11 Alternatives To Fast-Fashion Brands That Are As Cool As Forever 21 And Zara

Shop less, but better.

Brands such as H&M, Forever 21, and Zara have changed the fashion landscape by making trendy looks more affordable. And while affordability is a priority for most, it's important to consider the hidden cost of fast-fashion — the toll on the environment and the effect this kind of production has on garment workers.

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, right after the oil business. With weekly, or even daily, shipments of new styles to stores, fast-fashion labels rely on consumers wanting the latest trends that will be out of style in a heartbeat. These clothes are quickly replaced with other relatively cheap, low-quality items, often produced by exploited workers paid below living wages. 

In fact, the world consumes an astonishing 80 billion pieces of clothing each year — 400 percent more than what was consumed a couple of decades ago. According to The Huffington Post, the average American throws away 68 pounds of textiles each year, most of which will not decompose because of synthetic, petroleum-based fibers.

And this is simply not OK. To help stop the problem, we should turn to brands that promote slow-fashion and value ethical production and sustainable materials. Though garments from these stores may be more expensive, you'll get more bang for your buck since they last longer than just one season. More importantly, clothes made by workers who are treated fairly, and with materials that have low impact on the environment, are priceless. 

Scroll down to see the fashion girl's guide to shopping slow-fashion brands.

1. Reformation

Launched back in 2009, this brand proves trendy fashion and sustainability can coexist. They not only source sustainable and vintage fabrics for their garments, but also invest a great deal into their workers that produce all items in their in-house sewing factory in Los Angeles, fair wages and health benefits included.

Just as their motto states, Reformation makes "killer clothes that don't kill the environment." What's not to love?

2. Outdoor Voices

After making it to Vogue and earning an investment from French ready-to-wear fashion giant A.P.C., the activewear brand is now making its way into every fashionista's closet. Focusing on quality sportswear that doesn't go out of style, the guys behind the brand spend a great deal of time picking the right materials.

"Our standards for working conditions and ethical practices drive our decisions, and we're continuously working towards more sustainable practices across a product's lifecycle," Outdoor Voices spokesperson told A Plus. "We are making great strides in this area, including working with internationally recognized partners like Global Merino, ["a farm-to-store fabric supplier committed to cruelty-free, eco-friendly, ethical manufacturing"], expanding into new textiles that minimize waste, and introducing 100 percent recycled packaging," 

And that we can surely appreciate.

3. Zady

"A system training us to buy more and more products of increasingly lower quality by an industry that hides the outrageously high environmental and social cost of its production," Zady explains on their website. "It's a systemic issue. We're not afraid of that. We're building a company that proves there is a better way. We're making clothes what they should be: clothes that fit. Clothes that feel great."

And the brand sure sticks to its word. Not only do they create quality styles that can be worn year round, but they are extremely upfront about each step of the garments' production —  from wool suppliers to their partners dyeing yarns

4. Alternative Apparel

As the name of the brand suggests, Alternative Apparel produces modern basics to substitute your usual fast-fashion ones — all for the sake of a sustainable future.

The brand is pushing for a social change through responsible business practices, including sustainable materials, using less water in production and caring for the rights of their workers.

5. Kowtow

This ultra cool brand from New Zealand produces certified fair trade garments that are "ethically and sustainably made from seed to garment."

"We don't believe anyone who is truly aware of what is going on in the world would want to turn their heads and support a slave trade economy," Kowtow's website explains.

Their garments are manufactured in a factory in Kolkata, India, where all employees receive a living wage, get medical insurance, paid holiday leave, sick pay and are compensated for overtime hours. All kids of the factory's textile workers also receive free schooling. Kowtow uses only organic fair trade cotton.

6. The Sept Label

If you're looking for clean refined designs, look no further than Munich-based The Sept label.

"We are manufacturing in Portugal and Germany only. We specifically chose those countries, as they are known for really good ethical production processes and for meeting eco standards," Christina Barho, the founder of The Sept, told A Plus. "I think it's great that people start realizing that they have a responsibility to be conscious about their purchases as consumers. We want to convince our customers that reducing their wardrobes and relying on the understated confidence of high-quality, timeless pieces is what fashion should be about — moving away from fast-fashion."

7. Patagonia

I know what you're thinking — Patagonia is the ultimate "dad brand." But perhaps it's worth considering that our dads might actually know a thing or two.

One of the most memorable Patagonia's campaigns was the "Don't buy this jacket" ad that encouraged people to take a second and think about whether or not they really needed an item before purchasing it on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

Each year the company donates one percent of its sales to environmental organizations and proactively works towards eliminating human trafficking in the supply chain.

8. Won Hundred

If you are looking for a brand to help you channel Scandinavian cool, look no further than this Danish label. 

Won Hundred is committed to securing human rights in their supply chain, has banned angora wool in their production since they could not guarantee an ethical treatment of rabbits involved and do not pick models that are less that size 4 to promote healthy living.

8. Deadwood

Who doesn't like a good leather jacket? Worn by everyone from Merlyn Monroe to Kurt Cobain, this classic can hardly go out of style.

"Leather production is a heavy strain on the environment. In fact, the making of a new leather jacket in today's standard mass production causes roughly 200 kilos (440 pounds) of CO2 emissions," Deadwood's website explain.

Hence, the Swedish label offers a kickass alternative that's also green. As part of their Recycled Leather program, they collect vintage leather garments and use them to create their own designs. 

9. The Green Room by ASOS

While Asos itself is all about fast-fashion, they do have The Green Room, an eco-friendly edit of sustainable fashion brands. From recycled vintage to fair trade labels, it's certainly worth checking out.

10. Everlane

If you are looking for reasonably priced sustainable clothing, look no further than Everlane

Traditional designer garments sometimes are marked up as high as eight times to account for all supply chain players, including the store.

"By being online only, we eliminate brick-and-mortar expenses and pass these savings on to you," Everlane's website explain.

The brand is extremely transparent about the true costs behind each garment. Say, a white T-shirt that costs $11 for Everlane to produce sustainably retails for $18. In a traditional supply chain — with industry's standard markups — it would retail for roughly $55. 

You're welcome.

11. Your local thrift store

The entire idea behind slow-fashion is opting for pieces that you will wear over and over again. By buying vintage clothes at your local thrift store you expand the lifespan of garments that already exists. After all, there's no need to use energy and water for manufacturing a new pair of Levi's jeans if vintage ones are as fabulous.

And it all comes down to us to redefine what a "cool outfit" is. Is it a fast-fashion piece that you will probably wear once or twice before it goes out of style?  Or is it a timeless piece with a story, created with other people and nature in mind, you can enjoy for years?