September is a huge month in the world of fashion – back to school shopping, new trends, the arrival of fashion weeks across the globe. Have you ever seen the September issue of Vogue? September is big. But it is also a great month for big changes, fresh starts and new beginnings. Fashion is a way for us to express who we are; the clothes we put on everyday convey a lot about our individual identities and what we stand for. We can choose to put a lot of thought into our clothes and the life cycle that surrounds them – who makes them, who sells them, what materials are used, what will happen to them after we wear them – or we can get caught up in the world of fast fashion and consumerism. Voting with your dollar is one of the most powerful ways to show your support for the world you want to live in.
We know the fashion industry has a huge environmental and social cost, we know we should make mindful purchases, and we know to be weary of tricky marketing. But what does it look like to be a conscious shopper? Where do I even start?
I have been working at a Canadian outdoor retailer for about a year now. Everyday I help people make choices about the clothes and gear they buy. Thankfully I work for a company that values the environment and is actively aiming to reduce their environmental impact. They are conscious about what goes into the products and how long they will last. I have gotten into many conversations over the past few months with shoppers and my coworkers about buying clothes and how overwhelming it all seems when you enter the world of sustainable fashion. I have put together a few tips and ideas to get you started.
Tip #1 Identify your personal values
Figure out what your priorities are when it comes to sustainable fashion. Do you care most about worker rights? Child labour? Lowering your carbon footprint? Organic? Cruelty free? Vegan? Sustainable materials? Fair Trade? Supporting local designers? This part is about translating your personal values into your purchases. It is impossible to find an article of clothing or company that will check all of the boxes. You need to focus your efforts and as you curate your closet these values may change. To get a better idea of the life cycle and the true cost of clothes read this article.
Tip #2 Take stock of your wardrobe (you can’t manage what you don’t measure)
Empty your closet. I’m not kidding. Empty it all out. What things do you love to wear? What makes you feel confident? What are the items you don’t need to think about before putting on? Sort out what fits, what is seasonal, and what can be donated/swapped/sold/saved from landfill/recycled/etc. The closet detox cheat sheet can be useful. Think about building a capsule wardrobe (a cool approach to minimalizing your wardrobe down to 37 items). The goal is to simply have less clothing and the clothing you do have is impactful and useful. By inventorying your wardrobe you know what you have, what you tend to buy, and also what you are missing. You need to know what you have before you can start to make those mindful purchases.
Tip #3 Understand your options
Do your research. Fashion Revolution has put together an excellent list of resources and is a good place to start. Read blogs like this, talk to friends, share ideas. Talk to shop owners and the people trying to sell you clothes (like me!). Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be curious. If someone doesn’t know the answer or how to find you the answer, maybe you shouldn’t be shopping there. Online shopping is a great way to get to know retailers and brands, read reviews, and find styles you like. EcoFashion Guide, Fashion Takes Action, and the Ethical Fashion Forum are some good places to start.
You will be changing the way you shop and think about clothing – it won’t be as simple as running to the mall anymore. This ultimate eco-conscious shopping decision maker is a great tool for helping you make those decisions. Sometimes a second hand item is perfect, sometimes you made need to borrow from a friend, sometimes you will repurpose an item you have already, and sometimes you will choose to buy a quality, ethical item.
Tip #4 Provide reminders for yourself
This is a trick I learned for successful, process oriented thrift shopping. But it also works wonders for buying less and making conscious choices. Do you need a new winter jacket? Have you discovered that you are in desperate need of underwear? Jeans that fit? A new blazer for work? Keep a list. In your phone, in your closet, in your journal, wherever it works for you.
Think of it (and step one) whenever you are about to make an impulse, fast fashion purchase. In the beginning, this might be after you made that impulse purchase. It takes a practice. This list doesn’t have to be overly detailed. The idea is to give your shopping, your closet and your research some structure, so you don’t feel quite so overwhelmed when you’re shopping. Making ethical clothing purchases is an investment and this new way to shop will also help you budget for sustainable clothing. You are on your way to becoming a conscious shopper.
Remember choosing to make responsible, mindful purchases is an act of rebellion in this fast, disposable fashion world we live in.