Check the materials
If you want to make sure your garments are eco-friendly,
Organic cotton is one of the most popular options among sustainable brands, and while it’s better than synthetic alternatives, it still requires a huge amount of water to manufacture.
Fabrics such as linen, hemp, silk, or even bamboo are much more sustainable.
Dyes also matter, and natural options are always preferable as they won’t include many of the toxic chemicals which can be incredibly harmful to the environment and the workers handling them.
Make third-party websites part of your shopping experience
Tools such as Rank a Brand, aVoid, the Higg Index, Good On You, the Fashion Transparency Index and the Environmental Working Grouphave done a lot of the work for you, rating big-name brands based on carefully considered objective criteria. If in doubt, always double check.
Certifications from organisations such as Fairtrade or Soil Association are helpful, but when it comes to smaller brands be aware that they might not have the resources to apply for them, and they cannot guarantee beyond their specific remit.
Become familiar with CSRs
Most big brands will have some sort of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) guidelines on their website. Beware that much of this can be marketing fluff. If they’re “working towards” a goal, or “aiming to achieve” another that’s great for them, but they’re clearly not there yet.
Similarly, complying with local labour laws is not a badge of honour, it’s a basic legal requirement; if they are donating “a portion of their profits” to a charitable cause, try and find out what that portion actually is; and if it says the products are “made locally”, make sure that includes the entirety of the manufacturing process, rather than just the final touches.
You want to look for statements which show they are going above and beyond, by using exclusively recycled materials, for example, or paying their workers above minimum wage, offering additional benefits and trying to give back to local communities.
While this can feel overwhelming, it can help you build a wardrobe you’re proud of, and one that can really make a difference. As consumers in a ruthless capitalist society, the best way we have of affecting change is by voting with our wallets – and doing so as loudly as possible.
There are some great brands based overseas which offer sustainable, ethical options, but if it’s being shipped halfway across the world, the carbon footprint of each item is going to be huge, especially if you plan on returning any of it.
Where possible, try and shop locally. The jury is still out on whether having items delivered is more sustainable than buying them yourself, but if you’re not using a car purchasing something made locally is probably your best bet.
Source: Your Ultimate Guide to Buying Ethical and Sustainable Fashion by Sirena Bergman