8 questions to ask before buying clothes: A guide to sustainable shopping

May 31, 2019

Finding clothes sustainably in 2019 can often feel hugely overwhleming. Here are 8 questions to ask before buying clothes to make your shopping habits more conscious. 

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The pressure to buy clothes has never been so intense. Online and off, we’re constantly encouraged to add to our wardrobes. And thanks to the ridiculously low prices of many of the items, doing so has never been so easy, either.

The truth is, it’s simply not possible for all of us to shop completely ethically. Price, accessibility, inclusivity: there are a number of reasons that you might have to buy on the high street. However, there’s no doubt that most of us don’t need to be buying as much as we are!

It really is no wonder that “Globally, we now consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year—400% more than we were consuming just two decades ago”. That’s a lot of Missguided bodysuits, Zaful bikinis and flares from Pretty Little Thing!

Related post: The fundamentals of fast fashion and why it’s fucked up 

Surrounded by pressure to constantly have NEW, starting to make the transition to “slower” fashion can seem like a mammoth task. And for many of us (myself included!), it’s this overwhelm that makes us give up on the idea and buy whatever it is we were looking at on that infamous H&M sale rale!

That’s why I think it’s important to break it down.

Simply being more conscious is a huge step towards being more sustainable. Really considering an item before you head to the checkout is a total game changer. So, here are 8 questions to ask before buying clothes.

Sustainable clothes hanging on a clothes rail in a bedroom

1. Is this item filling a gap?

Fast fashion profits off making you feel like you need more clothes. In order to survive and thrive, it needs you to believe that your wardrobe is, almost constantly, “out of style”. That’s why so many of us end up feeling like we have nothing to wear, despite an ever-growing wardrobe.

So, asking yourself whether an item is actually filling a gap, or will just be adding to the 12 crop tops that you already own, is important. Being conscious means focusing on what you really have on your hangers, not what fast fashion retailers tell you that you need.

2. Does the item match with other things I own?

Or are you going to end up having to buy another three things in order to create an outfit?

With the rate at which trends move in 2019 (we now have 52 micro-seasons within fast fashion!), it’s not difficult to end up with a tonne of trend-pieces that don’t match eachother. Creating a conscious wardrobe doesn’t have to mean one that is completely black and white, maybe with a hint of beige if you’re feeling saucy. But it does mean considering how your items will work together to assess whether something should have a place in your wardrobe.

3. What is this material?

Textile waste is a huge problem. In fact, “£140 million worth of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year”.

Considering the fabric of the clothes you buy is important, not only in terms of whether you’ll be able to see your pants through it, but also in terms of whether the item is biodegradable. A lot of garments are made with materials that incorporate plastic. For example, polyester. Or any material with the term “poly” in it, for that matter.

Since plastic isn’t completely biodegradable for many years, that means that a large proportion of our clothes aren’t, either.

Check the labels before buying. Where possible, opt for natural fibres like cotton, bamboo, jute or pure wool. Even better if they have the word “organic” in front of them.

4. Who made this?

The low prices of fast fashion have to be made up somewhere. And, often, that’s through the underpayment of garment factory workers. The whole system, therefore, is founded on the mistreatment of women of colour in countries where a minimum wage is non-existent or considerably lower than here in the UK.

If a company has an unclear supply chain, it’s more than likely they’ve got something to hide. So, look into the company and who it is that could have made your clothes. If you can’t find it (or you find out that the company do use unfair labour practices), and you have the time and money to do so, consider shopping elsewhere.

5. Does the price make sense?

Going hand in hand with looking at the supply chain of items, a simple way to know if it’s likely to be ethical is to look at the price.

Does the price actually make sense? 

Is it high enough that the company could pay their workers fairly and grow their materials sustainably, whilst still making a profit? You don’t need to be a business expert to know that a £2 t-shirt probably doesn’t tick all of those boxes!

Related post: Why do slow fashion brands cost more money?

6. Could I wear this every week?

Listen, I’m not expecting you to buy a wedding dress that you could also wear to the gym every week. Sometimes we need occasionwear.

However, when it comes to everyday wear, think about just how “every day” it will be. If you can’t imagine how it could slot into your wardrobe every week, it’s probably not something that needs to be in your basket.

7. Could I buy something similar second-hand?

Knowing how much waste is created by fast fashion, consider stopping an item going to landfill by buying secondhand.

If charity shops freak you out (they totally shouldn’t, by the way), maybe eBay, Depop or Poshmark are more up your street. There’s no promising that you’ll find what you’re looking for, since shopping secondhand can be hit-or-miss, but you might strike gold. And if you do find something similar, it will almost definitely be for a fraction of the price!

Plus, you get to be extra smug knowing that you haven’t contributed to the fast fashion system.

Related post: Tips for ethical shopping on a budget

8. Would I buy this, if it wasn’t on sale?

Sales are great. If you really need or want a new piece of clothing, but can’t afford it at its original price, then knock yourself out. Save some money! I’m all for that.

However, don’t let the red stickers pull you into buying something that will just sit in your wardrobe and eventually get thrown away.

I’ve been there (haven’t we all?) and been left with the wardrobe stuffed with ill-fitting clothes to prove it!

 

Want to keep learning? Download my FREE workbook all about how to prioritise your ethical values whilst shopping, without feeling overwhelmed. 

Picture of a washing line of ethical clothes


  1. Kat

    June 18th, 2019 at 12:58 am

    This is such a good guide. When I made the transition to sustainable and ethical clothing, I found it really hard not going in to H&M and buying new clothes. I always bought clothes second hand, but then I’d throw some fast fashion shopping sprees into the mix too. I’ve actually noticed since I made the change that I’m spending less and saving so much more. The things I do buy now are better quality – quality not quantity!! Thanks for writing this post – it’s so important that everyone asks themselves these questions before buying things!

  2. Bethany

    July 9th, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    Thank you so much, Kat! Well done to you for making the switch, even though you found it difficult. I’ve definitely saved SO much money since focusing on quality too, even if it is counterintuitive.

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