You know those New Year resolutions we all make and then forget about a week or two in? Well, this isn’t one of those. At the start of 2017, I made a resolution/pact with a good friend of mine to make more sustainable fashion choices. This included more ethical choices as well.
We decided to limit the amount of new clothes we were allowed to buy to two new items every six months. The stores and companies we decided we could buy from had to have a certain level of ethical and environmental standards. We didn’t have a concrete way of identifying how stores met this criteria, and being new at this, we also didn’t expect us to get it right 100% of the time. Now, we could buy as much clothes as we wanted if those clothes were second hand. That way, we’re reducing clothing waste and recycling perfectly good clothing. The only time we purchased brand new, never before worn clothing, was if we couldn’t find what we were looking for second hand or we knew the quality of the clothing was good enough to last us for a long time.
Two exceptions we made were for intimate clothing items and shoes. I’m all for change and helping to make more sustainable choices, but I can’t get my head around used intimate clothing and wearing someone else’s underwear. So, that was allowed to be purchased new and where possible, from companies that met our standards. Shoes are really difficult to find second hand when you’re looking for a specific type and size (i.e. sandals, size 6).
There is so much wrong with the fashion industry, and in particular, fast fashion. We play a small, yet vital role in it. With our purchases we decide what companies to support or not to support. A great documentary to watch on this is The True Cost. It’s on Netflix, I highly recommend it.
Six months into this journey and I’ve experienced a number of challenges. The greatest challenge is research and being informed. It’s difficult to tell which companies are simply greenwashing and which ones are legitimate about their practices. There are some great people and organizations out there like Project Just and Fashion Revolution that help inform the public, but not all brands or companies are listed (I mean, there’s no way for them all to be listed given that there are sooo many out there!). It’s so fascinating when you discover that many of the companies themselves can’t 100% trace their supply lines or manage the treatment of their employees overseas.
As a general rule, I’ve found you can’t shop with any of the big name brands. Their supply lines are messy and don’t inspire trust. So, who can you shop with when you can’t buy second hand?
Mostly, online, smaller shops. Believe me, I know how difficult it is to find places to shop online. I’m one of those people that needs to touch the fabric and try things on before I buy it. I dread that feeling when everything you order makes you feel frumpy and brings out every body image issues you have. Online shopping for clothes is time consuming and creates a lot of anxiety for me. “Will it look good on me? How does the material feel? What’s the quality like?” You can always order and return it, but that’s a lot of time, extra energy, and probably added postage fees.
Unfortunately, that’s the reality when you want to buy new, quality, sustainably produced, and ethically made clothes. They will also be more expensive than your Forever21 or H&M clothes, but they will last longer and you will know who made them and where they came from. Change isn’t always easy, but this is an important one to make.
Be kind to yourself
It was important to me to be kind to myself during this journey as well. I had to remind myself that I was trying and that was better than doing nothing. I haven’t been perfect the past 6 months. There were two stores that I did zero research on and didn’t know anything about their sustainability practices before I bought something from them. What did I buy? Intimate items and a pair of boots. All other fashion items that I’ve purchased in the past 6 months have been second hand. I don’t think that’s too bad for a first go at changing my spending habits.
If you try to make this change, remember that it’s okay to still purchase from the big names when you need to. You’re not going to do it perfectly; I didn’t. The point is that you’re heading in a direction of good change. Trust me, I’ve been “window shopping” and found something I absolutely loved, and had to call up my friend to have her talk me out of buying it. It was one of those emergency helpline situations to keep me on track. So, if you know someone you can do this with, that’s better because you’ll have each other for accountability.
Please feel free to join me in this journey towards more sustainable fashion choices. Share your favorite places to shop for ethically and sustainably made clothing as well if you have them! I need more to add to my list!