We are increasingly confronted with the ethical and environmental impact of our clothes. The average garment worker works 96 hours a week for an extremely low wage. For every minute new clothes are bought in the UK, more CO2 is produced than driving a car around the world six times. In the age of ‘Keep or Return’ videos and £400 Shein hauls on TikTok, the pressure to spend feels stronger than ever before. For those of us who want to cut back on our consumption, it is certainly a struggle. Unlearning long-standing habits and resisting the pressure to own certain items isn’t achievable overnight. The goal here is not to become perfect, but to make small steps in the right direction!
The average consumer buys 60% more clothes than they did fifteen years ago. Though this may feel like a disappointing statistic, it demonstrates that reducing our spending habits back down is not an impossible task. The fast fashion model relies on planned obsolescence, meaning your clothes are designed to fall apart after several months, ensuring your return to the shops. Approximately 80% of garment workers are women. Many are exposed to abysmal conditions, poverty wages, violence, and harassment. It doesn’t feel right to consider myself a feminist while ignoring the women paying the true cost for our clothes.
They say the most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own. However, personal style changes, and for many of us (myself included), our pre-pandemic clothes don’t fit like they used to. The following practical tips can help you to save money and care for the planet.
Buying Preloved in Person
Explore charity shops, vintage boutiques and car boot sales to find one-of-a-kind items. If you’re struggling to find any gems, a quick Google search will reveal the most promising locations in your area. The sheer amount of clothes can be overwhelming, so it can be useful to keep an eye out for the colours and materials you like. However, keeping an open mind can help you find unique pieces! Discovering a beautiful item feels much more rewarding than spying someone in the same Zara dress as you on a night out.
Buying Preloved Online
Depop, eBay, Facebook, Vestiaire, and Vinted are great places to negotiate a price and grab yourself a bargain. ASOS Marketplace and Instagram are hosts to many second-hand boutiques, and many charity shops have online storefronts where you can support worthy causes at the same time. Although you can’t try clothes on, the benefit to online shopping is that you can filter by size, colour, brand and price. If buying vintage pieces, bear in mind that sizing can differ greatly from today’s retailers, so it is always worth looking at measurements where possible!
When buying new, taking an extra moment to look for natural fibres and high-quality craftsmanship can make all the difference. ‘Mindful Mondays’, a series of stories created by @andreacheong_ is one of the most informative and engaging sources on this particular subject. Cheong’s advice allows shoppers to spend their money wisely while making ethically conscious choices. Opting for natural, recycled and organic fibres over fossil fuel fabrics like polyester and acrylic means your clothes have a more sustainable lifecycle. Not only are they more environmentally responsible in their production, but your clothes can also be recycled, should you choose to let them go. Thanks to the structure of cellulose, natural fibres are stronger, making your clothes more durable. Additionally, slow fashion brands with transparent production processes are a great alternative to shops that exploit workers to keep prices low.
Pause before you buy! How many times have you made an impulse purchase, only to regret it as soon as the parcel arrives? Or noticed that your top looked a lot nicer on the website? Waiting twenty-four hours before you buy and reading reviews can help you to avoid buyer’s remorse. All too often, our returned items are not resold but burnt or sent to landfill. Five billion pounds of waste is generated through returns each year, producing an enormous carbon footprint.
For holidays, weddings, and other celebrations, renting allows you to wear beautiful pieces without the commitment. It may seem like an alien concept, but for years people have been guilty of leaving the tags on clothes so they can return after one wear. Renting is just a more sustainable, stylish alternative as the clothes are enjoyed again. However, the environmental benefits of clothing rental have been called into question, as the transportation and dry-cleaning involved can be detrimental to the planet. Renting should therefore be reserved for special occasions. Alternatively, borrowing from friends or using peer-to-peer renting apps such as ByRotation allows us to avoid some of these hurdles.
Go Easy on Yourself
Finally, everything is a process. The more we learn about fast fashion, the more pressure we feel to be perfectly ‘ethical’ consumers. It often feels like the weight of a (burning) world is on your shoulders. Simultaneously, social media consistently reminds us of the expectations to look and dress a certain way. Small conscious changes are important, and you should be proud of yourself for taking positive steps forward. Try not to overthink it! The easier we make it look, the more we will encourage others to limit their fast fashion habits.