I have no qualms in saying I love to shop. For the most part it’s an inescapable part of modern life but name someone who doesn’t like treating themselves every once in a while.
Over the years I have made a conscious shift to seek out more sustainable ways to shop as I have become more aware of the impacts of the things that I buy on the people that make them and the environment in which they are made in. Rather than taking an all or nothing approach I have slowly changed my decision making around what I buy and how I source it by considering these 5 factors.
1. START WHERE YOU ARE, USE WHAT YOU HAVE
The most sustainable choice you can make right now is right in front of you. Your first step in adopting more conscious shopping habits is by shopping what you already have in your own wardrobe. Don’t fall into the ‘all or nothing’ trap (a-la Marie Kondo), it is counter-productive if you purge your current pieces to make way for new albeit ethically made pieces.
Take some time to go through each piece in your wardrobe and dig out those forgotten pieces (we all have them!) perhaps it is time to give them a second life with a dash of inspiration and a different tact to styling them *cue Sex & the City style try-on montage*.
2. SECOND HAND IS NOT SECOND BEST
When I’m seeking out another wardrobe addition I always do a double check to see if I can get a second hand piece to give something pre-loved a second life rather than supporting over production. Generally I go into this seeking something that I know will fill a certain gap, it’s a careful balance between searching with purpose whilst keeping an eye out for possibilities. It can often be a game of luck although the name of the game is patience, often I’ll keep checking in a few times before something crops up. If not I rest it and look it up later, this is also a good test to assess your true need for the item.
For shopping second hand online Ebay and Depop are simple and easy to use, from time to time I also venture to local thrift stores or markets (please share your recommendations for these in the comments below!). I am also interested to hear if anyone has had a good experience on sites like Vestiare or The Real Real who specialise in branded items.
3. GET CRAFTY
The last time you sat down at a sewing machine may have been your Home-Ec class in high school but that doesn’t mean you can’t start getting creative now. No matter how naturally talented you are there are endless possibilities to customise existing pieces or craft your own from scratch. Start small with small tweaks, there may even be some pieces in your wardrobe that needs a little update like new buttons or a shortened hemline. Once you get into the swing of things and start to enjoy playing with materials the possibilities will be endless.
There are oodles of resources at the click of a button online that you can follow along to learn anything from the basics to sewing a full piece from scratch. I love The Essentials Club and A Pair and a Square for easy to follow tutorials and projects that are more cool-girl than granny-chic.
4. THE NATURAL ROUTE
My next recommendation in shopping more sustainably is a step ahead in the decision making process, at the point of individual garment consideration.
Favour natural fibres that breathe, regulate temperature and soften with age rather than synthetics that in most cases are more costly to the environment to produce (generally speaking most are manufactured using a chemical based process with nasty by-products). The short and long term ramifications on the environment favour natural fibres that eventually biodegrade, whilst their synthetic relatives harm through process and long term remain in the environment well past being discarded.
The next level to this is when opting for cotton seek out organic options. Pesticides and significant water usage are synonymous with this fibre so supporting organic production avoids supporting these practises.
5. ETHICAL BRANDS
As you shift your approach start gathering a list of your favourite brands who are striving to make a positive contribution to the world. There are so many moving parts in this space and fortunately there are now a lot of brands not only becoming more transparent about their manufacturing and operations but making improvements to ensure that their impact on the community is more than just a pretty product.
The key here is that there are many layers to brands being ‘ethical’ and it is up to you to do your own research as some simply use this label one dimensionally without considering all factors of their production. I find a great resource is the Good on You app, which grades your most commonly known brands according to impact on people, planet and animals. The Baptist World Aid report is another brilliant rating system, released yearly it assesses over 400 brands on the wellbeing of labour throughout the entire supply chain.
Disclaimer: This conversation is a big one and I don’t think anyone has all of the answers- I know I sure don’t. I do believe that if we each educate ourselves and make small changes to the way we shop it these tiny efforts will all stack up. I guess the key takeaway here is that sustainable shopping isn’t like jumping on a fad diet - it simply isn’t realistic to change habits overnight nor do I believe this conversation is about deprivation. If you can start to be more conscious of the consequences of your purchasing decisions and make small adjustments we all play a part in big change.