Do you buy organic food, use natural skin care and recycle as much as you can?
Well, you might be glad to discover you’re in good company - as many as 60%* of women in Australia try to do the same. But for some reason when it comes to clothing, they find it much harder to make the switch to ethical and sustainable brands.
Our wardrobes are hiding an insatiable appetite for fast fashion, and it's dramatically increasing our waste size...
"The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world - second only to oil.” Eileen Fisher
This is a pretty confronting fact. However, when asking why it is so hard to change fast fashion shopping behaviour, we generally hear the following reasons:
- I can't find brands that are ethical and sustainable!
The thing is, with increased consumer pressure on major high street brands, many of them are changing their ways and working toward sustainable and ethical manufacturing processes.
Additionally, the focus on environmental and humanitarian concerns in the fashion industry has paved the way for new retailers and new fashion brands to come up with solutions to the ongoing problems and offer product that is established under ethical and sustainable principles.
- It’s too expensive to purchase organic clothing.
Just as the price of organic food and natural skin care has dropped over the last decade with an increase in demand and supply, the same has been happening for clothing and accessories. Many major retailers offer ranges of organic product, or carry brands that fit the bill for both ethical and sustainable principles.
But what is important to note is that the majority of sustainably made fashion products, although they cost more on average - the quality is higher, they last a lot longer and you get more for your money. You will get more wears out of a higher grade organic cotton t-shirt than a thinly woven cheap cotton fabric.
- Ethical and sustainable clothing is so daggy.
Ethical product really has transformed from being predominantly hemp product for hippies and bohemians to being both designer wear and high street wear easily available to the majority of the public.
In addition to the classier minimalist ethical fashion available, there is a huge increase in fun upcycled fashion across the world as this industry continues to offer unique one-off styles at affordable prices. It is now easy to find retro inspired fashion pieces that are 100% made from preloved garments - this is absolutely my favourite way to buy clothing.
- I always take my old clothes to charity bins anyway.
With most consumers dropping millions of bags of used clothing in charity bins every week, it is easy to think that this is a valid solution to counteract the effect of buying fast fashion. However, it is in fact one of the worst excuses ever. In America alone over 11 billion tons of fast fashion goes into landfill each year, which is in addition to the millions of tons which charity stores simply cannot sell and therefore it gets sold into third world countries - seriously damaging their own local industries and flooding their fragile market with our fash-trash.
So with none of the above reasons proving valid - perhaps it is time for you to meet some of the best places in Australia and the world to buy your next ethical and sustainable fashion items from.
Five fast-fashion alternatives you can feel good about wearing.
The below list of fashion retailers is by no means comprehensive, however, they are a fabulous place to start when you are next on the hunt for clothing and accessory items:
1. Red Cross, Vinnies and Salvos Charity Stores:
Charity stores and secondhand retailers should never be thought of as the final destination for your fast fashion cast offs - in fact, instead they should be the first destination for your sustainable fashion shopping needs.
With locations all over Australia and the world, you can find a nearby Red Cross, Vinnies or Salvation Army without going too far from home. For many basics like t-shirts, coats, work shirts, and denim you can find an assortment of sizes, styles and prices to fit any budget.
You may also be surprised to discover that these charity brands have totally lifted their game in major cities due to stiff competition from fast fashion retailers and vintage clothing stores. Some locations now have an upmarket feel and stock only heavily curated vintage items and new clothing items donated directly from manufacturers. Many of my favourite preloved pieces were found in charity stores over the last 20 years in busy shopping areas like Brookvale, Newtown, Paddington, and Rundle Street Adelaide.
2. Vintage Clothing Stores:
Buying vintage will cost you more than visiting a charity store, but this is also where you will have the potential to find designer clothes from the last 5 decades or more, that you won’t find anywhere else. This kind of quality will last you a lifetime and give you many moments of joy from your vintage designer outfit.
Vintage clothing stores are an odd bunch. They can differ massively in price, range and quality, so if you are just starting to use them as your shopping destination, find the district in your city where you will find the most stores within walking distance of each other so you can discover who the good ones are.
Some specialise in true vintage - pre-1980’s daytime and party wear, whereas others focus on clothes from the 1980’s to today and therefore offer more of your everyday jeans, band and brand t-shirts, sweatshirts and casual wear.
3. Up-Cycled Fashion Stores:
On the rise across all major cities in the world, up-cycled fashion stores use preloved garments to create new (often one-off) garments and accessories. The concept is sustainable fashion at it’s best, because no new materials need to be produced to create clothing that are classic shapes and styles that don’t go out of fashion.
Anything from retro inspired dresses, coats and outfits, to your typical street wear, beach wear and festival garb can be found in the stores listed below. Many of them specialise in one fashion area, but most of them offer something to suit everybody’s personal style.
The thing I love most about these retailers is that you get the cool hipster vibe of hunting through a stylish vintage store, but the garments are made new and don’t blow the budget like some vintage clothing can!
My favourite up cycled retailers include:
Retrostar in Melbourne
Cream on Crown and Cream on King in Sydney
Press Ban Cafe, and Ever After in Seminyak, Bali
Beyond Retro in the UK
4. Local Markets and Maker-Fairs:
Buying local is one of the best ways to minimise the carbon footprint of clothing that you buy. Most of the clothes in fast fashion retailers have travelled the globe during their production cycle before they even land in the retail store... Going direct to the source means you can find unique designs, usually lovingly handmade, and often you can speak directly to the owner of the clothing brand to find out where the fabrics come from and how the product is made.
Most major cities and many country centres have either weekly or monthly artisan or craft markets. Beware though that some stall holders may simply import a range of new garments from Asia which have been produced cheaply in a mass factory environment. Weed these ones out by checking garment care labels for country of origin.
5. Ethical and Sustainable Clothing Stores:
If all else fails and you can’t find what you are looking for in pre-loved or up cycled fashion options, then the next best thing is to buy Ethically and Sustainably made clothing.
You may pay more upfront to know that the product you are buying comes from factories and companies who consider the humanitarian and environmental effects of their manufacturing processes. But you will find the quality is much higher than fast fashion alternatives, and therefore, you will get years of wear and not be adding it to the rag pile after one wash.
Stores to look out for include:
Shift to Nature
Selected Mainstream Fashion Retailers:
I know this takes our tally to six, and I thought long and hard about whether to include this final fast fashion alternative in this post. The reason I decided to include it, but not in the official count, is because I believe knowledge is power - but ONLY if you use it to take action.
As consumers, we are not always going to be able to convince our loved ones and friends to join us on our mission to 'save the Earth', but if we are able to steer people in the right direction when out on a shopping trip, then we can say we didn’t stand by and do nothing.
There are not many high street retailers that get a good rap these days and there are a number of reasons why. With industry eyes on the end to end processes of most of the major retailers like ASOS, Zara and H&M, it is hard for them to hide the good, the bad and the ugly.
And quite frankly, we don’t want them to. The environmental and humanitarian effects of fast fashion retailers cannot be ignored, they are the dark secret of shame that the industry and consumers have supported for way too long. But fortunately, there are an increasing number of pioneers working to change that.
The below retailers may not 100% fit the bill for both environmental and ethical practises, but have made changes in their business to offer mainstream consumers an alternative. Additionally, by choosing products in their ranges which are high quality and defy fast trends, we can:
"Buy less, choose well, make it last." Vivienne Westwood
Registered with Ethical Clothing Australia and offering select ranges of sustainable fabric garments are mainstream brands like: Cue, Jeans West, and Veronica Maine to name a few.
And major international retailers who offer specific ranges to target their conscious customers are:
H&M Conscious Exclusive
However, when it comes to buying from fast fashion global retailers, it is important to remain skeptical about potential ‘green washing’ of their brand, especially when the large majority of their business is set up to maximise profits at all costs. Understanding what your consumer dollar is contributing to on the whole, is crucial for winning the battle against unethical brands.
So before you head out on your next shopping spree for new season clothing, do your research and investigate your favourite brand's sustainability, environmental and corporate responsibility statements - you just may be surprised.
Are you hiding a dirty little secret in your wardrobe?
* 60% is my uneducated guess based on the women I know! It is sad to admit that the accurate figure would in fact be much lower, as many of us are caught in the Western consumer habit of convenience over our precious environment...