I love the fall! The trees changing colour are so beautiful and it's also the best time of year for slow fashion. Along with sustainable boots, ethical coats, scarves and gloves, ethical and fair trade sweaters are what we turn to when the temps start to dip below zero.
A good sustainable sweater can make or break an outfit and this year's assortment of knitwear is bound to have you "adding to cart."
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Why shop for fair trade sweaters?
Unfortunately, a lot of winter sweaters are made using synthetic materials that can shed microplastics when they are washed. Not only that, but most of these synthetics end up in landfills. We've doubled the volume of clothing we toss each year, from 7 million tons to 14 million tons in the last 20 years alone. According to the EPA, in 2018, 17 million tons of textiles waste ended up in the garage further polluting our landfills. Buying fair trade and eco-friendly sweaters made from natural materials can help to reduce the amount of synthetic fibers that end up in landfills.
How to shop for fair trade sweaters
Like anything with ethical and sustainable fashion, it's important to know #whomadeyourclothes and what kinds of sustainable materials are used. As with all of the fashion guides on The Eco Hub, we take three key things into account: fabrics & materials, ethical sourcing and corporate responsibility. Let's take a closer look at each.
Natural or organic fabrics & materials;
In the case of sweaters, it's really important to look for ethical wool to ensure the animals are treated humanely. The wool industry has a really bad track record, so supporting companies that use Merino Wool sourced from New Zealand and certified by the Animal Welfare Act, which protects animals from the practice of mulesing, is your best bet.
Other certifications to look for on the label include Responsible Wool Standard, ZQ, bluesign®, OEKO-Tex 100, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Recycled Content Standard (RCS) and Global Recycle Standard (GRS).
Some textiles take forever to decompose. That's why choosing natural materials like organic cotton, linen, hemp, cashmere and wool are so important. Natural fabrics are biodegradable and can be composted at the end of their life. Fabrics like Lyocell or Modal are known as semi-synthetic and are good options too.
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.
Look for certifications like Fair trade, B-Corp, WRAP, and BSCI. Keep in mind smaller brands might not have the money to get these type of certifications as it can take a lot of time and money. The important thing is to look for transparency from brands to help reduce the risk of greenwashing.
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.
Top picks for ethical and fair trade sweaters in Canada
You might know for VUK their sensational sustainable swimsuits and now they have introduced their Uspori Oversized Crewneck which will keep the winter doldrums away. Uspori means "slow down," a message that is at the heart of this collection. Not only does VUK hope to remind and inspire you to slow down this winter, but they also hope to slow down fast fashion, which comes at a human cost. To do this, VUK is accepting pre-orders in bulk and then making only as much as is needed.
Made with 85% Organic Ring-Spun Combed Cotton and 15% Recycled Polyester, these sustainable sweaters align with VUK's dedication to slow fashion. They take so much care in how each garment is created "weaving sustainability into the core of all their decision making".
VUK was founded by Sandra Vukovic, who has combined her degree in Fashion Design from Ryerson University with her love of sustainability and her curated collections speak for themselves. The Oversized Crewneck comes in two versatile colours: Day (Natural Raw) and Night (French Navy). This past year has been all about trendy basics and if you are wanting to take basics to a whole new level, these are for you! Pair them with jeans, leggings or sweats.
VUK's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
These super comfy sweatshirts are made with 85% Organic Ring-Spun Combed Cotton and 15% Recycled Polyester. All of their printing uses OEKO-TEX and GOTS 5.0 certified Innobella textile ink.
VUK's ethical sourcing;
VUK is dedicated to sourcing its sustainable materials and ethical production for every step of their supply chain. While they aim to source from Canada as much as possible, their sweatshirts come from Europe (the most high-quality and sustainable option for the sweatshirts). All shipping from Europe to Canada is carbon offset!
Their items are also made-to-order, only making what is needed.
VUK's corporate responsibility;
VUK is the real deal! They use all of their scrap fabrics to ensure as little waste as possible. They also partner with Less Emmisson to offset customers' shipments. When these gorgeous sweaters are shipped to you they will come in compostable mailers from Wastebased.
tentree is a sustainable clothing brand based in Canada and make an appearance on so many lists on The Eco Hub. If you need warm and cozy ethical socks, they got 'em! Not only do they make sustainable clothing for men you will also find really affordable Fair Trade sweaters in lots of styles and colours: ribbed, long-sleeve, cardigans, crewnecks, turtle necks and more. You are bound to find something cozy to add to your minimalist wardrobe.
tentree's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Organic cotton and recycled polyester make up their selection of sweaters. Their organic cotton reduces the need for much water in the growing process and it's all free from harmful pesticides and herbicides which can harm both people and the environment.
In regards to the recycled polyester this is what they have to say: "By partnering with companies like REPREVE®, we help you make eco-conscious solutions. Using recycled polyester fibers in our garments help give these plastic bottles a new life, one that isn’t toxic to our planet." So Cool!
tentree's ethical sourcing;
tentree has an internal Code of Conduct that all their partners need to sign. All of their factories are certified by WRAP, BSCI, SA8000, Fair Trade, and/or Fair Wear Foundation.
tentree's corporate responsibility;
As a Certifed B Corp, they plant a tree for every purchase that is made on their website. They are also Climate Neutral Certified and they keep track of the impact every garment they make with their partnership with GreenStep.
A fashion-forward sustainable clothing brand Frank and Oak has some of the cutest ethical knits on the market including a sweater dress that is definitely on my list (pictured). Frank and Oak are all about three values sustainability, transparency and functionality and all of their clothes are well made to have a lighter footprint, increased lifespan and less environmental impact. You'll find a great selection of styles and colours. If you are in the market for a pair of sustainable jeans make sure to make a pit stop on their Responsible Denim Lab.
Frank and Oak's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
You have a wide variety of fabrics to choose from organic cotton to Yak wool to Non-Mulesed Merino Wool and recycled fabrics like polyester, nylon, cotton and wool as well as Sea Wool (Quality yarn made from recycled polyester and oyster shell composites) and LENZING™ ECOVERO™ Viscose fibers derived from sustainable wood and pulp and generate 50% lower emissions than generic Viscose.
All of their fabrics are certified by The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
Frank and Oak's ethical sourcing;
Being certified by The Global Organic Textile Standard ensures that the entire supply chain is transparent and adheres to strict standards. All of their yak wool comes from small-scale farms that really care about the animals' wellbeing. 1% of the proceeds from their yak wool collection will go towards a Grassland Preservation Program in the Himalaya highlands.
Frank and Oak's corporate responsibility;
They are working on being carbon neutral and as close to zero waste as possible and work with Earth Day Canada saying on their website:
"More than a goal, we are inching towards carbon neutrality by teaming up with Earth Day Canada to operate a tree-planting program that offsets our carbon emissions created by our eCommerce packaging and shipping. This means that we calculate the amount of carbon emitted by our shipments to figure out how much we need to donate back to plant trees in Quebec."
We LOVE Kotn and you will too. From ethical t-shirts to sustainable undies they have it all. Their fair trade sweaters are stylish, durable, warm and quality made. From a rugged, outdoors-minded crewneck sweater to luxurious merino options to stylish cardigans you are bound to find a cold-weather essential.
Kotn's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Organic cotton is the main fabric that is used for all of Kotn's garments, hence the name. For products made in Portugal, they use thoughtfully-sourced cotton certified by the Better Cotton Initiative. The Better Cotton Initiative is the world’s largest governing non-profit for cotton farming. Kotn has "embarked on a project to ensure 100% of our natural fibres are certified organic within the next five years."
Kotn's ethical sourcing;
This is what they have to say:
"Best known in the coffee & tea industries, direct trade is a way of sourcing raw ingredients straight from the farmers, without the use of traditional middlemen. Buying the raw material ourselves lets us do three things: provide our customers with fair prices that reflect the quality instead of the label, provide farmers with better prices and business practices (especially in comparison to fast fashion enterprises), provide transparency into how our partners conduct their business."
Kotn's corporate responsibility;
As a B Certified Corp, Kotn is helping kids grow and fourish by helping to build schools in the Nile Delta. In this region, there are half a million children with no access to education. To date: 10 schools funded, 7 schools built, 88% girls.
Top picks for ethical and fair trade sweaters in USA
We can't have a post about ethical and sustainable sweaters without featuring Patagonia. Along with ethical winter coats, you will also find button-down sweaters, fleece vets, cotton pullovers and more for ladies, men and kids. If you want comfy warm and cuddly make sure to check them out.
Patagonia's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Love the fact that most of their sweaters are made from organic cotton or recycled polyester and wool. In fact, 64% of all the fabrics they are using this season come from recycled materials. They don't use any chemicals in the dyeing process and when it comes to the wool they use it's certified to the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS).
Patagonia's ethical sourcing;
These guys are the real deal. Their Footprint Chronicles allow consumers to see which factory a garment was made in. It's very innovative and I wish more brands would do this, it would make it so much easier for us to navigate shopping for more ethical clothing. We do our best on The Eco Hub to vet every single brand but this type of transparency is key to making more informed decisions. Most of their factories are fair trade certified too.
Patagonia's corporate responsibility;
Their regenerative farming initiative is another thing that sets Patagonia apart. Back in 1996, they made organic cotton a staple in all their garments and today they have "taken their farming efforts even further with this test to grow cotton on over 250 small-scale farms". Called
Regenerative Organic Certified™ Pilot Cotton "the cotton in these shirts is from farms working toward the highest organic standard, which aims to rehabilitate soil, respect animal welfare, and improve the lives of farmers."
Sézane makes some of the most beautiful sustainable women's sweaters, their attention to detail on each one is both feminine and chic. Make sure you take a look at their knitwear gallery, everytime I visit this website I want all of them! And I am sure you will too. There are so many divine colours to choose from: pink, green, grey, blue, black, sea green and more. And the styles are just perfect too, cardigans, buttons downs, lace, puffy sleeves, jackets, shoes, boots and more. "Je ne sais quoi for all."
Sézane natural or organic fabrics & materials;
¾ of the materials in their current collections are eco-friendly and certified by 5 of the industry's most reliable certifications: GOTS, Oeko-Tex, FSC, RWS and RMS. This is how they break it down on their website:
"The proportion of eco-friendly materials in our collections have multiplied by 7 in 4 months.
Organic cotton, certified materials, recycled polyester and vegetable-tanned leather form the majority of our collections.
- 82% of silk is Oeko-Tex 100 certified
- 85% of cotton is organic
- 87% of viscose is FSC Mix certified
Sézane ethical sourcing;
Their certifications ensure that three items are coming from ethical sources and they also have third-party audits of all their partners to ensure full transparency. You can go behind the scenes on their website to meet their amazing ateliers.
Sézane corporate responsibilty;
Sézane is a B Corp certified company that has recycled over 13,000 items of clothing since they began their recycling program. All of their shipping boxes are made from recycled cardboard and all of their locations are powered by renewable energy. They also partner with Demain to support a number of charities. They also have an entire page dedicated to "how to repair".
Nadaam checks all the boxes and is one of the best sustainable clothing brands on the market. Carrying a wide range of apparel, shoes and accessories for kids and adults. You can wear their collection of ethical cashmere sweaters with virtually anything in your fall-fashion wardrobe. Make sure to take a look at the $75 Sweaters, it's well worth the investment, it comes in 13 colours and has over 50k reviews.
Nadaam was founded in 2013 by two college friends who travelled to remote parts of the Mongolian Gobi Desert, "became friends with the local herders and saw first-hand how traditional cashmere traders and brokers drive up prices and take the profits. By cutting out these middlemen, they realized they could pay their herder friends more while selling premium-quality clothes for less."
Nadaam's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Nadaam uses organic cashmere in 75% of their products, you will also find wool, cotton and even recycled cashmere. All fabrics and materials are certified by Global Recycled Standard (GRS), GOTS, OEKO-Tex 100 and Responsible Wool Standard.
Nadaam's ethical sourcing;
I wouldn't normally include items made from cashmere, it's hard to prove that the animals are being treated humanely. Nadaam calls their fabric “the only cruelty-free cashmere”. They work directly with the herders who harvest the goat hair using traditional hand combing methods. The herders are paid a living wage, they have livestock insurance and health care coverage. To date, Nadaam has given over 700 Gobi dessert families clean drinking water.
Nadaam's corporate responsibility;
They work on anti-desertification projects with different charities. They are working on being carbon neutral by reducing emissions, investing in offsets and prioritizing renewable energy and reducing their packaging to sustainable alternatives.
Everlane is probably one of the most known and loved sustainable clothing brands. Their modern essentials will keep you "warm, merry and bright" this winter season. WIth Everlane you will find classic, timeless ethical fashion sweaters. And no matter the style you are looking for they offer a huge range from wool to cardigans to vests, long, short, chunky all of them the kind of sweaters you will reach for without even thinking about it.
Everlane's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Whether you are looking to stay comfortable with wool, alpaca, cashmere, cotton or recycled materials Everlane offers something for every fashionista. To date, their ReNew apparel collection has upcycled one million pounds of textiles and fishing nets. The cashmere and wool come from recycled yarns, the wool and alpaca are both sourced ethically to ensure animal welfare. Everlane is also certified by: Bluesign, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), GRS (Global Recycling Standard), Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare
Non-mulesed wool, RWS-certified (Responsible Wool Standard), non-mulesed wool, OEKO-TEX® and many more.
Everlane's ethical sourcing;
Transparency will make you feel warm and cozy and is behind everything that Everlane does. To ensure their factories are running responsibly they conduct announced and unannounced audits to ensure standards are in place. On their website, you can see inside each one of their factories and they work diligently with local farmers to ensure people and animals are treated ethically.
Everlane's corporate responsibility;
Their factories are LEED Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) which is a rating system for energy efficiency at every level of operation. What is really impressive is their "Zero-Waste to Landfill" program which is:
"In a facility that handles so many shipping materials and most of our physical products, it’s significant to reach a milestone like 100% landfill-free. This is done through various recycling and reuse programs, with the remainder done through a waste-to-energy partnership. Our partnership with Happy Returns also features a reusable shipping carton program that reduces the amount of cardboard that goes out for recycling."
Pact makes the kind of sweaters you can wear with jeans when you head out or pair with legging when you are lounging around the house. You will not have to worry about the temperature with their cool (warm) collection of chunky sweaters, crews, dresses, and ponchos. All stylish and colourful additions to your minimalist wardrobe. Pact makes it on so many of our fashion guides and has the eco-cred to prove it. If you are looking for organic underwear, cute fair trade pyjamas or even organic baby clothes give them a browse.
Pact's Everlane's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
Pact's mission is to be "earth's favourite clothing brand" and they are on track to do that thanks to their amazing sustainable fabrics. At Pact certified GOTS organic cotton is the go-to for their collection of affordable sustainable sweaters. Organic con uses 81% less water and it's free of toxic chemicals.
Pact's ethical sourcing;
Pact partners with Fair Trade Certified™ factories because they ensure care for both people and the planet. Fair Trade factories provide safe working conditions, empower and uplift local communities, and protect the environment.
Pact's corporate responsibility;
Pact offers the option to offset the carbon footprint of your shipment. Use Pact’s shipping box to donate your old clothes to nonprofits. Pact uses paper envelopes made from 100% post-consumer recycled paperboard and cardboard boxes made with 98% post-consumer recycled materials, both are 100% recyclable.
Know for everything from sustainable swimsuits to ethical jeans Outerknown has your back literally with their collection of affordable sustainable sweaters. Owner and renowned Surfer Kelly Slater is the man behind this awesome brand and trust me you will find an array of stylish sustainable men's sweaters that will make a cold and dreary day more bearable.
Outerknown's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
90% Of the fibers they source are organic, recycled, or regenerated and 100% of their trunks are made with recycled or renewable fibers because "there's nothing more epic than a clean ocean."
Outerknown's ethical sourcing;
Through Fair Trade USA, they invest in the livelihoods of over 5K workers. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) holds brands to the highest international labour standards. Outerknown was the first brand to pursue accreditation before selling a stitch of clothing. Get the low down on each and every supplier they work with too.
Outerknown's corporate responsibility;
Outerknow has partnered with many charities all of which are doing great things to reduce plastic in the ocean. They launched the world's first Merino wool surf trunks, they have a goal to make 75% of fabrics and 50% of products circular. By 2030, 100% of products will be circular!
Find chic and cozy fair trade sweaters that have flattering shapes and are pretty enough to go with leggings, skirts and jeans. And if you need a cute sustainable backpack to put that sweater in, they have those too! From oversized knits to comfy cardigans United By Blue has new styles, colours and silhouettes to match any sustainable wardrobe.
United By Blue's natural or organic fabrics & materials;
You will find a huge selection of sustainable fabrics. They are known for their innovative and exclusive materials like BisonShield, SoftHemp and (R)evolution™ which give plastic water bottles a second life by transforming them into durable packs and pet accessories you’ll use for years. Other sustainable materials include organic cotton, recycled polyester, recycled cotton, recycled cashmere, modal, wool and Tencel. All of the fabrics are certified as well.
United By Blue's ethical sourcing;
United By Blue makes sure all of its garments are made in responsibly run factories. In fact, you can read all about each one on their website. The factories are also certified by GOTS, Fair Wear, and OCS Standard.
United By Blue's corporate responsibility;
As a Certified B Corporation, these guys are doing a great job at cleaning up the ocean, you can even order a clean-up kit on their website which will help you pick up trash. This is so cool! For every product purchased, United by Blue removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways.
Final thoughts on fair trade sweaters
All of the brands featured above will really give you any excuse to layer up. I mean this collection of sustainable knits is absolute perfection! Don't forget you can also find some really great ethical and fair trade sweaters in online thrift shops! Thrifting can be overwhelming, but these thrifting tips will help steer you in the right direction. After all, I want you to feel cozy and look ca-ute all season. And check out this blog on the best affordable ethical fashion brands. If you have a ton of old sweaters you are wanting to find a home for, try selling them online.
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