Over the course of the last several decades, the fashion industry has had a devastating impact on the environment and many of the communities in which factories operate. While many consumer goods have become more expensive, the cost of clothing has dropped. Back in 1960, the average American household spent the equivalent of $4,000 on clothes and shoes each year. Today, however, that number is closer to $1,800.
Unfortunately, this isn’t simply a matter of people buying less clothing than they did in the past. In fact, a lot of people are buying more but spending a lower percentage of their income to do so. Prices have plummeted because clothing is mostly made overseas where labor is cheaper. While 95 percent of the clothing worn by Americans in 1960 was manufactured right here in the United States, today, less than two percent of apparel is produced stateside. Instead, most of it comes from places like China and Vietnam.
Cheap, synthetic materials have helped keep prices low, too. Fabrics like polyester have largely replaced natural fibers like cotton and wool because they’re cheap, easy to manufacture and wear well. Cheap labor and synthetic fabrics aren’t good for the world in which we live, though. Unsafe and unethical working conditions impact millions of people around the globe, and the production of synthetic materials often involves the use of toxic chemicals and requires vast amounts of energy and resources.
Fortunately, however, many industry heavy hitters have embraced more sustainable and ethical practices in an effort to reduce their social and environmental impact. There are also many ethical fashion brands that use only eco-friendly materials and operate in a socially conscious manner. If you want your wardrobe to have less of a negative impact on the world, check out these tips for buying sustainable clothing. Even making small changes in your day to day life can have a big impact, so there is no wrong way to get started.
Shop for the Right Fabrics
When you are in the market for new clothing, the right fabric matters–especially in terms of sustainability. When possible, natural fabrics are usually your best bet. Think cotton, wool, silk, linen and hemp. Keep in mind, though, that if you are looking for sustainable and vegan-friendly, silkworms are often killed in the process of making silk for garments.
Polyester may not be a natural material, but if you’re looking for athletic clothing, it’s hard to avoid. It does a great job of wicking moisture away from the body and keeping you cool, so it’s a popular fabric option. When shopping for polyester clothing, look for garments that are made using post-consumer products, such as recycled water bottles, carpet or fishing nets. These products help keep plastic out of the ocean and landfills, and they provide financial support for the recycling industry.
Choose Reputable Brands
There are countless clothing brands out there. Whether you are shopping for t-shirts, jeans, outerwear or anything else you can think of, there are all sorts of brands to choose from. Unfortunately, some care more about the world in which we live than others. If you are trying to do your part to purchase sustainable clothing, pay close attention to brand names and only buy products from companies that care about sustainability.
The good news is that a lot of companies have decided to clean up their acts and change their business practices to operate in a more sustainable manner. This even includes many of the inexpensive brands, which makes it possible to fill your wardrobe with sustainable clothing on a budget. Gildan, for example, is at the forefront of developing innovative solutions to lower their environmental impact and improve working conditions for employees. Fruit of the Loom is all about sustainability, too, so it’s a company that you can feel good about supporting. Econscious is another brand that is definitely worth checking out when you are in the market for sustainable clothing and accessories.
Before you go shopping, do your homework to find companies that have made sustainability a priority. You’ll likely be surprised at just how many there are.
One of the biggest problems with the fast fashion industry is just how much clothing ends up rotting away in landfills. You can do your part to lessen the impact by shopping secondhand whenever possible. Thrift stores and yard sales are great places to score amazing deals on great clothing, and with each purchase you make, you are giving perfectly good apparel a second life.
As a bonus, most second-hand shops in the U.S. are charitable or locally owned. By purchasing from them, you are contributing money to a good cause or keeping it in your community. Rather than doing little more than lining the pockets of a multi-million-dollar corporation, you are helping create a paycheck for someone locally or providing funding for a church, animal shelter or another organization. Certain second-hand stores employ people with disabilities, too, and provide valuable training. Supporting these companies means helping create jobs for people who may not be able to find employment elsewhere.
Buying sustainable clothing doesn’t have to be difficult. Whether you are a fashion addict or you are just looking for some basic new clothing for work, there are all sorts of things you can do to ensure that you are purchasing clothing that is sustainable and socially responsible. The tips listed above are just a few of the many ways to make clothes shopping more sustainable. You can also try renting instead of buying, seek out brands that pay their workers fairly or buy from brands that specialize in producing eco-friendly clothing. Whatever you choose to do, even the smallest step in the right direction could be a HUGE step toward living a more sustainable life.
By Jenny Bloom