For the eco-conscious consumer, buying clothes can seem like a necessary evil. They’re a necessity, but it’s well-known that the fashion and textile industry can be an environmental disaster, from its use of animal furs and leathers, usage of toxic chemicals and exploitative use of labor.
And while there are fashion brands that use organic cottons or recycled materials and claim to be “sustainable,” it’s hard to say they are 100 percent green. For example, a shirt made of, say, fair trade hemp is arguably more ethical than something cheap at the mall, but it still takes energy to create this shirt, not to mention the carbon that is emitted as the garment makes its way to the store and then later on, to someone’s closet. Then, when this shirt gets old or out of fashion, best case scenario is that it’ll take up space at the local Goodwill, but most likely, it’ll end up in the landfill.
This is not to say that shopping isn’t fun or necessary. But we can all try to be more conscious of our sartorial choices. Here, five things you might want to consider:
1. Shop secondhand or wear hand-me-downs. The idea is to create as little waste as you can, so thrifting or shopping in your sister’s closet is a great option. And if you’re fashion conscious, there’s always vintage. For example, in Cleveland, Ohio, the minds behind Navy PR have opened a lovingly curated pop-up vintage store featuring undamaged luxury items under $100. Owner Mary Peffer tells EcoWatch, “Incorporating vintage and upcycled apparel into your wardrobe eliminates waste and sends a message to mass retailers that consumers respect our Earth.”
2. Extend the life of your clothes for as long as possible. That includes laundering your clothes with care by using cold instead of warm or hot water, as well as hang drying since it’s gentler to clothes than tumble drying (bonus: it uses less energy). Also, for any rips or holes, try repairing the item yourself or getting it fixed instead of buying something new.
3. If you’d like something new, shop smart. Yes, it’s more expensive than secondhand, but high-quality basics made with organic dyes and sustainable fabrics are much better for the planet than cheap, trendy pieces that fall apart after a few washes. Here’s a list we made of the top eco-conscious brands, and a quick internet search will give you plenty of other options. However, as we mentioned above, having a green label does not mean it’s completely environmentally responsible. So not only should you shop smart, but you should only buy something when you actually need it instead of simply when you want it.
4. Give your clothing a second life. As we previously mentioned, the average American trashes about 65 pounds of textiles a year. In 2012 alone, 14.3 million tons of textiles were generated (5.7 percent of total municipal solid waste). So when you’re cleaning out your closet, recycle or donate your clothes and accessories. Several brands, including Nike and Patagonia accept their own items for recycling and H&M takes any garment, regardless of manufacturer.
5. Buy local. Even if your community’s designers and artists don’t create their products with the environment in mind, it’s much better to support them rather than a chain store that outsources their labor overseas or doesn’t care to protect the planet.