In this episode, learn our easy tips for sustainable shopping. Go from fast fashion addict to slow fashion queen with just 8 simple questions!
Hello and welcome to Everyday Ethical, a podcast about all of the small ways that you can be more sustainable, without the pressure to be perfect. I’m your host, Bethany Austin, and I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who talks about everything from slow styling to cruelty-free cleaning.
In today’s episode I’m going to be diving into all things sustainable fashion once more. Of course, it’s one of my fave topics! I think that too often sustainable influencers point people in the direction of dedicated “slow fashion” shops, without any consideration for the fact that buying from them simply isn’t attainable for a lot of us! That’s why I wanted to create this episode as a guide to shopping as sustainably as possible, even if you have no choice but to buy on the highstreet.
Let’s dive in.
Before you start listening to this episode – Thanks for being here, by the way! – if you haven’t already, I want you to check out another episode for me. In episode 3 of season one, called “sustainable fashion” I give a real introduction to what ethical and eco-friendly clothing looks like and why it actually matters. I walk through why the fashion industry, specifically “fast fashion”, is so bad for the planet and so morally messed up. I cover everything from the air and water pollution it causes, to the people it mistreats. By checking it out, you’ll get a bit (or actually a lot!) of context regarding why you may want to start shopping more sustainably!
Without the background information, making changes is a lot more difficult, as you probably won’t have as much drive to make a difference! I know that’s certainly true for me. So, I’ll wait here, make sure you go and listen to that first.
If you’ve listened to that episode, you also know that in it I give you the main options when it comes to shopping more sustainably and ethically. I outline things like secondhand shopping and slow fashion brands as a way to give you an overview of the problem and the solution.
Today though, I want to break it all down for you. I want to give you a framework for shopping more sustainably that is as ethical and eco-conscious as possible. And the best way I think I can do that is to give you some questions to ask yourself.
The truth is, the pressure to buy clothes has never been so intense. Online and off, we’re constantly encouraged to add to our wardrobes.
“Get 15% with code “I’mAnInfluencer2″!”
“Check out all of the NEW clothes that have been added to our NEW IN section since yesterday!”
And “We’ve got a sale of up to 103% off!”
And thanks to the ridiculously low prices of many of the items we see pretty much every day, doing so has never been so easy, either. Pressure is put on us all to constantly buy new, and prices make fast fashion attainable to a lot more people. It’s not hard to understand why it’s such a HUGE industry!
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!
On the other hand, slow fashion costs money. Like, sometimes money that makes you throw up in your mouth because you’re used to seeing nothing but Primark prices everywhere and that’s what you consider “normal”. Just check out amazing brands like People Tree, Organic Basics or even Reformation and you’ll see the price difference!
So, the truth is, it’s simply not possible for all of us to shop completely ethically. It’s not just price either, accessibility and inclusivity are huge issues within the slow fashion industry. A lot of slow fashion brands sadly don’t cater to everyone they need to in order to become more mainstream and, well, just kinder in general!
Surrounded by pressure to constantly have NEW, and with the limited, often expensive options available, 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.
As I say in literally every single episode, simply being more conscious is a huge step towards being more sustainable. So, really considering an item before you head to the checkout is a total game changer.
To help you with this, I’ve created 8 questions to ask yourself before you buy. If nothing else, I can guarantee it will make you buy LESS. Consuming less is a huge step towards being more sustainable and, I think, the most important one. Plus, you’ll hopefully also be able to figure out some better, more earth-friendly options along the way with these questions, too.
Plus, these questions are flexible. They aren’t about allowing you to make a 100% perfect decision and being the ideal eco warrior. No no no. That’s not what we’re about here.
These questions are about helping you to make the best decision possible for YOU. They take into consideration your situation and what’s possible for you.
Let’s get into these life changing – okay maybe not life changing – Habit changing (!) questions.
Question number 1. IS THIS ITEM FILLING A GAP or adding to a pile?
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.
In fact, the fast fashion industry currently has aroun 52 micro seasons every year. That means that they’ve got new clothes or styles coming in every single bloody week! No wonder I constantly feel like I can’t keep up with the trends! And, taking it one step further, Missguided sell 1000 brand new styles every week.
There is no way anyone needs that much choice. And there’s no way that creating so much is in any way sustainable.
Listen, I have no problem with you buying from fast fashion shops. Like I said, I know that it is the only option for a lot of us. However, I also think it’s important to recognise when you don’t actually need to fund fast fashion.
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.
If you only ask yourself one of these questions when you next go shopping, make it that one: Is this filling a gap or adding to a pile?
Question 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 2020 and with Instagram influencers looking fit in pink leopard print, it’s not difficult to end up with a tonne of trend-pieces. And often these will not go together, no matter how hard you try to make it a look!
That means that you’re left with a wardrobe that’s just not wearable, which is the least sustainable way to enjoy fashion.
Now, 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.
For this, I would recommend creating a bit of a colour pallette, where you just list out your favourite colours that you like wearing and that you like wearing together! I’m not saying these have to be colours that we traditionally think of as “coordinating” – just ones that you love! Try to shop within this wherever possible, to create a cohesive wardrobe.
This will make answering the question of whether an item will go with your wardrobe a lot easier when you’re standing in the middle of Topshop. Promise.
Question 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.
Be sure to check out my episode all about which material is the most sustainable [seson 2, episode 2] for more information on this, as it has more of an impact on sustainability than you might think.
So, before you buy, check the labels of clothes! 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.
After you know what material it is, you can decide whether it’s valuable enough to you and will be worn enough times to warrant it not being “perfect” in terms of sustainability.
Question 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.
On top of these, H&M are said to have fired 251 workers due to pregnancy in Cambodia and India and it is reported that 8,000 workers have collapsed in their factories due to heat and exhaustion between 2010 and 2016 in Cambodia alone. Topshop have been linked to the use of sweatshops that pay their workers 44p per hour. And even in a place as close as Leicester in the UK, factory workers were paid far beyond the minimum wage to work in unsafe conditions.
One of the most heartbreaking examples of the horrendous treatment that garment factory workers face is in the story of the Rana Plaza Disaster. On this awful day 1,138 people, mostly garment factory workers, died due to a building collapse, despite the fact that companies were warned to evacuate the premises. But, of course, that would have meant losing profit.
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.
Question 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, grow their materials sustainably, transport and package the item, 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! And, as I said, it’s probably the people making your clothes that suffer most.
So, try it. Just stand back and look at what you want to buy. Ask whether the price makes sense? Again, it may be your only option and that is totally okay, but if it’s not, then really consider whether you’d be better supporting another company with your coin.
Question 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.
Much like picking things that match, this will stop you having a wardrobe full of stuff that just hangs there doing nothing for you!
The more wears you get out of something, the more sustainable it becomes. And that, my friends, is a mantra worth living by.
Question 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, have stopped something from going to waste and, in the case of charity shops, you’ve actually supported a good cause, too.
What’s not to love?
Finally, Question 8. WOULD I BUY THIS, IF IT WASN’T ON SALE?
This is a super simple one,
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. In fact, I recently got the MOST gorg pair of Reformation jeans for £80 down from, like, £160. And I know that’s still a lot of money but COME ON they were half the price. I basically made money on them.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’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!
It’s not worth it. If you find yourself tempted by sales when you don’t actually need anything new, stear clear and go and do a face mask instead. The earth will thank you for it.
So, there you have it! Those are my 8 questions to ask yourself before buying an item, to make sure it’s as sustainable as possible for you right now.
Again, I’m totally not suggesting that you need to be perfect (I’m not!), but these are all things worth thinking about to be more conscious as you shop and to make sure you’re doing what you can for the planet and for the people that fast fashion harms.
Let’s recap these questions, shall we?…
Is this item filling a gap?
Does the item match with other things I own?
What is this material?
Who made this?
Does this price make sense?
Could I wear this every week?
Could I buy something similar second-hand?
Would I buy this, if it wasn’t on sale?
Like I said, these aren’t about being 100% perfect and being a beacon of sustainability. They’re about finding a level of sustainability that you CAN achieve.
If you do start to use all or some of these questions to get more conscious with your clothes, I would LOVE to know about it! Please slide into my DMs on Instagram so that I can happy dance about it. I’m @ bethanypaigeaustin, which I’ll also link in the show notes. Plus, it would mean the absolute world to me if you would share a print screen of yourself listening to this episode to show Everyday Ethical some love. It really does make a difference and you’d be supporting all of the free eco content that I put out there for ya!
Thank you all so much for listening and I’ll chat with you next week…