Image Credit: Pause.
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If you don’t already own a button-down shirt, it’s time you reconsider. A well-designed, high-quality, and ethical blouse is a staple item of an eco-friendly closet. It’s the perfect investment for your capsule wardrobe.
But not all button-down shirts are created equal. Many are quickly churned out and made — completely unnecessarily — with synthetic materials and in unhealthy working conditions (cue fast fashion brands).
So, if you are in the market for a sustainable button-down shirt to complete your polished and timeless look, here’s what to look for:
Many blouses are made using polyester, a fabric made from fossil fuels that is not biodegradable, can’t be recycled, and can shed toxic microfibers. You can also find a significant amount of button-downs made from rayon viscose, a fabric that made from plants that is seemingly an eco-friendly option, but is in fact very destructive and toxic.
Select shirts made of natural materials, such as silk, organic cotton, or linen. Not only are they more comfortable fabrics than synthetics, but they are most likely to biodegrade. If natural materials are untreated, certified organic, and not blended with other materials, these fabrics can break down without leaving any harmful chemicals.
Not all-natural materials are created the same, however. Although cotton is a natural and breathable material (perfect fabric for a shirt), make sure you favor organic cotton over conventional. A great tip is to look for certifications such as USDA Organic, or, even better, GOTS, which governs the entire process of growing and processing organic cotton into fabric.
Non-toxic Dyes and Finishes
Some dyes do more harm than good. Synthetic dyes are petroleum-derived, and there’s very little governing the use of toxic azo and aniline dyes in the countries where most of our fashion is made. Some contain heavy metals or carcinogenic substances that are hazardous when inhaled or come into contact with the skin, especially if you ever sweat through your shirt.
Also, think twice about non-wrinkle finishes because they contain formaldehyde, a chemical known for its use in biology class to dissect animals that is also found in personal care items, clothes, and sheets. Studies have found that formaldehyde contact with the skin can develop a condition called dermatitis, which can cause itchy skin, rashes, and blisters.
The same goes with favoring shirts that require dry cleaning. Dry cleaners use a chemical called perchloroethylene or trichloroethylene, which according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is likely to be carcinogenic to humans. It can cause respiratory and eye irritation, headache, kidney dysfunction, and vision problems when inhaled.
This trim is often made of plastic, which never degrades and becomes another type of plastic pollution in the environment. Recently the sustainable fashion industry has seen a slight increase in eco-friendly alternatives. For example, button manufacturer Knopf Budke creates buttons made out of coconut shells, mother of Pearl, buffalo horn, bone, stone nut, and wood. They are not just a sustainable alternative but are aesthetically pleasing too. For your next shirt, search for ones with biodegradable, recycled, or eco-friendly buttons.
Add an Undershirt
We can all agree that nothing says timeless like a good white button-down shirt. But extending its life can be a challenging task when the inevitable armpit and collar stain slowly creeps up.
We’re happy to report that there is an ethical and sustainable solution to this problem. Conscious fashion brand Numi offers sweat-proof and soft undershirts made out of Tencel that keep you feeling fresh and clean while wearing your button-downs. With this trick, you can now rock the same shirt for years to come.
And with that, here are the brands we recommend that offer well-designed, classic, non-toxic, and machine-washable button-downs.
ADAY is focused on making technical, seasonless, and sustainable clothing that can be worn for multiple different types of occasions with the intention of limiting overconsumption. The ADAY team hand-picks every factory it works with based on impact and certifications. It uses materials that are both innovative, high-performing, and eco-friendly, such as TK TK in its button-downs.
Époque évolution designs chic and versatile apparel using organic, deadstock, and post-consumer waste recycled fibers while favoring fabrics that don’t require dry-cleaning or other toxic care. The brand also works with mills that are committed to reducing its carbon footprint and improving working conditions. Its shirts are made from GOTS certified organic cotton and woven in Portugal.
The Swedish brand Filippa K aims to turn its entire collection sustainable by 2030. It aims to have 100% of its styles be fully traceable and certified and reduce carbon impact annually. If you live in Europe, you can lease a Filippa K garment for four days for 20% of the price or return your old Filippa K garment to a store for recycling. You can find shirts made out of Tencel or mulesing-free wool and with buttons made from recycled polyester, and recycled mother of pearl.
Founded in 2012, FRAME creates versatile and comfortable apparel that is inspired by London and crafted in Los Angeles. It uses a mix of post-consumer recycled materials and pre-consumer environmentally safe fabrics such as recycled polyester, organic Pima cotton, and bluesign-certified silk. FRAME also uses eco-friendly wash techniques like high-efficiency lasering to reduce its water consumption and eliminate the use of toxic chemicals. Its shirts come in a variety of fabrics such as organic cotton, lyocell, and linen.
Another Tomorrow creates modern, sensual, high-quality, and timeless products with only organic natural materials that support soil health, ecosystems, and communities. It uses forest-based fibers from responsibly managed forests with zero net contribution to deforestation. The brand also offers resale to extend its garments’ life further and reduce raw material usage. Another Tomorrow’s shirts are made in Italy using GOTS-certified organic cotton.
Tradlands, which got its start focusing exclusively on button-downs, is a high-quality women’s essentials brand inspired by classic menswear. Its pieces are comfortable yet timeless, with an emphasis on fit, detail, and quality. It also values the welfare of its craftsmen and women all over the world. Tradlands uses sustainably produced materials and minimizes waste as much as it possibly can.
GRAMMAR has the truly perfect white shirt that is classic, timeless, and perfect for work all constructed by hand in NYC’s legendary garment district using organic cotton poplin that is sourced from an ethical producer in India.
Founded in 2016, BITE is a contemporary, luxury womenswear label with a mission to create sustainable yet thoughtfully designed clothes. Each piece is handcrafted and tailored to ensure the perfect fit. It sources natural organic fibers and recycled and low-impact fabrics with environmental and social certifications. BITE designed an organic cotton crinkled shirt that is cut and sculpted by hand. The brand also sells a men-inspired straight-cut shirt made out of peace silk.
Beaumont’s button-down shirts are made ethically in Portugal and England using eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo, and linen. The symbols on each piece make it easy for you to know the ethics behind what you’re buying.
Numi is a brand that sells elevated basics that are easy to wear and care for, stain-resistant, and machine washable. It recently launched a button-down made out of Sustainable Silk™, a material made in Canada with fabrics imported from Italy. The collection incorporates a blend of 29% Silk and 69% Naia™, a sustainable rayon made from pine and eucalyptus trees.
Sourcery’s timeless pieces are made out of innovative, biodegradable, Washable Silk. The brand spent months developing it so that you don’t have to take it to the dry cleaners.t. It’s also completely grown without pesticides in a region of China that has been producing silk for thousands of years. Its fabrics are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified, which means there are no harmful chemicals used in the processing or dyeing of the garments either. You can find out all about the brand’s supply chain right on its website.
Founded in 2015, ASKET is a Swedish apparel brand focusing on replacing fast-consumption habits by creating a single permanent collection that is timeless and made under transparency and accountability. The brand just launched a button-down made out of organic cotton poplin as part of its permanent collection for womenswear.
All of Jan n’ June’s garments are produced in Wroclaw, Poland, in one factory, so the team can regularly visit and ensure quality and ethics. Its shirts are made with either organic and Tencel. Jan n’ June’s fabrics are certified by GOTS, Oekotex, and Global Recycling Standard.
After spending a decade in the fashion industry and learning about the impact of fashion manufacturing on the environment, Hoa Huynh and Sezin Calikoglu started Pause., a sustainable and ethical brand that doesn’t sacrifice quality or design. By merging classic silhouettes with modern architectural influences, Pause. follows a seasonless calendar with transparency at its forefront. Pause. shirts are designed and manufactured in New York City with 100% ethically sourced cotton.
Based in the USA, Ghana, and Canada, Osei-Duro uses traditional textile techniques to produce its contemporary garments. It promotes small-scale artisan production by using materials and methods such as botanical dyes in the production of its shirts. Some of its shirts are unisex and made with either cotton or silk linen blend.
The brand dyes and sews everything it makes in Ghana, contracting with local artisans and manufacturers.
Karu designs handcrafted clothing that is both timeless and versatile. The brand favors traditional and sustainable processes, which is seen in its wooden block prints, hand quilting, dyeing, and stitching. Its shirts have been woven on village looms throughout India, which comes with a disclaimer that any imperfection seen on the shirts is to be the mark of the hands that have crafted the item.