Fashion continues to have a crippling impact on the environment only made worse by the rising popularity of fast production, which emits some of the highest levels of greenhouse gas of all industries.

While clothing production has doubled since 2000 and clothing sales is expected to rise by more than US$2 trillion by 2025, many pioneers are striving to create a green industry filled with sustainable fashion labels.

Whether plastic bottles are turned into swimwear or eucalyptus trees into shoes, here are some environmentally conscious brands paving the way to a greener future.

Allbirds

Sugar cane, merino wool and eucalyptus pulp are the innovative sources used to create the world’s most comfortable and environmentally friendly shoes.

Founded in 2014, Allbirds quickly became a revolutionary economical footwear business established based on a curiosity about merino wool.

Tim Brown joined forces with engineer and renewables expert Joey Zwillinger to create a wool fabric specifically for shoes, leading the way to naturally inspired footwear.

“The footwear industry often overlooks Mother Nature’s materials in favour of cheaper, synthetic alternatives,” the Allbirds website states. “We think it’s time to change that.”

Allbirds founders Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger
Allbirds founders Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger

The San Francisco-based business began its venture with its signature textile made from merino wool, creating the iconic water-resistant runner, complete with shoelaces made from recycled plastic bottles.

Following the success of the wool jogger, Allbirds launched another breathable runner made from eucalyptus pulp.

“Maybe we were going out on a limb when we thought to make shoes out of trees,” Allbirds’ website states. “But thanks to magical eucalyptus tree fiber, our Tree material is breathable and silky-smooth, complete with a cooling effect to keep things breezy.”

“The footwear industry often overlooks Mother Nature’s materials in favour of cheaper, synthetic alternatives. We think it’s time to change that,” – Allbirds

Pushing the envelope further, the four-year-old business launched thongs (flip-flops) made from sugar cane.

“SweetFoam is a sustainable pioneer in the footwear industry. It’s light as a feather, but that’s not all – made with the world’s first carbon negative green EVA, it’s light on the planet, too,” Allbirds’ website states.

While the shoes are sustainable, the effects of producing each product is “much friendlier” to the environment than traditional shoes with low carbon footprints.

OceanZen

In attempts to combat ocean pollution, one young designer is scooping plastic bottles from the ocean and transforming the rubbish into guilt-free fashionable swimwear.

Soft garments made from old plastic and fishing nets found floating in the sea is the essence of sustainable fashion label OceanZen – and it has even caught the attention of Sir Richard Branson's entrepreneurship program.

After researching humpback whales in Ecuador and sea lions on the remote Galapagos Islands, Steph Gabriel founded the Australian company to “save the ocean one bikini at a time”.

OceanZen bikinis are created from recycled plastic bottles
OceanZen bikinis are created from recycled plastic bottles

“We support marine conservation, sustainability and living a healthy lifestyle and our fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets from the ocean,” OceanZen’s website states.

“The ocean is our last true wilderness that we have left to explore and it needs to be protected.”

The innovative business model landed Gabriel an invitation to attend the exclusive entrepreneurial program held by Branson at Necker Island in 2017.

“We’re saving the ocean one bikini at a time,” – Steph Gabriel, founder of OceanZen

While the program was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma, Gabriel told The CEO Magazine it was a “wonderful surprise”, and the business has received other accolades including a sponsorship from ING Bank.

“It’s been a wild roller-coaster with so many ups and downs, with a lot of 16-hour working days … the heart and passion that goes into OceanZen is paying off with little wins,” Gabriel says.

Aware by Vero Moda

Fashioning scrappy plastic bottles into crisp, timeless clothing ranges is something one Danish brand has mastered.

Bestseller, which is the umbrella to 11 brands, launched Aware by Vero Moda last year to close the gap between seasonal fashion and sustainable products. The range features everyday pieces infused with Scandi-chic style to “shine a light on one of the most important issues facing the world”.

Aware by Vero Moda creates clothing made from plastic bottles and  recycled cotton
Aware by Vero Moda creates clothing made from plastic bottles and recycled cotton

“At times, it can feel as if fashion and the journey towards a more sustainable future are at odds with each other,” the Aware website states. “Aware is Vero Moda’s first step towards bridging this gap between seasonal fashion and a more sustainable world.”

Aware features four different fabrics, each with its own story to reduce environmental impact whether it be through creating fabric made from eucalyptus trees or crafting one T-shirt from two plastic bottles.

“We are especially proud of writing a new chapter in the life of plastic bottles by using recycled polyester.” – Aware by Vero Moda

Every time a particular style reaches expected sales, the Nordic label has transformed more than 855,000 plastic bottles into environmentally friendly items.

“We are especially proud of writing a new chapter in the life of plastic bottles by using recycled polyester,” the website states. “It saves natural resources and energy in production, as well as reducing the use of chemicals.”

The Danish business, founded in 1975, also recycles cotton, which saves 275,000 litres of water, and uses organic cotton, which can be traced back to the fields.

“In fact, more than 35% of the cotton used in our products is sourced as more sustainable cotton,” Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, sustainable sourcing manager of Selected, says.

“Bestseller has a responsibility to use natural resources responsibly in the present so that we care for the future of our plant and promote a healthy fashion industry.”

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