As someone who loves style, fashion and shopping for clothes, learning to shop more sustainably and ethically has been quite the journey over the last few years. Fortunately for me, my mom and sisters have always been conscious shoppers, and very aware of their consumption of clothing, and the deplorable conditions that people (and children) are kept in to make cheap clothing. I’ve been vaguely aware of the issues around fashion, namely high street fashion, since I was a child, however it hasn’t been until a few years ago that I really started considering my own choices more carefully. The turning point was watching the documentary The True Cost. Like so many others, this documentary reminded me of the working conditions that garment workers have to endure, the dangers of working in the industry, and the gross injustices and human rights violations that occur every single day, especially to young women and children! I had heard all of this before, but until I saw it on film, I was blissfully, and willfully, ignorant. Around the time I saw this film, I also became interested in the idea of minimalism and capsule wardrobes. I wanted to limit the number of items in my closet to have a curated style and to feel more put together. Not to mention to cut down on the clutter and decision fatigue that occurs when navigating a bursting closet. These changes have aided in curbing my shopping habits slowly but surely, and has caused me to put more consideration in to what I bring into my home. I am still on this path, and I am not perfect; I do still buy things on a whim from stores that I know are not ethical, or sometimes simply have to settle for what is available if I’m in a pinch. But the point is that I am trying to get better, and it’s something that I’ve put some thought into over the last few years. I’d like to share with you some of the tips and resources that I use when trying to shop more sustainably and ethically.
- Shop secondhand or consignment. This is the easiest and most budget-friendly way to shop sustainably and ethically. By shopping secondhand, you are not contributing to the demand for fast fashion, and you are preventing that item of clothing from ending up in the landfill. Not to mention you can find one of a kind pieces, and items from designer brands that you may not otherwise be able to afford. Obviously the downside to shopping secondhand is that it can take time to look through the racks of clothing to find something you like, and when you do find something you like, there’s no exchanging it for another size or colour. I think the upside to thrifting and secondhand shopping is that you really get to know your own personal style. It forces you to think outside the box, go with your gut, and be discerning. You can also feel good that your money is going towards supporting a local business, many of which are owned by charitable organizations like the Salvation Army, hospitals, or the SPCA.
- Shop locally. This step is a pretty easy transition if you’re not quite ready to solely shop secondhand. Shopping locally does not mean that you are necessarily supporting sustainable and ethical brands, but at the very least you are putting your money toward supporting a local business owner, and keeping your hard-earned dollars in your community. Another upside to shopping at a local boutique rather than at a fast fashion store is that you can get to know the sales associates, managers or owners, and let them know that ethically-made clothing is important to you. You can ask them where the clothes are being made, ask them about the production and let them know that buying from brands that use natural fibres, or that have sustainable business practices are important to you. I have found in the local boutiques around my area, they do have some selections from local brands, and pieces that are made in Canada or the US, and there are often items that I can find that are made from organic cotton or other sustainable materials. They are aware that their customers value ethically made, locally sourced items and do try to cater to that market, while still providing lots of fashion-forward pieces.
- Shop sustainable and ethical brands. Now, I will go ahead and start with the cons as this can be much easier said than done. Often times, a bit of research has to be done to find ethical and sustainable brands, and more often than not, they are not easily accessible. I have found that many of the ethical and sustainable brands that I know of are only available to me online. The other hindering factor is the price point. We’ve become so accustomed to paying such cheap prices for clothing, that the high price points from ethical brands seems ludicrous. But the fact is that high quality materials, paying garment workers a living wage, ensuring that factories are in safe working order, is costly. The upside is that these items are built to last and stand the test of time. If you’re investing in your clothing, you’re less likely to get bored of the items and get rid of them, compared to cheap clothing (both in price and quality). The fashion industry is the second highest global polluter: the volume of pesticides sprayed on cotton; the fumes and chemicals used in creating clothing; and the sheer volume of clothing (often made of synthetic blends that don’t decompose) that are being dumped into landfills at alarming rates, are wreaking havoc on our environment. In this case, less really is more; the less we can contribute to the fast fashion economy, the better.
- Tailor and Repair. I just recently took a few items to the tailor to be adjusted so that they fit me perfectly, so that I will get more wear out of them. I haven’t gotten them back yet, but I am really looking forward to seeing the results. I took in a pair of jeans to have the waist taken in, a pair of wide leg trousers hemmed, and a button-down linen shirt taken in to be more fitted. I can’t wait to see the results and get more wear out of items I loved when I bought, but just weren’t quite right. I also have a couple of pairs of shoes that I need to take to a cobbler to get more life out of them. Everyone’s body is different and I think that it’s worth investing in getting your items tailored to really suit you. Getting your clothing and accessories repaired or mended is another great way to minimize your fashion footprint. If you loved the item enough to buy it, why not invest a little more so that it’s perfect or repair it so that you can wear it for years?
- Decide what is most important to you. There are so many facets to sustainable and ethical fashion. It’s difficult for a single item or brand to check off all the boxes in terms of sustainable/ethical criteria. I suggest choosing one or two things that you value the most when trying to shop more consciously. These aspects may shift over time, or even change from item to item, depending on what is available to you.
- Organic Fabrics/Natural Dyes
- Locally Designed and Locally Made
- Sustainable/Environmental Business Practices (i.e. businesses that have recycling programs, plant trees for every item sold, are transparent about their production line and environmental footprint, etc.)
There are probably more aspects that we could look at, but these are the points that are most salient in my mind. Again, most brands are not perfect, so I do recommend deciding what feels best for you, and focusing on one or two of these values to consider while making your purchases.
I’ve compiled a small list of resources that I like to use when I’m looking to purchase a specific item that I cannot find at the thrift store or do not want to buy secondhand.
Keep It Vegan’s Guide to Dressing Ethically. Doug from Keep It Vegan is working on a webpage and database that provides lots of information about how to find vegan and ethically produced clothing, and includes information on materials, vegan brands, and tips on how to care for your clothing. This page is chock-full of information about the wool, leather, and down industries as well as providing so much practical information that you can use when looking for a specific item of clothing. You can click on each clothing category (i.e. shoes, jackets, etc) and find lists of great brands for each category.
The Good Trade List of Ethical and Fair-trade Brands. Here is a great list to get you started with some brands to check out. They categorize each brand by where they are made and by price point which I find helpful. Many on the list are smaller US based brands, so I’m not entirely sure how easily accessible they are, but it’s a good place to start.
ethicalconsumer.org – This website has so much information, from tips to shopping ethically, to lists of ethical brands, to a rating system for fast fashion brands and designer brands based on environmental and ethical practices (or lack thereof).
I love watching watching Youtube videos for fashion and styling inspiration, not to mention to learn about sustainable brands that I might not otherwise have heard of. Here are a few of my favourite youtubers that focus on slow fashion, sustainability and capsule wardrobes.
My Green Closet: Erin from My Green Closet is a Canadian youtuber who studied Fashion Design in University and recently moved back to Alberta from Germany. She focuses on ethical, sustainable and minimal fashion. She speaks about capsule wardrobes, tips for sustainable shopping, tips on clothing care, and green makeup and skincare.
Alyssa Beltempo: Alyssa is another Canadian Youtuber. She focuses on slow fashion and using what you have to create unique looks. She recreates celebrity outfits with whatever is her wardrobe already. She does videos on minimalism and capsule wardrobes. She also does styling videos where she will style one item ten different ways. I love to see the creative outfits she comes up with!
Use Less: Signe from Use Less is a Danish Youtuber who focuses on minimalism and capsule wardrobes. She’s also discusses sustainability, conscious shopping and clothing DIY’s. I love her styling videos and her tips for building capsule wardrobes.
Kirsten Leo: Kirsten is a Greek Youtuber who talks about the issues within the fast fashion industry. She does thrift hauls and styling videos. She recreates celebrity looks using only thrifted items. She also has tips for veganism, skincare, and talks about being an “influencer.”
Rhian HY (aka Wifelife): Rhian is a British youtuber, living in the US. Although her channel is primarily about cruelty-free/vegan beauty, Rhian also does do some fashion videos. She partners with ethical fashion brands to do lookbooks and styling videos. She also often features ethical fashion brands in her monthly “favourites” videos.