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A beginner’s guide to dressing ethically

Oct. 25, 2018
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Many of us are well aware of the negative impact fast fashion has on the environment and its laborers, yet we continue to fund the industry. Let me start by saying this: I understand. For many years, I knew that fast fashion was inherently bad but never bothered to educate myself on how my clothes were being produced or where they went when I no longer had a use for them. At the time, I bought most of my clothes from stores like Urban Outfitters and H&M because they were cheap and suited my taste. I, like most people who shop fast fashion, did so out of convenience. 

After watching The True Cost on a friend’s recommendation and reading up on the effects of fast fashion, I grew disgusted with the reality of the industry and my own shopping habits. I learned that the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter after oil, and that the average American throws away seventy pounds of clothing each year. The harm that fast fashion inflicts on the environment is jarring, but the biggest shock factor of The True Cost for me was its coverage of the poor working conditions for factory laborers in developing countries, most of whom are paid less than $3 a day.

I committed to shopping and dressing ethically a few months ago and haven’t looked back Not long ago, ethical fashion intimidated me, conjuring up images of hemp tote bags and hand-knit cardigans. And while I now shamelessly own both, my experience has taught me that ethical fashion can work for anyone’s personal style and is easy to put into practice.

Educate yourself on what it means to be ethical.

Constantly learning new things about the rapidly evolving ethical fashion industry has been my favorite part of the journey. For example, emerging ethical labels have developed all sorts of cruelty-free substitutes for leather, such as pineapple and tree bark. Oftentimes, these replacements can be expensive, so I’ll only be reading about them for the time being. To begin your ethical fashion education, learn which brands utilize sweatshop or child labor, or violate workers’ rights in other manners, and avoid buying from them. If you’re unsure about a clothing company’s policies, a quick Google search should suffice. If it’s difficult to find the information on their site, chances are they’re hiding something. I recommend downloading the app Good On You to check a brand for its impact on people, animals, and the planet from a catalogue of over two thousand. It also offers ethical alternatives sorted by price.

Cut down on your consumption.

Even ethical clothing takes resources and energy to produce and creates waste when it’s ultimately discarded. Ethical fashion is an industry in itself, and though it’s significantly better than fast fashion, it still contributes to the surplus of clothes filling up landfills. Try adopting Susie Faux’s concept of the capsule wardrobe: a small collection of clothing, usually thirty items or less, that can be worn interchangeably. The capsule wardrobe rejects the idea of excess and embraces reworking what you already own into new outfits.

When you do need to shop, buy second-hand.

Thrifting is a great way to break the cycle of clothing going straight to the dump after someone no longer has a use for it. Though I’ve noticed prices in my local consignment shops increase over the past few years, shopping second-hand is still cheaper and more ethical than buying new clothes. Something that’s worked for me is buying staple pieces and undergarments ethically and then giving myself more wiggle room to branch out and shop for things that attract me when thrifting. If you don’t have a consignment store near you, try using a resale app like Depop, which has a lot of teenage and young adult users, or to make it more fun, organize a clothing swap party with a few friends.