I open my dresser drawer to pilfer through shirts. My white v-necks are dingy and my black, long sleeved tees are drab. I need new basics. Little wonder, I’ve had them for over five years. It’s time for replacements.
A couple of years ago, this may have been easy to fix. I’d run out to Target or Forever 21, grab a few shirts at $3-8 apiece, then head back home ready to conquer the day. Now, it’s a little more complicated.
The importance of sustainable, ethical practices in business was heavy on my heart. I couldn’t keep supporting these places, but what to do instead?
You may remember a few years ago when a clothing factory in Bangladesh caught fire, killing over a hundred of the employees. Investigation showed poor safety practices and protections for the employees. That’s the event that got me. While I knew there were some nefarious practices going on in the fashion industry, none of them touched me enough to change my behavior. But I had been working at Whole Foods for the couple of years before the incident. The importance of sustainable, ethical practices in business was heavy on my heart. I couldn’t keep supporting these places, but what to do instead?
Thankfully I’m not the only one. There’s been a big push since the first Bangladesh fire, and the others which seem to keep cropping up, to get ethical clothing. Customers have been revolting against the cheap, disposable fashion that creates nearly 14 million tons of waste a year, and I am one of them. Here’s how you shop in a sustainable way, and it’s as simple as remembering the three R’s you learned back in Kindergarten. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Here’s the bad news –if you decide you’re only purchasing ethical clothing, you’re going to shell out some dough. I’ve thrown around that word “ethical” but let’s define what that means. Ethical means fair wages and safe conditions for the people making the clothing. Ethical means the materials used are harvested in a sustainable way and the processes to make them aren’t harmful to the earth. We can get on board with those ideals, right?
Unfortunately, for your pocketbook at least, buying clothes from companies that pay their employees well will likely be more expensive (Gosh darnit ensuring people have decent lives!). You might have to shrink your wardrobe. But seriously, how many t-shirts do you really need? To remain budget friendly, I mostly only purchase new for things like basics. They’re going to get years of hard wear from me alone, I don’t need them coming to be half used. My favorite “Basics” brands are as follows, but Google it and you’ll get even longer lists of companies to support. Why couldn’t we go to the mall like everyone else? Then I got old, realized how much it would have been to swathe all four of us kids retail. I realized Mom is a genius.
Why couldn’t we go to the mall like everyone else? Then I got old, realized how much it would have been to swathe all four of us kids retail. I realized Mom is a genius.
They range from $12-30 for things like white cotton T-Shirts or simple long sleeves, underwear, tank tops, -the true basics array. But with improved quality, you know they’re going to be with you for years. Also, because I must give a shout-out to my Alabama favorite, Zkano socks are the best socks you’ll ever find. (OMG, I love them so much, I have like 10 pairs. Just look at how cute they are)
For the bold among you, I recommend becoming an Etsy devotee. Etsy has significantly expanded since I first started frequenting it, so finding favorite shops can take some time to troll through the duds. I offer you to follow me to reap the benefits of my curated collection or search on your own to find independent producers. It takes some work, but you can find unique pieces you know were made well by someone who loves what they do.
What about one other basic? DENIM. I’m blessed to be able to go to work in jeans. My jeans get worn out running around playing with heavy machinery. While I can justify paying $20 for a tank-top with a long life span, I can’t shell out the $120 on most ethical denim brands knowing they’ll barely last me a year at the plant.
Enter REUSE. It’s estimated that secondhand stores help save 2.5 billion pounds of clothing from entering landfills. It’s not everything, but it’s a start! Growing up, I always resented going with my Mom to the kids clothes thrifting events. Why couldn’t we go to the mall like everyone else? Then I got old, realized how much it would have been to swathe all four of us kids retail. I realized Mom is a genius.
I use resale shops for nearly all of my denim and my more stylish, fun clothing. Chains like Plato’s Closet and its big sister Style Encore offer trendy clothing in good condition sold back to the shop from previous owners. And, this is the part you can make up on your budget – clothes are anywhere from 60-90% off the retail price! While Plato’s Closet is targeted more towards teenagers and young adults, Style Encore offers all the best brands like J. Crew, Ann Taylor, LOFT, and even Vera Wang or Coach. Both establishments offer not only resale clothing, but also shoes, jewelry and handbags for a one-stop sustainable shop.
Most municipalities offer curbside pickup of your glass, plastic and cardboard, but not your old duds despite the fact that nearly 100% of your clothing is recyclable.
Another resource is the fabulous ThredUp. ThredUp is an online secondhand shop where you can search resale clothing from across America. Their saved searches offer you the ability to select preferred styles, sizes and brands to quickly go through the catalog. Or try out the king website of resale, eBay where you can find just about anything like a faux camel-hair blazer from Banana Republic in size 4, originally released in 2003.
And finally, the last R, RECYCLE. Have you ever tried to recycle clothing? Do you know how hard it is to find a place? Most municipalities offer curbside pickup of your glass, plastic and cardboard, but not your old duds despite the fact that nearly 100% of your clothing is recyclable.
One of your cheap fashion offenders is trying to help. H&M offers you discount coupons to bring in your old clothing for “Recycling” rather than disposal. Unfortunately not much of the collected clothing ends up being utilized, but they recognize the need for better recycling technologies and support research in that area. While we can recycle our old t-shirts into dish rags or other cleaning clothes, we still need a better solution.
Have I been too preachy? I hope not. We all have budgets to work with, so if you’ve read this and gawked, “$30 for a tank top! I’ll be broke!” I hear you. It doesn’t have to be a full overhaul right away or even ever. But sometimes knowledge is half the battle, so here are some new resources for going green with your clothes. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Three simple practices that can help make our clothing experience more sustainable and help create a better world this holiday season.