Watching the documentary The True Cost earlier this year forever changed the way I think about fashion and shopping. In the back of my mind, I always knew that the clothes I was wearing were probably made in a sweatshop in some third-world country by underpaid workers. But as the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind,” and I chose to ignore this ugly truth, especially when I was at the mall surrounded by cute and cheap clothing. The True Cost exposed me to the harsh realities behind the fashion industry. Seeing the footage and effects from the Rana Plaza factory collapse and fashion’s impact on the environment, made me realize I needed to change my shopping habits ASAP. I compiled a list of questions that I ask myself every time I shop. Sharing these, I hope that they make you a more sustainable shopper too!
1. Where and Who.
These two questions go hand-in-hand. The U.S.? China? Bangladesh? Knowing a product’s origins determines a lot about the people who make the product and working conditions. (Were sweatshops, child labor, worker abuse, or slavery involved)? How far did it travel to get to the store? There are a lot of fashion brands who choose not to fully disclose information on their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impacts. That’s why I always imagine the worst; because if a brand chooses not to be transparent, it’s probably not for the best reasons.
I’m going to take the vegan approach here: did an innocent animal die for this pair of leather boots? Undomesticated sheep produce just enough wool to keep them warm in their respective climate. Human interference and shearing is worse than you can imagine. Leather and wool, along with silk and cashmere, are some popular examples of animal-derived clothing. There is abundance of animal-free fashion options that are just as trendy, stylish and durable. Why not invest in those and save an animal’s life?
3. How it’s made or produced.
Did you know that it takes 2,700 litres to produce a single cotton t-shirt? That’s equivalent to almost 3 years of drinking water! Not only do sustainable shoppers think about fashion’s impact on people and animals, but also how it affects the environment. Toxic chemicals and pesticides used during manufacturing lead to water pollution. Unsustainable cotton farming results in the loss of seas and rivers due to the degradation of soil fertility. Take into account the amount of electricity produced from coal and diesel generators that power garment factories. Don’t get me started on fashion’s waste production.
4. How much does it cost?
The reality is buying sustainable and ethically-made clothing is expensive. Why? Quality materials are used to make clothes last longer. None of that cheap stuff like H&M. While Fast Fashion can be tempting because it’s cheap and trendy, the clothes are made with low-quality materials because they want you to keep buying! Workers at sustainable brands get paid fairly and have safe working conditions.
5. Do I love it? How many times will I wear it?
Sustainable shoppers are all about buying pieces they actually love and not giving into impulse buys or trends that will only last a season. We invest in clothing that we know we’ll use for #30wears, and though our standard shirt may cost a minimum of $80 compared to the $10 top at Forever 21, that means we truly love what we do buy.
Now, I’m not telling you to boycott malls and never buy clothing ever again. I realize that for some of us, our bodies are still changing and growing, so we actually need new clothes. As for others, we shop because we like the idea of changing up our personal style. Moving forward, I have a few suggestions for you:
6) Run through the questions above and determine if you need to buy the item.
7) Shop at thrift stores!
The prices and finds at thrift stores are unlike no other and you have the opportunity to give clothes in perfectly good condition another home. Or if you’re too lazy to go out and thrift shop, now there are online thrift shops like Tagpop where customers have the option to choose mystery bundles, making for a sustainable and fun surprise!
8) Download sustainable fashion apps like Good On You.
This free app rates fashion brands according to their ethical performance in regards to people, the planet, and animals, and allows shoppers to find similar brands that match their values and issues they care about.