Now that we’ve talked a bit about the issues that plague the fast fashion industry, I hope that you feel motivated to make better decisions about what you buy. I know that changing your shopping habits is no easy task, and that ethical and sustainable fashion can sometimes feel out of reach. However, just by changing your perspective and decision making process you can make a big difference. Not every piece of clothing you buy will be strictly “ethical/sustainable” and to be honest, not all of mine are 100% of the time, but I do make a conscious effort to buy better. Below is a guide with three questions I ask myself before purchasing any item, and I hope that by asking yourself the same questions, you will see your habits changing.
Where was it made?
You may or may not remember the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013. This collapse, which was caused by structrual failure of an eight-story building, killed over 1,000 people, most of whom were garment factory workers. This was the deadliest garment factory accident in history, and sparked a lot of conversation regarding the safety and wellness of garment factory workers.
This tragedy exposed the conditions that many garment makers are forced to work under. Long hours, no breaks, packed rooms, and minimal wages. Most of this work happens in countries that have little or no worker protections for these people, allowing a form of legalized slavery. This is why it is important to look into where your item is being made, to understand what kind of conditions your money is supporting.
I try my best to stay away from items made in countries with notoriously low protections for garment workers: Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia are on my no-buy list. However, most of today’s fashion industry are in China and India. It’s nearly impossible to avoid items made in these countries completely, but I try to stay away when I can.
To be on the safe side, I always look for a tag that says “Made in the USA”. Although this is not always a guarantee that your items were made ethically, we know that we at least have a minimum wage (although not a living wage) and workers protections. Buying USA made is the easiest way to make better choices.
What is it made of?
I’ve talked extensively about the problems with synthetic fabrics – that they are derived from petroleum, just like plastic and fossil fuels, and that they virtually never break down. We know that the production of these materials contribute to climate change and the pollution of our waterways. That is why it is important to be intentional about the clothing and every day items that you buy.
Whenever possible, I try to focus on buying natural materials. While industrial cotton is not the best choice (more on this to come) I still prefer cotton fabrics over synthetics. Try to shop Organic Cotton whenever possible, as the industrial production of cotton is heavy in pesticides that pollute soil and water. Other natural fibers I like are Tencil and Viscose, which are made from different plant fibers. These fabrics are becoming more and more popular and it’s becoming more common to find fibers in traditional retail stores.
Many brands are also turning to recycled polyester to make swim wear, athletic attire and beautiful dresses. I love the idea of recycled, post-comsumer polyester because this actually creates a solution for waste produced not only by old clothes, but other big polluting products such as water bottles and fishing lines.
Polyesters and other synthetics are, admittedly, almost impossible to avoid. So when you do choose to buy an item made from synthetic fibers, make sure that they are at least of high quality. Ask yourself, does this material feel like it will keep it’s shape after one wash? Does it look like it will easy break down after a few wears? If so, avoid them and pick something that will last.
What does it support?
What an item supports is the most important question I ask myself before making any purchase. Many sustainable and ethical brands have a mission and a purpose that tell you exactly what they’re aiming to do. Whether it is empowering women through gainful employment, using sustainable and recycled materials, or using their profits to support community development and social justice. I always try to buy items that do more than just provide style.
Outside of ethical and sustainable brands, I also look for brands that promote cultural authenticity and support independent artists. I love brands that have meaning behind them that look to culture share, rather than appropriate. Knowing that someone put their own soul, style and creativity makes it stand out and I feel good knowing that I’m wearing works of art.
When all else fails, I focus on supporting small businesses. Rather than buying from big retail stores, I look for charming women-owned brands and boutiques. While items from these places my not be ethical or sustainable in their creation, I know that by buying from a small business my money is going to support local business owners, and in turn support the economic development of my community.
Ultimately, buying better takes intention and practice, and a bit of research to really understand what you like and how to buy better. But we all have the power to buy better, and I hope that by asking yourself these three questions when you shop, you will be empowered to make better choices.
Con Much Amor,
Outfit by: B.Yellowtail
Photography by: Vanessa Acosta
Location: Echo Park, Los Angeles