Image Credit: Christy Dawn
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I’m not going to lie: One of my favorite things about sundresses and house dresses is the lack of decision-making involved. You don’t have to find two pieces that match—you can just throw on a dress with some sandals or heels and look cute without really trying.
So, if you’re looking for eco-friendly, ethically made sundresses you can wear to the park or just your patio, we’ve rounded up the best brands and boutiques for you. But first, here’s an overview of what you should look for while you’re shopping for casual dresses:
Natural fabrics: Most of these brands use fabrics like organic cotton, hemp, linen, and Tencel. Breathable fabrics like these are best if there’s a chance you might break a sweat in your dress. Go for certified organic whenever you can, especially with cotton.
Artisan made: Sundresses give us so much opportunity to play around with colorful prints and patterns. Many of the dresses below are handcrafted by artisans around the globe using traditional techniques that have been passed down through generations, such as block printing.
Nontoxic dyes: Since there’s often a lot of rich colors involved (and again, you might get a little sweaty this summer!) you want to go for nontoxic, biodegradable dyes whenever possible. Otherwise, all of those toxic chemicals can end up in our waterways, our soil, and seep through our skin into our bodies.
Eco-conscious processes: There’s a lot that goes into making just one sundress: growing, shipping, and processing the fabric; dyeing, cutting, sewing the piece; and of course, finishing it and sending it to you—water, CO2, and other non-renewable resources are all used to do that. The brands below seek to decrease their footprint wherever possible, whether it’s making their pieces to order, which cuts down on waste, using recycled fibers, or offsetting the carbon footprint of shipping your dress to you.
The Best Brands and Shops for Sustainable Sundresses:
Outerknown was started by 11-time World Surf League Champion Kelly Slater and acclaimed designer John Moore. As a brand, Outerknown is committed to transparency, working with manufacturers who abide by the Fair Labor Association’s standards and keeping a list of those suppliers right on its website. Outerknown uses eco-conscious materials like ECONYL (recycled nylon), organic cotton, and hemp, and it also gives back a portion of its profits to the Ocean Conservancy.
Christy Dawn’s designs are known for being made out of deadstock fabric leftover from major fashion houses and would otherwise end up in a landfill. In partnership with Oshadi Collective, it recently introduced its Organic Cotton Collection. Each piece is made with organic cotton and colored using natural or organic dyes. In 2019, Christy Dawn also worked with Oshadi Collective to plant cotton seeds on a regenerative farm in Southern India. Since May, customers can check out how those seeds grew into a collection of dresses. All of Christy Dawn’s designs are ethically made in Los Angeles by a team of talented seamstresses who are paid a living wage and health benefits.
Valani is designed to be fun and flirty, all while being made with the smallest environmental footprint possible. Its fabrics and dyes are plant-based, non-toxic, and compostable. Patterns are cleverly laid out to minimize fabric waste, and whatever is leftover gets turned into scrunchies or teddy bear filling. Its packaging, labels, and hangtags are all paper-based.
Texas-born designer, Arielle, launched her label in 2018 after a series of design gigs at several major ready-to-wear brands left her disenchanted with the ethics of the fashion industry. ARIELLE is a sustainable apparel label committed to GOTS organic and recycled fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, and milk! Developed by German microbiologist and designer Anke Domaske, spoiled milk from German dairy farms is fermented and spun into a silky fiber, produced entirely without chemicals and with very little water. The finished fabric retains all of milk’s nutrients and natural proteins, making it antimicrobial, hypoallergenic, temperature regulating, and fully biodegradable. Everything is made in NYC and the team uses fair-trade, zero waste, and plastic-free operations.
ABLE is a brand that invests in women. Its dresses are handmade in India out of mostly cotton by women transitioning out of sex work. ABLE’s wages are transparently published on its website in order to protect the women makers and empower consumers.
Based in Los Angeles, Shaina Mote creates versatile and timeless designs. Almost everything is produced in LA, where its warehouse and office are based and the rest in a women-run and owned workshop in Peru where its knitters utilize only materials local to Peru. The brand has a repairs program for customers to extend the lifetime of their Shaina Mote garments and works with a textile recycling company that recycles 100% of its scraps into new materials. Shaina Mote strives to use 100% organic certified cotton in its designs wherever possible. It currently uses about 65% certified organic cotton in its production, intending to reach 100% by 2025.
Madewell has been making slow and steady progress toward increasing its ethical and sustainable practices over the past several years, and now you can shop from Madewell’s curated “Do Well Shop,” which is a collection of clothing and accessories that are made more responsibly, both ethically and sustainably.
Toad&Co makes apparel out of eco-conscious fabrics like organic cotton, TENCEL, hemp, recycled fibers, and more. Its products carry a host of different third-party certifications such as bluesign and OEKO-TEX. Not only that, but you can also send back your clothing when you’re done with it, and Toad&Co will either clean and resell it as a part of its Renewed Collection or upcycle it. Even its packaging is reusable—Toad&Co has partnered with limeloop to use a reusable shipper that can be returned to them after you’ve received your goods. Plus, all of its orders are processed, packaged, and shipped by the Planet Access Company warehouse, which is an organization the brand co-founded to give employment and training opportunities to adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. And Toad&Co is not stopping there: Toad&Co has some great goals for the next decade, like transitioning to 100% recycled synthetics by 2025 and 100% certified Responsible Wool Standard by 2024.
TAMGA is committed to transparency throughout its entire supply chain, from the farms where its cotton is grown to the factories where everything is sewn together. The TAMGA team takes great care to operate with ethical and sustainable processes and operates under a strict code of conduct. Plus, each purchase gives back to efforts to replant the rainforests. TAMGA’s fun and flowy dresses are made out of materials like TENCEL.
Founded by an Argentinian woman, Amur’s name comes from the acronym A Mindful Use of Resources. AMUR is a cruelty-free and fur-free brand that uses sustainable materials with vivid prints and sharp tailoring. In addition, the brand is on track to have its bags be 100% biodegradable by 2022. All of AMUR’s designs are created in NYC.
A sustainable fashion pioneer, People Tree has been partnering with Fair Trade producers, garment workers, artisans, and farmers in the developing world to produce ethical and eco-fashion collections since 1991. Its dresses are made mostly from certified organic cotton and sustainable Tencel—and you have a lot of them to choose from!
Amour Vert (which means ‘green love’ in French) creates clothing that’s made from low-impact fabrics like organic cotton, TENCEL, OEKO-TEX silk, ethical wool, and more. Most of its products are made transparently in California in limited quantities to reduce waste. For every tee you buy, Amour Vert plants a tree.
Thought’s pieces are made from natural, sustainable yarns that use less water, fewer pesticides, and create less CO2, such as bamboo, hemp, Tencel, and organic cotton. It also upcycles its leftover fabric at the source to reduce waste and create new products
Synergy creates its comfortable and elegant dresses to the highest social and environmental standards. It uses exclusively GOTS-certified organic cotton and low-impact dyes. All its factories are Fair Trade Certified, and it has also established a textile recycling program to prevent its garments from ending up in landfills.
Altar Houseline is designed, patterned, cut, and sewn one piece at a time in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, CA. It works to create a sustainable, USA-made alternative to the vast majority of sweatshop-made clothing by sourcing organic and naturally dyed textiles and works with deadstock fabrics and American milled textiles as often as possible. Altar believes in job creation for women and pays living wages to all its employees.
VETTA creates minimal capsule wardrobe collections out of eco-friendly fabrics like TENCEL, organic cotton, and deadstock fabrics. Everything is sewn ethically in the U.S. and India.
Started by a stylist and a graphic designer, Apiece Apart was originally created around the idea of creating versatile block pieces that can be mixed and matched to create an entire wardrobe. Apiece Apart uses mostly eco-friendly materials like cotton and linen.
By partnering with artisan studios that use traditional African motifs and techniques to create beautiful, modern designs, this brand founded by the Ethiopian model, Liya Kebede, carries sundresses, beach dresses, caftans, and tunics mostly from natural cotton. Five percent of Lemlem’s direct sales proceeds from special collaborations and donations advance the mission of Lemlem Foundation, Lemlem’s philanthropic arm, which helps women artisans in Africa thrive by connecting them to healthcare, education, and pathways to jobs.
All the Wild Roses makes vintage-inspired dresses with a bohemian vibe out of natural materials mostly from upcycled sources, such as deadstock and surplus. About 20% of its products are vintage pieces restored by repairing, recutting, and hand-dyeing. The brand’s trimmings and accessories are either upcycled from other designers or warehouses or made in-house using offcut fabrics. And its artisan workshop in Vietnam is a women-led small business that provides a fair living wage and a flexible, family-friendly working environment.
Iconic fashion designer Tracy Reese founded Hope For Flowers in 2019 to create sustainable, feminine, and minimal designs. Her clothes are made of sustainable textiles, such as organic cotton, linen, Tencel, and cupro. Tracy Reese’s conventional designs have been worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Meghan Markle, Oprah, and even the former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Faith-driven Gracemade creates timeless and modest designs in Los Angeles from deadstock and natural materials.
Vestiaire Collective is an online marketplace where you can find pre-owned luxury and fashion items. Here, you will find more vintage luxury pieces, which are curated based on brand.