Image credit: Christy Dawn
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We’re not going to lie: One of our favorite things about sundresses 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, brunch, 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 sustainable and ethical sundresses:
Natural fabrics: Favor brands that use fabrics like traceable cotton, hemp, linen, and Tencel. Breathable, natural fabrics like these are best if there’s a chance you might break a sweat in your dress. Go for certified organic or, even better, traceable materials whenever you can, especially with cotton.
Semi-synthetics: If you prefer a machine-washable, luxe material, find dresses made out of cupro or lyocell, a plant-derived fiber that is produced without the toxic chemicals of traditional man-made cellulosic fibers rayon/viscose.
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: Because sundresses often come in pretty vibrant colors (and you might get a little sweaty thanks to the hot temps!), make sure to go for nontoxic, biodegradable dyes whenever possible. You wouldn’t want toxic chemicals to end up in our waterways, our soil, or even seep through your skin into your body. Check for Bluesign label, which means the textile manufacturing process is safe for both humans and the environment, or OEKO-TEX certified, which means the piece has been tested and deemed free of toxic substances.
Eco-conscious processes: To make just one sundress takes many steps. Brands have to grow, ship, and process the fabric; dye, cut, sew the piece; and of course, finish it and send it to you—water, CO2, and other non-renewable resources are all used to do that. Support brands that decrease their footprint wherever possible, whether it’s making their pieces to order, which cuts down on waste or offsetting the carbon footprint of shipping your dress to you.
Fair labor and transparency: As with everything you buy, check for fair labor practices. Look for brands that prioritize transparency (do they tell you where their item is made?) and certifications like Fair Trade and SA8000.
Sustainable packaging: Numerous brands offer plastic-free packaging. Double-check that they wrap your item in either reusable, 100% recyclable, or biodegradable packaging.
Washable: Before you buy any dress, check the care instructions and try to find ones that can be at least hand-washed. Most cleaners use a colorless, nonflammable liquid solvent called perchloroethylene, which has been classified as likely to be carcinogenic to humans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). When inhaled, even low concentrations of it, it can cause vision problems, respiratory and eye irritation and kidney dysfunction. Some dresses labeled as dry clean only can be hand-washed — here are some tips on avoiding dry cleaning.
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, the brand 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 2021, 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.
ABLE is a brand that invests in women. Its dresses are handmade in India 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. The brand uses natural and breathable fibers such as cotton, lyocell blends, and viscose. You can shop for sundresses in solid colors or various prints.
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. Madewell offers sundresses made out of eco-friendly materials, such as linen, Ecovero viscose and organic cotton.
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.
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. When possible, the brand uses organic, ethically-sourced, biodegradable fabrics and natural fibers like linen, alpaca, and silk. Every Apiece Apart collection is cut-to-order, with little to no excess inventory at the end of each season.
Amour Vert (which means ‘green love’ in French) creates clothing made from low-impact fabrics like organic cotton, TENCEL, Oeko-Tex-certified silk, ethical wool, and more. Its beautiful and versatile pieces are made in limited quantities to ensure the highest production standards and eliminate any excess waste. Amour Vert also develops zero-waste designs and works directly with mills to develop its own fabrics that are sustainable, soft, and stand the test of time. Most of its products are made transparently in California in limited quantities to reduce waste. The brand is also one of the first companies to use compostable protective bags to store and ship its garments and is committed to only using packaging made from recycled materials and printed with soy-based inks. Amour Vert’s dresses come in a wide range of flattering styles and prints.
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.
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 made with 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.
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. You can find sundresses made out of organic cotton, recycled polyester, and linen. Outerknown also gives back a portion of its profits to the Ocean Conservancy.
Faith-driven Gracemade creates timeless and modest designs in Los Angeles from deadstock and natural materials, such as linen, Tencel, and organic cotton, which are all currently sourced locally. Gracemade’s packaging materials are made from recycled content, and the brand does its best to recycle all incoming packaging and materials.
Iconic fashion designer Tracy Reese founded Hope For Flowers in 2019 to create sustainable and feminine 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.