It's no secret that the fashion industry doesn't always have the most environmentally friendly practices. From where we shop to how we wash our clothes, our style can have a big impact on the environment. However, the two don't have to be mutually exclusive—in fact they shouldn't. So in honour of this new "Conscious Consumer" approach, I've rounded up advice from around the web to break down how to make our wardrobes more conscious ASAP.
Of all the easy-to-execute tips that I read, there was one universal thread: the importance of curbing bad shopping habits and working with what you already own. While browsing the "new arrivals" section and keeping up with trends is probably one of your favourite pastimes—used to be mine, too—I can't stress enough how over consumption contributes to waste, not better style.
When factories moved overseas, our perception of a fair price was immediately skewed. We cannot properly judge what price is fair for an item made in another country. Still, we worship the cheap. It has become a point of pride to be a bargain shopper. Yet we do not seem to make the mental step of wondering if paying a few dollars for an item makes us a winner at the expense of someone else who was paid pennies for making this product.
It takes a great deal of willpower to fully abandon the bargain mindset; I too am on the road to recovery and am changing my ways one shopping trip (or not) at a time. Instinctively we search for the cheapest price. Yet once you begin to educate yourself on conscious consumerism, you will begin to understand how the cheapest price is rarely the fair one.
The following twenty-five tips are insightful and easy to incorporate into our day-to-day lifestyle. Not to mention the long-term benefits for the earth. Looking for more ways to feel good about what you wear? Read on for expert advice and stay tuned for a follow-up post highlighting a few of the responsible brands I'm loving right now.
25 Affordable Ways To Become a More Conscious Consumer
1. Consume Knowledgeably
The first step in practicing more sustainable consumption is to educate yourself. Investigate the company's production practices, look for where the clothes are made, and whether they're handmade. Consider the article's fabrication. Is it made of responsible materials like linen, hemp, or organic cotton or wool? Reading a company's "About" page before you shop can give you better insight into just how eco-friendly its practices are and how committed it is to change.
2. Know The Cheapest Price Is Probably Not The Fair Price
Once you begin to educate yourself on conscious consumerism, you will begin to understand how the cheapest price is rarely the fair one.
3. Realize This Means No More Fast Fashion
I know you LOVE Zara and all of their super cute trendy pieces BUT they are one of the worst (next to Urban Outfitters) for ripping off designers and not paying for proper clothing production. I feel like a hypocrite while writing this because just a year ago I was the Fast Fashion Queen; any extra money I had was spent at Zara, F21 and H&M. These days I don't spend my time or money on their clothes and instead invest it with brands who care or at a thrift/consignment boutique. If you're like me and want to stop your Fast Fashion addiction for a more conscious approach, this doesn't mean you have to throw everything away. You can still wear what you love from these brands, you're just making a commitment to stop buying from them moving forward. The following is a list of fast fashion brands: H&M, Forever21, Old Navy, Joe Fresh, Gap, Urban Outfitters Dynamite, ASOS, Top Shop, Charlotte Russe, Esprit, Mango, Uniqlo, Bershka, Tobi, etc. If you want to know if your clothing and the brand you are buying from are using ethical practices to make their clothes, the Good On You app has made this possible.
4. Choose Quality Over Quantity
This should be a tenet in any fashion girl's rulebook—not only does it ensure you'll have a more curated closet, but it also lowers your negative impact on the earth. As mentioned above, avoid fast-fashion purchases or giving into fleeting trends. Make sure you love every piece you purchase with the intention of wearing it several times or keeping it around for uses years down the road. Knowing the importance of fabrics will help too, more on that below.
5. Pay Attention To Fabrics
There are natural fabrics and there are not-so-natural fabrics and Fast Fashion has made it hard to know what you're really paying for. 100% cotton? Why does it feel so stiff compared to my other top that's 100% cotton? There's a reason folks. Fast fashion brands can cut costs by using cheap fabrics and in turn, we pay the price. Fabrics to love: organic cotton, linen, hemp, wool, tencel, soy silk/cashmere, recycled polyester. Fabrics that harm the environment: polyester, acrylic, nylon (viscose), acetate and triacetate, anything "resistant" is usually treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon.
6. Rethink Laundry Day
We don't need to wash our clothes as much as we think we do. By getting in an extra wear or two between washes, we can save water and keep harmful chemicals out of streams. Most clothes can also be air-dried, so consider skipping the dryer all together. When you air-dry your clothes, you're not just saving energy, you're saving the material and fibers from heat damage so they'll last longer. Click here to purchase my Clothing Care Guide—a 19-page guide to maximizing the lifespan of your garments while minimizing your eco-footprint.
7. Define Your Personal Style
Having a defined sense of your personal style will really help you choose pieces that you'll love to wear and avoid items that might be on trend but not necessarily your style. The best wardrobe is one that is built around pieces we feel best in and clothing that fits our lifestyle.
8. Keep It Timeless
Survey your closet and take inventory of everything you own. Then, knowing that fashion is cyclical and old trends are bound to become new again, pull the pieces you truly love and donate the rest. Investing in timeless clothing and accessories will not only declutter your closet, but it will also make getting dressed easier.
9. Don't Forget the Details
Jewelry tends to have a longer shelf life than clothing, so by adding some bold accessories to your wardrobe, you can add a personal touch to any outfit while still looking timeless.
10. The 30 Times Rule.
Before investing in a new piece, ask yourself, will I wear this 30 times? The best way to reduce clothing waste is to simply buy less of it. Choose pieces that you can pair with things you already own and that you'll want to wear every day.
11. Curb Impulse Purchases
Shopping is an escape for many of us, and everyone has moments of weakness when we're tempted to impulse shop. However, more often than not, those are the pieces that end up going unworn or underused. To avoid this, create a wish list. This way if you're tempted to shop on a whim, you can refer to the list and be reminded of the items you're saving for. Click here for smart questions to ask yourself before making a purchase.
12. Buy Less
Even the savviest fashion girls can have a difficult time reducing their consumption to what's really necessary. With so many beautiful new pieces on the market each season, it's tempting to want it all. However, even the pieces we get most excited about aren't always used to their full potential once we bring them home. Constantly audit your closet to see what you really need and avoid stocking up on pieces that don't serve a purpose or are redundant with perfectly good items you already own.
13. Think Before You Toss
Before you throw out that piece or that outfit you've grown out of, see if you can repurpose it or ask if a friend wants it, donate to local women's or family shelter, or try to sell it or donate it to a reputable thrift store. Don't ever throw an item in the garbage. Why? Because all those baggy trousers and stained shirts in landfills don’t just lie there forever. They decompose. As they do, they release landfill gas, a toxic brew of air pollutants that includes the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. Another option is to check to see whether there’s a textile-recycling program in your area. Click here to learn more about what to do with clothing you no longer want.
14. Invest In What You Have
Instead of buying something because you're bored or getting rid of something because it doesn't fit/is damaged - invest in your clothing. If outfit ideas are the issue, spend time creating new combos from outfits you love on Instagram or Pinterest. And when you really can't figure it out, hire an affordable stylist to help you see your clothes in a new way (may I suggest a Wardrobe Refresh?) or invite your stylish friend over to help you.
15. Learn How to Sew
There are so many benefits to learning (and loving) how to sew! You can fix your own clothes and MAKE your own clothes! How many times have you wanted an item but just couldn't find the right match? Make it yourself girlfriend; I'm currently in the process of beginning to learn and I am so excited to create my own clothing.
16. Find a Good Tailor
If the above isn't for you, or perhaps you can't make time some months, do a little bit of research to find a tailor you love. Why? Because one day your favourite pants are going to rip, or be a little too big, or a little too tight. And instead of going to buy a new pair, you can invest a little bit of money in them to prolong their shelf life. I recently invested $100 into seven items I loved that didn't fit quite right, so they just stared at me longingly from my closet and were never worn. They're now in my top rotation and I'm so glad I invested that money rather than buying new.
17. Embrace the Imperfections
If an item in your closet ends up ripping, shred it even more to give it a 'distressed' look. If there's a huge stain that won't wash out, don't give up on it just yet. Sew or iron on a patch and nobody will ever know!
18. Host a Shop & Swap Event
Shop and swap events are an easy way to get your friends together and shop each other's closets. This will reduce waste, save you money, and let you snag a new wardrobe.
19. Try a Shopping Fast
Depending on how bad your buying addiction is, dedicate a week, month, or season of no new purchases. This way you can start to appreciate what you have. Realistically if you have a complete wardrobe, why are you buying something new every week or every month? Get curious about why you're really spending.
20. Rent, Don't Buy
21. Leave a Margin In All Things
Most of us were raised to think space should be filled, money should be spent, and schedules should be booked. If you failed to do these things, somehow you were playing the game of life wrong. Even so, it is in the crowded moments that we make the worst choices. In order to rewire our minds for a different kind of consumerism, we have to give up the narrow margins with which we live our lives. In all things, we must plan for space.
Margins give you breathing room that results in better choices and better living. Leaving a margin in your finances, a healthy space between your income and your expenses, means you have more money to devote to better goods. Space in your schedule allows for calmer decision making and time to search a little harder for an ethically-made product. Margins in your physical space remind you that there is so much you can live without. Ethical choices don't feel like such an inconvenience when you have healthy margins in your life.
22. Shop Secondhand (Thrift/Vintage/Consignment)
An easy and fun way to lower your impact is to buy second hand. Not only will thrift and vintage shopping bring unique, one-of-a-kind pieces into your wardrobe but you'll also be consuming outside of the fashion cycle. Giving these pre-loved clothes a new home gives them new life and extends their purpose.
23. Shop Stores/Brands Committed to Changing the Industry for the Better
As you do your research, you'll discover which brands and stores are committed to adopting eco-friendly practices at every step of the production process. When you shop, be sure to prioritize these brands first. The Good Trade can help get you started with their impressive list of ethical brands. For my Kingston friends: Verde Alternatives, Fancy That Group & Modern Primitive in Downtown Kingston carry clothing in linen, organic cotton and bamboo fabrics, while also supporting ethical production of clothing.
24. Ask Questions
It's never been easier to reach out to designers and the people who make our clothes. If you see a dress you love on Instagram, tag the brand that made it and ask where it's from and who makes it. Just opening up the conversation and asking these tough questions makes us smarter and better consumers.
25. Applaud Small Changes
When you first begin to open your eyes to the changes that need to take place in your shopping choices and lifestyle, you may experience a sort of consumer paralysis. There is too much that needs doing, you'll never be able to manage it all. That is why you must reinforce and encourage yours and others' small changes. Smile when you see others buying local. Take pride in wearing that one new clothing item from an ethical source. Treat yourself to a latte in the travel mug you finally remember to bring with you.
You may find yourself getting discouraged by the big things. Don't give those thoughts traction. Big or small, the changes you make do make a difference. Invest in the small and do it with gusto. Life is made up of many small decisions and only a few big ones. Don't overburden the big when small, ethical choices can bring just as much gratification.
“Big or small, the changes you make do make a difference. Invest in the small and do it with gusto.” - The Good Trade
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