Seven steps to a (more) ethical wardrobe

Holiday shopping season is upon us!! That means it is open season on the best part of all: buying stuff for ourselves while shopping for others!!

(Oh, wait, was that just me?)

The problem with fast fashion

The problem is, that we have become a little compulsive with our shopping habits. According to the documentary A The True Cost, the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year! That is 400% more than we did 20 years ago. The average American generates about 82 lbs of textile waste each year, creating 11 million tons of waste from the USA alone! How can we shop for more ethical fashion and feel good about a wardrobe that is as green as it is gorgeous?


I can remember that I started buying fast fashion 15 years ago when I lived in the UK. Suddenly there were shops with cute dresses and tops that cost about the same as a takeaway from my favourite curry house. Each week there seemed to be a whole new load of stock in. It was fun, addictive and shopping became a form of recreation. ‘Retail therapy’, I would joke, heading to the shops after a long day of work and studying for my PhD.


Environmental issues
The problem is although I was getting a great deal, others were paying the price. Fast fashion is hard on the environment. According to industry leaders,”The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to the oil industry.” Water is a big part of the problem; did you know it takes  6800 litres of water to grow the cotton to produce just one pair of jeans? YIKES!!  That is enough water for one person to drink for six years. But don’t think you can just switch to synthetics. Polyester production for textiles released about 706 billion kg of greenhouse gases in 2015, that is equivalent to the annual emissions of 185 coal-fired power plants.


Sweatshop labour
The garment industry is also an infamously bad place to work. The majority of garment workers in Bangladesh earn less than $33 USD per month. They often experience human rights violations including assault and most work long shifts of 14 hours per day. In 2013 over 1000 workers died when an unsafe garment factory collapsed. Although reforms have been promised the reality is that little progress has been made.


Wow. Suddenly my clothes don’t look so pretty.


What can we do about it? I’ve made a little list of seven steps to a more ethical wardrobe.


  1. Start with what you have: Have a good sort through of your current wardrobe, and keep what you love. You likely have some gems in your closet you’ve forgotten about.
  2. Could it be altered?
    Updating clothes to keep up with current trends and changing sizes could make a piece last for many years instead of a season.Those skinnies you never wear from a few years back. Could they become your new favourite ankle grazers? Try raising the hem on a skirt, making a slit in a maxi dress or distressing your favourite jeans. Perhaps even sewing on a button is new territory for you. No problem. There are lots of great tutorials online to help the fledgling tailor inside of you to come out and shine.
  3. Take care:
    Taking good care of your clothing will extend its life and buying less often is the best way to reduce the environmental impact of your wardrobe. Follow washing instructions so you don’t end up throwing out shrunken and misshapen sweaters (we’ve all done it) or tearing delicate clothing is a good start. Also, start wearing an apron in the kitchen to protect your clothing. Looking for more great tips? Look here.
  4. Second hand store shopping:
    you have done the best you can with what you have, but you still want to get some new gear. Fabulous! Shopping time! Try out your local consignment, vintage or charity shops. They really do have some fabulous looks, and often for great prices too.
  5. Swaps:
    You know all your friends who have great style? Organize a clothing swap and invite them all over. It’s a great opportunity to catch up and get a cute new outfit too. Check out these tips on planning a great swap.
  6. Choose more ethical fabrics:
    It is so exciting to see ethical shops like The Right Side Boutique opening up in Toronto. All of their fabrics are vegan and sweatshop free. Learn more about the Right Side (here). You can also check out The Imperative , for vegan makeup, shoes, accessories and clothing. They have an amazing selection of cruelty free winter wear, ‘cause baby, it’s cold outside.

    If you are looking to shop a bit more mainstream, the Gap and H&M are both offering recycled clothing lines, and Gap has committed to sourcing all of its cotton from more sustainable sources by 2021. This seems like the least the could do, and I’m not sure why it will take four years, but I’m happy to see any improvements. I was also interested to find Everlane, an Australian brand that claims to be committed to “Exceptional quality. Ethical factories. Radical Transparency”. It is great to see companies responding to the appetite in the market for more sustainable clothing; although it remains to be seen if these small shifts will actually add up to environmental improvements.

  7. Think quality:
    Consider purchasing a few timeless pieces rather than trying to stay current with all the fashion fads. Items to invest in could be a good pair of jeans, a high quality coat, a well-fitting dress shirt and a little black dress.


I’m making a personal commitment to reducing my fast fashion habit. I’ll be trying out these tips in the holiday period and on through 2018. Care to join in? We are all going to look gorgeous, with an ethical glow. What is pretty for us, should be pretty good for the planet too.

PS:  Check out my shopping day at the Right Side Boutique! This pretty store is worth a visit.  I hope to see more of this kind of store opening in Toronto.

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