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.
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.
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:
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.