I’ve got a great guest post for you today from Kamea Chayne, author of Thrive: An environmentally conscious lifestyle guide to better health and true wealth.
She’s taken time out of her schedule to write this post on how to shop consciously for fashion, which I’ve personally found very useful, so I hope you will too!
We shake our heads in disapproval when reading about social injustice. We cringe in disgust when witnessing environmental pollution firsthand. And we frown in unison when hearing the ever-more-alarming statistics on climate change. Yet we often hypocritically contribute to many of these global social and environmental issues through something that touches upon all of our lives: fashion.
Did you know that the textiles industry is one of the largest polluters on earth, or that it is the fifth-largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions in the United States? Did you know that our clothes might have been made by underpaid, abused laborers in developing countries, or that they might be contaminated with toxic chemical residues from the dyes and treatments used to finish them? Did you know that it takes a shocking 2,700 litres of water (enough to keep one person alive for three years) to grow the amount of cotton needed to make one single t-shirt, or that conventional cotton growing requires loads of toxic pesticides that eventually go on to pollute our fresh water sources?
The day I learned these dirty secrets of the fashion industry, my world turned upside-down. How can something as (seemingly) innocent as buying new clothes with my friends turn out to be a potential act of harm? This thought baffled me, and I knew there was no turning back. Shopping would never be the same again.
Getting even a glimpse of what might happen behind-the-scenes in the fashion world made me realize how impactful our purchase decisions can be. It also made me realise that we can no longer judge a product solely based on its physical properties and price tag, completely neglecting the history that comes along with it.
I concluded: we have to dig deeper; we have to ask questions; and we have to make our choices count.
By digging deeper to understand the histories of our consumer products, we can make more informed purchase decisions and pound (or dollar) vote for responsible businesses helping to drive positive change in our world. In other words, we can shop our way to a better, healthier world by simply supporting companies that value not merely the bottom line (Profit), but the triple bottom line: People, Planet, and Profit.
Okay, but how?
While every conscious consumer might have his or her own approach to shopping more mindfully, here you will find a list of questions I personally ask before buying a fashion product:
1. What material is this product made of?
Check the fashion product’s tags for its material composition.
Prefer products made with low-impact, biodegradable, natural materials or recycled synthetic materials (see “Some healthier alternatives” within Table 1).
Avoid products made with virgin, non-biodegradable synthetic materials or high-impact, natural materials (see “Minimize” within Table 1).
Table 1. A shopping guide for Healthier Textile Choices
2. How was the product made?
Look for voluntary information provided by the company regarding where the raw materials came from, what dyes/chemicals were used, etc.
Prefer products made with natural finishes or dyes and products with credible certifications (see Table 2).
Avoid products with special properties such as stain-resistant, permanent press, anti-static, etc., and products with labels that provide no insight as to how it was made.
Table 2. Common Labels in the Fashion Industry
3. Where was the product made?
Prefer products made regionally or imported products labeled “Fair Trade*.
Avoid imported products from the other side of the world that provide no information regarding how the product was made.
4. Will I cherish this item? Is this a keeper?
Prefer durable, timeless, practical products you will wear 30+ times.
Avoid cheap, disposable, highly fashionable products you will wear only once.
5. Does the company that made this product care about our world’s greater good?
Prefer products made by responsible companies transparent about their supply chain, supportive of social/environmental causes, and contribute to our world’s greater good.
Avoid products made by companies that show no regard for human or environmental health and make no effort to practice responsible business.
Although it’s not always possible to buy responsibly and transparently made products, realising how much power we each have as fashion consumers and starting to ask more questions like the ones I have provided are crucial first steps toward reshaping the fashion industry.
How do you make more informed consumer choices?
*The concepts and tables in this post have been adapted with permission from Thrive: An environmentally conscious lifestyle guide to better health and true wealth by K. Chayne.