19 eco-conscious Toronto brands and trends we love

These designers, shops, services and programs are making the world a more sustainable place


Abandoned-leather bags from Pip Robins

Toronto designer Gillian Hyde unwittingly made headlines last year when she spotted a leather couch on the sidewalk, stripped the cover off with an X-Acto knife under cover of night and made handbags with it, dropping a clutch off on the donors’ front porch as thanks. The recycled-leather bags remain part of her collection to this day – so if you drag your old sofa outside and find it stripped overnight, you’ll know who to thank. piprobins.com

Rafik Riad’s Buy Good, Feel Good Expo

After leaving Egypt right before the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, social enterprise advocate Rafik Riad landed in Toronto and created the Buy Good, Feel Good Expo, an avenue through which small companies can get exposure and sell wares that are both ethically made and sustainable. Its overarching aim is to “make ethical consumption the norm.” The third annual event takes place May 13 and 14 at Exhibition Place.

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Evan Biddell teams up with Value Village

The veteran local designer has a long-running love affair with vintage – for a time, he was even co-running 69 Vintage on Queen West, transforming already gorgeous finds into “it girl” must-haves with a couple of quick stitches. For his latest collection, Biddell teamed up with Value Village to transform 37 kilos of used garments (the average amount of clothing each North American throws away each year) into a stunning line peppered with fringed vintage leather and reclaimed furs.

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The DIY scene is (physically) expanding

There’s never been a better time to learn how to reuse and recycle your threads. Parkdale’s Workroom just upgraded to a 3,700-square-foot space – so you can learn to stitch everything from a dress to jeans (!) to backpack with elbow room to spare. And the Make Den, home to a host of classes from alterations to leather-working, is set to take over a sunlit space in Regent Park.

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Metropolitan Attitude turns trash into fab denim

A Toronto custom denim brand launching this July, Metropolitan Attitude wants to cut down on wastewater, pull plastic out of landfills and make your butt look great, all at the same time. First, you pay a deposit and get measured at nine different points then they’ll make your perfect pair (out of their regular denim, which uses 80 per cent less water to create, or stretch denim, which uses recycled plastic bottles) and ship them to your door. 

My Clothes, My World by Fashion Takes Action

Fashion Takes Action is the Canadian fashion industry’s only non-profit advocacy organization. Its motto: “Resizing fashion’s footprint.” The org’s My Clothes, My World program runs workshops that teach students in Grades 4 through 12 about the manufacture of clothes and labour rights, encouraging them to think before purchasing. FTA has also started Fashion Impacts Challenge – clothing swaps in schools – to minimize textile waste. Whitney said it best: the children are our future.

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Kate Austin does punchy prints with a conscience

Local designer Kate Austin‘s wares are brightand beach-ready – think Marimekko with a hippie twist. Her breezy kimonos, tops and totes, plus accessories like striped woven belts and colourful bag pompoms (so on-trend right now) are sewn, woven or block-printed by fair-trade artisans in India and Peru using organically produced materials.

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Miik Men makes bamboo basics in the GTA

For those who want their menswear basics to be locally produced and environmentally sound, there’s Miik Men. The year-and-a-half-old line specializes in luxe basics like tees, jackets and easy trousers, made in Toronto from modal, tencel and bamboo rayon. Their pieces are a splurge ($112 and up), but local manufacturing doesn’t come cheap – and hard-wearing fabrics mean you’ll save what you’d spend replacing that fast-fashion T-shirt five times.

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Eco-minded fairs and events are going strong

The Toronto Green Living Show, which just wrapped up its fifth annual event, shines the spotlight on all manner of green products, including the latest in eco-friendly style. (Vancouver’s Inner Fire brought hippie-on-the-go yoga wear made from recycled plastic bottles.) And on the more indie front, the Eco Lifestyle Market packs the Great Hall to the brim every few months with some of the city’s best sustainable handmade products. 

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Inland’s all-Canadian pop-up

Inland is a two-day pop-up shop for 70 apparel, accessory and jewellery brands, including Bazzul (reversible jersey dresses made from recycled textiles), Coup de Tête (custom-made hats and limited-run goods made from full-grain vegetable-tanned leather) and Peggy Sue Collection. Although not every brand at Inland is sustainable, the majority are made in Canada. Baby steps. May 5 and 6 at QRC West. 

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Peggy Sue Collection takes back the means of production

Nobody does ethical sourcing like designer Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks. The woman behind Peggy Sue Collection sources every single fibre she uses from Ontario farmers, then co-ordinates the weaving, tanning and construction of her garments locally. The result: farm-girl minimalist pieces that burst with texture.

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Markham’s textile recycling program

Last month Markham became the first municipality in North America to support textile recycling and ban textile waste. Instead of tossing unwanted shoes, shirts or that sequined velvet thing only worn once on New Year’s Eve, residents can drop them at a number of recycling locations. The items are then sorted to determine suitability for reuse or recycling. This move will help reduce the approximately 40 kilos of clothes that each North American tosses annually. 

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Stella McCartney debuts new animal-free leather

When the reigning queen of vegan fashion works introduces her own brand of pleather, you know it’s going to look just as good as the real thing (if not better). The “skin-free skin,” as McCartney calls it, was painstakingly developed in-house. The final product ended up all over the Paris Fashion Week runway last month in her 70s-inspired fall/winter 2017 collection, shown in leather and suede finishes. 

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Shipping-container stall brings vintage to the people

Do you smell what’s cooking at Market 707? (Aside from the amazing street food, I mean.) People’s Champ Vintage just opened a mini-storefront in Toronto’s favourite shipping-container market, offering vintage threads at a wide range of price points, plus some killer upcycled pieces from local brands NoseKnws and ForTheGreaterGood.

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Omi Woods greens African styles

Ashley Alexis McFarlane went deeply into her Jamaican roots, drawing on the island’s rich West African influences and tropical flora to conceive her Omi Woods line. Classic silhouettes coupled with striking prints in rich colours make her garments special-occasion statement pieces. McFarlane’s woman is one who walks tall, isn’t afraid to “stunt” and for whom floral is a neutral. Each piece is made to order (in Toronto) from 100 per cent cotton and virgin polyester and biodegradable dyes.

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A.P.C.’s Butler Program

A.P.C. has been at the forefront of tongue-in-cheek innovation for 30 years. Through the French fashion brand’s Butler Program (which has nothing to do with Edwardian nobility), customers can exchange jeans that have been broken in and faded to that just-right level of comfort for a new pair at half-price. Each pair has the idiosyncratic wear patterns of the original owner, like a wallet outline in the front pocket, purposeful frays and strategic fading. And, yup, this program is available online. 

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Triarchy reworks vintage denim

Siblings Ania, Adam and Mark Taubenfligel created their denim label in Vancouver eight years ago and then moved to Los Angeles. Triarchy sources pre-owned/vintage denim, which is then deconstructed and hand-sewn into something new. Pieces are produced in small quantities via a manufacturing process that has earned the line a reputation for sustainable luxury. 

Doctor Denim revives old jeans

Repairing a ripped crotch is an art not easily mastered by all. This is where Doctor Denim saves the day. The Mississauga-based company repairs your beloved jeans – from split seats to torn rear pockets – to save you from unnecessarily purchasing another pair. The Doctor uses a dense darning method – not patching – for better hold and durability. You can drop off your wounded denim at three convenient locations in the GTA (downtown, Yorkdale and Scarborough Town Centre). 

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Adidas’s plastic bottle sneakers

Leave it to the fashion industry to finesse the term “plastic bottle sneakers.” Our world’s bodies of water face a grave situation: approximately 40 million pounds of plastic are floating in the Pacific between the East China Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. So Adidas has partnered with environmental group Parley for the Oceans to create sneakers from recycled ocean plastic. Each shoe is made from 95 per cent waste – or the equivalent of 11 plastic bottles. The soles and laces are also made from recycled material.

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