Sustainability is in the mind of more and more conscious consumers. Especially when it comes to the clothes we wear, it's now more important than ever to make mindful decisions.
Making conscious wardrobe choices not only helps the planet, people, and animals but also allow us to save money and improve our fashion style.
Consumers' demand for stylish and affordable clothes has been growing rapidly over the past 20 years and with it the fast fashion industry. Thousands of new, cheap, and trendy styles are being pushed to high-street stores every week.
Unfortunately, our fashion addiction and excessive consumerism are extremely damaging to the environment. Overproduction and overconsumption have led the textile and apparel industry to become the second-largest polluter in the world.
It's imperative to make more environmentally conscious choices and preserve the Earth. It comes down to decreasing textile waste, water, air, and soil pollution, hazardous chemicals, and carbon emissions.
The fashion industry also employs farmers and workers in some of the poorest countries in the world, often under unsafe conditions. Human rights violations are still being reported as well as the death of garment factory workers and billions of animals each year.
“With consumption on the increase, manufacturers and brands want the latest trends to be quickly translated into garments, produced efficiently and in bulk at cheap prices, to be made available quickly to their customers. The impact of this ‘cheap rush’ is multifold, the garments are discarded much faster creating an unnecessary want to replace the cheap non-sustainable dyes/chemicals used to color the fabric ends up with the fabric in the ground fill and pollutes the soil, the labor that goes behind is usually underpaid, one of the major fabrics of this ‘cheap rush’ is polyester which uses significant fossil fuel to create. All of us in the industry should be conscious of our choices and encourage the usage of locally available and produced raw materials.”
- Anavila Misra, Indian fashion designer
Luckily, consumers around the world are slowly moving away from fast fashion. We all have the power to drive change in the global apparel and footwear industry.
Changing our shopping habits, boycotting unethical fashion brands, and switching to sustainably made clothing are some of the sustainable practices we can adopt to transform the current wasteful fashion system.
Here is how to make conscious wardrobe choices.
The most sustainable garment is the one we already own. One of the most effective ways to ensure sustainability in fashion is to buy less clothing.
Simply rethink our excessive consumerism, save water, energy, animal, and human lives.
You probably don't need more clothes. You need less. Only buy clothing that you genuinely like and plan to wear for a long time.
I know it's fun to buy new clothes. But we need to start thinking more about the consequences behind our wardrobe choices.
Having a closet full of clothes that we don't wear is the worst.
Buy fashion from sustainable brands. Choose brands that make a difference, those that make a conscious effort to preserve nature and the well-being of their employees.
Ask fashion designers, brands, and retailers more information before you buy new clothes. Search in which country their clothes are being produced, who made them, and under what kind of conditions.
Support companies that use business as a force for good and avoid fashion brands that don't make enough progress toward reducing their social and environmental impacts.
Some sustainable and ethical fashion brands also donate at least a portion of their profits to charities and non-profit organizations.
Buy high quality
Fast fashion made us consider clothing as a disposable commodity. One of the more conscious wardrobe choices we can make is to give up on fast fashion.
With sustainable fashion, brands, and retailers change their business models to produce less often with better quality.
They offer their customers high-quality clothing that lasts for a long time. As consumers, we need to choose clothes that won't go out of style easily, that are durable, comfortable and fit us well.
Your budget and the planet will thank you when you keep and wear your clothes longer. It often means buying more expensive clothes. But a higher price gives a chance for garment factory workers to live better.
Better working conditions
Buy from ethical fashion brands that make conscious clothing and minimize their social impact.
Many fashion lovers now refuse to support brands that don't ensure living wages and decent work conditions for the employees in their supply chain.
Fast fashion brands often produce their clothes in East-Asian developing countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and The Philippines that are well-known for extreme risk of labor abuse and cases of child labor and modern slavery.
Many sporting goods retailers and high-street chains are still breaking the law in relation to labor rights. Workers are paid below the legal minimum wage, forced to work long hours in unsafe environments, don't have access to healthcare or paid leaves.
Choose ethically-made clothes by workers who receive fair compensation, healthy and sanitary working environments, union rights, and job security.
Thrifting and vintage fashion are gaining massive popularity. At your local thrift and vintage store, resale shops, or online, consumers can find pre-loved, affordable, and unique pieces.
Buying or borrowing old clothes protect the planet, save resources, and money. Second-hand clothes are an opportunity to create an individual look without the need to produce new garments.
Some clothing rental companies even offer a subscription for customers wanting to renew their wardrobe more regularly. It's an emerging and fast-growing industry.
Don't hesitate to swap some clothes hanging in your closet with your friends and family to renew your wardrobe, instead of heading to the nearest mall.
Natural and organic materials
Look for natural fabrics that are also certified organic by third-party organizations. Be careful about the materials fashion brands and designers use in their collections.
Organic, environmentally-friendly, and recycled materials are some of the best to build an ethical and conscious wardrobe. They make the clothing industry more sustainable.
They also protect your health, body, and skin from harmful chemicals and their consequences. Make the conscious choice to use vegan and eco-friendly alternatives to leather, wool, fur, down, and silk.
Natural and organic materials include organic cotton, organic hemp, linen, ramie, or jute.
Donate unwanted clothes
Think about donating your old clothes. It goes a long way toward making sustainable and conscious wardrobe choices.
It contributes to saving the planet while helping people with clothes they may need more than you do.
You can do a quick online search for your local options. Be sure to contact them first and ask what type of clothes they accept.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.