5 Things Every Ethical Fashionista Should Know - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog


5 Things Every Ethical Fashionista Should Know

Being a fashionable and eco-conscious consumer is possible with these tips!


When I was growing up, girls I went to school with loved hanging out at the mall. While I never understood this, fashion companies sure do. That’s why they pump out new styles every week. As quickly as possible and and with the biggest margins that they can manage.

While most people love $7 tops and $20 shoes, I’d rather compile a quality collection of sustainably-made (and non-toxic) clothing. That’s why I make every effort to be a conscious consumer, doing my research on the fashion industry and looking for alternatives to fast fashion.

5 Things Every Ethical Fashionista Should Know

Fast fashion is the new normal for major retailers, but it’s not ethical

What I found out was that the true cost of fast fashion is far greater than any bargain. For starters, if there’s a new “season” of clothes every week, you’re bound to be out-of-style before you’ve even worn your new find. To keep up you have to buy more and toss more – the average American throws out more than 68 pounds of textiles per year!

And that’s just the beginning of the environmental impact. In order to keep costs down, manufacturers don’t adhere to safety standards and some of your fave inexpensive accessories contain lead, in addition to all the other chemicals – pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde, and flame-retardants – that are routinely used in mainstream fashion.

20% of all water pollution comes from the apparel industry. If we change the way we shop we can make a huge impact.

5 Things Every Ethical Fashionista Should Know

Perhaps the most tragic cost of all is the human cost, with up to 60 percent of fashion being produced by ‘informal’ workers, there’s no way to regulate their working conditions.

But you don’t have to participate in all this madness. You can step out of the fast fashion system, by following the below tips:

Shop vintage

The most reliable path to being a sustainable fashionista is to by buying vintage. While you can’t be sure the vintage piece was ethically made, by purchasing a vintage piece you’re breathing new life into something that might have been discarded into a landfill. Here’s my guide to getting great deals on eBay.

Look for natural materials

Did you know that polyester is actually toxic because it’s made from petroleum? Always avoid synthetic fabrics, as the processing chemicals and dyes used in these materials are particularly toxic. Instead, opt for (organic, if possible) cotton or linen.

After all my wool and cashmere sweaters got moth holes in them, I replaced them with with thick sweaters, denim, t-shirts, pants and more — all made from cotton or linen. If you can find it, hemp is another great choice.

Manufacturing practices and supply chain matters

For example, bamboo products are being marketed as green, but while bamboo itself is very sustainable, it is often processed with so many chemicals that it becomes toxic. And even if a brand uses “organic” cotton doesn’t mean they’re using non-toxic dyes.

There are some certifying companies such as OEKO_TEX or GOTS which cover parts of the supply chain, so you can also look out for those certifications. If you are buying non-organic clothing, OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification will ensure that there are no toxic chemicals used in the textile dyeing and finishing process.

Think you can just wash away the toxins? Think again

Washing clothing does not thoroughly remove toxins, but it does spread the toxins to our local water.

Made in… where?? 

There is a lot of haziness in labelling law, since it’s a ‘standard’ rather than a rule. Companies take advantage of that and put a ‘Made in USA’ label when the component parts are not actually American made.

The good news is that fashion-conscious consumers don’t have to compromise. A simple rule that I’ve adopted is to build my wardrobe slowly by picking out sustainable pieces I love. I try to find brands that don’t use toxic dyes and chemicals or underpaid labor. That doesn’t have to translate into expensive clothing; check out a couple of my favorites brands: Wildlife Works (their profits save animals) and Thought, or search for “organic clothing”.

Being an ethical consumer is all about educating yourself then doing the best you can. After all, if you want to change the world, the best way is to vote with your dollars.

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she spends most of her time in France, NYC, London and Switzerland, and travels extensively around the world. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 107 Comments

  1. Carole GIBBS

    Shopping in vintage shops isn’t possible for me because I’m on the heavier side. I really need to shop in places with bigger sizes.

  2. Florence

    Online shopping isn’t safe either. Other sellers lie about their products as much as manufacturers would. Plus, most are just re-sellers as well so they don’t have first hand information.

  3. Andrea Klein

    It’s going to be my first time to check out clothes from vintage shops, if some of you have recommendations on where to find them in California, please comment here.

  4. Essie James

    My only concern about this is that there are already countries that are able to produce biodegradable plastic alternatives. If it’s possible to create cutlery from edible materials or water bottles that aren’t made of plastic, then it will always be possible to create clothing without harming the environment. The problem is that we always want the easy route; which is to use toxic materials that do nothing good to us and the environment but is highly available. We’re already making the effort to improve our livelihood, so why not take it further?

    • LILY

      That’s what I was thinking as well. Everything is possible!

  5. Celia Parsons

    Now that I’ve read this, I’m more conscious about what I buy now. I really have to thank Urbanette for the environmental friendly stuff I read.

  6. Leah Steele

    Wow, and I thought that bamboo was natural so it’s safer.

  7. Judith Jones

    It’s inevitable for us to not buy clothes because we all need it to protect our bodies. It’s a basic need and no one is really asking us to completely ban buying clothes for the rest of our lives. This article is just reminding us that too much of anything is never good. Not to ourselves and definitely not to our environment. Anything that doesn’t decay will always stay as waste and it could never go back to the earth because it doesn’t decay. Keep your shopping sprees to a minimum and only purchase clothes that you need.

    • Kelly Osborne

      Yeah, keeping it to a minimum would already help a lot

  8. Martha Walker

    Now I’m ashamed of myself. I honestly never assumed that even clothing could be toxic to our environment. It’s such a basic necessity and we could never think of it this way.

  9. Cheryl Cox

    Tell this to all those celebrities with walk-in closets with thousands of shoes and clothing in their wardrobe.

  10. Janice Wood

    Just a wake-up call to those who buy clothes as fast as they change shirts– there are underprivileged people who can’t even buy clothes. There are those who had the same clothes for years but never got around to buying more because they didn’t even have money for food. Being fashionable isn’t what life is all about, let’s stop being extra about everything and let’s live simply. This is why money is such an issue nowadays because we’re aiming to acquire material things that we don’t really need.

    • Mamie Thomas

      People are so materialistic and we’re blinded by society standards.

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