Planning a shopping trip soon? Why not ask yourself these 5 questions before making any new purchases and help reduce fashion waste.
July 22, 2021
For many of us, buying new clothes is an exciting experience. There is nothing quite like the confidence that comes getting out and about wearing a cute new dress or trendy t-shirt. However, as we become more aware of the detrimental environmental impact our shopping habits are having, many of us are developing feelings of guilt and worry associated with our previous impulsive buys.
Personally, I used to buy new clothes without a second thought. As a lover of fashion and style, I associate some of my most joyful moments with the outfit I wore. I still love fashion and style, but instead of purchasing new clothes whenever I feel tempted, I now hold back.
When I feel the push to purchase, I ask myself these five questions to avoid eco-guilt and know I'm doing my bit to help protect the planet.
What is the garment made of?
Before I make a purchase I try my best to find out if the materials used to make the item are sustainable. I always try to ensure that the fabric does not harm any natural resources and I will prioritise buying organic cotton over conventional cotton as I know it doesn't cause water contamination. When I can, I also try to avoid clothing made from synthetic materials that, when washed, release microplastics. These tiny plastics damage our eco-systems and pollute our waterways.
Another question to consider when thinking about the make up of garments is where will it end up once I am done with it. This is so important as it is one of the most environmentally damaging aspects of fast fashion. The best option is to prioritize investing in items that are biodegradable or compostable, so that when they do reach the end of their life, they can be disposed of safely and will not damage the environment.
Is this brand transparent?
These days it can be difficult to know which brands are sticking to an ethical ethos and doing their best to buy from suppliers who put their employees wellbeing before profits at all times. The next time you are about to make a purchase, why not take a look on their website and get to know them and their values a little better. As a conscious consumer, I personally value brands that are transparent about their materials and manufacturing. If a brand fails to disclose this information on their website, I’m automatically averse to shopping with them.
To make sure the brand is legitimately sustainable and eco-friendly I search their website for sustainable certifications. Sustainable certifications show that a brand is meeting environmental standards and doing their very best to maintain these standards going forward.
Do I really need this item?
The number one way to curate a sustainable wardrobe is to buy less. Before every purchase, I consider how much I need an item. To know if I truly need an item or if I just want it, I will consider how versatile the item is, do I have something similar in my wardrobe already and also will this piece of clothing last a long time. Answering these questions helps me to understand if this is a worthwhile investment or an impulse buy.
Where was this made and by whom?
Sustainable clothing isn’t just about the materials used. To fully understand how eco-friendly an item of clothing is, we need to know where it is made and by who. Educating ourselves on this gives us an insight into the manufacturing conditions and the ethical standards a brand holds.
Developing a progressive fashion industry doesn't just mean using earth-friendly materials. A sustainable and kind industry prioritises using ethical practices too. These practices include providing fair wages, good working conditions and a safe environment to work in. Taking the time to research where our clothing is manufactured gives us an insight into these factors.
Clothing made in poorer countries using cheap materials is most likely manufactured in unregulated environments where employees don't get a fair wage. If a clothing brand fails to disclose its manufacturing methods and factory locations, you can look at the price and quality of its products to gain further insight.
Is this price realistic and fair?
Ethical, sustainable manufacturing has a higher price point as it needs to meet higher standards. Similarly, sustainable materials tend to cost more as they are less popular and harder to manufacture. A cheap piece of clothing made from synthetics or some other environmentally damaging materials will be cheaper because the specific brand isn’t considering the environmental impact and does not necessarily care about its carbon footprint.
Not only do these brands use harmful materials to cut costs, but they also treat their employees poorly. If a garment is inexpensive, the worker who created this probably isn’t getting a fair wage for their work.
It is easy to be allured by the promise of cute clothes for less, but things are not always what they seem. When I'm shopping now, I ask myself, “Why is this garment so cheap?” and "If I’m paying so little, who is paying the true cost of this piece of clothing?"
Questioning our consumer habits and accepting the role we play in facilitating the fast fashion industry can be daunting. Sadly, the easier option is often to just do nothing. However, transforming my shopping habits and making some small changes is the best thing I've ever done —for my wardrobe, the environment, and my purse.
These five conscious questions are an effective way to reduce buying from unethical, fast fashion brands. They can also help us to open our eyes to the realities of the fashion industry and take a stand against the exploitation of hard working people and help get them a fair wage.
If you're serious about living a more sustainable lifestyle and learning more about the fight against fast fashion, check out our Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Living.