Photographer, actor and model Nick Hopper hunts down the most sustainable men’s suits options in time for this summer’s wedding season – and discovers somewhat of a gap in the market.
So summer is here and wedding season is upon us or, at my age, even second wedding season for some!
This got me thinking about men’s formal wear, suits and tailoring, all of which also cross over into the workplace for many of us. I have spent over 20 years being photographed in suits (I must have been a groom at least 50 times), so I thought making a responsible choice from the vast options out there wouldn’t be that hard — well, I was very much mistaken. Brands and designers, please take note: there is a huge echoing void in menswear when it comes to eco-friendly, ethical, sustainable formal wear choices.
After much painstaking research, hours on the phone and the world wide web, and several strolls down Savile Row and Jermyn Street knocking on doors, here is my summary for getting ethically and sustainably suited and booted — metaphorically speaking, because the “booted” bit is for another article…
But first — a little background story on my love affair with suits. At the age of 16, a few of us state school boys wrangled an invite to the local private girls’ school leaving ball. I wore my Dad’s grey work suit and a pin-striped shirt and purple bow tie and felt very James Bond and grown up — but having found a recent snap of said event, I must admit there was some merit to my friends’ jibes at the time. Even so, this bad magician’s outfit was the very get-up that inspired my future love of suits and of vintage fashion, because I was definitely 2 decades out of date and at least two sizes too small for this suit. That said, with a dearth of suiting available, vintage stores, charity shops, eBay and the like are a good starting point to look for your suit, especially if you are after a funky one-off show stopping outfit.
VINTAGE & SECOND-HAND SUITS
As far as online vintage shopping goes, you can’t beat a trip down memory lane scrolling through the Rokit website and my new find the brilliant Zeus Vintage, which as a child of the late ‘70s and ‘80s ticks all the boxes. I did in fact succumb in the course of researching this article to the lure of a vintage knitted Comme des Garçons jacket whose kitsch, overstated style screamed “dare you to wear me.”
The times they are a-changing and we seem to be on the cusp of embracing the end of ownership and of stockpiling our wardrobes. Clothing exchanges and renting are slowly gaining traction for those special occasions and becoming more commonplace. We have seen this happening in women’s fashion, although it’s still yet to take off for menswear, but I do find Vestiare Collective (a luxury brand resale site where you can buy and sell your unwanted high end brands) have some great suits and formal menswear on offer https://us.vestiairecollective.com/men/
Following on the renting theme, a sustainable and cost-effective option is of course to hire your tux or morning suit for those more formal one-off functions. There are many options out there, but I like the look of Yardsmen [https://www.yardsmen.com], who state: “Hiring from Yardsmen, you can be sure that we never use synthetic polyblend fabric: our Savile-Row quality suits are sourced from the finest British cloths, directly from the mills.”
INVEST IN TAILOR MADE
Indulge me a quick, but relevant, digression: last week I was on a press trip with the great team from Campaign for Wool, which left me feeling a little “sheepish” as I hadn’t properly considered this traditional natural biodegradable material and its eco benefits when it is sourced from the right places. So I got to thinking about how another great option to sustainable suiting is to actually get a wool suit tailor made.
On the surface this may seem like an indulgence, but really an investment piece like this should last a lifetime, and at the end of its life it will naturally and rapidly biodegrade in the ground or water with no microfibre issues. These days, getting a suit made is not as prohibitively expensive as it once was and the choice is vast. Find a good local tailor or suit-maker and get one made to measure using ethical fabrics. Tailor Store www.tailorstore.co.uk appears to offer a good sustainable option – it’s 100% carbon dioxide neutral and all its organic cotton garments and production units are environmentally and socially-certified by Global Organic Textile System (GOTS).
Speaking to a tailor friend, they said Harris tweed is handmade in Scotland and would make a great suit fabric, while Fairtrade Fabric and Organic Cotton both sell certified Fairtrade fabric. Discuss the fabric with your tailor as you would the cut and design, really take ownership of your suit… Oh, and if you’re thinking, “wool? But it’s too hot for summer,” actually wool can be woven less densely than, say, cotton, and still look great (honestly I found some pretty super swim trunks on the press trip that I was amazed to learn were wool). You get a fabric that’s very thin, very breathable, and still presentable. This means comfort, and for me that’s crucial. Beyond that, it’s easier to wear wool in the summer, as it doesn’t hold wrinkles like cotton or linen. OK, “ewe” get my drift so let me move on.
If you are looking for that quintessentially British tweed, I like Cock and Bull Menswear. If wool is not your thing and you have some cash to spend, then Brave Gentleman [https://www.bravegentleman.com/preorder-suits-1/classic-suit-navy] offer a bespoke suit made from 100%, Italian-milled bamboo with tagua nut buttons, which makes it a good option for vegans… because of the bamboo, not necessarily the nuts!
If that is all a bit too much faff and too time-consuming, then one of my favourite brands, Theory, offers a range of stylish contemporary suits in their “good wool” and “good linen” ranges with choices wide enough to carry you from wedding to workplace. Theory states its “purpose is to bring you the most modern, luxurious, and sustainable clothing [it] can” and “the Good Wool collection is made with premium traceable Australian merino wool that is woven by pioneers of renewable manufacturing in Italy complemented by responsibly sourced materials from biodegradable cupro to corozo nut buttons sewn into every Good Wool garment. The “signature stretch linen blend is now made with certified organic linen, cotton linter viscose, and recycled elastane.” A bit of linen love perfect for those summer or destination weddings, and you can also get away with a few creases for that slightly dishevelled, tie-off (but not quite with said tie as a bandana round the head while dancing to “Eye of the Tiger”), dressed-down evening look.
I also like what Knowledge Cotton Apparel is doing. Although it doesn’t offer suits as such, you can easily put together a blazer and chino with one of its organic cotton GOTS-certified shirts and create a great smart look. Arthur and Henry also offers a great range of ethical and organic men’s shirts, as does Everlane, which offers great shirts from ethical factories with transparency across the whole manufacturing process.
For the high end, look to the queen of sustainable fashion Stella McCartney, which offers some great contemporary suit options and also jacket/trouser combos. Made from 100% virgin wool, with a lining of 100% sustainable viscose, the checked bobby jacket combined with the parker check trouser is a great classic summer look with a catwalk twist.
Another start up brand just launching that has caught my eye is Tranzend – its Ultra Suit Jacket looks really promising: “an eco-friendly redesign of the classic suit jacket featuring ultra breathable, odour-resistant, super stretch fabric crafted from recycled plastic bottles, 400 nanometers of refined coffee grounds integrated into the yarn, this fabric quickly absorbs and eliminates odour.”
In a suitably summery summary as far as ethical suits for men, there is a real gap in the market which I hope some smart brands fill quickly. If you’re going to spend money on a suit, then I think it should be an investment piece tailored to fit, and built to last a lifetime — your tailor should be able to advise which fabrics they recommend for your budget. Otherwise I still think eBay or charity and vintage shops are an absolute treasure trove if you are willing and have the time to search for an off-the-peg suit at a fraction of the price, with ultimately less cost to the environment.