Fashion Lookbook

7 tips on how to keep your shopping habits fashion-forward and sustainable

As sea levels rise and global warming along with it, young inhabitants of the earth have been left to contend with an inherited climate crisis. From Greta Thunberg to teens in local high schools, climate change and subsequent questions of ethics and sustainability have captivated the minds of many young fashion-forward folks, raising awareness around when and how fashion impacts the environment and how consumers can purchase and use clothing in a more responsible manner. Below is a list of solutions to the ethical fashion conundrum.

1. Thrift!

Purchasing from fast fashion sources is unsustainable and ethically questionable. Instead, thrifting and sifting through vintage clothing to find your statement pieces is a more sustainable alternative to fast fashion! Re-use someone else’s old clothes and buy items with history and narrative to them, with the added bonus of being environmentally friendly.

2. If buying fast, buy sustainable.

Companies such as H&M have begun branding their clothing as sustainable and recycled. Retailers like Madewell recycle old jeans and, while they are on the slightly more expensive end, they offer up an exciting and sustainable solution to your denim needs. Zara is also switching to a more remedial form of renewable clothing sources in an effort to brand for the current moment. By supporting these initiatives and avoiding less environmentally-friendly options, you can reward companies that are following sustainable business models and boycott those that are not to help shift the apparel industry as a whole towards ethical practice!

3. Pay attention to the labor practices of the companies you shop at.

Many larger fashion companies have terrible labour practices. Mia Mingus, a prominent disability rights activist, has pointed out Goodwill Industries’ payment of sub-minimum wage to disabled workers in sweatshop-like conditions. This is unacceptable. Before shopping with a particular company, look up their labour practices – apps like Good on You and Faer help make this information more accessible. Don’t give your money to industries that are exploitative or harmful to people in developing countries or to low-wage workers! Do they pay their workers a living wage? What are their working conditions like? Stop enabling cruel employers.

4. Hold community clothing swaps. 

Before you give away your clothes, ask yourself whether you might be able to go from selling or buying to swapping. Hold a sustainable clothing party! Bring your friends together over a weekend and enact a system – one brand name item for two basics, or one-one ratios, etc. Stockpile your old clothes that you intend to throw or give away and cycle through them this way instead! This practice keeps your closet revamps fun and sustainable.

5. Stay recyclable.

Before purchasing an item, check what material it’s made of. Is it biodegradable? How much silicon is used in the item? This is significant not only for health reasons but also in case you decide to get rid of something – you want to make sure that you’re wearing clothes that will be kind to the earth when it’s time for them to go. 

6. Learn how to mend!

It’s easy to look at a hole in a piece of clothing and consider it a death sentence. Instead, consider simply mending your clothes with a basic sewing kit to easily maintain or expand the lifespan of your clothes! 

7. Buy long-term.

Buy clothes that are meant to last. Shoes and clothes that are meant to last may be more expensive in the short term, but will definitely  pay off in the long run, both for you and for the planet.

By Attiya Latif

Attiya is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Migration, Mobility, and Development Studies at the University of SOAS in London. She holds a Master's degree in Women's Studies from the University of Oxford and a B.A. in Political and Social Thought from the University of Virginia. Her research, writing, and advocacy center a critique of neocolonial projects' exploitation of Muslim and subaltern women.