How to buy sustainable, ethical fashion without compromising on style

How to buy sustainable, ethical fashion without compromising on style

There’s no denying that fashion has to be designed more sustainably, clothing needs to be worn for longer and recycling must become part of the lifecycle of textiles.

Even fashion designer Stella McCartney criticised the fashion industry as “incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment” in a recent Ellen MacArthur Foundation report.

The apparel industry is the world’s second largest polluter, second only to oil.

And, according to data from Textile World, Australians are the world’s second largest consumers of textiles, after North Americans, and buy 27kg of new clothing every year.

But style enthusiasts are looking for better options.

With two-thirds of consumers now willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable, it demonstrates the real need for clothing to be produced with less of an impact on the environment and more responsibility in where it comes from.

Here are a few things you can do when shopping for sustainable and ethical clothing without having to give up your style.

Educate yourself

The only way to know more about the clothes you’re buying is to do your research. Until you look into a brand’s environmental and ethical practices, you’ll have no idea how their clothes are made or where they’ve come from.

The app Good On You holds the environmental and ethical information of more than 2000 fashion brands worldwide and gives you the power to check brand ratings while you shop, and discover ethical and sustainable fashion labels. The app rates a brand on three aspects – people, the planet and animals, and they are given a rating of ‘we avoid’, ‘not good enough’, ‘it’s a start’, ‘good’ and ‘great’.

Some Australian fashion brands that currently have a ‘good’ rating on the app include Arnsdorf, Country Road, Witchery, Trenery and Mimco, while Outland Denim and The Social Outfit and have a ‘great’ rating.

You can also search for the Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) tag on clothing to see if a brand is accredited by the body. The accreditation ensures that textile, clothing and footwear workers are paid appropriately, work in safe conditions and receive their legal minimum entitlements.

Some womenswear brands that are currently accredited by ECA include Anthea Crawford, Cue, Nobody Denim and Veronika Maine. See the full list here.

Veja sneakers use sustainable fabrics

French footwear brand Veja uses sustainable fabrics to make sneakers. Image credit: Veja.

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Research the fabric

Materials including linen, hemp and bamboo are more environmentally-friendly because they use less energy, pesticides, fertilisers and water to produce than other fabrics.

Lyocell (also known as Tencel) is another sustainable fabric. Light and versatile, lyocell is a cellulose fibre made by dissolving wood pulp and uses a drying process called spinning.

If you’re interested in making your fabric choice cruelty-free as well as eco-friendly, look for brands that prioritise animal welfare and sell materials such as organic wool, vegan leather and vegan silk.

Avoid synthetic fabrics such as polyester, rayon, spandex, nylon, acrylic or modal, as producing them results in a high environmental impact. They also shed microplastics when washed which end up in our water systems and oceans.

The brand Allbirds uses ethically-sourced Merino wool, sourced from New Zealand, in their wool runners which have been dubbed the most comfortable shoes in the world. They also use recycled plastic bottles to make the shoe laces, and their packaging is made from 90 per cent recycled cardboard.

French brand Veja makes eco-friendly sneakers using wild rubber from trees grown in the Amazon and organic cotton that adheres to fair trade principles. Veja scores ‘good’ on Good On You for its environmental rating.

Buy less, wear more

To be kinder to the environment, we must focus on buying fewer, high-quality garments that will last for years and become fashion staples in our wardrobes.

Instead of adopting seasonal trends that come and go as fast as lightning, shop for garments that will complement existing pieces in your wardrobe and that you intend to wear a lot. We should be aiming to keep our clothes for many years rather than a few months or weeks.

And when you do make a purchase, see if you can find something from a vintage, charity or second-hand store first. Not only will it reduce your environmental impact, you’re also more likely to find a unique garment that nobody else has.

Get recycling

Over time, clothes wear out and they may be beyond repairing or repurposing. In these instances, don’t throw your old clothes in the rubbish bin, which will end up in landfill. Rather, look for local textile recycling programs.

Clothing retailers H&M and Zara both operate clothing collection programs and fabrics are either reused or recycled.

There are other clothing donation programs and charity initiatives available across Australia – see full details at RecyclingNearYou.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you have any tips for shopping more sustainably? Know of any ethical brands? Share your tips in the comments section below.

Sharon Green, editor

Sharon Green

Sharon Green is the founding editor of SHE DEFINED.

An experienced journalist and editor, Sharon has worked in mainstream media in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Forever in search of a publication that confronted the real issues faced by modern women, Sharon decided to create her own.