Like many things in men’s wear, it often takes a bit longer for a trend to take hold than it does in women’s wear. Sustainability has been no exception. But now, most men’s brands and retailers are all in.
While some men’s designers, such as Christopher Raeburn, were early adopters, others are just now jumping on board. According to Cara Smyth, vice president of Glasgow Caledonian New York College and founder of the Fair Fashion Center sustainability program, those in the outdoor industry were among the first to embrace the movement due to their ties to nature. But the movement has since spread to a variety of men’s wear brands.
“Many men’s brands are interested in sustainability as it provides operating efficiencies that reduce impacts and reflect the values of the brand to both consumers and even investors where applicable,” she said.
So whether it’s PVH’s goal to generate zero waste, or Perry Ellis’ new solar panel installation project at its distribution center in Seneca, S.C., companies big and small have gotten on board.
Here is a closer look at some of the brands leading the way in men’s wear.
Just call him the King of Upcycling. The U.K.-based designer has been a champion of the sustainability movement since he started his brand a decade ago. It was also one of the reasons that Timberland tapped him to become its global creative director last fall.
Raeburn started his business with eight garments made from military parachute fabric and big ambitions around recycling. From the beginning he has created limited-edition pieces from deadstock fabrics such as Russian naval blankets, recycled kits and even an inflatable boat — a collection he calls Remade — as well as others that are created from existing waste in the Reduced collection.
But Raeburn is not stopping there. He’s also looking to use the least energy as possible in the production of his collection, minimize the use of microplastics and work toward extending the life of each garment.
Raeburn’s commitment to responsible sourcing, inclusivity and community is also expected to help Timberland make “significant and positive impact” on the overall apparel and footwear industry, the company said at the time.
The designer was just singled out for one of the CO10 Leadership awards from Common Objective that recognizes companies that put sustainability at their core.
Raeburn admitted that his dedication to sustainability has been “a challenging journey, but one that has allowed us to build a manifesto for change.”
“There’s now so much more opportunity, particularly around recycled materials. The affordability has really improved and the industry has become a lot more set up for businesses like ours to grow. Now our community and the wearers out there are looking for these products. Rather than it being all about us pushing, we almost feel like there is a lot more of a pull.”
The San Francisco-based, direct-to-consumer retailer has a goal: to eliminate all virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2021.
An ambitious mission, but one the company believes it can achieve.
Since its founding in 2010, Everlane has become known for its commitment to “radical transparency” in its pricing strategies as well as its choice to use ethical factories.
Founder Michael Preysman has also been a vocal proponent of sustainability, ticking off statistics to anyone who will listen about the 8 billion tons of plastic on the planet — around one ton for every person — and the fact that the material does not break down. “Once plastic is made, it stays on the planet forever,” he said.
Polyester and nylon, materials used often in apparel manufacturing, are also made from virgin plastic, and Preysman has vowed to move away from that and use yarns, fabrics and raw materials made from recycled water bottles and renewed materials instead. In fact, he has estimated that in the next five years, Everlane will repurpose about 100 million recycled water bottles for its business. With some 500 billion water bottles produced every year, this may only be a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start.
Last October, Everlane launched ReNew, a collection of men’s and women’s puffers and fleece made from recycled plastic water bottles. The brand promoted the launch with a special shop within its SoHo store in New York that highlighted the problems with plastic waste through installations, educational workshops and interactive programming stations. It has also committed to using Clean Silk, which is made without toxic dyes, and more energy-efficient factories.
And for Earth Day, the company has teamed with the New York Times on a small collection of T-shirts and sweatshirts with “The Truth is Worth It” written on them to shine a light on climate change.
Later this week, Everlane will introduce Tread, a new unisex carbon-neutral sneaker that features a 94.2 percent virgin plastic-free sole, leather from the world’s cleanest tannery and renewed laces and linings. It will retail for $98.
The brother and sister team of Jake and Caroline Danehy created Fair Harbor in 2014 with one objective: to promote the mitigation of single-use plastics by creating products out of recycled water bottles.
They homed in on sustainable swimwear because they spent their summers surfing in Fair Harbor on Fire Island in New York and were alarmed by the amount of plastic they saw washing up on the shore. “When we saw our favorite place covered in waste, we knew we had to do something,” Jake Danehy said.
The tag line on their web site touts: “from bottles to board shorts“— and the company explains that it upcycles plastics polluting the oceans by using “a specific and innovative process that results in a durable, water-resistant fiber that is then woven into our signature shorts and swimwear.”
The collection is made from recycled polyester that it blends with certified organic cotton and a hint of spandex. Each piece is made from 11 plastic bottles “collected from shores all over the world,” said Caroline Danehy.
All told, the brand has recycled over 380,000 plastic bottles and its grassroots clean-ups have removed thousands of pounds of plastic waste from beaches and shores.
A video on the site shows the siblings on the beach with their surfboards and working with the fabrics they use in their collection.
“We only have one ocean and we’re committed to saving it,” they say.
Most recently, the Danehys teamed with Untuckit, the buzzy men’s wear brand, on a co-designed, eco-conscious swimwear collection that will be sold in its stores and online. The plan for the future is to expand beyond swimwear into other complementary apparel categories — and the same sustainable message will apply. A beach pant it launched last fall, which was made from 22 recycled plastic bottles, sold out in three weeks.
Matt Scanlan probably could have had a lucrative career working in the venture capital industry but he’d rather hang out with Mongolian goat herders and save the planet.
After quitting his job in finance — “I hated it,” he said — the founder of Naadam Cashmere decided to set out on an adventure and visit Mongolia with a college buddy. Next thing you know, Scanlan was sleeping in a yurt drinking goat milk which “tasted like throw-up,” and gaining a lifelong love for the country, its people and the cashmere goats they raised.
He was also dismayed to discover that in the cashmere market, the middlemen made all the profit while the herders barely scraped by.
Scanlan set out to change that and decided to buy directly from the herders and give them a bigger piece of the pie, which would also allow him to sell a luxury product for less. He returned to New York, raised $2.5 million and went back to Mongolia, where he bought 60 tons of cashmere from those nomadic herders for 50 percent more than they would have received from the other cashmere traders.
They found family-owned spinning and weaving factories in Mongolia to spin that fiber into yarn and then produce sweaters, sweatshirts, pants, shorts, socks, blankets, sheets and more. They named their company Naadam after a Mongolian festival that celebrates the people and the culture. And last year, the company closed a $16 million Series A financing round led by industry veteran Silas Chou, the Loro Piana family and Vanterra Capital, allowing Naadam to boost its cashmere buy to 175 tons.
“Naadam is on a mission to democratize cashmere by translating transparency into real sustainability, better prices and better quality for our customers at every possible turn,” the company said. One of its best sellers is a premium cashmere sweater that retails for $75. Although other pieces are slightly higher priced, such as sweatpants for $125, hoodies for $175 and a Henley for $125, the collection is still affordable.
And it’s giving back.
In addition to preserving the values and livelihood of the herders, Naadam works with nonprofit organizations in the country to provide veterinary care to the goats. That ultimately benefits Naadam because healthier goats produce stronger and softer cashmere.
“We do real nonprofit work and in return, we get direct access to rare materials to sell them to you at real prices. It’s simple,” the company said.
It has also given back to the community in Mongolia, building parks for local children, planting over 2,000 trees, building more than 30 miles of fencing to protect overgrazed areas, and inoculating over 1 million goats.
It makes sense that someone whose life is inextricably linked to the ocean would be a proponent of sustainability. And that’s exactly what 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater has been championing since creating his men’s brand in 2015.
Partnering with designer John Moore, the duo believes “you shouldn’t have to sacrifice style for sustainability.”
They saw firsthand the impact the fashion industry had on the environment and sought a solution.
As Slater said: “We created Outerknown to smash the formula. To lift the lid on the traditional supply chain and prove you can actually produce great-looking men’s wear in a sustainable way. We founded Outerknown to change the game and create clothing that not only reflects our style, but also our values.”
Its mantra is “People and Planet,” the company said, and “every decision is made with the highest regard for the hands that build our clothes and the world we call home.”
This includes everything from “seeds to suppliers to circular design.” It seeks out supply-chain partners that have received Fair Trade USA, Bluesign and Econyl certifications and has partnered with like-minded brands such as Levi’s, with which it created a Wellthread denim collaboration that uses waterless dyeing techniques, FairEnds for a co-branded collection of 100 percent organic cotton caps, and Oceanworks for recycled ocean plastic buttons. Recycled fishing nets are turned into nylon jackets and board shorts, and profits from a T-shirt with “It’s Not OK” written on it are donated to Ocean Conservancy.
But cleaning up the oceans is only part of the brand’s ethos. It is also lobbying Congress for preferential tariffs for sustainable materials.
When your tagline is “Responsibly Built for the Long Haul,” it’s clear from the get-go that the San Francisco-based men’s lifestyle brand has a mission larger than just selling another sport shirt.
Since its founding 10 years ago, Taylor Stitch has been committed to using recycled and regenerative fabrics wherever possible to lower water usage, reduce chemical exposure, and improve its supply chain. Recycled plastic, 100 percent organic cotton, responsible hemp, synthetic down, environmentally conscious leather and upcycled yarns are all part of the offering.
In addition, the brand carefully chooses its factory partners, ensuring that all workers are paid prevailing wages and have access to health care and clean water. It makes sure the dyeing factories have sewage treatment systems; requires that all greywater be discharged to sewage treatment plants and recycled; that the plants have GOTS, Bluesign and Oeko-Tex 100 certifications; recycle all yarn and material, and invest in new sustainable fibers. A tall task, but one Taylor Stitch takes seriously.
Michael Maher, cofounder and chief executive officer, said: “Frankly, sustainability is marketing b.s. The truth is, 85 percent of clothing ends up in landfills, sustainable or not. Our goal is to keep goods out of landfills. To do that, we build products that last longer by using organic, renewable or recycled fibers that wear in not out. We’re also thinking about ways to give previously loved items new life, even if that means rebuying them ourselves.”
In 2018, 72 percent of Taylor Stitch’s shirts were made with sustainable fibers; 673,000 gallons of water were saved by using 100 percent organic denim; 6.6 million gallons of water were saved by using recycled fabric, and 28 million gallons of water were saved from switching to 100 percent organic woven shirts. In addition, 140,000 pounds of carbon dioxide gas were averted by using hemp for shirts and this year, the goal is that 95 percent of its products will be made from sustainable fibers.
In addition, the way Taylor Stitch operates is also unique. “We’re challenging the way the clothing industry operates. The way we source. The way we sew. The way we sell,” the company said.
An example is the company’s Workshop, which operates like Kickstarter but with a sustainability message. Taylor Stitch asks customers to preorder the pieces in advance — at a 20 percent savings — and when enough orders for the linen shirts, hemp poplin button-downs, jeans and casual shoes are received, they’ll be produced and shipped. The company says the process means “our planet takes on less waste.”