Ethical and sustainable tights, leggings, stockings and pantyhose

This post is about finding ethical and sustainable ways to warm and cover your legs. Whether you call these, sustainable tights, leggings, stockings, pantyhose, or something else, I am talking about these fitted coverings for your legs (and feet). The terminology for these popular garments can vary to greatly that it can be confusing to search for what you are looking for, especially when you come from a smaller nation such as Australia and New Zealand. Which term should I use? There can be miscommunication between two people if you hail from different English-speaking countries. So I have lumped all possible terms into this post, and hopefully everyone can find what they are looking for (even if I use the words differently to you!).

So why is it important to find sustainable options for tights, leggings, stocking and pantyhose? Well, once upon a time these were made from silk (and thus a very sustainable option) and wool, but the advent of cheap alternative nylon has enabled clothing manufacturers to sell a cheap discardable product. Those poor quality nylon stockings/panty-hose/leggings/tights cannot break down in nature. The environmental impacts of nylon are significant. So it is best to replace your nylons with sustainable alternatives like wool, organic cotton and recycled nylon.

Here are my recommendations for places to shop for your ethical and sustainable tights, leggings, stocking and pantyhose.

*denotes and affiliate link. I will receive a small commission if you choose to purchase via the link. This helps to support this blog. Only ethical and sustainable brands are included anywhere in this blog. 

PACT Apparel*

PACT Apparel* make ethical and sustainable organic cotton basics that are ethically manufactured (some are also Fair-trade certified and the brand is working to expand this certification to the rest of their sweatshop-free production). Their range includes tights*, leggings*, cropped leggings* and over the knee socks* in plain colours and limited edition patterns, along with a huge range of other basics, such as sock, underwear, camisoles and t-shirts.

They are US-based, with free US shipping for orders over $59. They also offer global shipping, making them a good sustainable option for your tights/leggings/stockings/socks needs.

Swedish Stockings

Swedish Stockings make sustainable hosiery and is the best place to go for sheer pantyhose and patterned fishnet stockings. The founders mission is to bring back the luxury that used to be associated with high quality hosiery. They make knee high, control top and patterned hosiery that are ideal for the office environment or with your favourite party dress. The brand is a pioneer in using recycled nylon and sustainable processes, including the use of solar power and purification of industrial water so it is safely released into agricultural lands. The stockings are ethically produced in Italy.

I especially love the Astrid Fishnet and Stephanie Seam stockings in the patterned range.

Based in Sweden (well, obviously!) the brand offers worldwide delivery. With prices at around $20-$25 USD, they make sustainable hosiery an accessible option. If you wear these regularly, you also have the option of a subsciption- a recurring purchase at a frequency nominated by you (for example, every 6 months)- which is discounted by 15%.

If you do wear nylons frequently, I would recommend investigating how you can recycle them in your local community once they are worn out.


sustainable merino wool leggings

Icebreaker* are known for their range of ethically manufactured merino travel and active wear and basics. Merino wool is a high quality sustainable fiber that is breathable, can be cool in summer and warm in winter. Icebreaker use New Zealand merino wool, where mulesing is not used on sheep (it is primarily an Australian practice).

They make a range of leggings that are suitable for different activities, such as yoga, running, snow sports and travel. I like the Icebreaker range because many can double as activewear and leggings under dresses/skirts in winter. The products are of a very high quality. I own two pairs of Icebreaker winter thermals, and I have worn them as tights every winter for 5 years. Now both have ladders in the knees, but I can still use them as thermals (just not as visible tights under skirts). You will not achieve that sort of quality with organic cotton, which is why I prefer to invest in merino for my leggings needs.

They are based in New Zealand, use NZ wool and manufacture ethically in China. They have online stores in New Zealand. Australia, North America, UK and Europe, and the link will automatically direct you to your local store. With free shipping for orders over a certain value, they make it easy and convenient to shop.

People Tree*

People Tree

Whilst People Tree* don’t stock a huge range for this type of garment, they are a good place to pick up a few of the basics along with some of your other sustainable fashion shopping. They stock fair-trade organic cotton black leggings*, fair-trade organic cotton yoga leggings* and fair-trade organic cotton cropped yoga leggings*.

Do you have any favourite brands that I have missed?

E BOOK SidebarIf you enjoyed this article, you will love my guide to sustainable fashion 6 Steps to a Sustainable Wardrobe. A 60 page guide and 21 page printable workbook packed with simple actionable advice and activities for living more sustainably without compromising on style.

If you want to confidently approach your wardrobe sustainably, untangle yourself from consumer culture, learn how to shop sustainably, how to assess a fashion label’s ethics and sustainability credentials, and much much more, 6 Steps to a Sustainable Wardrobe is the resource to help you do this.


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Photo By: “Women show off their nylon pantyhose to a newspaper photographer, circa 1942,” notes historian Jennifer S. Li in “The Story of Nylon – From a Depressed Scientist to Essential Swimwear.” Photo by Dale Rooks.
  • Great post. I would recommend Braintree’s leggings and tights too alongside Finisterre for leggings. My People Tree ones were great but they were very thin. Have you/do you use your Icebreaker leggings for exercise? I bought some a few years back for running and unfortunately they just kept falling down while I ran, it was pretty amusing to some of the people I was running with but slightly puts me off getting them again. I would say they were great quality though.

    • Thanks for the suggestions. I will check them out and add them to the list.
      I am not a runner- I prefer yoga and swimming- so I can’t vouch for Icebreaker leggings in that regard. But It may depend on the style. Perhaps it is worth checking in with the company- tell them your experience and ask them if there are particular styles that are better for what you need. I have a pair of Icebreaker tights that are great for yoga now, and I don’t think they would fall down, but as I don’t run I can’t really promise

      • Thanks Summer. I think I will chat to them, it will be worth it to find some nice quality running leggings with sustainable and ethical credentials I agree with.

  • Deb Cleland

    Hi Summer! I love Smitten Merino’s leggings – made in Tassie from Aussie wool, for any of your local readers. Free postage in Australia I’m pretty sure.

    • Great suggestion Deb. I didn’t realise Smitten did leggings- I will have to check them out. I am in need of a new pair.

  • Nothing in United Kingdom?? What a shame!! Still I am looking for tights like this for a project and would need 10 pairs. I certainly can not afford these tights as a student doing a project. But I would buy them for personal use!!!!

    • People Tree (above) are a UK brand. But I assume you are talking about the thin/sheer types tights like Swedish Stockings? They are the only brand that I have found so far. I totally get that it is impossible to buy 10 pairs to cut up for a student project. Sometimes we have to let our ideals slip when things just aren’t reasonable. But we do our best when we can. Good luck :)

  • Bronwen Steele

    Do both nylon and elastane shed plastic into the ocean when washed? I need new tights but can’t find anything that doesn’t contain one of the above; I don’t want to buy even recycled nylon if by washing them I’ll be contributing to environmental damage. But I don’t want to give tights up altogether either. It’s so difficult sometimes!

    • Yes they do, sadly. But I have never found a company that sells old fashioned tights made from silk instead of nylon. That would be amazing.

      Personally, I avoid synthetic fabrics for almost everything. But I have decided that swimwear and tights are two things that I will choose in recycled nylon. I tried organic cotton swimwear and that is definitely not a sustainable option- they bare last a season in chlorine pools. Sadly I have still not found a recycled nylon swimsuit that meets my needs either- they are all designed for skinny young women- not curvy post-baby women who are busy digging holes and making sandcastles with children rather than sunbathing and relaxing. I need swimmers that I feel comfortable in. Sadly I haven’t found a sustainable swimwear designer who is serving my needs. I was forced to buy a non-sustainable suit, but at least it will last me several years. Hopefully by the time I need one again the market will have caught up to my needs!

      If I were you, I would accept that tights are one compromise that you can make, whilst still avoiding synthetics as much as you possibly can. It is impossible to be perfect, so we do our best.

      • Bronwen Steele

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply! :) I read your article on Polyester the other day which completely changed the way I look at fabrics.

        • Wow, what a lovely compliment. That is my hope with my writing, so it is wonderful to hear that my post has changed your perspective

  • Kate Lover

    Have just seen this post on facebook and if you’re still looking for sustainable, ethical brands in the UK, then check out They have organic wool and wool/silk leggings from European brands like Joha, Engel and Living Crafts.

  • Zweitse de Wit

    Why is there no difference made between panty’s and stockings.
    When you have aan runner in your panty you throw away 2 legs and a hose.
    When this happens with stockings you only throw away 1 leg. That means that stockings are much better for the environment.
    When you wear your brief / thong over your garters your stockings stay on whilst going to the bathroom.
    Therefore stockings are less prone to runners. Another advantage !
    I think stockings are more than 4 times better for the environment.

    • I agree with your perspective there. The ones with separate legs would be more sustainable, as long as you have several pairs that are exactly the same. Much like I am with my socks!

      But the reason my article does not distinguish between pantyhose and stockings is simple. There is no consistent use of these words in English across the globe. In Australia, what we use stockings and panty-hose to describe the same thing, but perhaps sometimes stockings is used more for the thicker type and panty-hose used for the thinner and more sheer type. In the US, the words are used differently again. I believe what Americans call tights is what Australians call stockings. It is difficult to talk clearly about this topic when the terms are used so differently across the English speaking world. This is the reason I haven’t been more specific, and I’ve covered all of the garments in the same post.