Oh, the simple Tee. A classic of modern fashion and yet horribly unsustainable for the most part. Almost all T-shirts comprise conventional cotton or synthetic fibers and are worn a handful of times before being thrown away. As a result, a vast amount of water, pesticides, petrochemicals, and toxic dyes go into producing something that quickly falls apart, goes out of style, or is just tossed in the garbage.
Table of Contents
- What to do with old t-shirts
- The best eco-friendly, sustainably-made t-shirts
- Coyuchi Men’s Organic Knit Short Sleeve Tee
- Toad&Co Hemp Daily Baseball Shirt
- Toad&Co Primo Short-Sleeved Henley T-Shirt
- Patagonia Hemp Men’s Work Pocket Tee
- Tentree Hemp V-Neck T-Shirt
- Pact Heavyweight Polo
- Rawganique Manley Beach Hemp T-Shirt
- Rawganique Bel Air 100 Hemp T-Shirt
- Pact Textured Long-Sleeve Tee
- Rawganique Cassie Organic Cotton Women’s T-Shirt
If you’re looking to make more sustainable choices, the companies below can help. And for those tees you’re thinking of trashing, think again! I offer a few alternative ideas for what to do with old t-shirts below.
What to do with old t-shirts
If you’re looking for a brand new tee, the eco-friendly T-shirts above are a great start. While you give your casual closet a sustainability makeover, though, consider if that tee is really necessary at all.
Hello, capsule wardrobe
The idea of a capsule wardrobe isn’t new, but it is timeless. The basic concept is to carefully choose a small number of simple, stylish, versatile items of clothing that make getting dressed foolproof. A capsule closet takes a lot of the daily guesswork out of choosing an outfit and helps you look great every day and for every occasion. It saves you time and money, and it’s better for the planet as it means you’re not buying fast fashion and consuming vastly more resources than you need.
A basic tee is a must for every capsule closet, as are some sturdy pairs of pants. The usual rule of thumb is to eschew outlandish colors and designs and stick to neutral tones without slogans or embellishments. That way, your tee works just as well for a night out as it does for a casual work meeting or date.
What about those faded, ripped, bedraggled old t-shirts though? Well….
Upcycling and recycling old t-shirts
I had a brutal closet clear-out recently (welcome to post-pregnancy life!) and set aside a horrifying pile of clothes for donation to thrift. Other clothes I donated to specific organizations based on their use (such as maternity wear) and to friends and family I knew would get more use out of things than I ever did. If I lived in the US, I’d definitely have considered treating myself to a fresh tee from Pact, largely so I could use the company’s Give Back Box (view here) to send any gently used items for recirculation.
There were a few pieces that didn’t quite make the cut for donating, however. These were so worn, faded, or otherwise derelict that they seemed destined for the trash. But wait! Even these items can sometimes get a new lease of life! That might mean sewing on new buttons or a new zip, or having fun with a fresh dye job using natural dyes. If you’re handy or crafty, set aside these items for a rainy day project and give an old piece of clothing a new look.
For other items truly beyond redemption, consider upcycling. This might mean shredding or cutting these to make:
- A rag rug
- Cushion covers
- A handy tote bag
- Shoe storage bags
- Produce bags
- Cat or dog beds
- Plant pot cozies (make a cut series of matching plant pots!)
- Beer cozies
- Reusable cloth wipes
- Dish rags
- Stuffing for cushions, pet beds, or craft projects.
If all else fails, check your local recycling depot or facilities to see if you can recycle textiles. Or, do the planet a favor and get yourself a TerraCycle box to fill with fabrics for recycling.
The best eco-friendly, sustainably-made t-shirts
Highlights: Simple tee in GOTS certified organic cotton made by a sustainable company.
Coyuchi specializes in simple, stylish, eco-friendly apparel and household textiles made with organic cotton. It shouldn’t surprise regular readers to see Coyuchi top my recommendations for eco-friendly T-shirts then.
This simple men’s tee is available in White or Charcoal Heather and in sizes Medium, Large, and XL. It is also a great sleep shirt thanks to the soft organic cotton knit and classic crewneck. Each tee saves an average of 285 days of drinking water, 1 mile of driving emissions, and 31 square feet of land farmed without pesticides.
Coyuchi uses organic cotton that is grown and knit in India and is GOTS certified. The tee is machine washable (on gentle and cold, ideally) and you can dry it on low or on the line.
Coyuchi ships its goods in eco-friendly materials and as sustainably as possible. The company offers free returns within 30 days and store credit for up to 365 days. Coyuchi’s supply chain partners fully comply with the strictest environmental and social regulations. These include REACH and the Restricted Substances List (RSL) of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).
Coyuchi has Fair Trade certification and is a member of 1% for the Planet. It also makes products with the MADE SAFE® seal and is involved in the Fibershed program which aims to support regenerative agriculture that helps sequester carbon and build robust regional economies.
Highlights: Hemp and organic cotton tee in two cute designs for all genders and in a wide range of sizes.
I’m fairly smitten with Toad&Co’s Unisex Hemp Daily Baseball Tee. It’s just adorable, and the fact it’s made with 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton makes it even more appealing. Release your inner T-baller and enjoy the natural properties of hemp and cotton, namely moisture-wicking, odor control, and soft, cozy comfort and durability.
This unisex shirt fits normal for males, but you’ll want to size down if you’re female. It is available in sizes XXS to XXL and comes in two designs, with red or blue color accents.
Because hemp is naturally antimicrobial, you’ll likely be able to get away with washing this tee a little less often than usual, making it even better for water conservation throughout its life.
Toad&Co doesn’t have much going on in the way of sustainability initiatives, but it does list local retailers for every item on its site. If you’re trying to shop local and cut carbon emissions, this feature makes it a lot easier!
Highlights: Organic cotton tee in a classic woven button placket with a forward shoulder seam for backpack carrying ease.
Toad & Co.’s Men’s Primo Short Sleeve Henley is available in six colors and in sizes Small to XXL. This shirt is made entirely from organic cotton, meaning it requires far less water and energy than conventional cotton and is free of GMOs and toxic chemicals. The cotton primo jersey is made from Indian organic cotton and can be washed cold and dried on low.
The Henley shirt is great for warmer weather as it comprises super soft organic cotton in a ‘well-traveled wash’. It is also lightweight, moisture-wicking, and has a forward shoulder seam to make carrying a backpack more comfortable. The shirt has a woven button placket and a short sleeve design.
Highlights: A sturdy t-shirt made from a blend of industrial hemp and organic cotton intended for more rugged activity.
Patagonia’s Men’s Work Pocket Tee is a sturdy t-shirt intended for more rugged activity. It comprises a blend of 55% industrial hemp and 45% organic cotton and is Fair Trade Certified™ sewn. You can get this tee in six colors and in sizes XS to 3XL with a relaxed fit.
The hemp-cotton blend makes for a durable, breathable, and comfortable tee that is also moisture-wicking, naturally antimicrobial, and helps control odor. This tee also boasts a large pocket that can fit a notepad, multitool, or other necessities. (There’s a Patagonia logo on the pocket.)
A whopping 87% of Patagonia’s clothing is Fair Trade Certified™ sewn and the company has long led the way in sustainability for the outdoor clothing sector. This particular tee is made in Sri Lanka and Peru and has a generous cut to allow for flexibility during hard physical labor. As a result, it’s a good idea to size down if you have a small build.
Highlights: Hemp and recycled polyester tee made by a certified carbon neutral B Corp that plants 10 trees with every order.
Tentree’s Hemp V-Neck T-Shirt comprises 55% hemp and 45% recycled polyester. It has a scooped hi-low hem and a regular fit with a v-neck style. The blend of materials makes for a cozier tee than a simple cotton tee, so is good if you tend to run cold.
This hemp t-shirt saves an estimated 168.89 liters of water, 0.34 kg of CO2, and 0.02 g of waste. Hemp is grown without any herbicides or pesticides and is an excellent crop that helps replenish stripped soil. To keep it in good shape, wash this on cold and hang it to dry.
Tentree is Climate Neutral-Certified, designs its products in Canada, and makes them overseas in Fair Trade certified factories. The company is currently in the top 10% of certified B Corps, uses recycled and sustainable materials for its products, and plants 10 trees for every order.
So far, Tentree has planted more than 73 million trees. When you buy something from Tentree, you can register an account and see a virtual island with your trees planted. You can also get information on the real-life location of your trees and the company’s tree-planting projects.
Tentree ships everything carbon-neutral (certified) in minimal packaging. Shipping is free over $85 CAD, as are exchanges.
Highlights: Heavyweight polo style tee in organic cotton made by a B Corp in a Fair Trade factory.
Pact offers a range of eco-friendly t-shirts for men (or folks of any gender, really), as well as for children. Pact only uses GOTS certified organic cotton and avoids toxic dyes and problematic chemicals. This B Corporation supports social and environmental stewardship and makes everything in Fair Trade certified factories.
Pact’s Heavyweight Polo is a good choice for cooler weather and for more rugged use. It is available in two colors and in sizes Small to XL. Pact estimates that each shirt saves 49.9 gallons of water compared to a similar tee made with conventional cotton.
This heavier tee has a classic side slit with a one-inch drop in the back (great for going untucked) and it hits at the hip with a relaxed fit. The shirt also has a deconstructed notch neck that is button-free. It is garment dyed for a soft feel and is prewashed and shrink resistant.
Pact packages its products in 100% recyclable and almost entirely recycled paper and cardboard as well as biodegradable plastic that doesn’t result in microplastics or other residues.
While I’d like to see Pact become carbon neutral itself, for the time being, you can use a carbon emission calculator at checkout and choose to offset the carbon emissions of shipping. The company does have a cool Give Back – Wear Forward organic clothing donation program. Just fill your Pact box with gently used clothing, shoes, and accessories (of any brand), get a pre-paid shipping label from their website, and then send these items to Pact for reuse (and a tax receipt!).
Highlights: Guaranteed sweatshop-free, and naturally breathable, roomy and relaxed hemp tee made in Europe using organically grown European hemp.
Rawganique’s Manley Beach t-shirt comprises 100% hemp in a thick, durable jersey (light sweater weight) weave. The fabric is stretchy and breathable, moisture-wicking, naturally antimicrobial, and great for odor control.
This design features a pocket and has a classic, roomy fit, with sizes Small to XXL. It is available in natural (undyed, unbleached, and untreated) and black and is cut similar to the Bel Air hemp t-shirt. Rawganique makes the t-shirts in-house at its European Atelier using organic hemp grown in Europe. Guaranteed sweatshop-free t-shirt.
Highlights: 100% hemp tee sewn in Europe from organically grown hemp, available undyed and in colors produced using natural dyes like oak leaves!
The Rawganique Bel Air 100% Organic Hemp T-Shirt is available in sizes Small to XXL and in Natural, Iced Tea, natural dye Oak, natural dye Oregano, and Russet. Rawganique grows the hemp itself in Europe, not China, using organic practices to create a nm18/2 yarn. The company then creates the soft, breathable Jersey knit and sews the hemp fabric itself at the Rawganique Atelier in Europe.
This 100% organic hemp, short-sleeve T-shirt has a modern slim cut style with shorter sleeves. It is elastic-free and Lycra-free – just organic hemp through and through. Rawganique offers the natural, unbleached and undyed version of this tee and a variety of colors, including those produced using natural dyes such as from fresh oak bark and oregano leaves, for instance.
Toxic chemical-free, sweatshop-free, UV-resistant, and breathable, this moisture-wicking hemp tee is comfy and cool on warmer days and cozy on cooler days. You can hand-wash or machine-wash this T-shirt using cold water and then lay it flat to dry or tumble dry on low.
Highlights: Textured, long-sleeve T-shirt with pocket made from GOTS certified organic cotton in Fair Trade factories by a B Corp.
Pact offers a range of eco-friendly t-shirts for men (or folks of any gender, really), as well as for children. Pact only uses GOTS certified organic cotton and avoids toxic dyes and problematic chemicals. It makes its products in India where the GOTS cotton is grown, making for a more efficient supply chain and fewer carbon emissions.
The Textured Long-Sleeve Tee is a great choice for cooler weather, has a classic fit that hits at the hip, a crew neck, and a single chest pocket. This tee has lightly textured slub fabric that is prewashed, so no shrinkage surprises when you wash it.
Pact estimates that this tee requires 81% less water than a similar one made with conventional cotton, amounting to 29.1 gallons of water saved. It is available in sizes Small to XL and in five colors.
Shipping is free in the US for orders over $50.
Highlights: Very affordable, super simple organic cotton t-shirt.
Rawganique’s Cassie t-shirt comprises 100% organic cotton, is made un the USA, and is very affordable at just $20. It is available in sizes Small to XXL and in Natural (unbleached, dye-free) and eco-dyed Cornflower blue. Rawganique sources its organic cotton from the US, which makes this a super sustainable choice.
The t-shirt has a scoop-neck design and comprises soft and cozy, 100% organic cotton 5.75 oz jersey. Expect about a half-inch of shrinkage on the first wash and wash lukewarm with like colors on a gentle cycle.