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(Image: Mandatory)
(Image: Mandatory)

BusinessJune 16, 2018

Six ethical, sustainable (and stylish) clothing labels for men

(Image: Mandatory)
(Image: Mandatory)

Thinking about consumption is sometimes easier said than done, so we’re here to help: check out The Spinoff’s guide to buying ethical clothing for men.

Last weekend we posted about a number of stylish and purpose-driven New Zealand womenswear brands, but some of our readers were feeling left out, so we brought forward the next instalment: a guide for men.

Our criteria for finding brands was simple: their clothes had to be stylish, ethically made and eco-conscious. Here’s six ethical and sustainable brands, which also happen to make very cool clothes.


We had to include Swazi, a hunting and outdoorsy brand designed and made in that hub of fashion, Levin. Community is important to Swazi, and it takes pride in employing family, friends and neighbours over cheaper production offshore.

The brand has an intriguing section on its Swazi website titled ‘Cool Shit’, featuring a beanie sold only to members of the ‘Swazi Clan’ – we want in. “All Swazi garments are unconditionally warranted against faulty fabric and workmanship,” the company says, and it even offers a repair service (just another benefit, the company says, of being made in New Zealand). If you’re looking for more made in NZ outwear (yes, even including t-shirts), Cactus Outdoor also has your back.


It’s been a Cuba Mall landmark that felt as permanent as the bucket fountain; Wellington brand Mandatory has been offering custom suiting and made in New Zealand menswear since 1997. It’s moved a little bit, to Ghuznee Street, but not much else has changed. Mandatory offers casual, work and occasion wear and of course, the real sign of a legit menswear retailer – made to measure.

It was the first fashion brand to gain accreditation from ethical marketplace Conscious Consumers after receiving “badges” for supporting communities (it supports the One Percent Collective), eco-packaging, recycling, composting, producing its products in New Zealand and selling vegan and vegetarian products (stocking vegan leather goods).

(Image: Thunderpants)


Thunderpants is run by the Bidwill family (Josephine Bidwill and Sophie Bidwill are both directors and shareholders of the company) who believe in ‘family before business, and lifestyle over work’. A great combination. Thunderpants underwear is known for its quirky patterns, and comfort. The GOTS certified fair trade organic cotton used in the underwear is printed in Auckland by Auckland Fabric Printers, and the underwear itself is sewn in Carterton.

The unique print behind the Men’s Boxer Whales was designed by Wellington designer Greta Menzies (the print also features on bedding) and in our humble opinion, the Men’s Boxer Whales are the perfect present for the man who has it all.


Christchurch company Liminal, founded by Anthony Watt, is the Australasian distributor of global fair trade apparel brand Freeset. Freeset was founded by Kiwis Kerry and Annie Hilton, out of a desire to break the cycle of exploitation and poverty in Kolkata by employing local women.

The Liminal website offers a variety of Freeset’s unisex basics, from tote bags to aprons and tshirts, which can be custom screen-printed. The customised screen-printing makes Liminal/Freeset a contender to take on the apparel basics brand AS Colour. AS Colour is child labour free accredited brand, but still needs to work on areas including transparency and worker empowerment, according to the 2018 Tearfund and World Baptist Aid’s Ethical Fashion Report. In comparison Liminal and Freeset both received A+ grades.

Our favourite product for men on the Liminal website is the unisex long sleeve t-shirt. This t-shirt is an essential basic for winter, made from 100% fair trade organic cotton. Organic farming is can improve the health of farmers, as they are not being exposed to harmful chemicals. Replacing pesticides and fertilisers with natural alternatives is also better for the environment.

(Image: Little Yellow Bird)

Little Yellow Bird

Samantha Jones is the brains behind Wellington startup Little Yellow Bird, which produces ethical and sustainable workwear and basics, all made in India.

Little Yellow Bird’s ethical credentials are impressive. It’s a Certified B Corporation, meaning the company has met rigorous standards around social and environmental performance, environmental accountability and transparency. Workers and the environment are not being exploited here.

We’d swipe right on the Little Yellow Bird denim shirt. It’s the perfect shirt for the weekend, or a casual Friday number. Made from 100% organic rain-fed cotton, it helps saves our global water footprint.


We had to mention WE-AR, another Certified B Corporation. WE-AR is the ultimate urban yoga brand but its also just clothes that are comfy as – WE-AR caters to the everyday man.  

WE-AR’s garments are made in an ethical workshop in Canggu, Bali. As well as a number of shops in Bali, WE-AR has storefronts in Ponsonby and Waiheke. Why should Kiwis shop there? WE-AR gives back to the New Zealand community by funding wages and expenses for yoga classes at Rimutaka prison. Importantly, these yoga classes are helping to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of the prison inmates.

It’s important to celebrate the ethical values these brands uphold, as it would be much easier to throw in the towel and have their garments produced at a cheaper cost, albeit under less ethical and unsustainable conditions.

Keep going!