Want to stay cosily stylish this season? Check out these ethical knitwear brands!
By Diane Small
Ethical knitwear is a term that should be easy to define – but it’s not.
The main reason for this is the wool vs. synthetics debate, which continues to rage throughout the sustainable fashion community.
We’ve covered this debate several times already, and unfortunately, there are no easy answers. On the one hand, vegans quite rightly argue that it’s not uncommon for alpaca, sheep and cashmere goats to be maltreated during the shearing process. They also state that rearing these animals carries a high carbon footprint, due to the land space they occupy, and the amount of food and water they consume. And finally, this group points out that there are some truly fabulous, eco-friendly fabrics being created that can replace animal fibres.
On the other hand, non-vegan eco-fashionistas argue that the petroleum by-products that are used to create synthetics like acrylic and nylon also consume vast amounts of water and carbon. They assert that these materials are highly pollutive, not only through their production process, but when you wash them, too. By now, we all know that plastic microparticles are shed every time we wash polyester, acrylic and nylon, right? It’s also well known that clothing made from animal fibres is easy to dye with plant based colours, and that it biodegrades quickly.
So, what defines ethical knitwear?
Personally, I’m in the latter camp. If a fabric is made from organic materials, it’s kinder to the skin, and the planet. And ultimately, that means it will be kinder to animals, too, since they won’t be contaminated with plastic microparticles they gulp up from our waterways. Organic materials, of course, can also include organic cotton, hemp, linen and even bamboo. Fortunately, there are increasing amounts of recycled wools being used in fashion, and that’s set to increase.
Here, I’ve found 10 ethical knitwear brands we love at Eluxe. To ensure they are indeed as stated, ethical knitwear brands, I’ve included those who source their animal fibres ethically, or even use recycled animal yarns. Hopefully, this is a compromise that most will agree with.
10 Ethical Knitwear Brands We Love
1. Ulla Johnson
The graphic shapes of her ethical knitwear collections this season have all been influenced by the work of the Native American artist T.C. Cannon. For example, the chunky wool-blend ‘Shakina’ sweater in the second image, below, was woven with bold stripes in the earthy colours Cannon typically uses in his paintings.
This Chilean based sustainable fashion brand is dedicated to helping rural, indigenous women in South America. They pay living wages for every textile and sewn garment, and work in collaboration with politically and economically marginalised women to create their collections. Mapuche artisans—the largest indigenous group in South America – use sustainable fibers and processes to create ultra lush wraps, sweaters, ponchos and skirts that are designed to last a lifetime.
Stella McCartney describes her work as clothing with a “natural confidence and sexy femininity”, and her knits really reflect that.
As a vegetarian herself, she cares about animal welfare, and has chosen to use regenerated cashmere and ethically sourced wool to make her knitwear.
This season, her plush yarns are adorned with teeny tiny paillettes in an array of different colours. You can’t really see them well in the photos below, but when placed under light, these little sequins twinkle and glimmer delightfully!
We just discovered this Uruguayan knitwear brand, and were completely blown away! Tach Clothing sources all of its wool from local sheep, and pays its workers Fair Trade wages.
Their styles are truly unique: structural, almost sculptural, sleeves and small details, like bows and belts, make this brand stand out from the rest.
Argentina based fashion brand Maydi cares so much about animal welfare, they’ve been granted a Certification for Wildlife Friendly Fibres. This is important, because sheep and alpaca ranchers often trap and kill foxes, wolves and other predators to stop them from preying on their animals. And of course, the very creation of such ranches imposes on the natural habitats of these natural predators.
But the wool and alpaca Maydi uses comes from ethical farms committed to more using wildlife-friendly practices, that also work to conserve native fauna.
The popular Los Angeles based brand has begun to use recycled cashmere yarn to create ethical knitwear collections that really stand out for their simple yet stylish designs. We particularly love the puffed sleeves, mock turtle necks and intricate knit patterns.
With every item offered on their website, Reformation provides detailed information about how much carbon and water you’ll be saving by purchasing one of their items, as opposed to a conventional, non-recycled fabric sweater.
Myrrhia is the hippest knitwear brand we know of. Based in California, the brand’s pieces are accordingly lightweight. No need for chunky cable knit jumpers when the sun’s always shining, right?
The finely knit pieces from the label range from bandanas and skirts to dresses and tops. To reduce their carbon footprint, the brand is dedicated to using zero-waste knitting technologies and adheres to the strictest of ethical business practices.
Strongly against sweatshop labour, this passionate Italian’s mantra is ‘profit can be sought without damaging mankind.’ Each collection features artisanal products that are strictly Made in Italy by over 300 talented craftsmen who live in a sustainable village in Umbria.
Cucinelli firmly believes that “money only has real value when it is spent to improve the life and development of people,” so he donates a large part of his profits towards lovingly restoring and renovating the hamlet in which his workers live, and supporting arts initiatives there. As an added bonus, most of his knitwear is made of 100% ethically sourced, pure cashmere and Merino wool.
Spanish based brand Babaa is all about the sheep. They are adamant that their shepherds adhere to a process called Transhumance, which is “a type of pastoralism or nomadism comprising seasonal movement of livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures”. In mountainous regions, it implies movement between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter.
This is not only better for the animals, but for the environment, too. It enhances fire prevention (the sheep eat many weeds that are potential fodder for wildfires) and the steppe ecosystem, enriches fallow land (thus making it farmable once again), and helps maintain alpine areas.
Babaa uses the super-soft fleece of their sheep to create wonderfully oversized sweaters, scarves and trousers that epitomise slow fashion.