Why buying sustainable and ethical clothing is important to me - My values, thoughts and tips.
It’s amazing to live in a world where we can order products from all corners of the globe at 10.35pm on a Tuesday night and eagerly await their arrival. We now have access to millions of items worldwide and can choose which businesses we engage with and support.
Like many others I used to shop online from businesses such as ASOS and boohoo or pop into Kmart for a quick fashion fix. I mean what’s better than a cute dress for under $20 or a singlet for $5?!? I gave little thought to where the item came from, whose hands it had passed through or how much wear I would get out of it. I also didn’t consider the fact that I was aligning myself with the values and ethics of these businesses through my purchases. I just wanted it, so I bought it.
Over the past 5 years I have become more conscious about my clothing purchases and the businesses I support. My addiction to fast fashion has ended and my support of businesses and brands who value sustainable and ethical practices has grown.
The terms sustainable and ethical are thrown around A LOT at the moment so I just wanted to give you my personal thoughts about what these terms mean.
For me, the word sustainable refers to the environmental impact of something. This tends to relate to the materials that an item is made from, for example organic cotton is more sustainable than standard cotton as it uses less water and pesticides to grow, meaning that there is less impact on the environment. It can also relate to factories using renewable energy sources such as solar power to operate or using pre-existing materials in their products i.e making clothing from vintage fabrics.
To me, the term ethical generally relates to the way in which people are treated, for example garment workers are paid living wages and work in a safe environment. It can also relate to the treatment of animals if animal products are used in the clothing i.e wool or leather. (I’m definitely not an expert so please do your own research into these terms to create your own definitions. https://www.fashionrevolution.org/ is a great place to start).
Over time I have been able to establish what my values are when it comes to purchasing clothing. My personal values include:
- Supporting businesses that prioritise the health and wellbeing of their employees, especially the workers producing their items i.e paying living wages and providing safe working conditions.
- Purchasing items that have a lower environmental impact i.e organic cotton, repurposed or vintage materials, dead stock.
- Supporting small businesses - especially New Zealand based (my local economy).
- Only purchasing what I need and not what I want - this has been a huge mindset change for me.
- Quality over quantity - do I really need 3 pairs of jeans or would 1 pair be enough?
Since clarifying my values, when I am shopping I think carefully about each item and ask myself the following questions...
- Who made the item?
- What is it made from?
- How much wear will I get out of it?
- Do I really need it?
To answer the first 2 questions I take a few minutes to read over the product details and will then check the ‘about’ page and ethical policies on their website (if available). If I feel comfortable with what I read then I take another minute to ponder and decide if I actually need the item (and to be honest 9 times out of 10 the answer is no).
By taking a few minutes to actually think about the item and read more about it, the initial rush of shopping adrenaline has subsided and I can think more clearly. It’s a huge change from how I used to approach shopping but it makes me happier to know that I am informed about what I am purchasing.
Side note - If I am in store I read the tags inside the clothing and then check the Good on you app or website to see if the brand/business is rated. If I’m still not sure I will quickly check the brand/businesses website to see if there is information available there.
I am aware that sustainable/ethical clothing generally charge cost more. This often stems from the fact that the workers producing the garments are paid fairly and fabrics are more expensive. Here's an example of costings from Birdsong that helps to break down the costs associated with one of their dresses.
For this reason buying only what you need, and what you know you will wear for years to come, is key. One tip I also have is to follow brands on social media and sign up for their newsletters as sometimes they will have special offers. I have been to a couple of Kowtow sample sales advertised on Instagram and picked up some great pieces that I would not have been able to afford at full price.
Another way that I shop sustainably is to purchase second hand. I tend to prefer op shopping or scouring second hand clothing stores in person but I have also had some success buying from sellers on Instagram and online marketplaces such as Trademe and Etsy. I enjoy the thrill of the unknown when it comes to op shopping and the treasures that can be found when you are hunting through racks. Some of my favourite clothing items are op shop finds. A lot of the time items I purchase have hardly been worn or are brand new which always astounds me. It can be hard to control what you will find while op shopping so I tend to buy my basics from brands/businesses my values align with and then add a bit of flair to my wardrobe with op shop finds.
I have made the conscious choice not to buy clothing that exploits vulnerable people and causes harm to our planet. Yes that means I miss out on buying items now and then, but it ultimately means that I am caring for others and helping to grow an industry that values people and our planet.
I really hope that as we emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown that some of our consumer driven habits will have changed and that we can “go without” a little more often to support our planet and workers.
Do you have any tips for shopping ethically/sustainably? Or any favourite sustainable and ethical brands I should know about? I would love for you to add them to the comments below.