I can’t pinpoint the moment it actually happened, but sometime over the last several months I began to really care about what I put on my body. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always cared about my clothes from the standpoint of style. But suddenly I began to think a lot about the ethics behind fashion and my consumer choices.
The new name of the game is sustainability. You’ve likely been hearing it everywhere these days. But what exactly does it mean? And what makes an item sustainable, eco-friendly, green, or ethical?
That’s not an easy question to answer. There are many factors to take into consideration, from the type of fabric, to the conditions in which it was made including the amount of water needed and the types of chemicals used, the distance the products must travel before they actually make it to the consumer, and the impact the production has on the land and natural resources, as well as the people who actually make the items.
Now, I am definitely not a sustainability expert and I haven’t done loads of research on ethical and eco-friendly fashion options. And I’m guessing neither have most of you, and you might not want to or have the time to map it all out yourself. So, this is just a quick look into what you should start thinking about every time you shop for clothing. If you want to make yourself more of an expert just start googling “sustainable fashion”. There will be tons of resources to guide you.
It can easily become overwhelming when you start thinking of fashion in this way. How does one even find out how a company manufactures its products? How much research should we be required to do before simply buying one tee shirt? As I said, it all depends on far you’d like to jump into the sustainability pool.
But it’s easier to start by wading. So, here are three ways for sustainable fashion novices to begin.
Fabric is the most obvious way to begin to tell if an item is sustainable. All you have to do is check the label to find out what it’s made of. And if you’re shopping online the description of the piece of clothing should include this information. So, what should we be looking for?
It’s actually quite simple. Are the fibers natural or synthetic? Meaning, is it from a natural source like plants or animals (wool and silk), or was it completely created in a factory? No surprise here, but the more natural the better.
-Lyocell or TENCEL
-Polyester (unless it’s 100% recycled polyester)
-Acetate and triacetate
Polyester is pretty much the worst offender. It’s made from so many chemicals that I can’t even begin to pronounce, let alone spell. It is fast and cheap, but it comes with a huge environmental cost.
A few months ago, I made a conscious choice to start purchasing only eco-friendly fabrics as much as possible. I hesitated to make it ALL of the fabrics I purchased because I know sometimes there are slip ups or something you just need to buy for whatever reason. But I’ve really made myself think about those purchases. Is that inexpensive rayon top really worth it?Sometimes it is, but usually it isn’t.
No matter how eco-friendly the fabric, it still does no one any good if it winds up in a landfill. So, in addition to being more conscious about the types of clothing you are purchasing, I also urge you to be more aware of your consumer habits.
Do we really need that trendy new dress? Is a third pair of black jeans really necessary? Hey, I’m not here to make these decisions for you. Maybe you do feel like you need some of these items. Cool. Go for it. But be mindful of your purchase. The more you think about what you are purchasing and why the more you will be able to weed out the items that are actually unnecessary.
Of course, we all need to buy clothes at some point, so what then? It can be difficult to know just how eco-friendly the clothing you are buying really is, so I’ve begun searching out companies and brands who have made sustainable fashion their “thing”. If a brand is talking about sustainability, they’re likely making the clothing in a far more ethical way than most.
The dresses you see here are by Amour Vert. This article is not sponsored by this eco-friendly brand, but I was gifted both items. The black maxi dress is made from TENCEL, and the red wrap dress is 94% Modal. Now, I know what you’re thinking. But Modal wasn’t on the list of eco-friendly fabrics! Okay, this one is a little tricky. Modal is made from beech trees but is considered semi-synthetic. That’s because the natural fibers used are put through a chemical process. However, that chemical process is considered environmentally friendly. So, all in all, it’s not a bad choice.
We recycle so many things these days, but what about our clothes? It’s already happening. So, do everything in your power to recycle your unwanted textiles. Donating used clothing is great, but it still leaves an opportunity for that item to end up in a landfill at some point. If the garment isn’t in the best donating shape, recycle it. In NYC there are places to drop off textiles for recycling all over the city at Greenmarkets. Check here to find out where and when. If you are in other cities, start googling “textile recycling” to find your options.
Marc and I have a couple bags we keep under the bed in our guest room (because we have no closet space) to which we continually add unwanted textiles. Old pair of socks or t-shirt falling apart? Toss them in the bag. Dish towel or sheets worn out? Into the bag they go! Once the bags are full, we bring them to our closest recycling drop-off site.
Which of these guidelines will you start following, or what are you already doing to be more conscious when it comes to fashion? Let me know in the comments below!
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