Why You Should Be As Selective With Your Clothes As You Are With Your Food

In New York, people don't eat just anything. It is decidedly off trend not to have a special diet.

With all of the diet labels out there — vegan, gluten-free, raw, Paleo — it’s easy to forget that there was once a time when simply being vegetarian was surprising.

But I'm on a different diet altogether. I'm on an ethical fashion diet.

Though we’ve come to embrace constrained diets in food, we don’t yet understand when people choose constrained diets in fashion. As a fashion “vegetarian” myself, I can tell you that my clothing options are often slim.

You're probably wondering what the “ethical fashion diet” — the “vegetarianism” of the shopping world — really entails.

Well, what it doesn't allow — fast fashion and anything disposable — is pretty easy to spot. It is the $5 T-shirt, the slouchy pants that will be out of style in the next six months, the fur vest, and the sandblasted jeans that endangered the workers making them. Those are definitely off the table.

Though we’ve come to embrace constrained diets in food, we don’t yet understand when people choose constrained diets in fashion.

Then there are some products that seem to fall under the guise of ethical fashion, but are actually harming the environment. It's sometimes difficult to recognize a piece like this without carefully reading its label first.

It's the clothing made by companies whose values and practices are questionable. It’s the “Made in USA” pieces that are produced under unfair working conditions or made from materials imported from far-off places, inadvertently creating a surprisingly large carbon footprint.

It’s the investment pieces that carry a high price tag and may last forever but don't actually correlate to a positive environmental or social impact. It’s the clothing made by companies that claim transparency but have a deceptively limited definition of the term.

That’s how you might describe the state of ethical fashion right now: decentralized and disorganized.

So what is allowed in the ethical fashion diet? And where can we go to find it?

Imagine if, instead of going to the grocery store, you had to visit a different farm to buy each variety of vegetable. It would be hard to know what vegetables existed or where the right farms were. Well, that’s how you might describe the state of ethical fashion right now: decentralized and disorganized.

But there are bright spots if you know where to look. They are the handmade, the holistically sustainable, and the secondhand and second-life items. They are made by forward-thinking businesses committed to providing safe and fulfilling jobs to supply chain workers.

They exist, but they aren’t written on the menu yet. You have to ask for them.

Luckily, things are getting easier. Shoppers can connect with small-scale designers and producers online through sites like Of a Kind, Madesmith, and Etsy. Secondhand clothing is available in abundance through e-commerce start-ups like ThredUp and Threadflip.

Companies of all sizes are opting for certifications and legal designations that signal that they are committed to creating more value in the world than just an attractive product. Communication on these important issues is also improving, and it’s getting easier to look up the information online or see it printed right on a label.

While it might take time, it is worth it to decide for yourself what fashion is clearly off your table, what requires more inquiry or compromise, and what is truly aligned with the values you want to wear — and live.

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