Tips for building and maintaining an ethically-conscious wardrobe
Sustainable fashion in all its variations—eco-friendly, socially conscious, ethical—has been on the rise. In the thick of its increase in public awareness, (thanks to popular documentaries like The True Cost and activists like Livia Firth) consumers and brands alike have learned of the troubling statistics surrounding the fast fashion industry.
Thankfully, similar to the growth of other popular movements like the drive to support local merchants or the influx of people leading minimalist lifestyles, sustainable clothing options are becoming increasingly more accessible. Opportunities are available now more than ever for those of us who are interested in supporting industries rooted in ethical practices.
Here, how to build a more eco-friendly wardrobe:
1. Check the label.
"Just the same way we have grown accustomed to reading food labels or even beauty/skin care product labels, we too should be reading our clothing labels," says Founder of Fashion Takes Action, Kelly Drennan. The trick is knowing your fabrics and asking the right questions. "Look for fabrics that are made sustainably—like hemp and tencel or organic cotton and wool," says Drennan. "Also, look for a certification logo to back up any of these claims, such as GOTS or Oeko-tex," both industry standard certifications. A store manager or brand representative can also help identify any sustainably made pieces the brand offers.
2. Donate clothes you no longer wear or host a clothing swap.
A good habit to get into is to review the contents of your closet every three to six months. What have you worn a lot? What’s barely been touched? Chances are, a good portion of your wardrobe will have gone unworn throughout the season. This is a great opportunity to donate your clothes to people in need or host a clothing swap amongst friends.
3. Shop local.
Sarah Stewart of ARC Apparel, an online retailer that exclusively sells responsibly-sourced clothes, believes in the importance of cutting environmental impacts through shopping close to home: "When looking at where a brand manufactures, local is amazing, as we are supporting our economy and there is less transportation involved."
4. Find brands you like that are sustainable.
There are an increasing amount of North American brands taking note of the importance of sustainability. Big-name brands like Levi’s, Reformation and Matt & Nat all consider ethical practices to be a cornerstone of their manufacturing processes.
Local-to-Canada brands like Mary Young, Sokoloff Lingerie, Wallis Evera and Encircled are well-loved for their ethically-produced fabrics and sustainability practices. "Usually a brand will have some information on their website about where they manufacture and what they are doing to reduce their footprint," says Stewart.
5. Shop your closet—or someone else’s!
Oftentimes, we can get caught up in the feeling of needing something new, whether we’re chasing the natural high that comes with shopping or are nervous about looking good for a particular event. In these instances, it can be helpful to take stock of your closet and consider ways to re-envision new looks with your existing wardrobe, or adopt an attitude of gratefulness for what you already own.
Alternatively, there are services that offer dress rentals for special occasions, or it’s likely you have a friend or family member who’s up for exchanging looks for an evening. Shopping second-hand is also a great option for repurposing old goods and saving money.
6. Repair before you replace.
"How we care for our clothing has just as much impact as how it was made," says Drennan. Another trick is to be mindful of investing in quality pieces when you do shop, or taking the time to repair those that might still have some life in them. Find a good tailor or learn how to sew small repairs like loose threads, fallen hemlines, minor tears, or missing buttons. Tactics like these can save you money in the long run and ensure you’re keeping as many items of clothing that are still wearable out of landfills.
7. Consider why before you buy.
Will you wear it 30 times? Are you buying to satisfy a need or a want? There’s nothing wrong with wanting new clothes, but it’s possible to create a filter before you purchase. For example, take into consideration whether or not purchasing the item is part of a passing need for immediate gratification, or if it’s another one of those hot-topic trends that will likely go out of style not long after you buy. Determining whether or not the piece will coordinate seamlessly with the rest of your wardrobe will also help root out unnecessary impulse purchases.