Choosing sustainable fashion

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Everyone needs clothes. Whether you like shopping and coming home with bags full of clothes or hate shopping and make sure you only have what’s necessary, the offer is enormous: all styles, colors and sizes are now offline and online available. But how sustainable are the clothes you buy in the regular store? You don’t need to be an expert on sustainability to know that many things go wrong in the clothing industry. Unhealthy production of raw materials like cotton, poor conditions for people manufacturing the clothes, enormous amounts of waste… (Watch the movie “The True Cost” to hear more about this). In fact the fashion industry is the second most polluting sector in the world.

If we look at what we can do ourselves to be more sustainable we have a lot of option. We narrowed them down to these three:

  • capsule closet
  • second hand
  • buy only certified new clothing

 

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Capsule closet

The most sustainable wardrobe, is a ‘capsule closet’ filled only with second hand clothes. A capsule wardrobe means that you only have the absolute minimum of clothes which make enough outfits for you to last throughout the entire year for all kinds of different situations. The number of actual clothes can vary depending on the capsule-closet-guru but it is about 30 items tops (excl. bags, accessories, but including underwear, jackets and shoes). 3 to 4 times a year you can add that one item that will make your wardrobe trendy or replace one of the items that are worn-out. This is pretty difficult to achieve, I certainly am not there yet, but nevertheless a smaller collection of clothes in a wardrobe wouldn’t do anyone any harm. ‘Buy less and buy better’ is a great motto when it comes to your wardrobe.

Bob is a sweetiepie

Second hand

As there are plenty clothes that have already been made, chances are, there are a lot of cute and fitted clothes on the second hand or vintage market out there for you. Some might need some extra tailoring but for a lot less then you would normally pay, you can get unique pieces that really make your outfit special. There are different occasions where you can find second hand or vintage clothing: you can look online at specialized vintage clothing, you can go to a ‘swishing’ event where you can exchange the clothes you no longer wear but are still wearable with those of others. Best thing: it doesn’t cost you a thing! Or you can also go to your local second hand/vintage shop.

For kids clothes there are probably plenty events, shops and websites in your neighborhood where you can find second hand clothes that are still perfectly fine for your little fast growing monsters to wear. Just go and check in your local newspaper, at events at the school of your kids, look for second hand shops close by or look for Facebook groups that are created to exchange kids clothes. And why shouldn’t you go and buy second hand for your children? It costs less, and if you’re worried about not being trendy, you can always combine it with a new special item from let’s say e.g. our store HipAndGreen ;-).

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Buy only certified new clothing

If you prefer new clothing or can’t find what you’re looking for second hand, how should you go about then? Fortunately, there are labels that help us choose for ‘responsible clothes’. But then there’s the next problem: maybe there are a bit too many labels. For us, the regular consumer, it is not always clear which labels stand for which values. Some labels tell us something about the ecological impact of production, others tell us something about the social impact. And there are labels that focus on both. Another difficulty is that clothes with a certain label are not always recognizable as such.

A quick visit to a store to buy some sustainably produced clothes is therefore still not as easy as it should be. With the following steps, we try to give you a hand with that.

Step 1. Learn the basics on ‘green’ labels

There are many different types of labels out there and as much as you would like all labels to be as strict (or not) as your view on sustainability, all labels have their own specifications that not necessarily tick al your boxes.

It also depends on what is most important to you: do you prefer clothing that has been ethically made by people in good working conditions, or is the protection of environment a bigger issue for you. Some labels also cover both visions. If you think sustainable production with regards to the environment is most important to you, you’ll find the labels GOTS, ÖkoTex (also OEKO-TEX) and European Ecolabel interesting. If you think labour circumstances are most important, the labels FairTrade, Fair Wear Foundation or again GOTS are yours. Plenty more labels are available and the more you read in to them, the more you find that it is not easy to analyse which is the best label out there.

There are many different labels, but to avoid a long list we made a selection of labels well known in the world of fashion and labels that you as a customer might come across:

GOTS is the abbreviation of ‘Global Organic Textile Standard’ and is a worldwide recognized standard for textile produced from logos-blog-2biological materials. The entire production process needs to meet high environmental and social criteria. For example: no use of toxic input, reduction of waste, reasonable wages and working hours, healthy working environment etc.

The label ÖkoTex standard 100’ stands for clothes without harmful substances and sustainable production. Criteria are in place for instance on chemical use, environmental protection, human well-being, quality management, health & security.

Products with the EU Ecolabel are produced with less environmental impact regarding raw materials, energy, water, harmful substances, waste and packaging.

The FairTrade label can be found on products that are manufactured by people that received an ‘honest salary’ and that have good working conditions. In addition, the cotton farmers (for example) are encouraged to produce sustainably and to grow biological materials.

The Fair Wear Foundation developed a code of conduct for the clothing industry with eight internationally recognized labor standards.

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Step 2. Find out whether the brand you want to buy is sustainable

Before you go shopping on- or offline, you might want to take your time to check how green your favorite brands are. Go to ‘Rank A Brandfor a quick review, or go to the website of the brand.  On the website of your favourite brand look for their ‘about page’ or look for their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). This document will explain to what extent they try to ensure their products are being made responsibly and/or ecofriendly. Normally, when a brand is investing in a sustainable production, they will at least mention it on their website as it is a good selling point.

If they are not as green as you had hoped for, you can always look out for new brands to discover.

There are more and more webshops and brick stores that make it easy for you because they did all the research for you. Then it is just a matter of deciding whether you like their style. You can just google ‘eco friendly webshop’ and plenty of possibilities in your region will pop up.

Be aware for the greenwashing of some of the brands or webshops. They sometimes appear more sustainable than they actually are. Just ask more critical questions about their clothes, such as where exactly they are being produced and what the working conditions are of the workers? Are they absolutely 100% sure none of their clothes have been made by children? Do the workers get a living wage? For retailers, be aware that they might sell a combination of both sustainable and non-sustainable brands.

And of course for sustainable kids clothing, there’s only one solution: HipAndGreen :-).

Step 3. Be realistic

Even though you think it is important to buy ‘responsible fashion’, you may sometimes be tempted to go for the easy solution or for cheap fast fashion clothes. Because, finding and buying responsible clothes can be difficult and expensive, certainly when you are in a hurry to find that one item you urgently need. So do you need to feel terrible if you buy ‘bad clothes’ now and then? Perhaps… but as long as we’re aware of what’s happening in the industry, we’re conscious of the alternatives and we try to do better, we are not that terrible… are we?

Our list of helpful sites:

https://styletribute.com/: online marketplace for second hand and vintage luxury and designer fashion

http://fr.vestiairecollective.com: online marketplace for second hand and vintage and designer fashion

https://www.rebelle.com/en: platform for second hand designer clothes

http://www.swishing.be/agenda: swishing events (in Belgium)

http://kehko.com: online marketplace for all sorts of sustainable brands and webshops, based in USA

https://www.weecos.com/: online platform for sustainable brands, based in Finland

http://www.talkingdress.nl/: Dutch book and blog on sustainable fashion

http://www.zerowastehome.com/: book and blog of Bea Johnson with also an explanation on the capsule closet

http://truecostmovie.com/: movie on fast fashion and it’s effects on mankind and the environment.

http://www.safia-minney.com/: website from one of the inspiring guru’s of slow and sustainable fashion, founder also of the brand People Tree

How to build a capsule closet?

2 Comments

  1. Shad Morris January 5, 2017 Reply

    My wife was telling me that she wants to try and improve her fashion, and was curious about how you go about buying it. It’s interesting that you should only buy new clothes, and look at the labels. It would be nice to not have to worry about the clothes getting too old, too fast.

    • Author
      Anouk Caris January 5, 2017 Reply

      Hello Shad,

      Thank you for reading our blog!

      I wouldn’t only buy new clothes, there is a lot of good secondhand and vintage clothing out there. But if your wife isn’t comfortable trying out secondhand clothing, searching for secondhand or vintage accessories might be a good start.

      Overall, I don’t often buy new (or hand-me-down) clothing. My closet isn’t small, but it isn’t big either (although my husband might disagree ;-)). I only buy clothes when I really need something and I can’t find anything that’s already in my closet to replace it.
      First I stop by secondhand stores closeby or I search online. If I can’t find something I like, I’ll go to the stores that I love where they sell new and organic clothes.

      It is true that the labels tell a lot about the quality of the clothes. In fact, producers often prefer organic cotton not only for the benefit of the environment and working conditions of the workers, but also because of the quality of the cotton and later on, fabric. Organic cotton normally lasts longer and remains more beautiful over time. Combine this high quality with timeless design and you can wear these items for a very long time.

      Sometimes it might be difficult to not quickly go off and buy new clothes for that one occasion you think you don’t have the right outfit for. But usually there is something hanging in your closet that you just forgot about and will do just fine.

      So there is a way to go shopping (which I definitely love) AND be sustainable. 🙂

      Good luck to your wife!
      Anouk

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