How to build an ethical wardrobe in four easy steps

ethical fashion, kettle mag
Written by Nigel Simpkins

We all love a stylish bargain, but have you ever wondered about the global impact of your latest outfit? The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil (EcoWatch), and it’s also responsible for the mass exploitation of workers in developing countries around the world — many of whom earn less than $2 a day (Clean Clothes Campaign). But your actions and shopping habits have the potential to make a real difference.

While the phrase ‘ethical fashion’ might once have conjured up images of hemp fabrics and hippie styles, it’s now come to be associated with a more humane, mindful way of shopping — one which aims to lessen the environmental and human cost of a stylish wardrobe. If you’re ready to start doing your part to help save the planet and build better lives for workers around the world, then we’ve got you covered. Just read on to learn four easy ways you can create — and maintain — an ethically conscious wardrobe.

Do your homework before buying new goods

Before you buy a new item of clothing from a high-street chain, you should consider what sort of labour practices and environmental policies that brand endorses. So, before committing to a new purchase, do your research: take a look at Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index, which ranks major brands according to their social and environmental policies. If it’s a new item from a designer or retailer with a less than pristine humanitarian and eco-friendly track record, then it may be worth shopping elsewhere.

vintage jewellery

Shop vintage and pre-owned

Given that buying new clothing from high-street retailers can be such a minefield of environmental and humanitarian issues, it can be much less damaging to shop for clothing at charity shops, vintage stores, and pre-owned specialists. This way, you won’t be funding the demand for so-called ‘fast fashion’ that is the cause of so much harm and exploitation around the globe.

Next time you need a quick fashion fix, take a look at online vintage retailers like BeyondRetro. These are not only more ethical alternatives to high street clothing retailers: they’re also great places to shop if you love to stand out from the crowd with unique finds. Plus, vintage and pre-owned clothing is often much cheaper than new items, so it’s much better for your bank balance, too.

This doesn’t just apply to clothing, either. If you’re looking for watches, fine jewellery, and other accessories, but you feel concerned about the wider global impact of the gold and diamond mining industries, then consider shopping for pre-owned jewellery instead. Pre-owned jewellery specialists Est.1897 sell a huge range of pre-loved jewellery, so you can still find some sparkle without the guilt that often accompanies a new purchase.

Look for cruelty-free alternatives

Leather, suede, snakeskin, fur, feathers and down… The list of animal products loved by the fashion industry goes on and on. For a long time, those who wanted to avoid buying leather shoes would have to make do with a poor selection of imitation styles, which were often less well made than the real deal. Renowned brands and top designers were also more likely to use animal products, as they were thought to create a more luxurious feel for shoes, handbags and clothing.

But now, a number of high-profile fashion brands are catching on to the growing demand for cruelty-free materials. For example, cult brand Dr. Martens now offer a selection of their classic boots and shoes made from vegan materials, so you can buy the same quality and style without worrying about how they were made.

Avoid fast fashion, and carefully consider your purchases

Buying clothes that we hardly ever wear feeds the demand for the so-called ‘fast fashion’ industry, which in turn fuels so much injustice around the world. It also creates even more pointless waste when we eventually throw that unworn clothing away.

So, before you buy a new item from a high street retailer, you’ll want to consider how often you’re actually going to wear it. Before you commit to a new purchase, ask yourself: am I really going to wear this at least 25 times? Be honest with yourself — if the answer is ‘no’, then it’s probably not going to be an ethical buy.
Even though it can difficult to resist all the tempting new styles on offer in high-street shops, it’s ultimately not worth the guilt you’ll feel in six months’ time when you realise you’ve only worn it twice. Limiting the number of impulse buys you make will also free up more of your clothing budget to spend on fair-trade brands, as these tend to be a bit pricier than less ethical brands.

Looking and feeling amazing doesn’t need to cost the earth. If you’d like to reduce the potential environmental and humanitarian impact of your wardrobe, bear these tips in mind next time you go shopping: you could change the world.