How do we shop with a conscience when surrounded by cheaply produced, poorly constructed clothing that by next season often becomes trash? Trendy clothing mimicking the latest catwalk trends is churned through our stores almost faster than you can blink. It is destined for only one place – landfill.
There is a term for inexpensive, trendy clothing – fast fashion – and fast fashion is (literally) killing our planet.
Society is consuming fast fashion like never before, but what are the costs? In terms of our environment, the fashion industry is reportedly the second most polluting industry in the world, only topped by oil. Water is a significant part of the problem, along with the many chemicals used. Fast fashion also impacts the workers who rely on it for their livelihood, with many being paid a pittance to labour in unsafe conditions. And let’s not forget the damage to our finances and unique sense of style as we try and keep up with it all. Let’s take a look at some little known truths:
FACT 1: Australians are the world’s second largest consumers of fashion. On average, we purchase 27kg of new items of clothing every year, and discard around 23kg into landfill – two-thirds of those discards are manmade fibres that may never break down.
FACT 2: 6 tonnes of unwanted clothing is sent to landfill every 10 minutes in Australia.
FACT 3: Approximately 7,000 litres of water are needed to produce one pair of jeans (the amount of water one individual drinks in 5-6 years).
FACT 4: Australian charities spend a staggering $13 million per year sending unsuitable donations (about 60,000 tonnes) to landfill.
So, how can we become mindful consumers of fashion? We’re all big on recycling bottles and minimising plastic waste but when it comes to fashion, it seems that we’re less aware of the havoc we’re wreaking. These statistics (and many more) have made me really think about the waste I create and making more informed fashion purchases. I want to maintain my style and my conscience.
The solution lies in buying less and choosing better quality items that are made ethically and to last. This can minimise waste, reduce exploitation and help the planet. Here are my tips for ethical shopping in 6 simple steps. Let’s change the world for the better, one purchase at a time:).
1 DO A SHOPPING DETOX
Stop the shopping cycle with me right now. Take a month or three out to clear your mind of your must-haves and let your credit card breathe a sigh of relief. Our shopping habits have been formed over a lifetime and they won’t change overnight.
Use this time to really get to know your existing wardrobe and your sense of style. Start creating new outfits out of your existing clothing and learn which pieces make you feel your best. Take note of the pieces that you rarely, if ever, wear. If you get really desperate, have a clothes swap with friends.
This is all about taking some time to clear your mind, to sit back and gain a little perspective. Often shopping is a distraction, or a mood booster so let the things that matter come to the surface. Are you up for it? I’ll let you know how I go, and I hope you’ll join me too.
2 LEARN YOUR STYLE
Create your ultimate PERSONAL STYLE GUIDE. Being aware of your lifestyle, climate, body type and style preferences makes it so much easier to purchase timeless pieces that you will love for years to come and will wear regularly.
3 MAKE A SHOPPING WISH LIST
A short, thoughtful Shopping Wish List will allow you to shop selectively. It will ensure that you decide what you need to buy BEFORE you hit the shops. I have been preparing seasonal wish-lists for the last year and swear by them. A little forward planning stops impulse buys and ensures that your wardrobe contains carefully selected items that will become closet staples.
Don’t let your list include more than 10 items (this might be easier said than done).
Set a budget. I know, I am such a kill joy! You’re much less likely to overspend if you’ve got a figure in mind. Remember, it’s better buying two timeless, pieces that you love than 10 items that aren’t quite right. Don’t settle for second best. This is a wish list of things you must 100% love, so if you can’t find the perfect piece – don’t buy it!
4 CONSUME LESS
Everywhere we turn, we are told to consume but I’ve found that great style is not about having a lot of clothes. It’s about having ‘the right’ clothes. You really can consume less and feel like you have more by being smarter with your purchases and using what’s already in your wardrobe better. Some tricks I’ve been using to consume less include:
Value the Clothes You Own
Taking care of the clothes you own is the most basic thing you can do to build a more ethical wardrobe. Repair what’s broken, hand wash when necessary, remove stains, fold heavy knits instead of hanging them. Clothes that are well cared for last longer and you’ll feel better wearing them. No one likes wearing a pilled knit with a stain down the front! So, treasure what you have.
Know Your Wardrobe
Before you rush out to purchase something new, assess your current wardrobe. Do you have something similar already? Can you re-purpose something you already have? Anything you add should be unique or compliment the styles and silhouettes you most often gravitate to.
Reinvent Your Wardrobe
Challenge yourself to wear something in your existing wardrobe in a different way. Change up your usual look with accessories, make-up, jewellery and try new combinations and colours together. Gather up inspiration, open your mind to experimenting and you’ll likely find a whole new world of possibilities within your existing wardrobe,
Ask yourselves the 6 key questions on my Shopping Checklist before purchasing anything. This will ensure that when you do shop, every purchase is something that you love, makes you feel fabulous and will get wear for years to come.
Quality Over Quantity
Make a deliberate choice to buy higher quality items less often. Sometimes high-quality means paying more, but not always. Think about how much it costs annually to buy low-quality clothing which doesn’t last or gets little wear. Instead of buying a lot of cheap items, save up to buy less items of better quality. Avoid trends and buy classic, timeless pieces that you will still be able to still wear in 5 years’ time.
5 CONSIDER CREATIVE ALTERNATIVES
Need something new? Consider some creative alternatives before you hit the stores.
If you’re after a unique outfit for a special occasion, consider renting a designer outfit online. THE GLAM CORNER are just one company that offer this service in Australia. If the dress doesn’t fit or you don’t like it, you simply return it for free. You pay around ¼ of the retail price to rent the dress for 4 to 8 days. Once you’ve had your event you just return the dress in the prepaid bag provided. You can even top off the perfect race day dress with a fascinator that is absolutely divine too!
Buy Vintage or Second Hand
A great budget friendly alternative to ethical brands is re-using pre-loved clothing. Second hand shopping can be time consuming and hit and miss, but when you strike gold it’s worth the effort for the truly unique piece you’ve uncovered.
Host A Clothes Swap
I love the idea of hosting a clothes swap with friends. It would be a great excuse to catch up over a glass of bubbles and swap treasures. Clothes swaps usually work with 5-10 items of clothing per person. Each person gets a button (or poker chip) per item and the clothing is displayed so that everyone has a chance to peruse the items. You then take turns picking out one item at a time. I believe you really need friends of a similar size who value quality fashion to make this idea work well.
6 WHERE POSSIBLE, MAKE ETHICAL CHOICES
In an ideal world, my wardrobe would consist of entirely ethical clothing brands, but in reality, most of us don’t have the money to shop exclusively from sustainable brands. This isn’t the only option out there though. There are lots of strategies we can use to reduce our personal contribution to the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry on workers and the environment. You can shop with a conscience. Check some of these out ideas out to help make ethical choices:
Buy From Ethical Labels
You can download a free online report called the ETHICAL FASHION REPORT by Baptist World Aid Australia. They evaluate all fashion labels in terms of what they are doing to address forced labour, child labour and exploitation. You’ll be surprised at some of the bigger, more popular brands that have achieved an A or B rating and this will make you feel better about purchasing from these stores.
Here’s a sample of some well-known fashion brands, you might shop at with an A or B rating in the Ethical Fashion Report.
Bonds Bras N Things
There is also a free app, ‘Good On You’ that you can download. It rates mainstream fashion brands based on their environmental impact, as well as their labour and animal welfare practices.
Consider Ethical Fabrics
Not all fabrics can be produced with ethical manufacturing processes. Natural fibres are among the most sustainable as they can be recycled or left to break down at the end of their life. These include organic wool and cotton, bamboo, leather, hemp, jute, linen, merino and alpaca wool, cashmere, mohair and recycled polyester.
Less sustainable fabrics include PU (polyurethane), polyester (which is made using high quantities of oil and petroleum) and non-organic cotton. Cotton relies heavily on vast quantities of water and chemicals.
The Cotton industry is responsible for 25% of insecticide use worldwide.
By following these simple steps, you will be well on your way to lessening the impact that your clothing choices have on our planet. It makes me feel great to think that all of us can make positive changes from such simple steps. We can shop with a conscience. So come on, let’s change the world – one smart purchase at a time.