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Sustainable clothing: T-shirt choices that are easy on our Earth

Versatile, packable, ethical

The clothing industry is a wasteful one. It’s also one that seems to be constantly mired in controversies; slave labour, factories collapsing resulting in casualties and the intentional burning of clothes to retain brand value are just a few that come to mind. Consider sustainable clothing choices.

Another issue that is gaining traction is the conversation around ethical means of production. In terms of sustainable clothing, this conversation is typically veered towards how things are made and what they are made out of. This article is going to focus on the latter, specifically with regards to a wardrobe favourite—how are your t-shirts made, and what materials should your t-shirts be made from?

Cotton and water usage

Cotton is arguably the most common material used in t-shirts. The plus side is that it’s biodegradable. When used with non-toxic dyes and inks, you can pretty much have peace of mind that the t-shirt, theoretically, can simply be broken down and absorbed into the earth. Complete circularity; from the ground, manufactured into a product, and then back to the ground from which it came. The catch? It uses a lot of water to grow and farm. Even when opting for cotton that is organically grown, you can’t escape the need for high amounts of water.

Cotton: Not sustainable in all regions due to water needs
Image by DJI-Agras from Pixabay 

While we’re on the (rather contentious) topic of organics, we’re not putting products on this list purely by virtue of being organic. The jury is still out on whether or not organic products are genuinely better than their counterparts. We’re of the opinion it comes down to the ethics of the particular company—an organic, locally-made t-shirt from a small company that practices transparency is generally going to be better than an organic t-shirt from a fast-fashion company that’s known for greenwashing. Many of the options on this list are super transparent and have statistics on why their particular material has a lower footprint, so make sure you have a look when perusing the ones you like.

Sustainable clothing: The benefits of Hemp

Hemp is far better on water and soil, but it’s generally harder to come by. The material is derived from the cannabis plant and still has somewhat of a negative perception due to this – but the material won’t get you high. As weird as this perception is, we’re confident that its natural properties and benefits (such as working as a natural insulator in that it both can keep you warm and also breathe) are bringing it back to the mainstream.

So, there you have it. Materials used and how it was made are the two standards by which we have assembled the below list. Spot one you like, do a little digging, and add it to your cart.

Working with hemp
Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

Sustainable clothing: Top 10 T-shirt choices

1. Los Angeles Apparel 6.5oz Garment Dye Crew Neck T-shirt

What we really love about Los Angeles Apparel is simple: there’s nothing wrong with this t-shirt.
Affordable, cool, manufactured in Los Angeles with 100% USA cotton, garment-dyed, unisex
styles, they pay their workers really well. Buy a few, use them, then buy some more. A bona fide
timeless wardrobe staple.

2. Buddy Hemp Goods Classic Hemp Tee

How good is this pastel green colour? New Zealand brand Buddy has smashed it out of the park
with their unisex 55% hemp, 45% organic cotton blend t-shirt. It’s a slightly slimmer and vintage
style, with the hemp giving the t-shirt a laid-back look. The organic cotton joins in on the fun and
gives the shirt structure. Boom. We’ve got a winner.

3. Sunspel Women’s Organic Cotton Boy Fit T-Shirt

We love what Sunspel have achieved with this transatlantic crossover. The London brand has
used USA-grown organic Supima cotton as its building block. It’s supple and soft, and is going
to be your luxury basic if you so choose. Don’t worry, gents. Sunspel has plenty of options for
you as well.

4. Afends Boundary Unisex Organic Retro Fit T-shirt

Afends are one of the frontrunners in the hemp game, but we’re not featuring one of their hemp
t-shirts for this list. The brand out of Byron Bay (a beachside Australian town synonymous with
being progressive and earth-friendly) has gone organic cotton on this product. We particularly
like the tonal colours, modern design, and soft feel of the material.

5. Patagonia Men’s Work Pocket Tee Shirt

A sustainable product list can’t be complete without a feature from the guys at the top of the
game, Patagonia. They’ve been slowly but surely incorporating more and more hemp to their
products over the years, well in the know when it comes to materials that are easy on the
environment. Go for some pop with the safety orange.

6. Norse Projects Niels Classic Stripe SS

If you’re heading anywhere near the ocean, you’d be remiss to not have a sailor stripe on hand.
Ironically, Norse Projects is a Scandinavian brand—not exactly beachy vibes. Their slogan,
Good For All Seasons, dispels this notion; Norse Projects make top-quality clothes that can be
worn year-round, and their ethos aligns with environmental preservation. This organic cotton
t-shirt embodies this.

7. Jungmaven Color Block Jung Tee

Ready to, shall we say, freak it? We love the colour blocking in this Jungmaven tee, which is
made of hemp and organic cotton. You’ll be easily spotted in the crowd wearing this colourful
number. Go off.

8. Nudie Jeans Co Milton Recycled Tee Beigemelange

If you’re looking for a transparent brand that is doing their best to make sustainable clothing,
Nudie Jeans Co is a great place to start. They offer free lifetime repairs on their jeans—this
should give you a good idea of the kind of company they are. This recycled cotton tee is super
soft and in a relaxed cut. Happy lounging.

9. EVERYBODY.WORLD Recycled Cotton Boxier Trash Tee

EVERYBODY.WORLD is an incredibly cool company. Their 100% recycled cotton t-shirts are
really well made and adhere to circular design—the t-shirts are 99.5% biodegradable. The only
thing that won’t naturally break down is the tag. We like this boxy version of their classic Trash
Tee.

10. The Good Tee Responsible Ringer Tee

We’re going retro again with the last t-shirt on this list, a ringer-style classic from The Good Tee.
This would look just as cool roaming the streets as it would getting a sweat on; the sporty,
gym-class look is a versatile one. Constructed with fair-trade, organic cotton and safe dyes, this
is a plug-and-play option (excuse the pun).

Not needing a T-shirt right now? For other sustainable clothing choices Sustainable Guides have researched click here.

Mitchell Winton-Smith
Mitchell is a multifaceted creative professional from New Zealand. Predominantly, he writes about people, planet, and products. Finding solutions to the climate crisis is one of his life's great passions. Favourite country, you ask? Japan. Hands down.