The Ultimate Guide to Shopping Sustainably
By Alice Powell
Illustrations: Katrina Ho
According to the ABC’s War on Waste documentary, Australia sends 6,000 kilograms of textile waste to landfill. Every. Ten. Minutes.
This alarming statistic is a result of fast-fashion; the industry of mass production/disposal of clothing. The fashion industry is one of the top three biggest polluters on the planet- a market plagued by frequent excess consumption and the disposal of ‘old’ items just as often. According to the World Resources Institute, the average consumer is purchasing 60 percent more clothing now in comparison to the early 2000’s yet keeping each garment for less than half the time.
To combat the immense negative impact this has on the environment, individual consumers can choose to dress more sustainably. This includes buying locally, looking into brand policies and processes, choosing materials carefully, repairing/upcycling old clothes & disposing of unwanted clothes responsibly. Ultimately, the best way to be a conscious fashion consumer is to choose quality over quantity – buy less and buy better. The below information and suggestions will help you do exactly that!
WHERE TO SHOP!
The two main things to look for in a brand is the location & the fabrics/processes used to create the garments. Shopping locally can make a huge difference to the environment and the impact your purchases have; Australian made = less air miles = smaller carbon footprint!
Tasi Travels (Made to order garments, produced on the Sunshine Coast, created from Tencel using a closed loop treatment system).
Lilla by Fia (Organic cotton and hemp clothing, created on the Sunshine Coast using natural dyes)
Outland Denim (Denim created using natural dyes, responsible raw/recycled fabric. Although produced overseas, the brand still ranks highly in terms of denim manufacturing; An industry that generally uses conventional cotton and harmful dyes).
WHAT FABRICS TO LOOK FOR & WHAT TO AVOID!
Dressing sustainably means considering the impact of the materials used to make clothing; every fabric has a different impact on the environment, and choosing the lesser impact is what conscious consumerism is all about.
- Cotton: Conventional cotton is an incredibly water-intensive fabric, that is most often chemically treated with toxins that become harmful pollutants- both of which make it rate lowly in terms of sustainability. However, organic cotton exists- offering significantly reduced manufacturing waste & zero toxins!
- Hemp: Hemp is an incredible natural fibre- it grows quickly, requires little water, no pesticides/herbicides, and is durable. The downside to this is that at this point, there are no facilities in Australia able to spin it into workable fibre. Despite this, it still ranks as a great option as opposed to far more harmful materials!
- Linen: Linen requires little water and no herbicides/pesticides & without any dyeing the fabric is completely biodegradable! Because of the dense nature of the fibre, to get pure white linen it has to go through heavy bleaching processes- so it’s best to purchase undyed linen- which naturally comes in ivory, ecru, tan and grey.
- Tencel: Tencel is the brand name for Lyocell, an innovative fibre made from dissolved eucalyptus pulp. It requires less energy and water than cotton, and as a naturally derived fibre, is also biodegradable.
- Silk: Silk is a wonderful alternative to polyester, with 100% silk being natural, durable, biodegradable and very low impact on the environment in general.
Avoid blended fibres when possible as well- a blended fibre is made from two materials woven together, which unfortunately cannot be recycled as the technology to separate these does not yet exist.
Note that most fast-fashion garments are dyed using harmful chemicals and pollutants, that are often not responsibly contained/managed. This can cause dyes to flow into waterways, contaminating the water of surrounding villages and damaging a variety of ecosystems. To combat this, sustainable fashion brands use natural/recycled/no dyes, and manufacture using closed loop systems.
OP SHOP TIPS!
An inexpensive option for conscious fashion consumerism is shopping at thrift stores. Not only are you giving clothes a new life, you will often be supporting charities in the process!
- Look in both the male & female sections! Jackets are particularly great as a unisex item.
- Don’t reject an item just because the fit is slightly off! Sizing issues (unless drastic) can be altered with hand-sewing, machine work or by a qualified seamstress. Though this does add an additional cost, it means you can wear that amazing, unique piece you found!
- Check brands! As a result of fast fashion; the lower price point and potentially poorly made clothing makes their way into op-shops – avoid these if you want pieces that last!
Note: Vintage stores- although pricier than op-shops are another way to purchase sustainable fashion without sacrificing style!
CARING FOR YOUR CLOTHES!
An important part of being a sustainable dresser is ensuring you get the full life out of your items to minimise excessive disposal of garments! Especially to keep natural fibres and sustainable investment pieces in the best condition possible!
- Following wash instructions is super important – as much as you may be tempted to just throw everything into the one wash cycle try not to!
- Cold-washing (a full load) is better for the environment and for your garments too!
- Spot clean denim rather than washing after every wear. Denim brands themselves encourage washing the garments as little as possible to prevent fading of dyes, and loss of shape.
WHAT TO DO WITH UNWANTED CLOTHES!
In good condition:
- Hold a clothes swap with friends, an item you may not like anymore could easily be someone else’s new favourite piece and vice-versa!
- Sell items on Depop, Carousel or social media pages!
- Donate to op-shops (Ensure pieces aren’t damaged as they cannot sell these and will dispose of the items).
- Stores like SWOP in Brisbane even exchange store credit for clothing donations! (Note: the pieces can’t be fast-fashion, unclean or damaged).
In bad condition:
- Upcycle, upcycle, upcycle! Use garments for scraps in a DIY project, rags for cleaning, etc!
Good On You
App/website providing ratings on brands sustainability and ethical policies,etc. Also provides further information on materials.
Website selling ethical, sustainable fashion- filter by values! Also has articles on fashion industry, etc.
Wardrobe Crisis with Clare Press
Podcast series on the fashion industries harmful impact, etc.
Lists ethical brands and details their policies, processes & values.