September 7, 2020

WHO MADE MY CLOTHES? HOW WE SHOP MINDFULLY FOR ETHICAL CLOTHING

Clothing was one of the first places I started asking:

Where did this come from?

Who made this item?

In so many areas we’ve moved far from the origins (and therefore impact) of what lands in our home. In that distance between our home and the origins of the things that enter it there is so much room for things to happen that I don’t know about. And it’s not all good. I want to make sure that in the small every day decisions we make to buy things, we’re not part of that costing someone else in a way we wouldn’t want it to cost us.

If you want more reading, I’d suggest looking at Fashion Revolution and discovering the “Who Made My Clothes” campaign to dig into the stories more.

Clothing is an industry that’s hugely detrimental to the planet and largely because the turnover of items is so high. During the war just 100 years ago clothing was rationed to a high degree (like there were limits on the number of buttons and turn-ups and those little extras to save resources), and now so little time later, the turnover and waste of items is so fast with many items that took huge resources ending up trashed with so few wears.

I don’t like to say that companies are either “good” or “bad”

because I think everyone needs to take steps forward and what might be a good move for someone on this journey towards more mindful, thoughtful, slow shopping might be a move backwards for me. “Good” for me is more like one step closer to your goal of how I want to shop.

6 tips to help you start shopping more mindfully

  1. Wear what you have and treat it well.

    Not buying anything is often the best move, so wash things on a colder cycle, spot clean them to wash them less, air dry, mend and take care of what you have!

  2. Buy well made items.

    Even if you don’t know where they’re coming from. One well made item can replace 5 badly made items and mean you need to buy less which in turn reduces these problems.

  3. Buy second hand.

    The cost of buying things that are better sourced and made can be high. While I stand by the need for paying more and that these items are worth it and we should be valuing the things that make them cost more.. that doesn’t mean that everyone has the money to spend on them. Firstly I’d say, buy second hand. Then:

  4. Explore your budget for some higher spends.

    “Investments.” One $100 item is the same price as four $25 items.  Can you buy less and spend a little more? If you can’t then use what you have and opt for second hand but statistically people are buying more and spending less on each item, if we can switch that up we can buy less and spend a little more which is a win win in terms of impact.

  5. Make room in your budget for the higher prices.

    As we’ve got more and more familiar with the value of knowing what comes into our home, and more and more connected to the reality of other humans in the production of what we purchase, it’s been easier to cut some things out to free up money to spend more on certain items. You have to have a fairly organised budget to do this but if you can you can start to re jig things a bit to put more money where well sourced items cost a little more.

  6. Find free options

    Keep your eye out for free options like closet swaps, trading with a friend, borrowing an item for an event or options that don’t require purchasing like renting items.

In general what I’m looking for as I find a brand:

Like I said before, this is a journey. If you buy fast fashion that’s organic cotton I’d say that’s better than fast fashion that isn’t organic cotton. But I want to really know a brand is looking at people, and planet in production of it’s items and also ideally looking at their end of life too.

I want to know that the people in the factories or production process are working in good working conditions where I’d be happy to work, that they’re being paid fairly. I find certifications like fairtrade and GOTS helpful as a starting point too but I usually jump to the “about us” section of a website to read about what the company is aiming for to get a good idea of what I’d looking at buying.

I’m also looking at materials that are being used to manufacture items. My top choices are the natural options like cotton, bamboo, wool, wood – while realising that those have different issues around impact and sourcing I choose them over things like polyester and plastic both for impact but also durability and ability to mend them. Sometimes I do opt for recycles plastics although I tend to choose those in places where they’re not lying right on our skin – so things like shoes and outerwear.

As someone who shares the items I’m finding, and just because it’s also such a need – I love seeing companies with wide ranges on sizing. I know some will agree and I’m open to being wrong here but if a small company has your size but isn’t diverse in sizing I don’t know if lack of wider ranges of sizing is a reason to avoid a company making items well. Others would disagree but it can be really hard for small companies to start with a wide range of sizes. you could ask them why they’re not there and seek more understanding on what you’re not seeing, in any area. They could do it with made to order items but that would put prices higher for the customer making them less accessible. But that is not a defence of lack of size diversity as much as being aware of the difficult of small businesses sourcing items well and try struggles. we do need to see more companies making and showing diverse sizing so it’s something I love finding and look for.

In the same vein, I love knowing who started a brand. I think that level of transparency on a story really helps this whole journey and search. If it’s a woman owned company, a minority owned company, a black owned company or any level of someone who I’m excited to champion – someone who may have found it harder to get a loan, been less likely to be able to start a business I love knowing I can put my money behind that so where I can I always look for the story behind a brand.

“Slow fashion” is something I’m also looking for. I want to find brands that are making pieces designed to last and not promoting very seasonal repeated buying. It usually means more timeless pieces that I can imagine wearing in many different ways and a few collections a year rather than new pieces dropping each week that make people want to shop more and more. This can also mean brands offer free repairs (e.g. Nudie) or replace items if they don’t last (e.g. Cotopaxi) because the mindset of the brand is that you will use clothes for a long long time.

There are other things I look for, and depending on the area and other things that might matter to you, drop me a comment below if there’s something you think I forgot or if you have any questions on the post or how we choose clothes.

 


OTHER POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY:

Ethical shopping brands we love (2015)

My tips for second hand shopping

Christmas list 2019 (US + UK) 

A FULL DIRECTORY: Brands we shop

 

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