7 Tips to Shop Ethically for Clothing

I used to post more outfit photos on this blog and on Instagram, but as it turns out, I’m the worst fashion blogger/influencer/person because I wear the same stuff every season, and when I do buy clothes, they’re usually second hand. I very rarely accept gifted items from lovely brands who offer because I’m picky and want to keep my wardrobe tightly curated. So all in all, I’m not the easiest person for conscious brands to collaborate with and I have basically stopped trying. While I’ll still do some outfit snaps here and there when I’m inspired, it’s been nice not doing this on a regular basis because I no longer feel the pressure to purchase the latest drops from ethical labels so I can review them. If you’ve noticed, I’m now focusing on creating ethical shopping guides for your reference so you can check out what’s new on your own if you want to.

Being a massive outfit repeater does qualify me to write this post on how to shop consciously. Here are my 7 tips.

1. Buy Second hand

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Buying secondhand is really my favourite way to shop. Not only is it the most sustainable option, it’s cost efficient. Online, I browse Ebay, Depop and The RealReal for specific items. I also check my favourite local vintage and consignment stores every so often.

I especially like buying designer clothes second hand because I feel less precious about keeping them spotless, thus wearing them more often.

Another good thing about buying second hand is that it forces me to build a slow fashion wardrobe by default since I’m buying clothes that are from previous seasons. Which leads me to—

2. Embrace Slow Fashion

I just read this New Yorker article by Jia Tolentino about Reformation. Although this cool-girl brand is more eco-friendly than Zara and the like, Reformation is still operating like a fast fashion brand now that their production has scaled up. Tolentino also noted how their quality has gone down as a result.

It’s still easy to fall into the trap of chasing trends when shopping from so-called sustainable brands, especially when you see your favourite celebs and influencers promoting stuff that’s “good for the environment.”

Instead, I recommend only buying something if you see yourself wearing it in the years to come. Purchasing less clothing is better for the environment in general. It’s also comforting to have tried-and-true staples to return to every season.

If you do want to have fun and play around with the latest in fashion—

3. Rent Clothes 

I’ve rented clothes from Rent the Runway (see my review on their Unlimited clothing subscription here) while visiting the States, and Dresst at home (Toronto). I personally don’t rent right now because I’m satisfied with my wardrobe, but I recommend renting for those who require outfits for special occasions or like to be seen in new clothes for social or work events. Renting is also great for people who are still discovering their personal style.

4. Consider the Fabric 

Before I buy, I check the label for fabric and cleaning instructions. I want to avoid dry cleaning as much as possible, which is why I no longer purchase delicate silk items. I also don’t like Viscose for this reason. Not to crap on Reformation even more, but a lot of their items are made from Viscose, and you have to dry clean them or else they shrink. They recommend green dry cleaning, but it’s not easy to find truly eco-friendly dry cleaners. Even if there is one around your hood, it’s likely to be expensive.

Unpopular opinion here, but I’d rather get a dress made from a high-quality polyester (a synthetic petroleum-based fibre) than Viscose because it’ll last me longer and I can throw it in the wash (in a Guppyfriend washing bag to catch microfibers) without having it wrinkle or shrink on me.

Ideally, I prefer natural, low maintenance materials I can throw in the washer and dryer such as organic cotton and linen. For my cashmere, wool, and some silk pieces, I can hand wash…but who has the time to do this all the time? Going forward, I’m careful about purchasing new items that need to be hand washed.

So to recap, if an item is high maintenance, really think about whether it will fit into your lifestyle before purchasing.

5. Fashion Swap

Check local listings—Eventbrite, Facebook, Meetup, etc.—for upcoming fashion swaps. I’ve been to two and have emerged with some cool stuff, including a denim jumpsuit. I also feel good knowing that my clothes have new homes instead of the possibility of them ending up in the landfill—which is something that can happen if you drop clothes in the donation bin.

Just make sure your clothes are clean and in good shape. I once found a nice dress that had all this cat hair on it. It smelled like a litter box too. Not cool. Needless to say, I did not take it home.

6. Buy Ethical Fashion as a Last Resort

If you must buy new clothes, do your best to support ethical brands. You probably know that I like Everlane for everyday basics (see everything I own from them) and local designers, in Toronto and when I travel, for one-of-a-kind pieces.

Purchasing ethical fashion is not always accessible (although I have a guide for affordable ethical fashion). Not everyone can drop $400 for a gorgeous DĂ´en sweater. This is why I’m always recommending shopping second hand. But if you do have the means or if you prefer to buy new items (like my friend who is a bit of a germ freak), definitely check out conscious brands. Many of them are doing really cool things.

7. Cut Yourself Some Slack! 

Yes, our overconsumption of unsustainable clothing is a huge problem for the planet, but not everything can be made sustainably. Lingerie, for example, usually require some synthetic fabric to be blended in to be stretchy.

I live in Toronto, a major city, and I still have difficulties finding certain ethical items. For example, a good ethical T-shirt bra, so I bought some from a mainstream brand at the mall. It might be hard for you to find an ethical/sustainable alternative to x,y, or z where you live. If you buy a quality item from a brand whose production methods you’re unfamiliar with, it’s not the end of the world. If you’re doing your best to reduce waste, don’t beat yourself up. You’re not the only one accountable for a greener planet. It’s a collective responsibility.

In short: buy less and choose quality over quantity.

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