Building a sustainable and ethical wardrobe can seem daunting but after a decade of educating people on building better consumer habits and hearing about their successes in making the switch, I’m here to tell you it’s super easy if you know how (trust me on this, I’ve been talking about sustainability in fashion since 2008!).
Here are 7 dos and don’ts of sustainable shopping that have guided me in my conscious consumer journey:
1. Do you really need it?
The first and most important question in my opinion.
Because it’s more ‘sustainable’ to avoid shopping and instead maximise the use of the items in your existing wardrobe. So the first question, before you step foot in a shop or open that web browser to search for that item is: do you really need it? If it’s a NO, you can avoid shopping altogether, saving time, money and waste.
I should also point out that sustainable fashion doesn’t just mean shopping for eco-friendly garments that are responsibly made. It also considers usage; how often you expect to wear the garment and how much use you will get out of it. If you’re purchasing another white tee to add to the 10 you already have and there is diminishing returns (aka you will be less likely not to wear the 10th one since you have nine already to choose), then do you really need it?
Don’t go shopping until you’ve answered this question truthfully. Chances are if you’re buying something you don’t need, you’re just shopping out of boredom, addiction or trying to fill an emotional void.
2. Do your research.
Before you buy anything it’s important to do your homework about the brand, its production supply chain, who makes their clothes, whether they’re being paid fairly and are working in safe conditions.
Check out the brand’s website, read up on the mission and what they’re doing to produce fashion responsibly and ethically. There’s also resources and apps such as Good On You, ethical fashion guides and honest customer reviews to be found online just by doing some online searches.
Don’t use time as an excuse for not doing basic research. Even if you find yourself doing some unplanned shopping, you can still whip out your phone to do research when you’re at the store. Don’t be afraid to approach retail assistants and ask lots of questions (the worst response you’ll get is “I don’t know” but at least you’ve done the right thing and asked!).
Related Post: An Open Letter to the Ethical Fashion Movement
3. Do second-hand shopping first.
Before purchasing anything brand new, first try searching for a second hand item. This way you will be making use of resources otherwise wasted since the item already exists, no new raw materials are needed. Check out eBay, thrift shops, garage sales, second-hand markets and even community groups on Facebook.
Don’t have time to shop second hand for the ideal size and item? You can also rent or borrow from fashion hiring platforms such as Rent the Runway. Visit this page for a complete list of online fashion rental sites.
4. Do choose natural and eco-friendly fabrics.
Aim to choose organic natural fabrics that biodegrade if possible, as synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon actually release microplastics into our oceans when washed (we’ve covered how laundering your clothes contributes to ocean plastic in great detail here).
Don’t wash synthetic garments without a microfilament bag. Garments made of synthetic fibres such as activewear and undergarments should be washed in a laundry bag specialised designed to capture microfibres. We recommend the Guppyfriend Washing Bag.
5. Do focus on quality, not quantity.
Choose quality over quantity always. Buy well-made items that are built to last over cheaply-made poor-quality items made for disposability. When it comes to sustainability in fashion, buy the best quality you can afford and that you know you will get lots of wear out of.
Don’t fall for fast fashion’s expensive marketing campaigns. Fast fashion brands collectively spend millions each year making their garments look glitzy and glamorous, but as a smart consumer you still need to question whether people and the planet’s resources are being exploited in the process.
6. Do wash sparingly.
We’ve been brainwashed to think we need to wash items after wearing it just once. Unless it’s your undergarments, washing your garments after one wear is privilege at its finest. Seriously, how dirty did your clothes really get after wearing it that one time?
Much of a garment’s environmental impact occurs after purchase so it’s super important to wash only when needed. Avoid dry cleaning which often uses harsh chemicals in its processes and choose to wash in cold water where possible.
Don’t forget to use eco-friendly laundry detergents and avoid using fossil-fuelled power clothes dryer. Part of being a sustainably-minded shopper is reducing the carbon footprint of laundering your clothing too!
7. Do take care of your garments.
Make your clothes last by looking after your items after purchasing. That way you don’t need to shop regularly. Read the garments label and care instructions so you understand how to best look after them. Learn to mend holes and hems, or if you don’t have time, take the item to a tailor or repairer who can replace missing buttons, restitch and repair seams that are coming apart.
Don’t be wasteful and throw items in landfill if they’re still in good condition just because you can’t be bothered mending/fixing/repairing. If after fixing you still don’t want the garments, be sure to offer the items to friends and family or donate to charity shops.
- 69 Facts and Statistics About Fast Fashion That Will Inspire You To Become An Ethical Fashion Advocate
- Individuals in the Developed World Consume More of the Earth’s Resources. Here’s How to Consume Less…
- Unethical Fast Fashion: If We Don’t Buy It, They Won’t Make It, It’s That Simple
- World’s Tallest Closet Filled With a Lifetime of Clothing Demonstrates Scale of First-World Consumerism
- Living With Less: Understanding Our Wants and Needs
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