While there’s not necessarily a universally approved checklist of qualities sustainable e-commerce sites must possess, generally speaking, they include sourcing from brands that produce less waste, use less toxic chemicals, treat and pay workers fairly, and understand that environmentalism must be intersectional and inclusive. If it sounds like a hefty list of specifications for any one store, or closet, it is. But the options, especially over the last several years, have increased and improved significantly.
One possible reason? The demand is growing, and the fashion industry is accustomed to responding to high demand. See: Telfar bags selling out before everyone can get their hands on one or lines wrapping around the block at Kith for exclusive product launches. With a substantial increase in searches for sustainable fashion — a 37% jump last year, according to The 2020 Conscious Fashion Report by Lyst — it’s not impossible that we’re heading toward a future where shopping searches are flooded with requests for ethical alternatives.
Some major retailers already provide curated results for consumers, such as Net-A-Porter’s Net Sustain, but there are several other sites to know if you’re looking to shop smarter in 2021. Below are some of the best who make it clear where their priorities stand.
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Sustainable E-Commerce Site: Prynne
Independent fashion publication Prynne, created by Devan Lach, launched a special curated shop of conscious products earlier this year. To lessen the guesswork of the often nebulous blanket term of “sustainable,” each product on the site is labeled according to its specific efforts. For instance, shoppers can see that New York-based Hyer Goods uses recycled materials to create its line of handbags, while purchasing from LA-based Et Tigre means you’re supporting a BIPOC-founded brand that only produces in small batches.
In this way, shoppers can better understand and appreciate the products they purchase and add to their closets. This includes statement-making outerwear and ethereal, gauzy dresses that are too pretty to wait for a special occasion to wear.
Sustainable E-Commerce Site: The Folklore
The Folklore’s founder Amira Rasool launched the e-commerce site in 2018 as a means to not only share the amazing talent of designers across Africa and the diaspora, but also create opportunity, exposure, and prosperity for these creatives on a greater scale. The site is highly selective about its ethical brand partners and artisans it works with, but there’s a breadth of talent to discover among the products for women, men, beauty, and home. Some stand-out names include ready-to-wear designs by Nigerian labels Orange Culture and Lisa Folawiyo, handmade jewelry by South African label Lorne, and artisanal home ceramics by Paris-based IBKKI.
The Folklore, which only stocks in limited quantities and has cut down on waste by operating paperless, is one to watch. In 2020, it teamed with Farfetch for a partnership which further extended the global reach of its designers, 2021 is (hopefully) seeing that growth continue.
Sustainable E-Commerce Site: Rêve En Vert
Since 2014, Rêve En Vert has been a destination for, what the retailer calls, “honest luxury.” This means it holds its brand partners — which includes familiar names such as Araks, Mara Hoffman, and Mother of Pearl — to its standards for sustainability (specifically, fair working conditions, support for local artisans, and respect for the earth’s natural resources). Rêve En Vert has also banned single-use plastic from its site and offsets its own carbon footprint with donations to environmental organizations.
Additional must-see pieces include dresses by Hamaji, a brand that's committed to honoring textile traditions from African culture, and General Sleep, which makes chic pajamas (very on-trend for 2020) with sustainably sourced cotton-linen within a solar powered factory in southern India.
Sustainable E-Commerce Site: Our Commonplace
Our Commonplace is an LA-based shopping destination that was launched in 2019 by Sunny Wu. With a history of working within luxury brands, Wu curated the fashion, beauty, and home pieces in her store from brands that meet six main criteria: they are women-owned, use sustainable materials and processes, are free of toxins, come from an ethical work environment, are owned by a member of the BIPOC community, and are cruelty-free. Some brands meet all, all meet at least some.
The labels you'll discover here include minimal-chic footwear from the Australian label Essen, airy silhouettes from Bali-based Art of Simplicity, and foundational wardrobe pieces by Saalt and 1 People.
Sustainable E-Commerce Site: Prelude
The premise of the recently-launched Prelude is quite simple, really: It doesn’t overproduce or stock up on products it can’t sell. The same can’t be said for many current retail models.
Created by Lucianne Tonti, Prelude offers made-to-order, pre-sale, and core/currently stocked designs from brands such as Kemperette, Ound, Azur, and Renata Brenha. Not only does pre-sale and made-to-order offer a more personalized shopping experience (and fit), it’s a means of slowing down the fashion cycle, providing financial assurance for brands before they hop into mass production, and re-educating customers on what it means to consume responsibly. Seeing as the site is still young, the selection of designers offered is small but hopefully will grow as more ethically minded and emerging brands seek out thoughtful ways to run their businesses.
Sustainable E-Commerce Site: Sense Of Shelf
Sense of Shelf stocks tons of playful, trend-forward fashions, without the massive carbon footprint of a traditional retailer. You'll spot brands here that you've likely already seen on Instagram: Machete who creates accessories with natural, eco-friendly materials instead of plastics, Whimsy and Row whose sweet designs are made in small batches and use recycled materials, and Latinx-founded Selva/Negra who focuses on reducing waste.
Founded by Madeline Ritaccio, Sense of Shelf also approaches sustainable shopping with self-awareness, too. “There is no perfectly sustainable fashion item, and the best option is always to forgo shopping new and make do with what already exists in your closet,” it reads on the site, encouraging shoppers to pause and consider any purchase a bit further before adding to cart.