Eco-fashion has long lost its dusty image, but shopping in a sustainable, sophisticated and price-conscious way is still far from easy. These are my ten tips for your wardrobe.
The fashion industry has changed dramatically since the 1990's. Nowadays, most fashion companies produce in countries where the prices are the lowest and where workers' rights and environmental standards are the least protected. Fashion has never before been so cheap and so fast-paced. Each year, the leading fast fashion retailers bring 52 micro collections to the market. We buy four times as much clothing as in the 1980's, up to 80 billion new garments worldwide. This kind of consumption is bad for our planet. And it doesn't satisfy our real needs. Here are ten alternatives for various budgets and preferences:
1. Support your local heroes
We live in an era of monotonous shopping streets. By buying from independent, local and sustainable fashion labels you promote diversity instead of homogeneity, and your money supports small, local manufacturers rather than large, global corporations. Independent fashion labels produce their collections mostly in small batches (less waste) and have a personal relationship with their manufacturers. You can, therefore, ask the designers directly about where they have their clothes produced. Globally there are more and more exciting conscious fashion labels starting up, such as Base Range, Study NY, and Folkdays, that are featured in The Lissome's comprehensive brand directory, as well as online retailers distributing sustainable brands, such as The Acey (UK), Reve en Vert (UK), Kindred Black (USA) or Kinobi (Australia).
2. Purchase vintage
By buying secondhand, you extend the lifetime of clothing and reduce its negative environmental impact. Vintage boutiques, well-curated online marketplaces like Vestiaire Collective or platforms like Ebay or Etsy offer affordable access to unique and high-quality items. This way, you can explore new styles in an inexpensive and environmentally friendly manner.
3. "Buy less, choose well, make it last"
This quote by Vivienne Westwood gets straight to the point: buy less, choose well and make it last. It initially might sound a bit like the 1950's, but it's actually pretty good advice on how to handle style and fashion in a way that is confident and not guided by trend dictates. This way, you can consciously develop a personal dress style, which corresponds to your own values. The idea is to choose items of clothing in which you feel good and which are produced in human and planet friendly ways. Tips for textile care and maintenance can be found at Clevercare and on the website of the Swedish fashion pioneers Filippa K.
Sustainable fashion advocate Livia Firth launched the hashtag #30wears. She prompts us to ask ourselves before making any purchase whether we can commit to wearing the item of clothing for at least 30 times. If the answer is no, simply don't buy it.
5. Evaluate prices in terms of 'cost per wear'
It is often tempting to opt for quantity rather than for quality and to buy several inexpensive trade-offs rather than one expensive all-time favorite. But if you assess prices according to how frequently you wear an item, it shifts the costs. An expensive pair of shoes that you will end up wearing for several years might prove to be cheaper than an inexpensive summer dress that you wear only once.
6. Become a textile nerd
Cotton and polyester fibers dominate the fashion industry. Whilst the cultivation of cotton requires immense quantities of water and uses large amounts of pesticides, the production of polyester consumes large supplies of non-renewable resources. Organic cotton is the better choice, but there are other alternatives, such as lyocell, recycled polyester or new textile innovations like pineapple leather. In her book Design Journeys. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, fashion expert Kate Fletcher advocates material diversity in order to replace agricultural monocultures by healthy biodiversity.
7. Lease, don't buy
A new generation of rental platforms such as Rentez-Vous and sharewear offer clothes for a lease. This way, you can bring variety to your wardrobe without having to buy new garments. It's great for one-time occasions such as family celebrations and it can prevent impulse purchases.
8. Do it yourself
Learn to sew so that you are able to repair, alter or newly design your own clothes. Or become part of the DIY knitting movement: Knitting patterns are available online at we are knitters or Wool and the Gang.
9. Organise a clothes swap party
The rules are simple: Invite your friends over, tell them to bring along clothing that they no longer wear, but that is still in good condition, and start swapping. It's more affordable and way more entertaining than any kind of purchase!
10. Join the Fashion Revolution
On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza garment factory, in which many of the global fashion corporations produce at low wages, collapsed in Bangladesh. In total, 1,134 workers were killed and over 2,500 were seriously injured. In order to protest against the violations in the fashion industry and to fight for positive changes, the British fashion activists Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro founded Fashion Revolution Week in remembrance, which has since been held annually from April 24th until 30th.
Fashion Revolution is now active in 92 countries. Worldwide tens of thousands of people get involved each year. You can become part of the revolution and, for example, send messages to fashion brands under the hashtag #whomademyclothes or organize your own public events on the topic.
This September The Huffington Post UK Style is focusing on all things sustainable, for the second year running. Our thirst for fast fashion is dramatically impacting the environment and the lives of thousands of workers in a negative way. Our aim is to raise awareness of this zeitgeist issue and champion brands and people working to make the fashion industry a more ethical place.
We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #SustainableFashion and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org