Many brands introduce new products to their catalog every month, sometimes every week. Influencers and celebrities promote the idea of changing your wardrobe each season, disposing of fashion quickly and in a very insensitive manner.
It’s not a new piece of information that the fashion industry is one of the most significant contributors to pollution worldwide. Our obsessive desire for more garments demands over 10 billion pieces of clothes yearly, which translates into many gallons of water wasted, lakes polluted, forests lost, and animal species who starve to death. And the problem is getting worse before getting any better.
At a consumer level, one person cannot change the systemic problems in the fashion industry. Still, one person can slowly change their shopping habits, which slowly will contribute positively to a healthier way of shopping. Fashion should not dictate how people shop. Fashion changes because people change. So if you are ready to get into the path towards sustainable fashion shopping, here are the best tips for you.
Visit Thrift Stores
One of the biggest problems with fashion pollution is that there is a lot of waste because consumers dispose of their clothes very quickly. This is why shopping in thrift stores is one of the most effective ways of shopping for clothes sustainably. You are giving a second chance to clothes that would end up in the landfill otherwise, and you will find some authentic, fun, and exotic pieces to fit your style. This is a great opportunity to find unique pieces that you cannot find in other stores.
A common misconception about shopping in thrift stores is that these places only have clothing that is “out of style.” The truth is that there is a lot of thought behind the garments that are sold in each store. They are constantly looking for more products to display depending on the time of the year, and they are aware of the products that are in and out of style. If they only had out-of-style clothing, they would go out of business! Not all thrift stores are the same, so take your time to visit different ones and find the place that aligns better with your style and your taste.
Another benefit of shopping in thrift stores is that it’s very likely that you will find good quality garments at affordable prices. This means that the garments that you buy in the thrift store may last longer than the ones you buy in a fast fashion clothing store for a similar price because they were made by companies with high-quality standards.
Watch Out For Synthetics
Around 60% of the clothes worldwide are made of synthetic fibers (Vox). Synthetic fibers are particularly harmful to the environment as they release harmful toxins in the air, in the ocean, and in the soil.
So when we talk about sustainable fashion, we need to reduce the consumption of synthetic fibers or avoid it if possible. Clothing labeling laws establish that all garments sold and distributed in the United States must have a label indicating the materials in the garments, so you should be able to see if the garments that you are shopping for are natural, synthetic, or a blend of both.
Some of the most common synthetic fibers to avoid are polyester, nylon, rayon, and spandex. These fibers are made in labs with a combination of several chemicals and substances. In contrast, natural fibers come from natural sources such as cotton, linen, hemp, and silk. Garments made of natural fibers will decompose faster when you dispose of them, and they won’t be as harmful to the environment as synthetic garments. So watch out for synthetics and whenever possible, stay away from them!
Cheap is Expensive
You can tell the quality of a garment from its price. The reason why fast fashion is so cheap is that it is made with low-quality materials in low-quality factories with low-quality standards. This means that the lifespan of these garments is relatively short. After wearing them a couple of times, the threads might start to fray, or the prints might wash out until it doesn’t look visually attractive. This is fundamentally the reason why the amount of textile waste keeps growing each year. We are throwing away clothes quicker and producing more and more trash.
So as your budget allows it, investing in decent quality garments is sustainable from an environmental and a financial perspective, as you will not need to substitute those garments as quickly as fast fashion garments. If you are not sure about the quality of a certain product, think about the reputation of the brand. Would you consider it a fast-fashion brand? What is the average price of the product you want to buy? How does the fabric feel? What are reviews saying about their products?
Many people go to the store for the newest and coolest garments of the season. However, many of these garments are only trendy for a couple of months, sometimes even weeks. Then, the trends evolve, fashion changes and consumers throw away these clothes.
In order to avoid this unfortunate waste of money and clothes, look for timeless garments that you can wear regardless of the season. Think of those garments that you keep wearing over and over and that you can style in different ways. Classic garments include jeans, leather jackets, black suits, dresses, and t-shirts. White shirts and blouses. Navy blazers and trousers. These garments can be styled in many different ways. Play with colors, textures, and accessories to create looks that make you feel fabulous during the day. Classic accessories include pearl necklaces, neutral color watches, and slim silver or gold chains. If you have a bold color that you like regularly wearing, such as red, green, or blue, you can easily put together some of these colors in a piece of jewelry with a neutral color outfit. These contrasts can be visually interesting and fun to play with.
Classics are a smart choice when you are shopping because it’s very unlikely they go out of style in the short term, so you can wear them many times throughout the year. Now think how smart it would be if you shop for classic garments at a thrift store. You would be purchasing second-hand garments reducing the amount of textile waste, and you would be acquiring pieces that you could wear for a very long time without going out of style.
Less for Good
The quickest and most effective way of reducing fashion waste is to reduce consumption. On average, a consumer in the United States is buying around 32 pieces of clothing yearly. If we multiply this number by the 158 million people who are actively working, we have 5,056,000,000 garments sold per year in the United States only. Can you imagine how this amount of clothing looks like?
This is why it’s crucial that you make rational decisions when you are shopping and that you leave the excitement of being greeted by the associate, swiping a card, and leaving the store with a brand new piece of clothing. Ask yourself: Do you really need it? How often are you going to wear it? Is this going to be out of style soon, or can I keep wearing it for some time?
Support Local Businesses
The average garment sewer in China earns around $4.14 USD hourly. In contrast, an American sewer earns $14.89 USD hourly. (Salary Expert) This huge price gap and the demand for cheap, low-quality clothes, encourage fashion companies to produce their garments overseas and ship them to America to be sold and worn. This transpacific shipment makes garments quite affordable and accessible to many consumers. But think of all the gas needed to ship from Asia to America, (the millions of clothes discussed earlier). Many containers, boats, and oil are needed for this enormous amount of garments shipped, which translates into lots of carbon emissions and ocean pollution.
This is why supporting local businesses is highly encouraged and supported by environmentalists. When you support local businesses, you are buying products that are made in your region, there are no transpacific shipments and huge amounts of oil wasted. Yes, locally made garments tend to be more expensive than garments sold in big fashion corporations, mainly because of the salary gap already mentioned and because the resources needed to make garments (fabric, thread, trims, equipment) are more expensive in the United States than in some other countries. So buying local garments brings many of the previously mentioned advice together. If you buy fewer garments that are classic, made locally, and out of natural materials, with a higher price than fast fashion garments, you are making a smart and sustainable decision, and you should be very proud of yourself!
A Proper Goodbye
As you welcome new and fabulous garments in your life, you are ready to say goodbye to others. You dispose of garments that you haven’t used in a while, that you don’t like anymore, or that are slightly broken in some shape or form. Whichever your reason is, make sure to dispose of these garments in a sustainable way. The easiest way to do so is by donating the garments either to a person you know, a non-profit organization, or a shelter in your neighborhood. Giving a second life to clothes is a great way to reduce the amount of fashion waste, and you will make someone happy with new clothes.
If your clothes are not in the best condition for donation, you can take them to a recycling center. Many big brands are starting to implement garment collection programs. They have bins in the stores where you can put your old clothes, and you may receive a reward or discount for your donation. These companies take the old clothes, recycle them properly and keep them out of landfills; all you have to do is take them to the store and not throw them in your trash bin. This way, you’ll make sure you are not contributing to the huge amount of textile waste releasing harmful toxins into the air.
The process of shopping for clothes sustainably can be challenging, especially if one is used to the cultural habit of buying lots of things every Black Friday, Memorial Day Weekend, and End of Season Sale. Mass media is constantly spitting at us the messages of “Buy more and more” and “You can’t have enough clothes.” It is challenging to go against these massive ideas, especially when the people around us are following those ideas unawarely.
So don’t feel guilty if it takes you some time to adapt to these new habits. Every once in a while, you might fall into the temptation of buying a pair of pleather boots with a 30% discount and a lifespan of five months, and that’s fine if it only happens once in a while. If you consider yourself an impulsive shopper who is constantly buying clothes, start reducing your consumption slowly until you feel comfortable accepting more sustainable practices. Every small change is incredibly beneficial and a significant step towards a more sustainable way of consuming fashion. Happy shopping.