Super Sustainable Fashion in San Francisco

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I’m coming up on my five-month anniversary of Bay area living (missed why? read up). To say my transition here has been bumpy would be like saying Jesus is King is just **meh** instead of utter Hell. 

I have, however, had glimmering moments of hope when I’m not nudging out apartment hunters (competitors!) by jousting my credit report in the landlord’s face TO ACTUALLY EXPLORE.

You know, to attend to the sexier matters in life, like sleuthing for Thierry Mugler peplum suits rather than asking for the thousandth time, “Does it have a washer/dryer?” It’s hard to be on my ethical fashion A-game when Maslow’s hierarchy of needs aren’t met. Feel me?

What I have managed to cover while getting my life in order has been promising, there’s just no way I’ve seen it all. There’s a lot to unpack in this dense city. San Francisco is not actually that big but it’s daunting to traverse with its intense hills, lack of public transit, and gridlocked traffic.

So I’ve mostly stuck around a few familiar neighborhoods. The Mission, an area known for street and coffee culture, amazing vintage, and a rowdy nightlife; the Castro, the rainbow-adorned, neatly-appointed gay district; and The Haight, the anachronistic 70s mecca tourists love. I’ve also covered a lot of ground in East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley) because I work there. 

This list doesn’t cover all the sustainable fashion in the Bay area. It’s what I’ve seen, explored, or heard about through word of mouth. 

What is San Francisco Style?

Before you jump to the entree of this post, I think it’s important to give you context on the style here, mostly to bring your exceptions down to mother earth.

San Francisco isn’t known for fashion (that’s an understatement the size of the tech egos here). Midtown-uniforms and head-to-toe 100% organic linen are the name of the game and probably why Elle put every major city (including Ojai!) in its recent Cali style feature except SF. 

San Franciscans dress smart, and not in the sense that would make you go, “Oh, you certainly thought through your tailoring at the Nordstrom’s counter.” Their smart is literal. It reflects the books cemented in their neurons and the practicality beaten into them by hellish Bart commutes, hilly climbs, and grimacing through the wind, fog, and smog.

“San Franciscans are warriors and their wardrobes reflect it.” 

Not that these things are BAD; they’re just not particularly fashion-forward. Their intellect and outdoorsy nature do, however, make them choosy buyers of ethical fashion. 

So if you’re going to San Francisco, you’ll meet some gentle people there and you’ll also find homegrown labels, boutiques, and vintage stores that merge wearability with reverence for the planet.  

Just don’t come expecting New York experimentation and attitude. You’ve been warned to swap your steel-toed Alexander Wangs for solid-colored rain boots and your maximalist overcoat for medium washed denim.


Boutiques

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Get cozy @ Hawthorn

Kosa

A tiny haven in the center of downtown Oakland with a special curation of limited edition pieces as well as an in-house line of elegant basics. Everything reflects a high level of craftsmanship and honors meaningful livelihoods of the makers. I especially love their architectural-leaning jewelry and complementary little odds and ends for the home and bath.

Hawthorn

One of my favorite haunts in the Oakland hills that stocks locally-driven talent with sustainable appeal. Look for hygge-ready knitwear from Kordal and pants that will make you look cooler than Frida Khalo.

The Voyager Shop

A Mission outpost that stocks tons of experimental, mostly-Cali brands. On the ethical front, look for Wray, By Signe, Kowtown and Paloma Wool. They’re always stocking new designers so if you’re unsure, just ask which ones have ethical practices.

Brands

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Agaati feminine touches

Agaati

If you need a dose of fancy, go here. Agaati is one of the rare sustainable lines that holds its weight against it girl brands like Veronica Beard or Tibi while defining its own niche. If you pay close attention to the tailoring details, you can also tell that the designer cut her teeth at Zac Posen and ODLR. I’m a fan of this hemp/silk blend dress. Agaati also covers all the ethical bases: eco-materials (mostly biodegradable natural fibers), limited runs, artisan-made, and a commitment to women’s empowerment. Pssst, you can even travel the world with their team and get to know the makers.

Curator

If you want to capture the quintessential San Francisco ease but still dress up, this will be your uniform. It’s also a brand that resonates beyond the Bay. Their dresses would be a hit on Venice beach or a stopover in Palm Springs. All garments are made in the U.S. with 100% of the line manufactured within a 10-min drive from their shops. Curator started in a Victorian house and is now an outpost in the Mission.

Taylor Jay

An intersectional line of “move-in-me” basics and elevated essentials that are produced ethically at a factory Oakland. The jumpsuits and this feathered turtleneck are especially standout. While some garments are a blend, most are made from circular Tencel. The founder describes herself as “the Black Eileen Fisher.”

Tonle

A truly zero-waste (zero fallout) brand that uses rescues pre-consumer textile waste cast off by large brands in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and turns them into lux artisan sweaters, jumpsuits and toss-on dresses. My favorite is the Kiri sweater (maybe mixed with some blue striped Stan Smiths?). Read about their dual-approach to zero waste fashion.

Kamperette

This is a window crush brand. If you’re lucky you can get one of their ethereal dresses or maybe save up for a special occasion or your wedding. I love their designs but I’m not completely comfortable saying this line is ethical. Their website says all the designs are made ethically in California but there’s no information to back that up. I suggest asking the owner when you visit and if you do decide to buy, I encourage you to opt for styles made from natural silk or cotton instead of their rayon and poly options.

SKFK

Bilbao-based brand with an outpost in the Mission. Their vibe skews mainstream with a touch of femininity. It’s good for the 30+ crowd, I think. They also back up their ethics in deeds and solid commitments. They offer fair trade styles, information on CO2 reduction, progressive materials, and pilot programs in rental, upcycling and garment repair.

Adelle Stoll

Bilbao-based brand with an outpost in the Mission. Their vibe skews mainstream with a touch of femininity. It’s good for the 30+ crowd, I think. They also back up their ethics in deeds and solid commitments. They offer fair trade styles, information on CO2 reduction, progressive materials, and pilot programs in rental, upcycling and garment repair.

If you make it to North Bay, pop in here for an exit-through-the-gift-shop modern vibe. Adelle is a prolific designer who makes handbags, jewelry, and home goods for the modern minimalist. It’s all made in the U.S. with quality materials and many pieces are built following zero waste practices.

Amour Vert

This brand that rose up in the early days of eco-fashion now has a cult following for their soft beechwood tees and basics. Go for the California classic styles, curation of like-minded brands, and their admirable “plant a tree for a tee” policy.

Harvest & Mill

Need an alternative to the amazon cotton tee? This direct to consumer basics brand for guys and gals is 100% organic and grown and sewn in the US of A. Don’t miss their heirloom cotton varietals that don’t require dye. They’re also a member of Fibershed (more on that below).

Levi’s

I can’t not mention this heritage San Francisco brand, especially with their prescient approach to quality and sustainability. People go especially crazy for thrifted 701s here. Since 2011, Levi’s has saved more than 3 billion liters and recycled more than 1.5 billion liters of water through their waterless denim initiative. Today, ~67% of their jeans are made this way. Mic drop.

A note: With all due respect to their ethics, I’m not putting Patagonia on this list 1. Because this isn’t a technical curation and 2. Because you already know to go.

Vintage 

Secondhand and thrift is the name of the game right now, and it’s been that way in San Francisco long before it went mainstream a la The Real Real and ThredUp. Vintage really requires a dedicated list, but I’ll tell you a few I’ve been frequenting for starters.

afterlife-sustainable-fashion-san-francisco
Afterlife aesthetic

Afterlife

For trendy finds, rocker tees and Disney nostalgia. The vibe skews urban downtown. 

Schauplatz

For vintage that looks like it belongs on a period piece set. The vibe skews costumy, but there are finds to be had.

Elsewhere

You won’t go wrong anywhere on Haight Street. Relic is probably the most respected name on the block. Or use the list above. If you’re hunting for high-end secondhand, Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads are the biggest players.


Organizations

Fibershed

Unites farmers and artisans in and near San Francisco to create a regional and regenerative fiber system. They host amazing and informative events in the Bay that focus on soil health. Fibershed is trying to do for fashion what the farmers market did for food.

Sustainable Fashion Alliance

A community that catapults and unites sustainable fashion brands and conscious consumers. Come hang at an event.


Bonus – Noms

Ethical food brands in the Bay I’ve been noshing on:

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Tcho kills it on flavor

Hodo Foods

Oakland-made vegan meats. My favorite is their pasta made with the waste generated from traditional tofu. They skim the top off the water and it makes a thick noodle similar to pappardelle in shape but much denser in texture. Tofu skin (what’s it’s technically called) has been around for ages, but Hodo is making it easy to eat right out of the box. I lived off this stuff when I was moving and didn’t have a microwave. 

TCHO

My favorite Fair Trade Certified chocolate brand that wins big on flavor. They have a mango lassi bar, I mean, come on!?

Dandelion Chocolate

Super small-batch, origin driven bars for the purist. Visit their shop in the mission for the best hot chocolate and tiny samples.

OLIPOP

Fizzy pro/prebiotic fiber soda. Watch out, Kombucha.

Equator Coffee

Bay area brand that started in the makers’ basement after the Seattle coffee boom. Way more inclusive the Blue Bottle.

Kuli Kuli

Moringa superfood bars and mixes. The bars are sweet but they’re a good replacement for candy if you’re having a strong will power day


What are some of your favorite made in the Bay brands? Did I miss any?

2 Comments

  1. Elaine Hamblin says:

    Awww you are the sweetest!!! Lovely piece and thanks with all my heart for including Kosa!
    Hugs,
    Elaine

    1. Kasi says:

      Of course, Elaine. Genuinely love your shop!

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