The path to living sustainability can often appear overwhelming. You may find yourself asking “where do I begin?” or even feeling like you’re not doing it right; and with so many fast fashion choices, finding clothing that’s environmentally friendly seems near impossible.
In this blog, we’ll provide you with some tips on how to dress sustainably and what to avoid, helping make your ethical fashion journey a smoother ride.
- Vintage and Pre-Loved
With the ever-growing popularity of op shops and vintage stores, comes an abundance of retro clothing and unique pieces to choose from. However, shopping second hand is a lot more sustainable than you may have thought.
The difference between new and pre-owned clothing comes down to its lifespan. A fast-fashion item is estimated to have a shelf life of four weeks in-store, whilst being worn only a handful of times. On the other hand, vintage is classified as clothing that is more than twenty years old, meaning a lot more use has come from the garment before being disposed of.
By continuing to reuse clothes that are designed to last, we are saving serious amounts of resources not having to produce something new, thus making it environmentally sustainable. However, in order to work further into the future, clothes need to be in good condition and designed to last a long time, which fast fashion is not doing. Therefore, poorly made clothing with short lifespans are not viable to be re-worn in the long term. To help contribute to the cycle of vintage and pre-loved fashion, it’s ideal to invest in better quality products.
A misconception that many consumers make is that when they donate their unwanted clothing, they are counteracting the negative implications of fast fashion. Although this is technically true as they are not sending it to landfill directly, most garments end up being sent their anyway. Due to the poor conditions of fast fashion, it’s estimated that charities are spending millions to dispose of donations that are too poor quality to sell which can have devastating impacts on their budgets and funding.
Additionally, we cannot rely on donating alone, it’s essential for us follow up on our donations with purchases to ensure second-hand stores are not overrun by an abundance of clothing. There’s no need to buy new clothing when there are already absurd amounts available to us through our second-hand stores. By donating and/or reselling clothing, we are helping to reduce waste and save resources, which promotes more long-term sustainability in the fashion sector.
- Trading and Upcycling
Like vintage and pre-loved clothing, trading and upcycling also provide garments with the opportunity to have a “second life”. Trading is very similar to second-hand stores, however, it is as simple as swapping clothing with friends, family, etc. This can be a great way to save money on new clothes, getting rid of what doesn’t fit you anymore, or to just clear out your closet.
Upcycling helps to repurpose clothing that is too damaged to be resold, which overall helps to reduce waste and increases the lifespan of the garment. It can be as simple as replacing a missing button or turning a garment into something completely new. It also provides an opportunity for people to create something unique without having to use excessive resources to make something new. Upcycling also assists with vintage and pre-loved clothing as it makes the items donatable and wearable again, this easier to sell and not needing to be discarded.
- Support Sustainable Brands
As consumers, we can spend our money wherever we choose, but it can also show who we support. By continually giving our money to fast fashion brands, we are essentially telling them that what they are doing is okay and that we support it. Businesses need money to survive, therefore, the more people who boycott fast fashion brands, the louder our message of sustainability will become to them. We must also remain aware of issues like greenwashing and the transparency of brands and their supply chains. It is important for us to question brands and to look further than their surface-level appearances. For instance, a brand may appear to take on recycling initiatives but how do they treat their workers?
So, who should you support? There are numerous brands you can choose from but finding them can be hard. Apps like Good On You have done the investigation work for you and have provided a platform for consumers to see how sustainable a fashion brand really is. They use a rating system from “we avoid” to “great” based on their labour, environmental, and animal impacts, and will provide you with a list of brands who are similar and doing it better.
Supporting local brands and small businesses is also a great way to shop ethically whilst reducing your ecological footprint (e.g. not having items shipped over from another country). There are many brands out there who take a sustainable approach whether it be from using ethical fabrics and fibres, upcycling, etc. A lot of these can be found at local markets, online, or just by exploring parts of your hometown. By promoting and supporting these sorts of businesses, we are providing support to our local economy whilst allowing a platform and opportunity for them to grow in a tough industry. It is important to mention that you should always research small brands too. Even though they aren’t a big corporation, their practices can easily be unsustainable as well; what is their supply chain?
So now that you are equipped with where to shop sustainably, what mistakes should you avoid?
- Don’t jump into the deep end
A big mistake a lot of people make is that they try and be 100% sustainable from the start. However, this increases the likelihood of giving up on your sustainable journey. It is believed that the need to be perfect when trying to live better comes from the fear of being scrutinised by others, but doing your bit helps, no matter if it’s big or small. So, avoid going cold turkey, take baby steps in avoiding unethical brands. Start with a handful that you are happy to drop and slowly with time work your way up to a complete boycott of all fast fashion brands. Letting go of brands you love is hard and that is where most people fail as they cannot let go of those brands, which is completely understandable. We recommend researching for any others that are similar and more sustainable or finding second-hand items from a brand you like; you may even find brands you like more in the process. It can also be hard if you need a necessity item that you need. This is where research comes in again to find brands that are similar but better to fulfil your needs.
- Be aware of your impulse purchases
Overconsumption also plays a large role in our sustainability issue. We end up buying items that we loved in the moment but may not ever actually wear, and through our excessive purchases, we are telling brands that we want more, and they will then produce more. We need to ask ourselves three questions:
- Do I have something already that is similar?
- Will I actually wear this?
- Do I really need this item?
If you pass all the questions, then go ahead, buy the item. If you’re still on the fence, then we recommend taking a picture of the item and sleeping on it, maybe even ask your peers for their opinions, and make a judgement from there. Additionally, don’t be fooled by ads that tell you it’ your “last chance” or show a really good price; they’re there to create a sense of urgency so you don’t miss out.
By questioning our impulsive spending habits, not only are you saving money, you are also decreasing your support towards fast fashion (as impulse purchasing is a tactic they heavily rely on).
Written by: SCo Team Member, Tatjana