Do you know what you are putting on every day? Not like My favourite weekend jeans and my blue stripped shirt, but do you really know? Do you know what materials your clothes are made of? Do you know where they come from and how they got to you? Do you know if the people who made them are happy or suffering? Are these clothes well made and designed to last, or will they disintegrate and be tossed in a short time in favour of a newer fad?
These are tedious and possibly uncomfortable questions to ask, but they are not irrelevant. For most of the items in my closet, I have no idea what the answers to these questions are. What have I done? I have given my money (and therefore support) to companies that I’m not sure that I can stand morally behind. In western society, it seems like the regular kind of thing to do.
Let’s consider how we could begin to clothe ourselves sustainably. Not buying any clothing is best for the environment. Really. That being said, walking around naked or wrapped in leaves and twigs is not very practical for most of us. The most realistic way of implementing this philosophy is to refuse to buy more than you need. Buying secondhand and repurposing what you already own are your next best options as no extra resources are being used to clothe you. Unfortunately this can sometimes require a fashion sense and sewing skills that not all of us are equipped with. The third best choice is to purchase clothing from a (hopefully local) sustainable clothing maker. By far the worst option is to purchase new clothing that isn’t made to last, uses unsustainable materials, tears through resources, creates waste and pollution during it’s manufacturing process, and that is shipped from very far away.
Sometimes you can’t get away from the need or desire to buy a new piece of clothing. In these instances the kind of companies most deserving of your business are those that create clothing to meets as many of the following criteria as possible:
This includes sustainable manufacturing process as well as materials that are recycled, sustainably sourced, and recyclable or biodegradable at the end of their usability. Organic materials like cotton, bamboo, soy, wool, linen(flax) and hemp are some of the most popular choices although care must be taken to assure they are being grown, harvested, and processed sustainably. The amount of pesticides and water needed to grow regular (non-organic) cotton is especially devastating on the environment. Thankfully, every year more and more sustainably produced textiles are becoming available. Materials made from petroleum like acrylic, polyester and nylon are poor choices, as well as any natural materials that require heavy pesticide use and chemical processing to make them wearable.
Well made and long lasting means new clothing needs to be purchased less often. This saves resources (and money!).
3. Adaptable / multi purpose
If a piece of clothing can be adapted to suit a multitude to situations (be it various social functions, temperature and weather changes, and even mood changes) it decreases the amount of clothing you need to buy to meet the varied demands in your life. An excellent example of this is a jacket with removable layers to accommodate various seasons or a plain black wrap dress that can be dressed up, dressed down, or re-wrapped into various patterns.
A large percentage of new sustainable clothing currently available is more expensive than the pieces you find at discount box stores. If you have set your expectation of cost to be inline with the cheapest clothing you can find, but simultaneously want to make sure that you are buying from only sustainable clothing companies, you have some mental adjustments to make. Ask yourself if the corners that have been cut in areas of ethics, durability, etc. are something that you wish to support with your purchase.
If you commit to owning only what you need and acquire the majority of your day-to-day clothing second hand, theoretically that will leave you with more money to purchase a more expensive high quality sustainable item from time to time.
The big question that remains is if the higher cost of the sustainable clothing is due purely to higher production cost, or if there is an element of environmental elitism involved.
Clothing made close to home reduces shipping costs and pollution.
6. Created ethically
Ethically made clothing demands fair treatment of workers employed in the making of the clothing. This includes safe and non-oppressive working conditions, personal freedoms, and fair wages.
The term ‘ethical’ can also refer to the fair treatment of animals involved in clothing manufacture. This is not to say that clothing can’t be made from animal parts such as wool or the traditionally preserved hides from animals otherwise killed for consumption, but that the animals involved have had pleasurable, healthful lives, and have been harvested in a sustainable manner.
It’s almost impossible to talk about clothing without discussing style. What is considered ‘attractive’ varies from person to person. Deciding how to dress can be a fun opportunity to express yourself, a means of fitting in or standing out, and a good way to present yourself. The fashion industry is wonderful as long as trend changes aren’t happening faster than the clothing is naturally wearing out, and the basic principles of sustainable clothing production are being met.
I have always admired people who consciously reject current fashion trends. They filter out the messages from profit-driven clothing companies and instead make choices based what they like and know to look good on themselves. They have their own sense of ‘attractive’. Equally admirable are the people who reject spending time excessively fretting about their appearance. They may even choose to forgo relationships with people who would judge and reject them based on their un-fussed appearance.
That being said, choosing to go against the normal and accepted dress in a workplace environment can affect your perceived professionalism. Many workplace interactions happen at a pace where people are forced to make quick decisions about what kind of person you are, what you can offer, and whether to value you or not, based on how you have chosen to present yourself. In these circumstances, what is ‘attractive’ is at least partially dictated by the norms of your workplace environment.
Furthermore, while it I can be disrespectful to be unwashed and unkept in most social situations, many people act as if refusing to dress a certain way is outright insulting to them. Some social circles can be extremely judgemental. It can take courage to reject the idea of needing to have a different outfit every special occasion and a large selection of on-trend clothing for every season and situation. Some communities and societies frown on, reject, and even threaten to harm individuals who display acts of non-conformity. When we play into any of these games and when we look down on others who don’t, we perpetuate this kind of damaging thinking.
Choosing clothing that meets all of the above criteria can be a complex process indeed! What are your favourites brands and places to source clothing?
The following are just a handful of the many online sustainable clothing companies:
Dhana (children’s clothing)
Inspirational secondhand clothing blogs:
Good luck in your search, discovery, and decorating of yourself!