Building an Ethical Closet, Without Breaking the Bank
I became a part of the maker’s movement because I love to work with my hands. There’s something magical about buying handmade goods. Being part of the maker’s movement has led me to reevaluate the way I shop. I strive to shop local handmade, because I can be fairly certain that what I’m buying has been ethically made. For me this means that the person who made it is being paid a fair wage, and has a safe working environment, and the brand is environmentally friendly. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most people would prefer to shop at places that support ethical labour practices, but it’s easier said than done. One of the reasons why fast fashion is so popular is because it’s so cheap, whereas handmade is definitely not. A basic t-shirt at H&M will run you $12.99 cnd whereas a basic t-shirt at a People Tree costs $45 usd, or $57.45 cnd. That’s almost 4.5 times more! It’s no surprise people say that while they’d like to, they can’t always afford to shop ethically made.
So how can we support ethical fashion practices without going broke? Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good! Here are 10 different things that I’ve done to help build an ethical wardrobe.
1. Care For the Clothes You Own
One of the things that’s so frustrating about the fast fashion movement, is that it can be just as expensive, to get your clothes fixed, as it is to buy new ones! I recently spent $15 getting a pair of jeans patched up, and right now you can get Skinny Jeans from Forever 21 on sale for $12.99
So I completely understand the desire to just throw it out and get a new one. I’ve done it myself. I was constantly throwing away jeans that had worn out due to my thighs rubbing together. I finally grew tired of throwing away jeans that were still good everywhere else, and took them to my local tailor. I was shocked at how well they patched them. You could barely tell that they’d been worn out in the first place.
2. Curb The Impulse Shopping
This was probably the biggest lifestyle change for me. I was a total mall rat growing up, and was of the first in line to shop at H&M when they came to Canada. If I was feeling down I’d go to the mall, buy a $20 something, and suddenly I’d feel so much better. There’s a reason why we love to shop, and it’s not just because the clothes are pretty. Emotional Shopping can get overlooked when we’re criticizing the fast fashion movement, but that amazing feeling you get when you buy something new is what helps H&M sell so many $12.99 t-shirts.
Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” - Anne Lappe
3. Only Buy Clothes You Love
Don’t just buy something because it’s on sale. My mom is a notorious penny pincher, and I was taught never to buy anything full price at an early age. We were always on the hunt for the best deals, and not surprisingly they were usually found in fast fashion shops like H&M, Stitches, Bluenotes, and Old Navy. I can’t count the number of times I bought something because I was on sale. I trained myself to never look at the full price clothing, and as a result my wardrobe consisted of a lot of clothing that I kinda liked, and very little that I loved.
4. Buy Clothes That are Well Made from High-Quality Materials
Don’t you hate when you buy a new shirt, and after the first wash it’s completely misshapen? You’ve probably noticed that a lot of your fast fashion purchases fall apart after a few months. When you buy clothes that are well made from high-quality materials they’ll last longer, and you’ll need to shop less. Some of my favourite high quality materials for clothing include linen, silk, denim, and leather.
5. Rewear! Rewear! Rewear!
When I was in university my class watched a video about the artist Andrea Zittel
who created uniforms to be worn for 6 months at a time. In the video she spoke about how it’s a fashion faux pas to wear the same thing twice, (we chastise celebrities for it all the time), but if you have a piece of clothing you love, then you want to wear it all the time. It seems silly to buy a new dress for every special event you have, instead of rewearing one that you already have. Why do we worry about people seeing us wear the same time? Will they think that we don’t wash our clothes, or that we only have a few outfits?
I say wear what you love, and wear it over, and over, and over again! Get your money’s worth, and reduce the cost/wear of your favourite clothes.
6. Shop Vintage & Second Hand
Back in high school my friend Jen and I used to frequent Value Village. Always pronouncing the store’s name with a french accent to make it sound fancier, we would buy graphic tees (usually from the little boys section), cassette tapes (my parent’s car didn’t have a cd player), silk scarves, purses (I once bought a leather Miu Miu bag for $2.99), and many many pairs of earrings. It was perfect for our high school budget, and we had a lot of fun. Shopping vintage, and second hand is not only easy on your wallet, but helps prevent more clothing from ending up in a landfill.
7. Clothing Swaps
I went my first clothing swap about 4 years ago at my friend Steph’s place, and it was amazing! There were about 6 of us, and I went home with so many new (to me) and amazing outfits. Clothing swaps are a great way to get rid of clothing that you no long wear, and get a bunch of great new stuff for free. It’s kinda like shopping your friend’s closets, but for keeps.
8. Shop Local
Buy your clothes from local, independent stores. There’s a good chance that the clothing they carry will be ethically, and maybe even locally made. The money you spend will be going right back into the local economy. Some of my favourite local clothing boutiques include Coal Miner’s Daughter
, and Primaala
9. Make Your Own Clothes (Even Once)
In high school one of my favourite pastimes was going to Value Village, buying vintage t-shirts, and reworking them on my sewing machine. It wasn’t until I few years ago that I made my first piece of clothing from a proper pattern: the Wiksten Tank Top. My old roommate Rachel was in the fashion program at George Brown so I saw her make a whole lot of clothing in the year that we lived together. It wasn’t until I made my own shirt from scratch that I could truly appreciate what a laborious process it really is. I think it took me about 8 hours to make that first tank top, and I couldn’t have been prouder with the finished product. I made sure to text Rachel a picture of my beautiful french seams the second I was done. Now I am always shocked at how little clothing costs. When I look at a $12 tank top I always wonder how long it took to make, and then how much of that $12 actually went to paying the person who made it.
10. Save Up for the Good Stuff
The most obvious (and most expensive) way to build an ethical wardrobe, is to save up your nickels and dimes, and purchase ethically made clothing. My favourite way to do this is to purchase locally handmade clothing. You can find pieces from in my closet from some of my favourite Toronto brands including Hoi Bo, Dagg & Stacey, Sara Duke, and Skinny Sweats. I make a point to treat myself to something new once a year, when I’m at the One of a Kind Christmas Show. I do this show as a vendor, but I’m always there as a shopper too. Because it’ the holiday season, it’s the time of year when I’ve got the most money on hand. Another way to shop ethically is to buy from brands that have their clothing ethically made overseas. People Tree is a great example of this type of manufacturing; all of their clothing is sustainable, and fair trade.
“Buy less, choose well and make it last.” — Vivienne Westwood
BONUS: Shop The Sample Sales
Handmade certainly isn’t cheap, but it does go on sale. This is a great way to support local designers, without spending an arm and a leg. Most designers will have sample sales once or twice a year, where they get rid of old stock, slightly damaged product, and design samples at a deep discount. Usually the best way to hear about these sales is to sign up for their mailing lists. You can sign up for my mailing list here.
So there you have it, the 10 different things I do to support the fast fashion movement. I even made you guys a handy little graphic that you can add to your Pinterest board for future reference.
So tell me which of these are you already doing, and which ones are you going to try next?