Continual education is a central part of a conscious style journey, and reading (or listening to!) sustainable fashion books is one of the best ways to understand the issues facing the industry. That’s because books can offer more depth and breadth than what you may find in blog posts or on social media.
Some books offer a big-picture look at the fashion ecosystem while others focus on a specific topic, such as mending, to give readers a deeper understanding of an area.
This guide will help you sort through it all to find which books on sustainable fashion are best suited for what you’re looking for. Hopefully this list will help you add a few eco & ethical fashion books to your reading list!
I’ve read quite a few of the books on this list and so I note my thoughts on the books where possible. The rest are on my reading list and I will come back to this guide to add in my reviews of those books once I’ve finished reading them.
For more educational resources, grab my (free) 10-page list of sustainable fashion resources available to email subscribers. Sign up here to get the resource list.
Where to Get These Books
In keeping with our ethos of shopping consciously, before supporting a big bookstore or online megastore, check out if you can rent these books out at your local library, or browse through one of these options. (Note that some of these links are affiliate links and we may earn a small commission if you choose to purchase through these websites.)
- Hive: based in the UK
- Better World Books: ships worldwide; offers used books too
- Libro.fm: Audiobook platform where each purchase supports local bookstores
Fashion Industry Deep Dives and Overviews
by Aja Barber
Great for beginners and industry insiders alike, Aja Barber’s debut book offers an honest look at the fashion industry’s many harms, from exclusive hiring practices in corporate offices to exploitative conditions in garment factories. Aja does a beautiful job at weaving in her own journey as she discusses the larger scale issues, which makes the book readable enough for anyone to read along, even if you’re just getting started out.
Another standout element of this book is that Aja brings in important history about colonialism and fashion’s role in slavery and unjust global trading practices. This is vital information to understand why we are where we are with the fashion industry today, and too many ethical fashion books have not made this connection clearly enough or have omitted this context entirely.
Best for: both newbies and those well-versed in sustainable fashion for a big picture look at (or refresher of) the fashion industry’s ails and ideas for solutions
Tone & Style: Illuminating (first half) and inspiring (second); honest, frank, and in typical Aja style, even humorous at times
by Maxine Bédat
Unraveled is a well-researched book that follows the life and death of a pair of jeans, which can serves as a microcosm of the entire fashion industry. Throughout the book, readers are taken through largely first-hand accounts of the various stages of the typical supply chain (and reverse supply chain) of denim.
We meet cotton farmers, garment makers, logistics workers, garbage facility managers, and secondhand clothing traders to get a deeper understanding of what’s gone wrong in the fashion system, and how we — as fashion lovers and citizen activists — can start to advocate for a better future.
Best for: Those with some familiarity of fashion’s issues to get a behind-the-scenes look at every stage of the fashion supply chain
Tone & Style: Informative; intimate and conversational at times
by Andrew Brooks
Published just a couple of years before Unraveled, Clothing Poverty follows a similar concept: the author takes readers on a journey through the life — and end of life — of a pair of jeans. Clothing Poverty is more academic, though, containing quite a bit of densely packed research without much conversation or storytelling.
Given this, I found Clothing Poverty to be a slower read. But it has been a key resource for me in my research as an ethical fashion writer. So, I wouldn’t recommend this book to beginners, but if you’re very interested in sustainable fashion and want a deeper look at the hidden sides of the industry, especially the global secondhand or “recycled” clothing trade, this is worth adding to your reading list.
Best for: Using as research for a project, article, or personal interest
Tone & Style: Academic and dense; informative
by Elizabeth L. Cline
Overdressed is another deep dive into the fashion industry, this time by journalist and activist Elizabeth Cline. In this book, Cline unravels the dark side of cheap fashion and the heavy ecological and humanitarian costs the industry has.
Originally published in 2012 before the Rana Plaza factory collapse, this book doesn’t necessarily have the most recent information about the industry and reviewers have noted that many of the specific individuals and brands mentioned aren’t still active in the industry today. However, the foundational information is still valuable, because, unfortunately, the problems the industry had 10 years ago are very much the same as they are today.
Best for: Getting a head-first introduction to the problems of fashion
Tone & Style: Direct and informative
by Lucy Siegle
Written by British journalist Lucy Siegle, this deep diving book is like a 300-page exposé of the fashion industry. Taking a research-based approach, reporter Siegle combines facts and figures with first-hand accounts and interviews. She crosses the globe to uncover the realities of the exploitation of garment makers in Cambodia and cotton farmers in Uzbekistan to the fast fashion frenzy and overconsumption in the UK (which can be paralleled to the U.S. and elsewhere in Global North).
Although the clearly communicated dark side of the fashion industry can feel depressing, Siegle also follows up with actionable ways to be part of the change through shopping less, caring for our clothing more, and making more intentional purchasing decisions (when possible).
Originally published in 2011, the book doesn’t address fashion’s most recent issues (ultra fast fashion, and TikTok hauls) or progress (increase in awareness, many more sustainable fashion brands and secondhand marketplace options) but much of it does still remain relevant today.
Best for: Investigating fashion industry’s exploitation of people, animals, and the environment
Tone & Style: Journalistic and persuasive
by Safia Minney
Slave to Fashion is another fashion industry deep-dive, but one more focused on the human impact. Specifically, author Safia Minney interviews people facing exploitive working conditions in the fashion industry and shares powerful facts to communicate the importance of taking action to eradicate modern-day slavery.
Minney also offers inspiration and actionable advice for industry professionals, designers, citizen activists & conscious consumers, and policy makers.
Best for: Understanding the far-reaching labor issues of the global fashion industry
Tone & Style: Engaging and educational
On Conscious Consumerism — and Challenging Consumption
by Lauren Bravo
If you’re looking for a ‘get started on conscious fashion now’ guide, this book is it! Practical, relatable, and easy-to-read, this is a book I would recommend to all conscious fashion beginners. Though, even those well-versed in the industry’s issues might find this an enjoyable read.
Full of tips, tricks, and alternatives, this is the handbook that the world needed on quitting fast fashion and slowing down consumption. I also appreciated that Lauren made the content accessible, never shaming and regularly acknowledging the various barriers to sustainable fashion, such as income, time, and size privilege.
Best for: Practical advice on how to get started with slowing down consumption
Tone & Style: Funny, relatable, and lighthearted (as far as sustainable fashion books go!)
Pace: Medium to fast
by Elizabeth Cline
A pragmatic guide to sustainable fashion, Elizabeth Cline’s The Conscious Closet is an in-depth handbook covering everything from secondhand shopping advice to clothing care tips to fashion activism.
This book is packed with plenty of tips and useful information and can feel overwhelming if reading straight through. You may find it useful to skim / read lightly through once, bookmark the parts that you think you’ll find useful in the future, and then come back to the sections as they become relevant to you.
Best for: Actionable advice to guide you on your conscious fashion journey
Tone & Style: Straightforward and practical
by Frank Trentmann
Overconsumption is not just a problem in fashion and materialism isn’t just a current phenomenon. Empire of Things tells the story of consumption and its associated concepts, from Renaissance Italy to our modern economy. Trentmann’s research can give us crucial context to understanding how we got to the levels of production and consumption that we see today in fashion.
This one is still on my reading list, but from what I’ve gathered from reviewers, this is an insightful and comprehensive, but dense and slow read.
Best for: Understanding the long history of materialism and consumption
Tone & Style: Dense, informative, and reflective;
by J.B. MacKinnon
As the title lays out quite clearly, this is a book about challenging consumption and asking tough questions about how much we really need to buy. J. B. MacKinnon addresses “the consumer dilemma” — our economy and modern society relies on us constantly consuming more, but our planet can’t handle current rates of consumption — by exploring if consumption can be reduced without causing economic collapse.
Throughout the book, MacKinnon also brings in research and perspectives from experts to share the many benefits we could see from a life of less stuff.
Note: At the time of publishing, this book is new and only available in hardcover for nearly $30, so it may be a good one for requesting at your library or getting the ebook version of! And if you want a preview of the topic before committing, check out this episode of The Wardrobe Crisis with author J.B. MacKinnon.
Best for: Contemplating consumption and hyper-capitalism
Tone & Style: Informative and compelling; thought-provoking
Pace: Slow to medium
by Tara Button
This book is a great pairing for The Day the World Stops Shopping. Focused more on individual lifestyle change, author Tara Button offers solutions and actionable tips for reducing your own consumption. In this book, you’ll learn about what’s making us overspend, how we can get off of the “trend treadmill”, why stuff isn’t made to last as long as it used to, how you can care and keep your things longer, and how to find success and your sense of self-worth beyond consumption.
There are mixed reviews of this one, some critiquing that the advice offered doesn’t address the privileges of being able to invest in fewer better things and that Button promoted her own marketplace a bit too much in the book. Others found the book thought-provoking and practical.
Best for: Guidance on your journey to slowing down and consuming less
Tone & Style: Useful & informative;
Pace: Slow to medium
12. The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe
by Anuschka Rees
Although this book isn’t only about sustainable fashion per se, it’s an incredibly useful book about figuring out your own style and finding joy within your closet, which is key to slow fashion.
There are a lot of blog posts and YouTube videos on defining your personal style, but if you’ve felt that these just don’t cut it and you’re still feeling a bit lost, give Rees’ book a try. With the pages upon pages of tips and situational advice, plus the closet and style assessment exercises, you’ll come out of this book feeling like you understand your style, clothing preferences, and maybe even yourself better than before. An important step to slow down our consumption and make more intentional purchases!
Best for: Getting clear on your personal style and stepping off the trend hamster wheel
Tone & Style: Actionable & practical; straightforward
Mending & Repairing Books
13. Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act
by Orsola de Castro
While most mending books are step-by-step sewing manuals, Fashion Revolution co-founder Orsola de Castro took a bit of a broader approach by also digging deeper into the why behind mending. But that doesn’t mean this sustainable fashion book is lacking in practical advice! De Castro shares ways we can mend, rewear, care for, and revive what’s in our wardrobe. She also shares advice for shopping less and making smarter, more sustainable purchases that will benefit the reader and the planet.
Best for: Starting or continuing a slow fashion journey focused on wearing what we have more
Tone & Style: Engaging, practical, and inspiring;
Pace: Medium to fast
Find at: Bookshop UK
by Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald
For a comprehensive guide on how to mend your clothes, look no further than Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald’s Modern Mending. This book goes far beyond the basics, even teaching skilled sewists and long-time crafters some new techniques and tips for mending their well-worn clothing.
Readers rave that the book is beautifully illustrated and well-written, offering them encouragement, clear instructions and inspiration for their mending journey. Several reviewers even noted that they first picked up a copy at their library and ended up investing in a copy to keep as a reference.
Best for: Keeping on hand as a go-to resource for all things mending
Tone & Style: Inspirational, encouraging, and quirky; light but informative
by Noriko Misumi
This one is another mending guide, but focuses on visible mending and “turning tears and flaws into beautiful features”. Noriko Misumi shares embroidery stitches, such as sashiko (a type of traditional Japanese embroidery) as well as sewing, darning, felting, and crocheting techniques that will help you repair any kind of damaged fabric.
Misumi also shares her mending and reuse approach rooted in Japanese philosophies like Wabi Sabi, which is “an appreciation of old and imperfect things.”
At just 88 pages, this one is a short and handy reference guide. Reviewers noted that Joyful Mending is great for newbies or could be a refresher for more experienced menders.
Best for: Learning visible and invisible mending techniques; lots of project ideas
Tone & Style: Explanatory and clear
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