We’ve heard it all over – the fashion industry is contributing to climate change, fast fashion is harmful to the environment, and mass manufacturers are implementing unethical labor practices. So, how can we combat these harmful practices while still curating a stylish wardrobe? Here are 5 ways to shop more sustainably, without compromising your style.
- KNOW YOUR FABRIC COMPOSITION
How often do you purchase a garment without looking at the tag? You could be spending $$$ on synthetic fibers that are harmful to the environment.
Some of the most common synthetic fibers:
Elastic – made from rubber or latex and wrapped with other synthetic fibers
Spandex – made from polyurethane
Rayon – made from reconstituted wood pulp through a heavy chemical treatment (examples include modal, viscose and lyocell)
Polyester – made from coal and petroleum
Nylon – made from crude oil (more on the sustainability of nylon)
Acrylic – made from coal and petroleum
The gist? Most synthetic fibers are made of plastic. They do have some great benefits like durability and water resistance, and a lot of brands use synthetic fibers because they are significantly cheaper than natural fibers (such as cotton, wool, or linen), making them the perfect fit for mass manufacturers who are after a high profit margin. It’s no secret that synthetic fibers (aka plastic) are harmful to our planet, just like the millions of water bottles, straws, and other single use plastics that are produced and thrown away each year.
Some reasons to stay away from synthetic fibers:
- They emit harmful gasses during the production process
- They are not biodegradable (meaning once they end up in a landfill, they will sit there for thousands of years)
- They can release tiny microplastics into the water when you wash them
Synthetic fibers are so widespread that it’s hard to stay away from them completely. Even high-end brands fall victim to using synthetic fabrics in their garments. But they do have one good quality – they are recyclable. So, if you have to buy synthetic, try to find garments made from recycled fabric or that don’t get washed often such as blazers, sweaters and coats.
If you can, the best way to stay away from synthetic fibers is to look for garments made from natural fibers like silk, wool, cotton and linen. But keep in mind that natural fibers can be sourced unsustainably and unethically, so 100% organic and fair trade is the best of the best option when it comes to fiber selection.
- INVEST IN LONG TERM PIECES
85% of clothing purchased ends up in a landfill every year1, and 60% of those items are made of synthetic fibers that are not biodegradable. So, one way we can shop more sustainably is thinking long term about our wardrobe, and keeping our clothes out of the landfills. Influencers encouraging overconsumption and the quick life cycle of trends these days have us buying more, wearing more and donating more.
If we start to think beyond trends and single-occasion outfits, we can decrease our overall consumption and keep harmful synthetics out of landfills. Developing our personal style and creating a staple wardrobe can help tremendously in extending the lifespan of our garments.
When you’re shopping for clothes, think about the garment’s life cycle – where did it come from and where will it be in 1 year? 3 years? 5 years? These days, I’m really invested in curating a closet that my future daughter would want to have. Too often we shop for clothes for a specific occasion, and shifting to more of a capsule wardrobe will help decrease our consumption and give our garments a longer lifespan.
- SHOP SLOW + SHOP AROUND
Companies like Zara, Shein, and Amazon have changed our perception on how cheap clothes should be and how quickly we should be able to receive them. Even companies like Revolve are encouraging over consumption by HEAVILY incentivising influencers to share and sell more and more garments (btw they have a return rate of 96%2).
Would you believe me if I told you there are THOUSANDS of other retailers out there? I can’t promise that you’ll receive your order in 2 days or less, but you will be supporting smaller, more ethical companies.
By shopping around and shopping at companies focused on sustainability, we can significantly decrease our fashion carbon footprint. Especially when it comes to your wardrobe basics like a white t-shirt, shop around at several stores before deciding on the perfect piece for you. Remember that cheap doesn’t mean the best deal/value in the long run.
- TAKE MEASUREMENTS BEFORE SHOPPING ONLINE
Online shopping is the preferred method for most people these days because it’s so much easier and the selection is truly endless. But, shipping materials don’t only increase prices, they’re contributing to our plastic use. While cardboard boxes are recyclable (how many of you actually recycle these?), most companies will include non-recyclable plastic wraps in your packages to keep your garments safe and clean in transit. Appreciated – but unnecessary.
One way we can reduce our shipping rates is by decreasing our returns. I’m guilty of this too. We buy all the things we like online and then we return half of it because it doesn’t fit or doesn’t look like how we expected. To avoid this, take your measurements and look at sizing charts before placing your order. Not only are you going to be happier with a garment that actually fits, you’re going to decrease the number of returns you’re sending back.
- SHOP SECOND HAND
Finally, the most obvious way to shop sustainably – shop second hand. Second hand shopping is easier than ever with the rise of thrift stores and luxury consignment shops like TheRealReal and ReBag. Especially when it comes to investing in long term pieces while still working within a budget, second hand shopping is the best way to extend the life cycle of a garment.
When you’re online shopping, before you hit the checkout button check out online stores like Poshmark, eBay and Depop to see if someone is selling the item(s) you’re purchasing. Not only are you saving money, you’re helping the environment.
Second hand shopping doesn’t have to only be for those big investment pieces. Visit your local thrift stores and try to find thrift stores at places you travel to. It can be really fun to find a great piece in a place of seemingly bland garments. Even basics like white button downs and jeans are great items to search for at thrift stores. Just remember to keep #3 in mind. Just because a garment costs $4, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be added to your wardrobe.
Shopping sustainably doesn’t have to be difficult and it doesn’t have to lack style. Using these rules and being conscious about what you put in your closet can help you curate a true-to-you style and help our planet.
I’d love to hear about your sustainable fashion journey! Tag me on Instagram @kaylin_jeanette or send me an email at email@example.com.
Resources and citations
- The Fashion Industry Waste is Drastically Contributing to Climate Change
- An E-commerce Pitfall: never Ending Returns
- Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline