There’s a new mood in the air. Mindless consumerism is out and conscious consumption is in, as we all make more effort to go eco. And once you’ve sworn off plastic straws and swapped your steak for seitan, it’s time to turn your attention to your wardrobe.
London might be a fashion capital, but our stats aren’t too pretty. Traid estimates that 23 percent of our clothes go unworn, with a whopping 123 million items languishing unloved in the city’s wardrobes. Meanwhile on a global scale, the textile industry is one of the planet’s biggest polluters, emitting 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas every year – and our appetite for bargain garms and throwaway trends isn’t helping.
But luckily, ethical clothing brands are working to make things better. Using responsible fabrics and sustainable methods, with artisan workers being paid a proper wage, these clothes are made to last far longer than a single season. We’re not talking linen smocks and lumpy jumpers, either: London’s new breed of sustainable boutiques favour cool cuts, chic prints and playful colour palettes, while dress agencies are saving the city’s fanciest labels from landfill. So treat yourself to a guilt-free haul. Mirror, mirror on the wall – here are the fairest shops of them all.
London’s best ethical fashion boutiques
Best for stylish separates and chic gifts
The Keep has been delighting socially conscious shoppers since 2013, when founder Kate Richards became disillusioned with the high street and quit her job to create a fashion destination with a difference. The result was a haven of cool amid the bustle of Brixton Village, where chic products by ‘brands with true integrity’ hang from artful indoor tree branches. With a focus on sustainable fabrics and timeless shapes, every item has a virtuous backstory – but they never skimp on style. From bamboo socks and toothbrushes to luxe Desmond & Dempsey pyjamas, you’ll find pretty things for gifting and plenty to keep your ethical lifestyle going strong.
Best for (girl) power dressing
A brand with the mantra ‘no sweatshops and no Photoshop’, Birdsong sells statement fashion with feminism woven into its very fibre. All clothes are handmade by female artisans paid above the London Living Wage, including homespun knitwear by the Enfield Knit and Natter group and motif tees painted by migrant mothers in Tower Hamlets. Most recently found nesting at Beyond Retro in Dalston, Birdsong doesn’t have a permanent home yet – but the fashion crowd flock to its regular pop-ups, so it’s only a matter of time.
Best for vegan outfits
There was a time when ‘vegan shoes’ meant plastic shoes, or else faint associations with leaf mulch. But not anymore! Plant-based footwear has come on in leaps and bounds, and it can be seriously stylish to boot. See for yourself at Camden boutique The Third Estate, which has been selling cruelty-free fashion for men and women in London since 2012. There are still plenty of footbed sandals to be found, but these days the main draws are boots by Nae, bags by Matt & Nat and sleek sneakers by Veja. Meghan Markle’s a fan of the latter, you know.
Best for clothes to warm your cockles
Lowie began life in 2002 as a knitwear brand, but these days it’s a mini ethical empire, stocking the best in hip, sustainable womenswear across its two south London boutiques. Cosiness is still high on the agenda – there’s a strokeable selection of jumpers, dungarees, corduroy and bobble hats – but brands like Leon & Harper and LF Markey bring some fashion flair to the mix. Look out for the dresses by Pink City Prints, which are hand-loomed, hand-printed and hand-embroidered in Jaipur, by artisans paid well and treated fairly. You have to admit that’s a great story to tell when you get compliments for your new garms.
Best for dressing loud and proud
If you thought ethical fashion meant swapping sequins for sackcloth, 69b Boutique will set you straight. One of London’s first stores dedicated to transparent clothing (metaphorically speaking, we mean), this Broadway Market stalwart asks all of its brands the magic question: who made your clothes? The result is a pick ’n’ mix of painterly prints and bold, dynamic designs from brands like People Tree, Marimekko, Toolally and Here Today Here Tomorrow. Always cheerful, if not always cheap, this is sustainable clothing for the Londoner who can’t afford to let their style cred slip.
Best for playing Cinderella
Not so much pre-loved as ‘maybe worn once, for an hour, on a yacht’, this designer consignment store gives a new lease of life to some of the city’s most fabulous frocks, shoes and handbags. Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Yves Saint Laurent can all regularly be found on the rails, and eye-popping tales overheard in the changing room. The store’s been there 30 years and staff really know their onions, so don’t expect to stumble over an accidental bargain. Still, everything is a fraction of the price you’d pay up the road at Harrods.
Best for last season’s loot
Like wandering into north London’s biggest walk-in wardrobe, Change of Heart dress agency is a second-hand shop for people who don’t ‘do’ second hand. As well as relieving Crouch End’s fashionistas of their unloved threads (they sell, you keep 50 percent of the profit), staff double as personal shoppers and are always happy to dole out styling advice. On the rails, Marni and Marc Jacobs regularly cosy up with Whistles and Warehouse, and there’s never a shortage of beautiful occasionwear to ease your guilt around wedding season. Nothing is more than three years old, and standards are stringent – not a mystery stain or jumper bobble in sight.
Best for Scandi lifestyle candy
Less of a shop, more of a community hub for the never knowingly understyled, Aida is a temple to mindful design and thoughtful production. Across its two floors you’ll find beautiful things to wear, carry, smell, read and drink from – and a coffee shop to fuel up before you carry it all home. Seek out Dutch-born simplicity by Kings of Indigo and The Good People, and more Scandinavian-style cool than you can shake a cinnamon bun at.
Best for dungarees and slogan tees
It might look like a vegan café – and ok, it mostly is a vegan café – but tucked away next to the oat mylk at Unripe Banana is a retail space with an ever-changing collection of sustainable goodies. Make a beeline for Lucy & Yak’s cult corduroy dungarees, which come in a rainbow of shades and are roomy enough to warrant a second slice of banana bread. Downstairs is an art gallery that hosts events and creative workshops, because it doesn’t get more locally sourced than making something yourself.
Best for utilitarian cool
Selling spare, functional vibes in a spare, functional space, Other Shop might only be round the corner from Oxford Street but its philosophy is a world away from the fast fashion onslaught. Other, the shop’s eponymous label, is produced entirely in the UK using fabric sourced from UK suppliers and mills. Alongside its staple trousers and androgynous work jackets you’ll find a clutch of cool, independent craft brands including Aries Arise, Good News and plenty more your mates won’t have heard of yet. Slow and steady wins the style race.
Best for puttin’ on the ritz
Boasting a galaxy of independent womenswear, menswear, homeware, beauty and lifestyle brands, this online marketplace opened a new flagship bricks-and-mortar store in Coal Drops Yard this year. And it’s an Instagram dream. With more than 600 independent brands in the family, keeping tabs on every supply chain is no easy feat, but Wolf & Badger promises a serious commitment to social responsibility – no sweatshops, no fur, no animal testing and small production runs only. If quitting the high street proves hard, this might be the antidote.