How To Be An Ethical Shopper

Fast fashion is certainly on the minds of many. Retailers like H&M and Zara (both largely responsible for fast fashion) are trying to at least be aware of it. Back in 2013, H&M launched a massive garment-collecting initiative to get consumers to reuse and/or recycle their clothes. They also have a line of clothing called the "conscious collection" made mostly from organic cotton, Tencel (pictured), and recycled polyester materials.

H&M Conscious Exclusive 2019Pin
H&M Conscious Exclusive 2019

In 2016, Zara launched the "Join Life" line!

When large companies like these take an interest in moving towards a more sustainable fashion future, they have the potential to impact their vast system of suppliers, factories, transport operators, and brick-and-mortar stores. But they have a really long way to go!

My colleague Alden Wicker wrote an in-depth blog on her website EcoCult, on how difficult is it for brands to move from their existing models to more sustainable ones, she notes that the technology to do this is simply not in place.

So what can we, the consumer do? We need to start asking the right questions. Like the slow food movement, we can approach the fast fashion movement the same way.

More and more of us want to know where our food comes from, who grew it, how was it grown, are the animals treated ethically? etc. The same principles can be applied to fashion. We are unbelievably disconnected from where our clothing comes from and it's time we change that. Just like a chicken does not magically appear on the grocery shelf the same holds true for your favorite sweater. Somewhere, someone made that item, it was transported around the world to get to you, and the resources needed to make it were plentiful, I am sure.

The more questions we ask, the more we educate each other, and the more we can push for change. And after terrible events like the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, a few years ago, which killed more than 1,100 people, it's more important than ever! And in my opinion, makes it impossible to ignore the connection between what we wear, where it comes from, and who makes it.

Best practices when trying to be an Ethical Shopper:

1. Education is key

Research the brands you love, find out where most of their clothing is manufactured and if they have good working practices in place. The GOOD ON YOU APP is an ethical fashion brand rating system for your smartphone.  Good Guide is also one of my favorite apps. Rank A BrandKnowTheChainProject Just, and Ethical Consumer are fabulous resources too. Researching brands gives you the information you need to make informed choices, is the brand worried about its workers, do they have a good or bad track record and are they only worried about the bottom line? And when in doubt, ask, I have found that most ethical brands are open and transparent (no greenwashing) and they want consumer engagement. This is a bit more challenging when dealing with huge corporations, letting a brand know about your concerns on social media lets them know you'd like more sustainable options, just be honest and fair, trash talk is going to get us nowhere.

2. Be Label Savvy

The label will normally let you know where the item is from and what it is made from. You'll want to look for Tencel, organic cotton, hemp, linen, soy, jute, silk, and bamboo. When it comes to bamboo, there is more to the story, in some cases, it's not as sustainable as you think. Keep in mind labels don't always give you all the info you need and that's why education is so important.

3. Why does organic cotton matter?

Cotton crops are the most pesticide-laden crops on the planet and in many cases, kids as young as five years old are working on cotton fields to keep up with the demand for high thread cotton sheets here in North America. I certainly don't want any part of that at all. Human rights play a major role in fast fashion and so does the environmental impact. Where do you think all those pesticides end up? In our water and soil supplies, the air we breathe and eventually the food we eat.

ethical clothing on a birch rack Pin

4. Understand your impact and adjust your habits

Everything we purchase comes from the natural world in some shape or another. When you buy something like a t-shirt, for example, it's hard to imagine something as simple as that as having a huge impact. Over two billion t-shirts are sold globally every year and seventy percent of all the water people use globally is dedicated to agriculture.

20,000 LITERS : The amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans.

These statistics are astounding, but it gets worse, it takes a shit load of energy to care for that cotton "T". One load of washing uses 40 gallons of water. One load of drying uses 5 times more energy than washing. In fact, skipping the ironing and drying of your t-shirt saves a third of its carbon footprint. You can also air-dry your clothes, this helps them to last way longer.

Cotton is just one example of many and brings us back to my point of just how disconnected we are from the production of our clothes. So shifting your habits and being mindful of these facts will go a long way. Now don't get me wrong, it's much easier said than done. In many cases, ethical fashion items are more expensive and sometimes hard to find. But that is changing. I'll share a few resources later in the blog. The clothing industry is responsible for a lot of waste, and when talking to ethical brands ask them what they are doing to reduce and reuse their waste. The point is that the less textile waste heading to the landfill, the better.

5. Think local, handmade, and thrift

Thrift shops, consignment stores, dress rentals, flea markets, vintage markets are all great places to start. I love Etsy, all handmade by small artisans that you can talk to directly.

6. Quality over quantity

How many white "T's" do you really need? Every time you shop ask yourself "do I really need this"? I have put many things back on the shelf by simply asking myself this question, it's funny how the brain works. Look at your wardrobe as an investment, sometimes paying a bit more actually ends up saving you money as you don't need to repurchase that particular item each season because it has fallen apart.

7. Don't buy into trends

It costs you, me, and the planet! Simple!

8. Change your thinking

This is probably the biggest hurdle to get over. It was for me. It's human nature to want the latest looks, but we need to ask ourselves at what cost? It's a commitment and one that will take time to cultivate. Give yourself a break, but also keep all the things I have mentioned in mind. Whether it’s reducing waste, saving energy, or being a conscious consumer, small actions can make a big difference.

9. Learning Resources for being an Ethical Shopper

True Cost

Is an eye-opening documentary that takes viewers around the world showcasing the people and places that make out clothing. It shows the human and environmental costs of fashion and the toll it's taking on our world.

Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution is a non-profit organization and one of the best resources online to learn more about the impact of fashion. They offer many ways for consumer engagement, in-depth studies about labor conditions, campaigns, and events.

10. Where to shop ethically

Fashion Takes Action is Canada's leading voice in sustainable shopping, I highly recommend you flow them and keep an eye out for pop-up shops and more.

And of course, we have our brand directory, where we showcase and feature ethical brands that are really making a difference for women and men.

Made Inland is a pop-up shop featuring #madeincanada designers, many of them eco, and promoting handmade, local items that are to die for!

It's just so amazing that now there are so many wonderful, Eco, ethical places to shop in Canada and around the world!

Where do you shop? Share in the comments below!


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