“Treat others as you wish to be treated.” It’s a simple philosophy, and you’ve probably heard it a million times - I know I heard it more than enough when I was growing up.
It’s a phrase that is quite deeply ingrained in the way I behave today. I like making small talk with the postman when he’s got a delivery for me, and even when I’m mouthing off on Twitter I try to make sure there’s a moral to my story, something to learn from and improve on!
So I was deeply troubled a few years ago when I learnt that the clothes I was buying caused poverty and pain for millions of fashion industry workers. It was one of those revolutionary moments, looking down at a dainty dress and wondering how such a pretty thing can come from system of exploitation, poor working conditions, and even death.
Luckily, there are ways to source clothes in an ethical fashion (see what I did there?)
And they’re good clothes at that: forget the stereotypical hemp hoodies and dreadlocks, this is fashion that is modern, well-made and readily available too.
Here’s my list of easy ways to switch up your wardrobe and feel better about the clothes you wear:
1. Watch The True Cost
If you’re new to the ethical fashion movement, I really recommend you take a peek at the way the majority of high street fashion is produced. Documentaries such as The True Cost (currently on Netflix) will open your eyes to the plight many people are suffering because we’re used to buying cheap clothes without knowing the consequences.
2. Learn ethical fashion lingo
This could be a guide unto itself really. There are a lot of different descriptors for ethical fashion, and it’s worth knowing what each one means and where your preferences lie:
- Slow fashion: clothes that are not governed by seasonal trends, classics, investment pieces
- Sustainable fashion: clothes made from materials and practices that are earth-friendly
- Ethical or fair fashion: clothes that pay a fair wage to their producers, garment workers, etc.
2. Unsubscribe from fast fashion
It’s hard to escape the temptation of new trends, accessories, it-bags, etc. when they’re bombarding you across social media and even in your inbox. Unsubscribe from brands that don’t fit with your own ethics.
3. Read ethical fashion blogs
Ethical fashion blogs are popping up across the world, and provide a constant stream of inspiration. Personally I’ve found there’s a lot more movement in the USA, and it’s slowly creeping across the Atlantic to the UK. Here’s my ethical blog directory to help you get started.
4. Demand transparency
Now it’s time to start looking for ethical fashion brands. The easiest way to spot ethical fashion brands is the way they use their ethics as selling points, rather than hiding them under their FAQ page coded in lawyer-speak. Stella McCartney proudly declares it is a vegetarian company and makes whimsical videos on deforestation for example.
There are tools out there to help, too. Apps such as Not My Style rate brands based on transparency, while sites like Project Just provide a crowdsourced database to refer to.
5. Invest time in your wardrobe
Whatever your style, there is ethical fashion out there to suit you. Getting into ethical fashion also involves changing your buying habits: with less trends, your wardrobe will slowly become a selection of classic pieces and accessories. It’s therefore a good idea to invest time working out your style at the start of your journey to ensure you’ll love your clothes for as long as they last you.
It’s also important to respect that the clothes you currently own: they may not come from ethical manufacturers, but they’re yours now and they’re your style!
5. Fuss over fabrics
Knowing the fabric composition of your clothes is actually a great indicator as to its ethical credentials. Natural fibres such as cotton, wool, flax, and yes, hemp, are renewable and biodegradable, while often making for a better garment too. Better still is organic materials, which reduce the use of pesticides - a positive for the planet and the people growing them.
6. Try vegan fashion (with caution)
By reducing our demand for leather, we reduce our general demand for the meat industry and its harmful emissions. Vegan fashion is on the rise: Votch produces vegan leather watches, Matt & Nat create vegan bags and shoes. Both use eco-friendly materials to do so, but vegan leather can sometimes be used to describe petroleum-based products - not a good alternative.
7. Give it a second life
Second-hand items provide a handy ethical fashion loophole: items that would otherwise be going to waste are now up for grabs. Try using eBay and searching under “Used” to find clothes you would like on a budget. It’s not the perfect solution, so if you prefer, try charity shops (Oxfam even has an online charity shop) where your money will do good too.
8. Rent your wardrobe
Sometimes, you just need a new dress. I know, I’ve been there! It might be an important work event, or a wedding, and it seems frivolous to buy a special dress for one occasion. Instead, try renting ethical couture from sites like Wear The Walk.
9. Ask for better
Ethical fashion is still in its infancy, but it’s growing fast. It’s important to vote with your money, but also spread the word about the ethical options out there. Even celebrities like Emma Watson are doing so - her ethical fashion Instagram page The Press Tour has over 500,000 followers. Take part in the Fashion Revolution by praising the brands with ethical practices, and asking shadier stores #WhoMadeMyClothes?
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