Worldwide, consumers are becoming more socially and environmentally conscious - a trend that the pandemic accelerated. Almost three-quarters of us prefer to buy from brands that believe in the same things we do. We want our purchases to reflect our beliefs and support the causes we feel passionate about.
Being an ethical consumer means buying from brands that align with your values whenever possible. This could mean supporting local businesses, buying Fair Trade products or choosing B-Corp brands. But in fashion, moral dilemmas are a complex maze that can be tricky to navigate.
Here, the main ethical issues are:
Environmental justice. The global textile trade has had enormous impacts on our natural environment. It is the third biggest producer of carbon emissions and one of the worst polluters. The ethical ideal is for garments to be made with eco-friendly fabrics and low-waste processes.
Social justice. The glamour of the fashion industry masks the human rights violations at the bottom of the supply chain. Millions of garment workers receive poverty wages and work in unsafe conditions. Here the ethical ideal is for garment workers to receive a living wage.
In this post, we share four practical things you can do to shop fashion in a way that connects with what you value most.
1. Ethical Shoppers Define their Fashion Values
Perfect sustainability is a beautiful ideal we will never stop striving to reach. But we all know there can be a massive gap between ideals and reality. That is why it helps to define your non-negotiables and what you are willing to compromise to strike a balance.
Measure well-known brands against your values with these trackers:
- Brand Directory by Remake
- Fashion Checker by the Clean Clothes Campaign
- Covid-19 Apparel Portal by the Center for Business & Human Rights
Discover new brands that align with your values with these directories:
2. Ethical Shoppers Think Before they Buy
Ethical shoppers know it is possible to effect change by using their money to vote for their values. It may take a little time, but researching and planning before shopping is worthwhile. With this approach, you will be browsing with peace of mind.
Do your homework. Some brands do less harm than others and are sincere in their efforts to be more transparent and deliver real progress. But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which ones align with what you believe in.
Consider alternatives. Take a walk on the wild side to discover smaller designers for unique pieces with a personal touch. You could also explore the booming second-hand market - whether in hidden-gem thrift stores or online marketplaces.
Browse like a collector. A thoughtfully curated wardrobe becomes a signature fashion collection that expresses your individuality. That means shifting from making impulsive purchases to investing in quality pieces you will use consistently.
3. Ethical Shoppers Buy with Intention
Whether you shop online or in person, you will look at style, colour, print and trims. Other basic considerations will include availability and price. But there are three more characteristics to look out for when shopping fashion ethically.
Look for wearability. Sometimes we buy clothes for the life we wish we had. Choose garments that suit your actual lifestyle to ensure you do them justice. If you know you’d wear it fewer than 30 times, you might want to reconsider the purchase.
Look for versatility. A capsule wardrobe is a lean collection of items that can combine to create various looks. Look for classic styles and neutral colours that give endless flexibility and for pieces that express your unique style too.
Look for quality. Although buying low-quality clothes is cheaper initially, they wear out more quickly and need replacing sooner. Gently check the tightness of seams and test functional items like buttons and zippers in the store before buying.
4. Ethical Shoppers Make Every Purchase Count
A garment's impact does not end when a customer takes it home. It has an effect throughout its entire lifecycle, which can be hundreds of years for synthetic textiles. How we wash, maintain and dispose of clothes can shrink or expand our fashion footprint.
Care for clothes and nature. Domestic laundering has a massive environmental footprint, and some textiles are more harmful to nature than others. Changing our laundry habits could be the greatest contribution we ever make to marine conservation.
Keep it up. An organized wardrobe means that nothing disappears from view and stays unworn. Proper storage and timely repairs will extend garment life, while regular repurposing and remixing will keep your look fresh.
Discard responsibly. Sadly, most textiles are unrecyclable, while most second-hand garments end up in landfills or the ocean. Durable garments that retain value and appeal can be swapped or resold, keeping them in circulation.
Do Less Harm, Do More Good
Pursuing sustainability often involves adjustments and difficult decisions for consumers and brands alike. Sometimes an ethical alternative is inaccessible or impractical.
What matters most is consistently doing what you can to:
- Stay committed to your values
- Think before you buy
- Shop with intention
- Make every purchase count
Every effort matters because it drives the demand for ethically made goods. That allows mission-driven brands to thrive and create even more sustainable solutions. It also sends a relatable message to those that are lagging: The right thing to do is increasingly becoming the profitable thing to do. Using your money to vote for your values has a powerful long-term impact.
71% of Consumers Prefer Buying from Companies Aligned with Their Values
Ethical consumerism - Wikipedia
Conscious consumerism has bounced back after a pandemic low
Fast fashion companies like Zara, Boohoo, and H&M are bad for the environment and economy - Vox
Dead white man's clothes: How fast fashion is turning parts of Ghana into toxic landfill - ABC News
What are microfibers and why are our clothes polluting the oceans? - Greenpeace International
Does second hand clothing feel as good as new? | Oxfam GB
A Conversation with Livia Firth
Evaluation of microfiber release from jeans: the impact of different washing conditions
Are Our Clothes Doomed for the Landfill? — Remake
What Happens to Your Used Clothing? - Planet Aid, Inc.