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Ethical Fashion

Ethical Fashion, Life & Style

Are Clothes Made From Recycled Plastic Eco-Friendly?

Many fashion brands are now making clothes from recycled plastic. Brands claim this is a greener option. However, is making clothes from recycled plastic really eco-friendly? Let’s take a deep look into the recycling clothing industry.

Many fast fashion brands are using materials such as BCI Cotton and polyester clothing made from recycled plastic bottles to convince us of their ethical credentials.

I’ve already taken a deep look into BCI Cotton and found it isn’t particularly sustainable or ethical. In fact, it is significantly reducing the demand for organic cotton. So let’s take a look into clothing made from recycled plastic bottles to see if this option is any more sustainable or eco-friendly, or if fast-fashion retailers are just trying to pull the (fake) wool over our eyes.

How Are Clothes Made Out of Plastic Bottles?

Firstly, you might be wondering just how clothes are made out of plastic bottles.

To make recycled polyester clothing, firstly, plastic bottles are broken down into small plastic flakes. These flakes are then melted into tiny pellets of plastic. These pellets are then heated and spun into threads. The thread is then passed through a crimping machine which creates a fluffy, wooly texture, rather than a rigid plastic texture. From there, the thread can be used in many different types of clothing in place of virgin polyester.

Virgin polyester is a man-made plastic-based fabric, that is made from fossil fuels, such as crude oil and natural gas. So it makes sense to replace virgin plastics with recycled plastics? Right?

Are Clothes Made From Recycled Plastic Actually Eco-Friendly?

Image of crushed plastic bottles on a blue background, with a blue text box that says is clothing made from recycled plastic eco-friendly.

Unsurprisingly, fast fashion brands are trying to fleece us. This is because it turns out there are a number of issues when it comes to making clothes out of recycled plastic bottles.

The Impact of Downcycling

The process of converting plastic bottles and other types of plastic waste into clothing is widely known as downcycling. This is because clothing made from recycled plastic bottles cannot be recycled. Once done, then currently clothing can only be sent to landfill.

Plastic bottles can be recycled multiple times and made into new plastic bottles. Recycling plastic bottles to make more plastic bottles reduces the amount of virgin plastic the plastic industry needs. Therefore, a further-reaching impact is that the process of turning plastic bottles into clothes takes them out of this circular recycling loop. The plastic bottle industry, therefore, has to turn to virgin plastic to fill the gap left by fashion brands stockpiling plastic to make unrecyclable clothing.

Isn’t There More Than Enough Plastic To Go Round?

You might be wondering what the big deal is with clothing made from recycled plastic? Are there not tonnes of plastic bottles in circulation – more than we can actually cope with? The fashion industry can’t make that much of a dent in the amount of plastic available?

Undeniably, yes, there is a plastic mountain. However, not all plastic is created equally. Plastic bottles are made from a type of plastic called PET – polyethylene terephthalate. PET is a clear, strong, and lightweight plastic that can cope with being recycled multiple times. In fact, it is the world’s preferred packaging material for foods and beverages. And as such, it is the world’s most recycled plastic. This type of plastic generally isn’t being sent abroad for disposal. Instead, it is being recycled and used – unlike other lower-grade plastics.

When it comes to clothing, using recycled polyester instead of virgin polyester does sound like a good idea. The issue when it comes to clothing is scale. H&M says that 90% of its recycled polyester comes from plastic bottles. H&M alone produces 3 million items of clothing a year.  

If you multiply that across all of the other fast fashion brands that are producing clothing from recycled plastic bottles, such as Primark, Next, BooHoo, and more, then we are talking about an awful lot of potentially recyclable plastic bottles being taken out of a closed-loop plastic bottle recycling system, and being used to make non-recyclable clothing.

The Fast Fashion Problem

One of the many issues with fast fashion clothing is that shoppers wear an item of clothing just a few times before it is discarded. When our charity shops are overrun by cheap clothing which they can’t sell, it gets sold off to developing countries. Here it is chopped up into rags, sold on at markets, or thrown into landfill. It simply isn’t sustainable to buy so many clothes, even if they are made from plastic bottles.

The Microplastics Issue

One of the other main problems with clothing made from plastic, whether it is virgin plastic or recycled plastic, is that they release microplastics when they are washed. Researchers have found that laundering synthetic clothing is the main source of microplastic in our oceans.

Microplastics are what we call fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 mm in length. Sometimes these are visible to the human eye, other times they are so small that they cannot be seen. Microplastics enter our food chain when they enter our oceans and waterways, and enter our soil.

This microplastic then ends up in our food, and ultimately in our bodies. Although studies into the effects of microplastic consumption are in their early days, scientists have discovered microplastics can cause adverse reactions on a cellular level in our bodies.

Fast fashion retailers have so far buried their heads in the sand when it comes to the microplastic issue. Retailers continue to sing the praises of clothing made from recycled plastic and continue to mislead consumers that recycled plastic is an eco-friendly choice. I have found not a single example of a fast-fashion retailer educating consumers on some of the issues associated with synthetic clothing.

And what’s worse is that H&M has no plans to decrease the amount of clothing it intends to produce. Instead, they are planning to double sales by 2030. You simply cannot be an ethical retailer and sell 6 billion items of clothing a year – no matter how many items of clothing you make from plastic bottles.

What Should I Buy Instead?

where to buy ethical clothing uk

If you are wondering what to buy instead of clothing made from recycled plastic bottles, then there are lots of other sustainable choices you can make.

The first is not buying anything you don’t need. The most sustainable items of clothing are the ones you already own. Re-wearing your clothes again and again, looking after them, and fixing them if they rip is 100% the most sustainable solution.

If you need new clothes, try swapping with your friends, or taking part in an organised clothes swap.

Shopping secondhand is also a great sustainable option, that’s low impact.

Finally, buying clothes made from natural fibres from sustainable clothing brands, where possible, is another environmentally friendly way of buying new clothes.

When Is Recycled Plastic A Good Choice When It Comes to Clothing?

In certain cases, clothing made from recycled plastic can be a good environmental choice.

When it comes to swimwear, for example, it is not possible to make swimwear from 100% natural fabrics, and still have the properties that we expect swimwear to have. In this case, look for swimwear made from ECONYL®.  This is an innovative fabric that directly tackles plastic pollution in the ocean by taking nylon waste from carpet offcuts and discarded fishing nets, rather than plastic bottles. I have a full guide to ethical swimwear and to swimwear made from recycled plastic that will help you out.

Gym wear is another area where it is often tricky to find performance clothing made from natural fibres. In case, the use of recycled plastics in these types of clothing is a better choice than using virgin plastic. I’m working on putting together a guide to ethical gym wear, so watch this space!

How To Wash These Performance Fabrics

One solution at the individual level is to wash your activewear in a product that catches microplastic, such as a Guppyfriend*. The microplastics should then be discarded in the bin, rather than washing them down your sink.

To be honest, this action at the individual level is a sticking plaster for a wider issue. I’m more of a fan of interventions at the governmental and manufacturer level. This is because I don’t think this should be an issue for individuals to shoulder the responsibility or cost of. In the UK, the Government binned off the idea of getting to install microplastic filters on all new washing machines. Encouragingly though, Australia and California have recently announced plans to ensure that manufacturers must install microplastic filters on all new washing machines. Therefore, continuing to press on the Government for action on microplastics is therefore key.

Other things you can do to help limit microplastic release from your clothing is to gently hand wash your pieces in cold water, rather than machine washing it. Line drying rather than tumble drying also helps limit microplastic shedding.

Ethical Fashion, Life & Style

Ethical Jeans & Denim Guide – The Ultimate Guide for 2022

Looking for a pair of ethical jeans or denim? I’ve found the best brands in my guide to sustainable denim that caters to men, women, and unisex styles. I also have exclusive discount codes for several brands, to help save you money.

In order to help support the running costs of Moral Fibres, this post contains affiliate links, denoted by *. Moral Fibres may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to readers, on items that have been purchased through those links. This income helps keep this site running.

What’s the most hardworking item in your wardrobe? For me, it’s my jeans. A true workhorse, is there anything that jeans don’t go with?

Well, actually, do jeans go with sustainability? Are the two words mutually compatible? There’s a lot wrong with a standard pair of jeans. Let’s take a brief look, before looking into my guide to ethical jeans and denim.

What’s Wrong With Conventional Denim?

Jeans are one of the most commonly bought items of clothing in the UK. However, making a pair of conventional jeans is a dirty business. From the environmental and social impact of growing cotton inorganically to the vast amount of water it takes to make a single pair of jeans, and the associated water pollution.

However, these aren’t the only impacts that the denim industry has. Sandblasting jeans, to create a lived-in look can cause the deadly lung disease silicosis in workers who are involved in sandblasting. Meanwhile, synthetic indigo dyes use chemicals known for their toxicity. These include formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide. Conventional denim is far from ethical.

Guide To Ethical Jeans and Denim

Image of three pairs of jeans on a grey background with a blue text box that says where to buy ethical jeans and denim

Thankfully there are better ways to shop for jeans more ethically. If you are looking to buy ethical and sustainable jeans and denim clothing then check out my top choices below. Look out for exclusive discount codes from several brands!

The price range key for this guide is:

 £ = Under £50 | ££ = £50 – 100 | £££ = £100+

BAM: Bamboo Clothing

ethical jeans uk

Price: ££

Fits: Waist sizes 24 – 36 inches in regular or long lengths

Gender: Male and female styles available

BAM’s supersoft jeans*, for both men and women, are a great sustainable choice of jeans.

Made from a blend of organic cotton and bamboo, so your jeans are soft and comfortable, BAM says these jeans use 74% less water than the average pair of jeans to manufacture. Bamboo as a fabric can be problematic, but I’ve written here about BAM’s careful manufacturing processes.

Because of the rivets and hardware on conventional jeans only the legs of conventional jeans can be recycled. What makes BAM’s jeans a great eco choice is that they’ve developed them in line with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Jeans Redesign to be environmentally friendly. Therefore, BAMs jeans have no rivets. They also have an un-screwable button. This means that once the zip is cut out then BAM jeans can be fully recycled.


Beyond Retro Ethical Jeans

Price: £ – ££

Fits: XS – XXL

Gender: Male, female and unisex styles available

Beyond Retro’s huge range of preloved denim* makes it a great one-stop-shop for all your sustainable denim needs. With every wash, size, colour, and style imaginable – from jeans to dungarees, as well as shorts, skirts, shirts, and jackets – you are sure to find the perfect piece.

When it comes to jeans, Beyond Retro has a filter so that you can specifically look for high-waisted jeans, flared jeans, vintage Levis, and more.

What’s more, Beyond Retro also has dedicated plus-size sections for both men and women, catering up to size XXL. There is also the ability to search for unisex jeans.

Use the exclusive code MORALFIBRES at the checkout to receive 15% off your order at Beyond Retro.

If you are looking for other affordable ways to shop for ethical jeans, then do also check out my post on where to buy secondhand clothes online, for more budget-friendly preloved inspiration.


The Hemp Shop Co

Price: ££ – £££

Fits: men’s 30 – 36 inch waist; women’s 26 – 28 inch waist

Gender: Male and female styles available

If you are specifically looking for hemp jeans, then head for The Hemp Shop Co*. Made from super sustainable hemp and certified organic cotton, these jeans also ship plastic-free.

What makes hemp a sustainable fabric choice is that hemp does not need any toxic chemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides to grow. It also returns around 60% of the nutrients it takes to the soil, helping to maintain good soil health. Hemp also requires very little water to grow.

The women’s range has very limited sizing available, however, the men’s range is much more accommodating. With a wider range of waist sizes and multiple leg size options, The Hemp Shop is best for men looking for ethical jeans.


Hiut Ethical Jeans

a man in a yellow shirt wearing Hiut jeans

Price: £££

Fits: 25″ to 40″ waists in a variety of leg sizes

Gender: Male and female styles available

Hiut ethically makes beautiful bespoke jeans, handmade in Cardigan.  These are expensive jeans, but whilst the initial outlay might be high, expect a pair to last forever.  Hiut stands by their jeans even when they fail you. As such they offer free repairs for the life of your jeans, with just one rule. You have to send them back washed.

Made from a mix of recycled cotton, and standard cotton these jeans are not organic. However, ethical considerations have been made. As such, 100% of the water Hiut uses is recycled, and no harmful chemicals have been used in the treating of the jeans.

Do note, these jeans have a leather patch on them, so are not vegan-friendly.


Howies

Price: ££

Fits

Gender: Male and female styles available

Looking for organic jeans in a variety of fits and colours? Try Howies. They stock a variety of GOTS-certified organic jeans for both men and women. What’s more, their jeans are OEKO-TEX certified as being free from hazardous chemicals.

As well as being designed for the perfect fit, they are also designed to last. As such, their jeans are reinforced at key stress points for extra durability.


Kowtow

Price: ££ – ££

Fits: XS – XL

Gender: Female styles available

Kowtow’s denim trousers* are made from 100% organic cotton chambray. This is dyed with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) approved inks and dyes. This means they are free from chlorine bleach, toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, and aromatic solvents.

Their ethical denim is made in a transparent supply chain, which works with fair trade certified farmers and manufacturers from seed to garment. And finally, the trousers are finished with recycled hemp buttons made in Italy. 


Monkee Jeans

Price: ££

Fits waist sizes 24″-36″

Gender: Male and female styles available

Monkee Genes* are purveyors of organic bamboo or GOTS certified organic cotton jeans, made in England, that are beautifully soft.  

With a zip fly fastening these full-length jeans have waistband patches made from a special material called Jacron. This is a unique paper material with a leather-like look. However, it is a vegan and sustainable alternative to plastic or leather patches.

If it is black jeans that you are looking for, then Monkee Genes have been produced using a special process that means that they will stay blacker for longer.

My only gripe is that Monkee Genes only come in two leg lengths – regular and long.  The regular leg length is 31″, so if you’re on the shorter side you may struggle with the fit.


MUD Ethical Jeans

A person wearing MUD ethical jeans

Price: £££

Fits waist sizes 26″-36″

Gender: Male and female styles available

MUD Jeans* make jeans from organic cotton and recycled denim. This helps to avoid waste and cuts down on water and CO2 use.  At the moment their jeans contain 40% recycled denim.  However, keep an eye out as MUD aim to launch the first jeans made from 100% post-consumer recycled denim. 

Rather than washing the jeans to create the wash, they use innovative ozone and laser processes. This cleverly reduces the amount of water used to manufacture a pair of jeans by up to 75%. This also helps to reduce water pollution.  

What’s also to love about MUD, is that jeans labels are printed instead of using leather. This means that their entire jeans range is cruelty-free and suitable for vegans.

What’s more, Mud takes back your old jeans once you are done. Here they will either sell them if they are in good condition. If not, they will recycle them by blending them with organic cotton to create new jeans.


Nudie Jeans

Price: £££

Fits sizes 24″ to 38″

Gender: Male and female styles available

Nudie’s 100% organic and vegan-friendly jeans* are made ethically in Italy with sustainability in mind.  

What I especially love about Nudie jeans is that they’ve considered longevity. So if your jeans need mending you can pop into their London shop to take advantage of their free repair service.  And don’t worry if you are not London-based, they can send you a repair kit free of charge.  And once your jeans are finally worn out, you can send them back to Nudie and they’ll recycle them into new jeans. You’ll also get 20% off your next order.


Organic Basics Ethical Jeans

Price: £££

Fits: waist size 26 – 36

Gender: Male and female styles available

Danish-based Organic Basics jeans* are produced only using organic and recycled cotton. They don’t use any synthetic blends so that their denim can be fully recycled and stay in circulation for longer. From what I understand, Organic Basics are also looking at introducing a recycling scheme for their denim.

As well as zero synthetic blends, Organic Basics takes sustainable and ethical production seriously. From a commitment to fair wages, zero-waste production, and solar power energy, they make for a great ethical denim choice.

Whilst their jeans come in a variety of colours, my only gripe with Organic Basics is that they only offer one leg length. This means if you are shorter or taller, then it will be tricky to find the perfect fit.

Use the exclusive discount code WENDYOBC at the checkout for 10% off your order.


Oxfam

Price: £ – ££

Fits: XS to XXXL

Gender: Male and female styles available

Want to shop for affordable ethical and sustainable jeans and support a charity at the same time? Then look no further than Oxfam Online*. They have a great range of pre-loved denim, for men and for women, in a vast array of sizes, styles, and colours.

Find a whole of brands – from designer to high street – at more affordable prices. Delivery is also just £3.95, no matter how many items you order.  For extra peace of mind, returns are free.  You also get the added bonus that your purchase is supporting a good cause – all profits go to supporting Oxfam’s work in alleviating global poverty.


Patagonia

Price: ££ – £££

Fits 26 – 40 inch waist

Gender: Male, female and unisex styles available

Patagonia’s ethical jeans* are Fairtrade certified. This means that as well as paying the Fairtrade premium, to ensure producers are paid a fair price, Patagonia pays an additional premium for every Patagonia item that carries the Fair Trade Certified™ sewn label. That extra money goes directly to the workers at the factory, and they decide how to spend it.

Here workers have chosen to use the premiums to fund community projects, like health-care programmes or a child-care centre, or to purchase products they could not otherwise afford, like a laptop computer or a stove; or to take a cash bonus. 

What’s more, Patagonia’s ethical denim is designed to last and be repairable.  Their website also gives advice on how to repair all Patagonia items, which is seriously useful.  And for any clothing that can’t be repaired then you can drop it off at a Patagonia store for recycling or repurposing. 

People Tree Ethical Jeans

Price: ££ – £££

Fits UK sizes 8 – 16

Gender: Female styles available

Made from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, People Tree’s ethical denim collection* saves up to 90% of water during the production process, compared to conventional denim production.

People Tree says their organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. What’s more, they have systems in place to replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilisers, and build biologically diverse agriculture.

And as the People Tree branded back patch is made from washable paper, this means their denim collection is vegan-friendly.


Rockit

Price: £ – ££

Fits: XXS to XXL

Gender: Male, female and unisex styles available

For preloved ethical denim, Rokit* is another great online retailer to check out. From the 1930s to 2010s vintage denim, Rokit stock a wide range of styles, colours, and washes of jeans for men, women, and children, as well as unisex styles. And with a vast inventory (at the time of writing there were 963 pairs of jeans listed), covering sizes XXS to XXL, Rokit’s size inclusivity is something to applaud.

Never bought preloved jeans? Don’t worry, every item is cleaned and pressed before being added to Rokit’s webshop. This means you won’t get any nasty surprises when your jeans arrive.


Thought Ethical Jeans

Price: ££

Fits: UK sizes 6 – 20

Gender: Female styles available

Thought’s range of eco-friendlier jeans and denim* are ethically made in Turkey from GOTS certified organic cotton. What’s more, all of their denim is also OEKO-TEX® certified. This means that every component of their jeans – right down to the thread and buttons – has been tested and is free from harmful substances. So you can be assured that Thought’s jeans are made in a chlorine and toxic chemical-free wash.

Even the patch is leather-free, making these jeans vegan-friendly.

How to Make Your Jeans Last Longer

The most sustainable and ethical jeans are the jeans you already own. Thankfully there are some useful tips to keep your jeans in wearable condition for longer.

Laundry

How you wash and dry your jeans can make a huge difference to how long your jeans last. Here’s my laundry best practice for jeans.

Washing

Try to wash your jeans only when they need washing. In my guide to how often should you wash your clothes, it’s recommended that jeans should be washed after 4 to 5 wears. Minimum. Of course, if they are dirty or smelly, then wash them. But if not, and you are not used to washing jeans so infrequently, and are self-conscious about smelling, then do so incrementally. After day 2, see how you feel about stretching to day 3. And so forth. You can do it, I believe in you!

When you do wash your jeans, wash them inside out. Turning jeans inside out when you wash them helps protect the outside of the jeans from friction and direct exposure to detergent. Both of these actions help prevent fading, making your jeans look better for longer.

Drying

Avoid the tumble dryer if you can. Heat can shrink or fade denim, and it can also cause damage to stretch denim fabrics. The best way to dry jeans is by hanging them up to air dry. If you do need to use a dryer, select a low or no heat cycle and use dryer balls to keep your jeans tumbling. Remove the jeans while they’re still slightly damp, then stretch the seams and hang them up to finish drying. By not over-drying jeans, you help avoid shrinkage and damage to the fabric.

In A Fix

Life happens. Your jeans might develop a rip or a tear. Instead of binning them, you can leave the rip or tear as is, and allow your jeans to develop a bit of character. The alternative is to fix your jeans.

If you’re not handy with a needle and thread, a tailor will be able to mend your jeans for you. If you do know your way around a sewing kit, then jeans can be patched up in a variety of ways. From patches to visible mending, to invisible mending. YouTube has a great selection of ways to mend your jeans.

If you have any other tips on ethical jeans manufacturers or ways to prolong the life of your jeans, then do drop me a line!