products are produced under safe, fair, legal, and humane working conditions. To date, Patagonia’s Fair Trade program has impacted more than 72,000 workers in 10 countries around the globe.
Since 2000, Patagonia has been working with bluesign® technologies to evaluate and reduce resource consumption in their supply chains and to help manage the chemicals, dyes, and finishes used in their processes.
They also share information about their owned facilities and suppliers across the supply chain, so you know where and how the clothes you buy are made.
Patagonia’s corporate responsibility;
Patagonia offers the option to repair your damaged gear in order to extend its lifespan, reduce resource consumption, and reduce your overall environmental impact. They also offer the option to buy used gear with the same benefits.
In terms of providing more environmentally friendly coats, they’ve set out to convert noncritical products with a DWR finish (around 90 % of their weather/waterproof garments) to become PFC-free, including items like insulation pieces, mid-layers, and some outerwear by Fall 2022.
Well known for their efforts to promote sustainability and provide ethical and durable products, they are also 1% For The Planet members and do a lot to promote sustainability within and beyond their operations.
Amour Vert is a sustainable fashion brand offering classic staples that are thoughtfully crafted, innovative, and sustainably produced. Using sustainable practices to address all aspects of their business operations as well as the full lifecycle of their garments, their selection also features jackets and outerwear in a variety of styles, ranging from XS-XL.
Amour Vert’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Amour Vert’s products are made of TENCEL™ modal, recycled leather, cactus leather, recycled PET Bottles, organic cotton, and more. Be sure to check out the product description for more info on specific garments.
Amour Vert’s Ethical sourcing;
97% of Amour Vert’s products are made in California—most within just a few miles of their San Francisco office. They also produce their pieces in limited quantities to ensure the highest production standards and to eliminate any excess waste.
Making sure to start with only the most sustainable, traceable, and eco-friendly raw fibers and materials available, Amour Vert partners directly with mills to develop their very own fabrics that are sustainable, soft, and durable.
Amour Vert’s Corporate responsibility;
In collaboration with American Forests®, Amour Vert has successfully planted 349,268 in North America thanks to their Buy a Tee Plant a Tree program. As one of the first companies to use compostable protective bags to store and ship their garments, they’ve also committed to only using packaging made from recycled materials, printed with soy-based inks.
Thought is a sustainable clothing brand offering contemporary designs for both men and women. Their much-loved women’s coats include showerproof ponchos and organic cotton jackets that have been thoughtfully crafted to become classics you’ll return to again and again. Their men's options include organic cotton trench coats and jackets that will similarly become a part of your everyday. Sizes range from 2 to 14 (US) for women and from XS-XXL in men.
Thought’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Thought’s options include designs made with certified organic cotton, bamboo, wool, and/or TENCEL™.
Thought’s Ethical sourcing;
Thought uses industry standards to ensure its sourcing processes are the highest recognized benchmarks they can be. They only source natural, sustainable yarns that use less water, fewer pesticides, and create less CO2; making sure to upcycle leftover fabric at the source in order to reduce waste and create new products.
The brand is also committed to achieving high social standards set by the International Labour Organisation.
Thought’s Corporate responsibility;
As members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a leading alliance of companies, trade unions, and NGOs that promote respect for workers’ rights around the globe, Thought also recognizes their responsibilities towards the environment, ecosystems, and local communities they work in. With that, 98% of their packaging is recyclable, 95% of their collection is PETA approved, they only use 100% biodegradable garments bags, organic cotton labels, vegan glue, and use absolutely no plastic in their packaging.
Founded by award-winning social entrepreneur Safia Minney, People Tree is a fair trade apparel company offering options made according to the highest ethical and environmental standards at every step of the supply chain. They offer exceptional, handcrafted jackets for women in a number of styles. Sizes range from 8 to 16 (US 2-14).
People Tree’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Fabrics used include certified organic cotton and TENCEL™.
People Tree’s Ethical sourcing;
People Tree is a licensee of the Fairtrade certification, which means that products that carry the Fairtrade mark are fairtrade certified throughout the whole supply chain. People Tree works on projects to support their producers, including hand skills training, the development of natural and low-impact dyes, and organic cotton farming.
People Tree is also proud to work with GOTS certified cotton which reduces the use of herbicides and pesticides, which are extremely toxic to people and to the environment. Opting for Fairtrade and GOTS certified cotton has significant benefits on the health of farmers and their local community.
As a Guaranteed Status member of The World Fair Trade Organization, their commitment to Fair Trade is also verified through peer reviews and trusted independent audits.
People Tree’s Corporate responsibility;
A pioneer in Fairtrade fashion, People Tree is committed to a transparent and traceable supply chain. They are an active member of many Fairtrade, social justice, and environmental networks and have started The People Tree Foundation, an independent charity that seeks to bring benefits to an even greater number of farmers and artisans through training, technical support, and environmental initiatives.
PrAna is a sustainable clothing and yoga clothing brand. Made using an Earth-conscious design approach, prAna offers high-quality options for both men and women suited for yoga, travel, and outdoor adventure enthusiasts alike. One of our favourites for ethical activewear, their collection also features women’s jackets and outerwear like zip-ups, which are created to help you coordinate the perfect outfit no matter where you’re going. Sizes range from XS-XL.
prAna’s Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Fabrics used include recycled polyester, a recycled polyester blend, and certified organic cotton blended with polyester and lycra.
prAna’s Ethical sourcing;
From the fields to the factories and all the way through to packaging, prAna is committed to sustainability.
22% of their 2021 styles use bluesign® certified fabrics and materials, with a goal of getting 100% by 2024.
Some of their products are also made in Fair Trade Certified™ factories. You can shop their Fairtrade options using the filter on their website or by checking the product description.
prAna’s Corporate responsibility;
With a commitment to outfitting our adventures with respect for the planet and its people, prAna has successfully eliminated over 20 million plastic bags from their packaging and is working to deliver 100% of their styles entirely plastic-free by the Fall of 2021.
They’ve also diverted 44k+ pounds of garment waste from the landfill thanks to The Renewal Workshop, and are 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.
PrAna has also recently launched its Responsible Packaging Movement in support of reducing and eliminating single-use plastics.
Bottom line when it comes to ethical winter coats
When shopping for your next eco-friendly winter coat this winter, just remember to opt for responsibly-sourced fabric and materials wherever possible. You also want to make sure your coat is produced ethically in certified facilities.
You can trust any of the brands featured in this article to provide some of the best options in this regard, but always remember to opt for whatever works best for you. Choosing sustainability however you can, wherever you can is just what we need.
If you happen to be looking for other sustainable living essentials, the brand directory is always here to simplify your search for anything from home goods and natural cleaning products to jewelry and zero-waste essentials.
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