You might recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote a review for a book called To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? by Lucy Siegel. That book inspired me to think about my fashion buying habits and look at some ways to change the way I shop.
I realised that I often buy items that are of questionable origin and quality. In particular, I am a fan of high-street shops that offer fast fashion at cheap prices. I had never considered that in order to sell these garments so cheaply, the retailer and manufacturer often have to skimp on ethical work practices and quality materials. That means that these clothes are usually made from poor-quality fabrics which may not be produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. They are also likely to have been manufactured by sweatshop workers who are treated worse than a mangy dog, being forced to work in hideous conditions for extended periods of time for practically no pay.
According to Siegel, high-street stores aren’t the only ones to blame when one looks at the environmental and social impact of fashion. Many big-name brands and fashion houses are just as guilty of using sweatshop workers, utilizing environmentally questionable materials and wasting large amounts of resources.
As I mentioned in my review of the book, Lucy Siegel does make a number of suggestions for how this problem can be combated. However, I personally found that a lot of these suggestions were unrealistic for an average consumer to carry out. Many of them involved a lot more expense and effort than a regular person is able to expend. So I’ve come up with a list of suggestions of my own. These might not be as wide-sweeping as some of the suggestions in the book, but I think they are the sort of thing that an average shopper would be able to do. If each of us put a couple of these suggestions into play, it could actually make a big difference to our buying habits, and in turn, the impact that large-scale fashion consumerism is having on our world.
– Buy hand-made clothing from Etsy sellers. This way, you’re supporting independent designers and crafters, as well as avoiding items that have been made in questionable conditions.
– Recycle second hand clothing by op-shopping. Second-hand shopping comes in many forms. You might like to buy delightful vintage pieces from a specialist boutique, or stock up on second-hand treats on ebay. You might also like to have a rummage through your local thrift or charity store for some awesome threads. Not only are you re-using perfectly good clothing rather than buying new stuff, you’re giving money to charities that do fantastic environmental and humanitarian work. (If you want more advice on op-shopping, you can buy my book Nessbow’s Guide To Second-Hand Shopping, for just $5 by clicking the link in the sidebar).
Learn to make your own clothing. This allows you a huge amount of control over the fabrics that you use, and once again gives you the chance to avoid buying something that may have been made in a sweatshop. As an added bonus, your homemade garments are more likely to fit perfectly, reflect your personal style and will be one of a kind.
– Choose handmade clothing and accessories from local markets. Not only are you able to speak to the person who made them, these clothes haven’t been transported halfway around the world, so their carbon footprint is lighter.
– Research local designers. Hit up design colleges or TAFE campuses that offer fashion and design courses to find awesome new designers who you can commission to make garments for you.
– Email your favourite retailers and ask about the origins of their products and the materials they use to make them. You might be surprised that your favourite store is actually doing a great job of lessening their environmental footprint, and you’ll feel confident and happy about shopping there.
– When you buy new clothes, purchase them with quality in mind. Choose items that are well-made from quality fabrics that will last for a long time. Don’t buy cheap, disposable clothes that will fall apart after a few wears and washes.
– Buy fewer items of clothing. You’ll be contributing less to the immense fashion trade, and save money and wardrobe space.
– Be prepared to spend more money on each item you buy. If you buy fewer items, but make sure that the items are better quality than what you would ordinarily buy, you might wind up spending the same amount overall.
Do you have any suggestions for how we could improve our buying habits to be more environmentally and socially conscious? How do your buying habits help the environment?