It’s officially fall, which means it’s finally time to make your house cozy and pick up anything and everything pumpkin spice. And while you’re picking apples or reading your favorite book, you’re probably snuggling up in a sweater. If you’re looking to replenish your wardrobe with cozy hoodies, cardigans and turtlenecks this season, now’s the perfect time to pick up some sustainable sweaters to replace your old ones.
It’s no secret that fast fashion is bad for the planet, but finding fashion brands that are truly sustainable can be difficult. That’s why we talked to sustainability experts to help you find the best low-impact sweaters that’ll keep you cozy this fall.
It’s not too difficult to find a sweater made from eco-friendly or recycled materials, as most brands big and small lean towards sustainability. where is does being difficult is when you take a more holistic look at the sustainability of your sweater. “A sustainable sweater is one that’s made with its human and planetary impact in mind,” says Katrina Caspelich, director of marketing for Remake, a nonprofit that fights to end fast fashion. “This means that the company producing the sweater treats its workers fairly AND uses earth-friendly materials, not one or the other. To be truly sustainable, companies must support the welfare of the worker individual and the environment”.
However, figuring out whether a brand embodies these values is difficult, which is why Caspelich says research is key. In addition to finding out what materials the sweater is made of, she encourages shoppers to ask the following questions: “Is your supply chain traceable? If so, do they disclose where their suppliers are located? Not just the country, but the addresses? Are they paying living wages and ensuring safe conditions for their garment workers? What kind of volume do they produce? How do they address waste? Do they have an active extended producer responsibility policy? What is it? (financial, physical, or both? )”
To navigate the wide world of sustainable sweaters, we asked Caspelich and Elizabeth Cline, authors of “The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good,” for some shopping tips. Cline says to start by looking for a cashmere, wool or alpaca sweater, as these will last longer than their cotton and synthetic counterparts.
“There are a growing number of options in the sustainable sweater space. Of course, there’s the option of buying a timeless cashmere, wool, or alpaca sweater that will last a lifetime (or finding one at a thrift store secondhand),” says Cline. “There are also a growing number of brands making sweaters from wool, cotton or cashmere more sustainably using what are known as regenerative agricultural practices that store carbon in the soil. So look for that word, ‘regenerative’”.
If you don’t want to spend that much money on a sweater, Cline says opting for a cotton sweater with certified organic cotton is a good option, and recycled polyester sweaters are often made from plastic bottles that divert waste from landfills. However, Cline says he’s wary of these recycled polyester sweaters because they release microplastics.
To help narrow the field, Cline says to keep an eye out for certifications that can help you identify sustainable brands. “In terms of certifications, you can look for climate-beneficial wool or certified organic cotton like GOTS certified,” he says. “Some of the certifications that address animal welfare include the Responsible Wool Standard and the Responsible Alpaca Standard. For recycled content, you can similarly search for Recycled [Claim] Standard.”
However, Cline cautions that these certifications, while useful, are imperfect. “Third-party certifications are not foolproof, as textile supply chains are complex and full visibility is a challenge,” says Cline. “However, in general there is a correlation between companies using third-party certified products and those trying to comply with sustainable practices throughout their business, so I still think third-party certifications are a yellow light to hear -be more confident when you buy..”
Caspelich has a few more tips to help you buy and wear sweaters sustainably this fall:
- • Limit your purchases: The most sustainable purchase you can make is not to buy at all. Think of fun new ways to style your existing sweaters, and consider swapping with friends if you need a fall wardrobe refresh.
- • Shop favorite pieces: Shop for second-hand clothing first on sites like ThredUp or The RealReal and in person at local thrift stores. There’s also a new browser extension called Beni that makes it super easy to find second-hand alternatives to the items you love when shopping online.
- • Remember to #WearYourValues: Support brands whose values align with yours – recognize your purchasing power!
- • More information on greenwashing: With the popularization of the word “sustainable”, some brands use marketing techniques to appear green and fashionable without actually maintaining these practices. Make informed decisions by doing your research before you buy.
If you need more help finding sustainable sweaters that are worth your money, check out sites like Remake and Good on You, which do the research on sustainability and impact for you. You can browse approved brands on their sites or search for your favorites.
Caspelich also says that while sustainable sweaters are more expensive than fast-fashion alternatives, they’re built to last for years, especially when you take good care of them. “If we are able to limit the amount of clothing we buy each year, investing in long-lasting, well-made pieces rather than fast fashion pieces that quickly show their wear and tear, more of us may be able to buy higher quality items.” of sustainable brands, even if we’re limited to a tighter budget,” he says. To make your sweaters last as long as possible, Caspelich and Cline echo the importance of washing them properly and sustainably. Cline says to only wash your sweater when you really need to, and consider hand washing and drying to reduce energy and water consumption.
All of these tips can help you find a sweater that’s more sustainable than what you might have in your closet, but Cline stresses that no sweater is completely sustainable. “Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a perfectly green product,” says Cline. “Everything we buy has an environmental impact and every material has drawbacks. You still have to think about what you value most and make decisions from there.”
$158 at Reforma
Caspelich recommends this cashmere sweater from Reformation, saying, “It’s really comfortable and stretchy, which is always nice to wear with a sweater.” It’s made from 90% recycled and 10% virgin cashmere, which Reformation says has 87% less carbon impact than a traditional cashmere sweater.
$78 at Everlane
If you’ve started drinking water from a reusable water bottle, you’ll appreciate this sweater, which is made from recycled polyester derived from 32 plastic bottles.
$75 at Naadam
One of the most affordable cashmere sweaters on the market, the $75 Essential Cashmere Sweater is made from 100% Mongolian cashmere. You can read more about Naadam’s Kashmir and sustainability efforts here.
$425 to Mara Hoffman
This Mara Hoffman sweater has an oversized fit and is a Caspelich favorite. “[Its] The collar, button-down neckline and oversized ribbed body add a classic yet modern look to any outfit,” she says. The sweater is made from 100% US climate-friendly wool, meaning the production of wool is actually carbon positive.
$125 at Everlane
“I love this cardigan because it’s so flattering,” says Caspelich. “Not to mention it’s spike-free and pill-free…truly a sign of a long-lasting wardrobe staple.” With a blend of alpaca yarn, recycled nylon and merino wool, this sweater gives you the benefits of durable materials like alpaca and wool, while the recycled nylon blend helps keep its price down.
$149 at Patagonia
A timeless staple, this Patagonia fleece pullover is made from 100% recycled polyester and looks great wherever you are, whether you’re on the trail or at the brewery.
$298 to Eileen Fisher
Another sweater recommended by Caspelich, this Eileen Fisher piece is made from a blend of recycled cashmere and organic cotton.
$98 at Coyuchi
This cardigan is made from 100% organic GOTS certified and fair trade certified cotton. In addition, it is manufactured in a factory that recycles 90% of its waste water.
$225 at Naadam
Naadam’s recycled cashmere garments are made from a 70/30 ratio of recycled to virgin cashmere, recycling scraps from their own factories. In addition, the recycled materials are certified by the Global Recycled Standard.
$378 to Christy Dawn
Made from alpaca yarn, Caspelich says she loves how soft and timeless this Christy Dawn jacket is.
$268 at Reforma
Caspelich recommends looking for versatile sweaters that you wear all the time, and points to this cashmere set from Reformation for its super-soft material. It is made from 90% recycled cashmere and 10% virgin cashmere and comes in three colors.
$78 at Everlane
Made from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, this sweatshirt is an easy, everyday layer perfect for any fall activity. Plus, it comes in four colors and sizes from XXS to XXXL.
$92 at Girlfriend Collective
Caspelich loves this layered sweatshirt all year round thanks to its versatile, cropped look. Plus, it’s made from recycled micro fleece and can be sent back to Girlfriend Collective to be recycled at the end of its useful life.