Thinking about untangling the complicated web of fashion, the environment, ethics and consumption is overwhelming. While most of us would probably advocate for buying only what you need—and ideally from brands that have considered the social and environmental impacts of their work—we also understand it’s messier than that.
Where should we as conscious consumers draw the line on a socially-progressive brand that’s hand screen-printing locally in Australia, but on Gildan blanks? Is it still okay to buy from brands that don’t have crystal clear labour practices if it’s the only thing at your pricepoint? Does it make a difference if those brands donate to environmental causes, or have some sustainable lines, or if you know you’re truly going to wear it forever? A lot to consider while staring into the abyss of an online shopping cart.
Does anyone else think the line seems to get blurrier when it comes to streetwear? While nailing down a specific definition of streetwear can be a daunting task, we’re loosely referring here to the kind of casual style that borrows predominantly from hip hop and surfskate aesthetics and subcultures, originating in the ’90s. Think Air Jordans, North Face puffers, bucket hats, sling-bags and in 2020, the odd Balenciaga sock trainer.
While there’s obviously a tonne of different cultural-specific offshoots and streetwear niches, there are a few uniting streetwear elements. The brands that have risen to the top seem to have done so because of innate—and then carefully fostered—cultural capital (Nike), their adjacence to culture (North Face), or being the right combination of ~accessibly~ exclusive and ‘if you know you know.’ Shifting people towards “more sustainable” choices gets a lot more difficult when they’re loyal to certain brands for cultural and social reasons. Similarly, staple streetwear pieces aren’t necessarily lauded for their craftsmanship or sustainability credentials, but more likely for the featured band or logo or inexplicable and inherent vibe.
So how do you shift a section of the socially and environmentally disastrous fashion industry that is concerned where their shit comes from, but in a very different way from picnic bitches and linen-wearing sustainable fashion advocates? (Data indicates people care about sustainability when assembling a wardrobe but also about convenience and also if their choices are peer-approved.)
We’re not sure, to be honest. That said, these are the sustainable streetwear brands (and traditional ones) giving it a shot.
Seven Sustainable Streetwear Brands & Launches We’re Into Right Now
Show us someone who hasn’t worn adidas Stan Smiths as their staple sneakers at one time in their life and we’ll show you an adidas Superstar die-hard. While they go with everything, an unfortunate fact of the matter is that white sneakers all eventually meet the end of the line, becoming festival beater shoes before ultimately getting retired. (We’ve burned through a couple of pairs ourself.) Fresh for 2021, the iconic Stan Smith has had a big upgrade, though you’d be really hard-pressed to tell by looking at them.
The new iteration of Stan Smiths keep the same crispy fresh lines and silhouette but now feature high-performance recycled materials. adidas is actually committed to using only recycled polyester by 2024, FYI. The white rubber outsoles are now made from recycled rubber, and the uppers are PRIMEGREEN, also created from recycled materials. Oh and the box? 90% recycled paper. A classic gets an update and we love to see it.
Adidas Stan Smith, $140 from Adidas.
Melbourne-based sustainable streetwear HoMie company puts 100% of their profits into supporting young people affected by homelessness or hardship. As well as their social mission, they also use a mixture of local production, ethically approved factories and focus on making special one-off garments. Under the project REBORN by HoMie, the brand makes upcycled garments made from preloved clothing and second-hand materials, including a collection that remixed a bunch of pieces from Champion.
Their latest Reborn launch just went live, and if you’ve been eyeing up the bespoke streetwear pieces for a while, move quick—their last two collections sold out in 30 minutes.
RBRNXCHAMPN_050, $220 from HoMie.
Champion are long time players in the bucket hat arena and have recently launched a new sustainable streetwear collection. The collection, called Re:Bound, is crafted from recycled Reverse Weave (one of the brand’s signature materials) that would normally be discarded during production. While the obvious question here is, “but what could the brand do to reduce it’s waste before it’s created?” it is nice to see a brand as big as Champion make these types of changes.
Reverse Weave Recycled Crew, $109.95 from Champion.
While they’ve been dabbling with more sustainable fabrics in their sportswear and All Conditions Gear collections for a while, Nike is really trying it with this year’s VaporMax. Designed with a sustainability-first approach, the Nike Air VaporMax 2020 Flyknit is made from at least 50 percent recycled content by weight and features Nike’s first full-length VaporMax Air unit, made with about 75 percent recycled material.
It’s the latest culmination of Nike’s circular design ethos, as part of the brand’s wider Move to Zero journey towards a zero carbon, zero waste future. Again, there are so many things Nike can do from here. Especially in regards to sustainability and with regard to the conditions of its garment makers, but we’re intrigued to see where they’re headed.
Air VaporMax 2020 FlyKnit, $290 from Nike.
Another label taking inspiration from ’90s staples and reworking vintage garments are Frankie Collective. If you’ve got a taste for reworked brands but aren’t too handy with a sewing machine, we’d suggest taking a scroll through their offering. Their designs centre on salvaging vintage garments that would otherwise end up in a landfill. All of their textile scraps are also recycled and repurposed to minimise textile waste.
Vintage Rework Nike Mini Handle Bag, $113.47 from Frankie Collective.
Most Prominent Co
Most Prominent Co. is a sustainable streetwear brand based in Los Angeles with roots from Japan and Peru. Each item they make includes details on the material’s source, where the garment was sewn, and where the final item was printed.
Cropped Service Uniform Shirt, $100 from Most Prominent Co.
Converse (who are owned by Nike, btw) are also throwing their shoe into the sustainability ring. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the brand has released a slightly more eco-friendly version of their iconic Chuck Taylor. The shoe includes 30% recycled cotton canvas upper sourced from factory scraps.
Chuck Taylor All Star Renew Cotton Canvas, $100 (currently on sale for $70) from Converse.