For those of us who love fashion, find a thrill in discovering that one piece which completes a look, or use retail therapy as catharsis, the desire to be a sustainable consumer can be at odds with our shopping habits. Mainstream brands often fall short of their proclaimed sustainability goals, or offer up a paltry and tokenistic ‘green’ line to satisfy environmentally conscious consumers.
The time for deliberate, conscious, and slow consumerism has come. By investing in high-quality pieces, taking care of our wardrobes, repairing broken garments instead of discarding them, and by electing to support brands which hold sustainability and ethical practice at their core, we can stay stylish and be environmentally mindful consumers.
In this article you’ll find some tips and tricks on how to be a sustainable consumer, some explanations of all these terms that have been circulating, and finally a showcase of some brands to get you started.
Sustainable Fashion Dictionary
Ethical fashion is a broad term referring to ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. Ethical brands will be conscious of working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare. To find out whether a brand is ethical, look for their ethical commitments, or mission statement.
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Sustainable fashion refers to clothing, shoes and accessories that are made and sold using the most environmentally sustainable (and often socio-economic) methods available. The materials used, the design, transport, and storage are all considered within sustainable fashion brands. To find out whether a brand is sustainable, look for their sustainability commitments, or mission statement.
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Organic fashion refers to clothing which is made using materials which comply to organic agricultural standards. This means that the materials have not been treated with pesticides or artificial fertilizers. It is important to note that many manufacturers label their clothing ‘organic’ as a means of ‘greenwashing’. To verify whether a piece of clothing is actually organic, look for the mark of a verified certifying authority.
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Upcycling is a creative process of recycling clothing. Upcycling substantially reduces the environmental impact of clothing because it finds new life for items or materials that might otherwise have been discarded.
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Circular fashion refers to a fashion industry in which waste and pollution are ‘designed out’ by keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible. ‘Circular’ processes stand in direct contrast to the ‘linear’ processes on which many economies are founded, harnessing the power and potential of resources in circulation for much longer, meaning the impact of production is far less.
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Slow fashion is an attitude and approach to fashion, wherein the consumer invests in fewer garments which last longer, and purchases from sustainable brands. Slow fashion consumers look for strong, durable, and high-quality materials and shop from local or smaller businesses. Slow fashion brands release a limited number of styles and garments at any one time, reducing the waste and impact of their manufacturing process.
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How to make your wardrobe more sustainable
Pay attention to how you care for your clothing
Wash your clothes less frequently - some items of clothing (such as jeans) are even cited as being designed to be washed as infrequently as possible.
Set a low temperature setting such as 30 degrees celsius, where possible.
Try to find environmentally friendly laundry detergents or alternatives. Most laundry detergents contain harsh chemicals which then enter the water system, or are packaged in excessive amounts of plastic., Instead, you could opt for pods which use significantly lower quantities of chemicals, or switch to soap nuts or recyclable laundry pods, both of which use no chemicals at all.
Pay attention to where and how often you shop
Try to shop less frequently - practise asking yourself if you need an item of clothing or if you are fulfilling another need, such as an emotional one.
Try shopping for second hand clothing - charity shops have some amazing options, as well as sites like Ebay or Depop.
Choose sustainable brands where possible (we’ve listed some amazing options below)
Pay attention to the quality of the pieces you buy
It’s worth investing in a piece that will last a long time. Look for well constructed garments, strong seams and durable, high-quality material
If you find that buying new items from sustainable shops is not affordable, keep an eye out for these shops hosting end-of-season sales, when items are more likely to fall within your price range.
What to look for when you shop:
Prioritise natural fibers and natural dyes. Clothing that uses natural dyes is better for you and for the environment as synthetic microfibres end up polluting the ocean
Try to buy sustainable cotton when you can
Where possible, look for clothing made using organic materials. These are better for you and for the planet.
Look for a transparent supply chain which denounces and actively works against the exploitation of workers
Look for locally-produced clothing or local businesses; this minimises the carbon footprint of your wardrobe
Be wary of greenwashing - invest in brands which live up to their claims of sustainability.
Where to shop:
There are a number of sustainable brands whose offerings are stylish, environmentally-friendly, and long-lasting. More often than not, these brands also commit openly to transparent supply chains. For those of us concerned with putting our money where our mouth is, it is easier than ever. The one stumbling block, perhaps, is that these brands are not mainstream; these up-and-coming or small, independent businesses are likely not to be on the first page of Google. The good news: we’ve done a thorough google to round up our favourites so you don’t have to.
This list is by no-means exhaustive - and if you have any suggestions, get in touch, and we will happily add retrospectively.
Lara Intimates is a lingerie company based in London, U.K. Their range is extremely size-inclusive, made using responsibly sourced dead-stock fabric, and they operate a zero-waste policy for offcut materials. They place great emphasis on local supply chains, sourcing the gold rings, hook and eye closures, and elastic from local, eco-friendly suppliers. Every single item is made in their all female factory in London.
HARA is an underwear brand based in Melbourne, Australia. Their pieces are made using bamboo fabrics which are free of pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers, and grown using only rainwater. The pieces are coloured using natural dyes only - and they offer a gorgeous range of colour ways for each product.
Organic Basics, a Danish brand, places sustainability at the core of their business. Their website even offers a ‘low-impact’ mode, minimising the environmental impact of your online shopping experience. They invest in high quality fabrics to make sure that their products are durable and long-lasting. They are highly transparent about their production process and supply chain - this is all easily accessible on their website. Their product range covers all basics you could possibly think of.
Anekdot is an upcycling brand with stores in multiple countries, using surplus fabrics to produce their pieces. They source their materials from production leftovers, end of lines, deadstock, and vintage trimmings. They sell lingerie, swimwear and loungewear. The vintage trimmings, in particular, mean that their collection comprises beautiful lacy pieces too.
PICO is a British brand, which started with underwear and is now expanding their range. Each collection is a ‘project’, and PICO invite you to read the story progression of each item, from the sowing of the cotton seeds until it’s in your lap. This really embraces the consumer as part of the production cycle, and allows you to really understand what you’re buying.
Davy J, a British brand, markets itself as a brand which thinks about adventure and durability. They really consider the longevity of their product - double lining each piece, using durable materials, and using intentional and strong design. They also endeavour to create a circular economy within their own production line, encouraging customers to return their pieces to them (once they’ve reached the end of their life) so that they can make use of them once more. Their pieces are stylish, flattering, and adventure proof.
Batoko uses recycled plastic to produce their bright and colourful swimwear. Based in the north west coast of England, the company was founded in response to the inordinate amount of pollution washing up on local beaches. The prints on all of their one-pieces are playful and eye-catching - ranging from a striking orca print to a vibrant fruity design. A proportion of their profits goes to the Marine Conservation Society.
Stay Wild, another British swimwear brand based in London, produce their swimwear using ECONYL regenerated nylon, which is created from unwanted waste from around the world. Their pieces are simple and undramatic, boasting bold colours.
Birdsong is a British brand offering gorgeously designed garments with elegant silhouettes. They work on a pre-order system for all their pieces to reduce waste. All of their products are made in east London and their lines are available in an extremely inclusive size range.
House of Sunny
House of Sunny also runs a pre-order system, producing only a limited number of each product to reduce waste. Their garments are very tastefully designed, with interesting cuts and prints. They also offer a diverse range of products, from swimwear to co-ord sets.
MayaMiko is a clothing brand based out of Malawi, working with a local cooperative of women traders, sourcing unique and joyously bright prints with which they make a limited number of pieces. They too only produce garments on demand and run a zero-waste policy, minimising wastage of fabric. Their workshop is also solar-powered! All of their pieces incorporate vibrant and busy prints with simple silhouettes.
Ninety Percent is a London based clothing brand which, as its name suggests, shares 90% of its shared profits between charities and those working within the production process. They invite the consumer into the process, asking them to elect which cause they would like to support at checkout. Their production cycle is extremely transparent, with in-depth descriptions of the materials they use, and the factories which produce their garments. Their products are low-key, modern, and stylish.
Clothing swap and Second Hand Clothing
Depop is a fashion marketplace app where you can find independent designers offering their unique and latest designs, people selling their pre-loved items, and up-cycled garments. Depop cuts out the middle-man, fostering a sense of community between vendor and consumer. Just like a marketplace, you can scroll and venture upon items and sellers that you may not have come across otherwise.
Nuw is a clothes sharing app and community. The idea is to encourage people to lend and borrow clothing from people who live in your area, instead of buying new items every time you need a new outfit. Nuw runs a membership model with a monthly fee to be a member of the community.
Charity Shops in the UK and Thrift Stores in the US
Charity Shops and Thrift Shops often have a quirky, diverse, and wide range of clothing, shoes, and accessories on offer. The fun is in sifting through the rails until you happen upon that gem of an item you didn’t even know you needed. The best bit? Your money is going to a worthwhile and valuable cause.
By Louder Than The Storm Co-Founder, Aimée Lister