From Amour Vert to Zady: If you love fashion but don't want to contribute to the negative effects the fast fashion industry has on workers and the environment, you have plenty of gorgeous, sustainably produced brands to choose from these days.
There's only one problem: Ethical fashion can be pretty expensive.
I write a lot about fair fashion on my blog and in my book The Curated Closet, and sure, in an ideal world, my closet would consist of nothing but Reformation dresses, Elizabeth Suzann pants, and Cuyana silk camis. But in reality I just don't have the money to shop exclusively from sustainable brands, much less replace my entire existing wardrobe with ethical alternatives.
The good news is this: Buying from ethical brands isn't the only way to "green-ify" your closet and help your cause. In fact, supporting ethical brands is only the tip of the iceberg of a whole set of strategies you can use. Either one of them reduces your personal contribution to the negative effects of the fast fashion industry. And either one is better than grabbing a flimsy $5 top from the top of the sales pile that will end up as landfill in three months.
So let's take a closer look at each of the five ways you can build a more ethical closet:
1. Value and take good care of the clothes you already own.
Taking care of the clothes you own (no matter their brand) is the best and most basic thing you can do to build a more ethical closet. Repair what's broken, handwash what needs to be handwashed, fold heavy sweaters instead of hanging them, and so on. Clothes that are well taken care of last (and stay nice) for longer. That means they'll need to be replaced less often and you can buy fewer clothes overall, thereby reducing your contribution to the costs of fashion in the long-term.
2. Shop less, choose better: Only buy pieces you love 100 percent.
The fast fashion industry may have gotten its name from the quick rate at which catwalk designs are delivered to the masses, but it just as accurately describes the way we shop nowadays. Fast, laissez-faire, without thinking about it too much. We pick up new pieces here and there because it's all so cheap and won't break the bank. The result: a closet full of so-so stuff that we are not too crazy about. And so we keep on shopping to fill that void, to replace imperfect pieces with better alternatives and to finally feel like we have enough to wear...it's a never-ending cycle.
So how can you break that cycle? Start choosing better! Don't just buy the first pair of jeans that fit OK, find some that you love and then wear them for years instead of just a season. Train yourself to be more selective when it comes to buying new clothes, no matter whether you are shopping at a vintage shop, an eco boutique or a high street store. Don't buy things that you know aren't ideal and will want to replace soon. Instead of five cheap, mediocre sweaters, keep looking until you find the one that you love 100 percent.
By learning to wait you'll buy less not only in the short-run but also in the long-run because over time you'll build up a much better, more satisfying closet that way.
3. Go for clothes that are high-quality and durable.
No matter the brand, buying clothes that are well-made and consist of high-quality materials is more eco-friendly than buying lower-quality pieces because they'll last longer and need to be replaced less often. And less closet turnover means what? Exactly, less shopping overall!
To assess the quality of a potential new wardrobe addition, make sure you inspect it in the flesh (not online). The three most important components to look at are the fabric, the seams, and the way it was tailored. The fabric should feel sturdy, comfortable, and evenly woven. The seams should be reinforced, neat, and lay flat against the skin without puckering. Good tailoring depends on the type of item and also your body shape, so it's crucial that you try on the piece to make sure it fits the individual contours of your body well, without pulling or sagging anywhere.
4. Buy vintage or second-hand.
Another great, budget-friendly alternative to buying ethical brands is to repurpose pre-worn clothes and save them from becoming landfill. Finding what you want in a vintage or second-hand store can be time-consuming but often worth the effort in exchange for some truly unique pieces. You can also shop for vintage online, of course! Good places to start are the ASOS Marketplace, Vestiaire Collective, and Beyond Retro.
5. Support ethical brands.
If you want to support ethical brands you've got plenty of options to choose from—here’s my shortlist:
- Everlane—Modern basics.
- People Tree—The British pioneer in ethically and environmentally sustainable fashion.
- Alternative Apparel—Soft eco-fabrics, organic and pima cotton.
- Reformation—The 'cool' ethical label (Karlie Kloss is an investor).
- Cuyana—High-end essentials for the working woman.
- Zady—A lifestyle destination for conscious consumers.
- Elizabeth Suzann—Seasonal classics made in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Amour Vert—The best striped tees and patterned shirts.
- Honest by—Hugo Boss's former art director, Bruno Pieters baby, "the world's first 100% transparent company", shows where materials come from, how much they cost, who made the product, where it was made and – crucially – how much money everybody earns along the supply chain, including Pieters himself.
- Freedom of Animals—Animal-free and made in the USA.
- Marais USA—A vegan-friendly line of slides, ankle sandals, and block-heeled mules that has quickly found its way into the wardrobes of fashion insiders.
- Matt & Nat—A collection of design-centric, eco friendly and vegan accessories including bags and wallets.