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How to give your wardrobe an ethical makeover

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How to give your wardrobe an ethical makeover


Does your wardrobe need a sustainable sense check? It's easier to go more green than the high street would have you think. For anyone who wants to swap fast fashion for slow, or embrace a more ethical fashion style, we've pulled together a few easy tips to get you started.

Alice Pritchard

Sun 25 Feb 2018

Have you ever looked at your wardrobe and wondered what impact it has on the world?

Manufacturing and distributing clothes has both an environmental and human cost that has put the fashion industry under the spotlight in recent years. Not only is it responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions (Forbes), but garment workers in less developed countries have been reported to earn less than $2 US dollars per day (Clean Clothes).

While pressure is being put on fashion brands to get their act together, there is also a responsibility on us — the consumers — to change our habits and think more ethically about our clothes. It's an approach that really works, too: a 2017 WRAP report found that over 700,000 tonnes of C02e were saved in the UK just from people changing their clothing care habits.

Stop the fast fashion guilt. How to give your wardrobe an ethical makeover

Do your research before you purchase to make sure your money's supporting brands that work with the environment

Do your homework before spending

Before you go shopping, it can be helpful to know exactly which brands are doing their bit and which aren't doing enough. With a bit of research, you can find out exactly what a fashion label is doing to reduce their environmental and human impact.

Look for fashion brands championing transparency: you should be able to find out where their clothing is made, what materials they use and what type of labour practices they support, and if not, perhaps think twice before shopping there.

Click here for a quick guide to 10 values to look for in an ethical brand.

There are also tools available to make on-the-go shopping easier. Good On You is an app that can put information about how ethical a brand and its products are in the palm of your hand, as well as make suggestions for similar responsible labels you might want to take a look at.

Girl in a clothes shop

How much do you love picking up a vintage bargain? Well, you're helping the planet

Buy vintage or second hand

Another way of being more ethical when you shop for clothes is by embracing vintage and second-hand pieces. Each time you buy something pre-loved, you'll be killing demand for throwaway fashion, as well as giving something that could end up as landfill a new lease of life. 

Plus who knows what you’ll end up with. Vintage and second hand stores hide a treasure trove of possibilities – and we promise you won’t end up looking like a fancy dress reject if you follow our guide to vintage shopping like a pro here.

If you're shopping online, Etsy's a great starting point as there are some fantastic vintage boutiques on the platform.

Charity shops like Crisis or Oxfam specialise in vintage fashion and car boot sales are well worth a deep dive, not to mention the many vintage fairs and markets around.

And vintage fever doesn’t stop with clothes and bags. Should you be looking for some high-end jewellery, it's best to find a pre-owned specialist, such as Est.1897, to ensure you are getting a genuine article. 

Make do and mend clothing to be more eco friendly

Can you sew? Mending your clothes rather than just throwing out will help the huge textile landfill issue

Be more mindful when you're shopping 

The days of unthinking hauls of endless T-shirts for a fiver are hopefully on the wane. Our fast fashion diet isn’t sustainable and a huge upsurge in buying and chucking our clothes has created a textile waste disaster (on top of the fact they’re not produced ethically).

Put more thought into each purchase and ask yourself three key questions: 

  • How often will I wear it? 
  • Do I own anything similar already? 
  • How long will this garment last? 

You might be surprised at how quickly you can change your mind when you really examine something closely.

Spending a little more on each item is worth it if it lasts longer and you love it more. Enjoying a favourite shirt for years to come isn’t just great for you, you’re doing a favour to the planet. 

Jeans are a good example of this as the denim industry is a hugely toxic one in terms of chemical dyes and requires an enormous amount of water (around 1,800 gallons per pair)…so think about investing in a pair that will see you through two or three years. Denim was originally tough workwear, it was designed to be long lasting.

Also think about whether each piece passes the 30 Wears Challenge - an idea championed by eco-fashionista Livia Firth - ie are you going to wear something 30 times.

Make do and mend your clothing

It's just as important to take care of your clothes to make sure that they last. 

Doing so will ensure that you're not straight back to the shops looking for a replacement if your wool jumper shrinks or the button falls off your favourite dress.

Firstly, pay attention to the washing instructions for each item of clothing, as some may require specialist care to make sure they stay in the best condition. 

If your clothing does begin to show wear and tear, learn to carry out minor repairs yourself so that you can save them from going in the bin. The Spruce's DIY guide to clothing repairs is a great place to start but there are also more makers and menders and fashion workshops cropping up to help people recover skills we’ve lost over the last 50 years.

Take care to wash at low temperatures to save on energy and to reduce the amount of microplastics being washed into the ocean (Want to know more? Click here).

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