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Your Guide to Making Sustainable Choices in Fashion


Changes you can make for the environment with your wardrobe

Budget clothing retailers and manufacturers are making cheap dupes of high-fashion couture, to make it affordable to the masses.

Sounds good, right?

Nope — fast fashion is killing the planet.

Fast fashion may be cheap to the consumer, but the cost is being paid by the environment and the people making your clothes.

Costs are cut by using cheaper, more toxic dyes, which leach out into water , damaging aquatic life and seeping into our water supplies.

Cheaper fabrics are used, too — how many garments do you have with the word ‘polyester’ on the tag somewhere?

Polyester is essentially plastic, and is used in so many fashion items that literally tonnes are being shed into our water, further contributing to the already-massive amounts of plastic in our oceans.

Unfortunately, even ‘natural’ fabrics can be damaging to the planet, too.

Popular materials like cotton need a lot of water to produce even the tiniest clothing items.

Then there’s the clothes that get thrown away.

According to The Guardian, 235 million tonnes of unwanted clothes were sent to the landfill in the spring of 2017 in Britain alone.

Plus, fast fashion manufacturers and retailers regularly burn their unsold clothes, polluting our skies even further with thick black smogs.

Even when it looks like they’re giving back by ‘donating’ (shifting the responsibility) unsold clothes to developing countries, due to the sheer amount of clothing donated, those nations have to burn the clothes anyway, to save them from rotting in a landfill.

It’s even got to the point where countries like Kenya and Uganda have had to ban clothing retailers from ‘donating’ unsold clothes to them.

Not only that, but the factory workers making fast fashion are subject to ailments from working closely with toxic chemicals on a regular basis, and are denied fair wages and basic human rights.

We need to take action against fast fashion — it’s an environmental and human rights crisis.

What makes a fast fashion brand?

You may be shopping at fast fashion brands without realising.

Before researching this article, I thought my clothing choices were on the more ethical side — how wrong I was.

Here are a few ways you can find a fast fashion retailer:

  • They tend to stock hundreds of different clothing styles.
  • They can replicate high-fashion outfits in a very short amount of time — sometimes within a day of it being on the catwalk or worn by a celebrity.
  • They sell clothes cheaply — the cost has to come from somewhere.
  • They sometimes have ‘limited edition’ runs of clothes or brands, which helps them to quickly sell items so they can make room for new stock.
  • The clothes tend to wear away quickly, since they’re not designed to last.
I get it, though — it’s so convenient to shop for cheap clothes that look good.

I’m hardly a millionaire either, and I won’t deny that I’ve bought my fair share of £5 t-shirts that I know won’t last.

But we need to stop this cycle.

So what can we do? Read on, environmental warrior…

Buy less

The first place to start is simply to buy less clothes.

I’ll be the first to admit that my wardrobe is full — I don’t actually need any more clothes.

Eco-fashion app and website Good On You suggest that, before buying any fashion, you ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How much will I wear it?
  2. How much do I already own?
  3. How long will it last?
If you’ll only wear something once or twice, don’t buy it.

If you already have something similar in your wardrobe, don’t buy it.

If you know it won’t last long because it’s made of cheap materials, don’t buy it.

Set yourself targets if you’re a fashion junkie — aim to cut down your yearly (or monthly) fashion spend by half, and go from there.

Shop from retailers you can trust

I really struggled with this at first, because I didn’t know which retailers I could trust.

Some retailers fudge their numbers to look more sustainable and eco-friendly, and some have the façade of appearing environmentally-conscious when they are actually contributing more than others to the climate crisis.

I recently came across a useful app and website, Good On You, who help take away the fear of unethical shopping by doing the research for you:

“ We’ve done the work to read between the seams for you. We are the world’s leading source for fashion brand ratings. We pull all the information together and use expert analysis to give each brand an easy-to-understand score. With Good On You, you can discover the very best fashion from around the world and learn everything you need to know about ethical and sustainable fashion.” — from the Good On You website
They rate retailers on a range of sustainability and ethical factors, like their waste disposal, treatment of workers, how they source their materials — and score them in an easy 1–5 system.

Now, I tend to shop mainly from retailers with ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ ratings, and sparingly shop from those rated ‘It’s a start’, because there are some known fast fashion retailers lurking in there, doing the bare minimum.

Before I shop for specific clothes, or for other people, I look on their app to see which retailers nearby or online I can trust.

If anyone knows of any website or app that extends beyond sustainable and ethical ratings for fashion, I’d love to hear from you — I can’t seem to find a decent one!

Buy secondhand

This is my first port of call when I’m looking for ‘new’ clothes.

I head straight to charity shops and second-hand clothing sites like Vinted, because one person’s trash is another’s treasure!

I’ve found some great buys, for a fraction of the cost, and it feels a bit better knowing that I’m saving something from landfill.

This is a great alternative to those who want to be more ethical in their clothes shopping, but don’t necessarily have the funds to buy from ethical brands which, usually, are more expensive.

Better yet, if you’re buying for a formal event and are only likely to wear your outfit once, why not rent it?

You’ll save money, and you won’t have to sell or throw it away afterwards.

Re-purpose old clothes

You don’t have to be an expert in sewing to re-purpose your old clothes.

I can barely sew on a button without somehow stabbing myself with a sewing needle.

It can even be as simple as using an old, torn t-shirt as a cleaning rag instead of throwing it in the bin, or turning ripped garments into hair accessories.

The only limit is your imagination!

Make your clothes last

Making your clothes last goes beyond just buying more quality clothing, and spending more money.

There are a few ways you can help make your clothes last longer:

  • Washing clothes less often — the only garments you should wash each time you wear them are socks and underwear.
  • Let clothes air-dry, rather than using a dryer
  • Use less detergent and fabric softener
  • Fold heavy clothes rather than sitting them on a hanger — to save them from stretching
  • Iron clothes only when they need it — most of the time, you can just wear them to get the creases out.
  • Learn how to sew on a button or fix small tears — even I can do both of these, and I’m all fingers and thumbs!
  • Zip up clothes with zips before putting them in the washing machine — it’ll stop them from catching on other clothes.
Don’t trust the greenwashers

I’ve been tricked.

I bought into H&M’s ‘sustainable’ fashion line, Conscious.

H&M is terrible for the environment, being one of the biggest fast fashion retailers around today.

They saw that they had to fix this reputation, with the growing trend of environmentalism.

Enter Conscious, their “sustainable style” brand.

Sure, the Conscious line is more sustainable than their other clothing, but, in the end, all the money is going into the same pot.

When I was buying Conscious clothing, I was giving money to the same company that severely underpays their workers, uses less than 1% recycled materials across their ranges, and uses inordinate amounts of water to produce their Conscious range, alone.

Companies tend to use terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘green’, ‘eco’, and ‘ethical’ to describe their products, because there are no legal ramifications to using those words incorrectly.

There are no basic minimums set for them to use those terms.

So, unfortunately for us conscious consumers, we have to look even deeper, beyond the eco-buzzwords, to determine whether those brands really are worthy of our custom.

I hope this guide helps you to make more conscious decisions on the clothing you buy in the future.

Ultimately, we, as consumers, have the power over fast fashion.

If we stop buying from notorious fast fashion brands, they will have to change their manufacturing processes, sourcing methods, and marketing to suit us.

Let’s get together and be the change we want to see in the world.



This article was originally published by Tassia Agatowski,

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