Fashion has always been, well, in fashion. How you present yourself to the world says at lot about yourself and what kind of person you are. What’s only recently becoming en vogue is sustainability in fashion. People are becoming increasingly aware of what goes into making their clothes and want to support businesses that are both ethical and sustainable in their practices.
For most this means at bare minimum sourcing their materials from all natural forms that don’t decimate the local ecosystem in the name of profit. For others, this means not supporting sweatshop labor or other cost-cutting procedures that pollute the planet or don’t contribute to the wellbeing of their employees. How do you pick out those truly committed to sustainability, though? Most major clothing manufacturers have multimillion dollar advertising budgets that can make even the most unscrupulous of practices seem above-board.
Well, here are just a few tips to help suss out the committed from those out to make a quick buck:
1. Choose Quality Clothing Brands
Brands that take pride in their workmanship and end product are much more likely to be sustainable clothing brands than others. This is because their products require much more thought to go from raw materials to finished product than the products from fast fashion brands do. They care about longevity and proper materials, so it’s much less likely that they’re cutting corners in the manufacturing process to keep costs low. Obviously clothes from these brands will be more expensive, but the fact that they last longer and the satisfaction of knowing you spent a few more dollars to keep things ethical will make it worth the added price point.
2. Check The Materials Used
Sustainable fashion brands make sure to only use recyclable or renewable types of materials when constructing their clothes. These materials include but aren’t limited to: silk, hemp, linen, and organic (non-GMO) cotton. The preceding materials are able to decompose and biodegrade over time and won’t take up space in landfills for hundreds of years to come. Also, make sure the dyes being used are natural and not textile dyes, as textile dyes are very bad for the environment through both their manufacture and use.
3. Think Critically About “Handmade” Goods
While it might seem like there’s no way you can go wrong with handmade goods, you should think about what you’re buying, how much it costs, and how hard it is to get those materials. While handmade hemp clothing from Thailand might seem like a sure shot at sustainable growth, if that hemp plantation makes heavy use of pesticides and frequently clear-cuts areas of forest to expand their area of operations, it clearly isn’t sustainable. If the product is too cheap once you factor in the cost of the materials, manufacture, and of course transportation to you, it probably wasn’t made with sustainability in mind.
4. Choose The Right Sites To Shop On
Look for websites that have taken time and due diligence in selecting the fashion brands they recommend. The more the website can tell you about that particular brand’s practices and how they actually live up to the idea of sustainability, the better. Look for websites that are willing to badmouth brands they know aren’t sustainable (websites that only promote websites are probably making a cut themselves) or that have a .org suffix that show they are an organization committed to a cause besides making money.
5. Look At A Company’s Social Responsibility Releases
Large, reputable companies now all have some form of CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility press release available for reading to all customers. Look at what their CSR says and try to read inbetween the lines. Corporate jargon will be abundant in these press releases so things like saying they comply with all local laws regarding emissions and manufacturing processes just means that they aren’t actively pouring waste into local rivers, not that they are trying anything particularly sustainable. If they specifically mention things that are objectively proveable (or that they’d have to prove if someone asked about it) like sustainable dyeing or textile production, you’re on the right track.
6. Be Skeptical Of Anything That Has Travelled A Long Way
Most of our clothing comes from China. That isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but many fashion brands take advantage of lax labor laws and environmental protection laws offered by countries overseas. While a company might be completely sustainable in its home country, there’s nothing stopping them from going all out in foreign countries with much more relaxed laws than their own. If your shirt costs $5 to buy and it came from halfway across the world, the worker who made it probably isn’t in the most agreeable of conditions. Vote with your dollars and refuse to support retailers who sell clothing made in sweatshops.
7. Look Beyond The Clothing
While the materials, dyes, and labor that go into any piece of clothing can tell you a lot about how sustainable a brand is, don’t forget that the manufacturing process itself might be highly irresponsible with regards to the environment. Consider whether or not the company you’re purchasing from makes use of green energy in their plants or use energy efficient practices in their offices. Truly sustainable fashion brands are sustainable from the ground up, so read up as much as you can on any company before you say you’re completely sure they are sustainable.
8. Use Resources Collected By Others
Ever since the collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh and other similar tragedies, dozens of organizations have sprang up to keep a finger of the pulse of what fashion companies are up to. This movement is referred to as the Fashion Revolution and seeks to publish information online on the best practices of as many brands as possible. This Fashion Revolution has published something known as the Fashion Transparency Index that lists companies based on how much they are willing to share about the conditions their materials are harvested in and that their workers are subjected to. Using this among other resources is a fantastic way to find your next sustainable purchase.
9. Beware Companies That Are Overcompensating
Sometimes after being caught doing something naughty a company will double down on its efforts to look sustainable and ethical in the eyes of the public. Their contributions to charities or to helping the issue they are likely responsible for will be overstated or vague in nature. A lot of these corporations use something known as “cause marketing” in which they use the fact that a portion (usually incredibly small) of their revenue goes towards a cause their customers care about. If a company is posturing themselves like they are the savior of the world without any actual statistics to back them up, they probably aren’t doing as much as they say they are.
10. Don’t Limit Your Choices In Sustainability
Some people recommend buying only vintage clothing to reduce the amount of new clothing that has to be made. What this fails to correct is the fact that unsustainable clothiers are still producing clothing and are still making sure their racks are full, regardless of temporary shifts in demand. Purchasing vintage clothing is a great way to minimize your individual impact on the world, but choosing to not support new sustainable companies because their clothes are freshly produced means they are more likely to go out of business while the unsustainable goliaths stay in power. Vote with your dollars and don’t allow yourself to get pigeonholed into a small section of the sustainable clothing sector.
We live in a world where people are just beginning to wake up to how their individual choices can end up making a big difference in the world. If everyone around the world were to vote with their dollars and only support clothing brands with sustainability in mind, we’d see the eradication of poor working conditions and polluted Chinese rivers in just a few decades. So the choice is up to you at this point, will you be part of solution or part of the problem? These tips can help you stay on the right side of history.