This is always something that provokes thought and challenges me because it is not as simple as it seems. And I’ve created a whole business around it. So, if you are struggling with it, you are not alone.
Let’s start out with the reasons for cleaning up your wardrobe. For me, it started with the awareness of how people are exploited in the entire process of making clothing, starting from the farmers growing the plants for fiber to the sewers who make the clothing. A critical change is to seek fair and ethical alternatives. The environmental impact is another factor, on many levels, which is often inherently tied to negative impacts on people. And thirdly, there is the impact to your own body of potentially harmful chemicals being absorbed through your skin. By working towards a more sustainable wardrobe, you are making positive changes in all three categories. We have to remind ourselves that every little bit matters.
What is a bit of a dilemma for me is that the most sustainable and ethical solutions are not to buy from ethical fashion brands, like me, as a first order of business. The least impact is to not buy new. I’ve made a list of how to approach your sustainable journey, and hopefully you will consider these in order. The obvious part of this dilemma is the fact that I would like EcoPetites to be economically sustainable, but to be true to my values, I cannot ignore the fact that there are other solutions.
Eventually, fabric wears out. Especially natural fibers. Maybe you don’t have time to search for that wardrobe item you are seeking in a size that fits you. And I dream of a time when all the second-hand and upcycled clothing comes from items that were made ethically in the first place. I envision a future in which the economic imperialism and exploitation embedded in the fashion industry has ended. In the mean-while, we have to make choices. There are multiple lanes on the highway to this future. While shopping recycled and upcycled clothing is an important lane (or two or three) there also needs to be a lane for keeping alternatives economically viable. We need businesses that demonstrate that better is possible. And let’s not leave us short women out of that movement!
But here is that list, of what is most sustainable:
- Do nothing. Don’t go out and buy anything new and just use what you have. Shop your closet. Repair what you own (OK, that is not doing nothing, but you get the idea.) If you have items that you just never wear, give them away. Let someone else make use of previously owned wardrobe items. Which brings me to…
- Swap. There is very little energy consumption and labor involved here. If you are visiting a friend or relative, suggest a swap at that time. You can be spontaneous. If this person is genetically related, you might even know ahead of time that your clothes will fit each other.
- If you’re going to buy something, consider used clothing first. Shop locally, if you can. Online second-hand clothing stores conserve resources by not having all the upkeep involved in a brick and mortar store, and are usually run by dedicated, passionate individuals.
- Upcycled clothing is next in line. Less goes to the landfill. No energy and labor involved in growing or manufacturing the fibers or weaving into fabric. These items have a small footprint environmentally and have a low potential for unethical labor practices. Just make sure you are willing to pay for the artistry and time the maker put in. Without economy of scale, this is usually labor intensive and a labor of love. Part of sustainability is that the business owner can sustain oneself economically.
- And finally! If you still haven’t found what you are looking for, look to ethical brands. And please remember me when you do!
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