The key to building a truly sustainable wardrobe is to find pieces you’ll want to wear forever. You know, something in a timeless style, that’s unique enough to always score you some serious compliments on your style.
So, inspired by one of my favourite retro-inspired brands, Joanie Clothing, I wanted to do a round up of some of the quirky UK clothing brands that offer something a little kitsch and cool. From reproduction vintage to timeless knitwear, these companies are perfect if you’re looking for special pieces you’ll wear for years to come. Plus, they have some serious ethical fashion credentials, which I’ve summarised too.
**Note: this is an updated post from 2017. Both the sustainable fashion scene and my blog has changed a lot since then, so I wanted to give this content an overhaul to reflect this **
What’s the vibe?
If you’ve not come across Joanie Clothing yet then where have you been, girl?! I was lucky enough to attend a festive event with Joanie’s hometown of Manchester back when I lived there in 2017, and I’ve been in love with the brand’s unique, quirky cool kitschiness ever since.
For those unfamiliar with Joanie Clothing, they offer vintage-inspired clothing for the modern woman, drawing inspiration from the designer’s great aunt, Joanie. The original Joanie is described as: “a glamorous woman who tapped and twirled her way through the fifties and sixties. She was always well-turned out with perfectly coiffed red hair” – sounds like my kinda woman!
I’m wearing Joanie Clothing’s popular Golden Girl jumper here, as made famous by Holly Willoughby (although I wore it first, promise!). As well as these cult favourites, Joanie releases quirky limited releases each season.
Babes of all shapes and sizes! One of the things I love most about Joanie is it offers all its clothing in size 8-22, or size small to extra large. On the brand’s site you’ll find all its styles photographed on models in a variety of sizes, so you can see what each piece looks like on different body types.
A note on sizing: I’ve found Joanie to be quite roomy, so no need to size up if you’re unsure! I’m absolutely HEARTBROKEN to have missed out on the copper-coloured Cilla jumper because the medium was too large. Seriously, if anyone can sell me a Cilla jumper hit me UP!
How ethical is Joanie Clothing?
Initially I was cautious of Joanie’s ‘made in China’ labels, but a little more research reveals a more positive outlook (FYI ‘made in China’ is no longer synonymous with ‘made in sweat shops’. It’s confusing I know, and I’ll cover it in a future blog post). Currently 80% of Joanie’s suppliers are BSCI audited (Business Social Compliance Initiative) and REACH compliant (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), and the brand is actively working for this to be 100% by the end of the year.
Materials-wise, Joanie is making the switch to organic cotton, with several products already fabricated using GOTS-certified cotton. The company does still use materials such as polyester, but promises its currently working to use more sustainable fibres, such as recycled polyester and bamboo. I look forward to seeing how Joanie and its sustainability efforts continue to develop!
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What’s the vibe?
Looking for more funky, kitsch-inspired sweaters? Look no further than Sugarhill Brighton. I was a huge fan of Sugarhill as soon as I stumbled upon it on Instagram. Rainbow patterns, hand illustrated prints, and an overall quirky aesthetic – what’s not to love?
Like Joanie Clothing, Sugarhill Brighton is a brand that’s well-known for its colourful, intarsia jumpers. As well as its fabulous sweaters, you’ll find rainbow jumper dresses too, perfect for all seasons! Personally I’m smitten with anything featuring a star or animal print, and Sugarhill offers a wealth of this type of clothing.
As the name suggests, Sugarhill is based in Brighton and the seaside vibe definitely permeates through sibling creators’ Pawel’s and Aleks’s designs. Think fun, layerable pieces in a light and bright colour palette.
Everyday style with a difference, perfect for women of all ages. It’s no secret I don’t do ‘basics’, but even maximalists like me need good separates to make our wardrobes go further. Sugarhill is perfect for this. While the bright colours and fun prints keep the pieces youthful, Sugarhill’s silhouettes are super flattering, which means its clothes will look good on a woman in her 20s, 30s, 40s… and above!
Not only are the designs really wearable, but they are extremely high quality. Organic cotton is a mainstay for the brand, meaning its jumpers are tees are soft, comfortable, and breathable too.
How ethical is Sugarhill Brighton?
I’m seriously impressed with Sugarhill’s focus on ethics and sustainability. The brand follows a ‘People, Planet, Profit’ mindset. It subscribes to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ITI) Basecode, which focuses on people-focused suppliers, including the provision of a living wage.
Additionally, Sugarhill Brighton has created its own ‘Wear & Care’ range, where £5 from each specially designed item goes to a specific charity. To date these have included Born Free, Rainbow Trust, and Plan International UK.
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What’s the vibe?
If there’s any brand that really lives up to the word ‘kitsch’, it’s Harkel. Like Joanie Clothing, this British fashion brand is also inspired by vintage looks, with a fun, modern twist. With Harkel, it’s all in the details, baby! Think cut outs, surprise embroidery, unique prints, and fun colour combinations.
The words ‘romantic’ and ‘feminine’ also spring to mind, with whimsical prints and classic silhouettes on offer. The mystical/ starry prints are a particular favourite of mine, as is Harkel’s liberal use of orange and yellow in its colour palette!
Seriously Insta-worthy outfits! Not that I am an advocate of buying clothes purely for the ‘Gram of course, but if you’re after something a bit extra that just so happens to photograph well then Harkel should be your new go-to brand. Just look at the brand’s tagged posts on Instagram for fabulous photo inspiration.
Harkel’s quirky separates also make this brand ideal if you’re looking for unusual workwear ideas.
How ethical is Harkel?
I couldn’t find the brand’s ethical and sustainability policies on their website, so I contacted Harkel for clarification. They were really helpful!
First off, Harkel produce their garments in China and Turkey (both of which are often considered more ethical than Bangladesh and Cambodia etc.). Harkel explained its code of conduct to me, which includes a focus on ‘Health, Safety and Welfare, Freedom of Employment, Pay, Working Hours, and Environment’, though the brand is not currently associated with any organisation like the Ethical Trading Initiative.
Materials-wise, Harkel does use polyester and non-organic cotton. However, I’m excited to see how this relatively new brand builds on its commitments to ethical and sustainable garment production.
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What’s the vibe?
If you’re a real fan on 1940s and 1950s vintage then Palava is a brand you’ll love! I first came across Palava at Godiva, an ethical fashion boutique in Edinburgh. You’ll find their pieces stocked at independent clothing stores like this, and on the brand’s own website.
Palava’s ethos is to create beautiful, unique clothing that can be passed from generation to generation. More specifically, the company’s real hero pieces are the dresses and skirts, with the hem of each illustrated to tell its own story. So far, these have been based on concepts including the traditional Flying Scotsman train, fireworks over Edinburgh Castle, and classic seaside prints.
Palava actually started out creating children’s clothing, and the brand offers the cutest ‘mummy and me’ designs. Plus, you can buy Palava’s fabric if you’re in the mood to craft your own
Pin-up divas and other mid-century vintage lovers, or anyone looking for show-stopping, retro-inspired pieces that will last a lifetime.
I personally love Palava’s organic cotton knits and matching berets – they’re vegan, sustainable, and best of all – fabulous!
How ethical is Palava?
In short: very! In the current climate where we should all be asking “who made my clothes?”, Palava is way ahead of this, with all its designs fabricated in a small, family-run factory on the outskirts of London, or at a knitwear specialist in Turkey.
As well as its UK manufacturing, Palava works on a ‘zero waste’ mentality, and fashions its accessories and fabric bundles from offcuts. Oh, and the brand is also plastic free. Excellent!
What brands have you found recently that break all the fashion rules? Feel free to share them with me on Instagram – @styledbyalicex . Speaking on Instagram, if you’re looking for more unusual and ethical brands to follow then I’ve posted my favourites in this round up post you should definitely check out!