Sustainable & Ethical Fashion: The First Step Toward Conscious Consumerism

Once upon a time, people in the fashion industry could ignore environmental and ethical implications of their apparel. Or, more accurately, they could afford not to know about it in the first place! It’s hard to imagine a time before the internet, when information was not readily searchable and shareable. But that time existed not too long ago.

That time was also before scientists realized the extent to which climate change is a very real, very high-stake issue. While the exact details may still be up for debate, experts agree that humans have altered our planet for the worse, and without major change the results could be catastrophic.

On my monthly advice column, someone asked me about how to be a conscious consumer when it comes to fashion. The truth is, I’m not an expert — I’m learning more and more about the topic everyday, and trust me, it’s an ongoing education. For most people, buying 100% ethical and conflict-free clothing is not an option. But any little thing we can do to support sustainable brands and live planet-friendly lifestyles is a step in the right direction.

That said, here are some pointers on how to become a more conscious consumer when it comes to fashion!

Support Sustainable Brands

One of the best ways to be a conscious fashionista is to identify and support brands that align with your values and style. There are a ton out there, and while they can be more costly, I think it’s worth the investment to put your money where your mouth — or heart — is.

One that I really love is AMUR, a clothing collection created right here in NYC. It was born from the idea that style need not come at the expense of our environment, striking the perfect balance between beauty and goodwill. In fact, their name is an acronym for “A Mindful Use of Resources,” which sums up their brand to a T.

All AMUR’s materials are sustainably sourced, with an emphasis on quality, timeless design in an era where clothing is often conceived as disposable. They use natural textiles, organic cotton and silk, and fibers like hemp and linen, some of which are spun from regenerated textiles. The result is ecological and luxurious all at once, and totally worth the price tag.

I also have to give a big shout out to TOMS, which is a perfect example, to me, of an ethically conscious brand. For every pair of TOMS sold, another is given to a person in need. This one-for-one business model is the foundation of the company, which has seamlessly merged fashion philanthropy without sacrificing profit.

Their shoes are an amazing staple item for any fashionista. Whether I pair them with a dress or cut-offs, I’m always proud to rock this amazing brand knowing that they are doing so much good in the world. They also have a great blog detailing their projects and contributions, so you know their impact is more than theoretical.

Patagonia is another big one worth mentioning. As one of the earlier defenders of environmental ethics in activewear, Patagonia was a trailblazer in the adoption of recycled materials and organic cotton. Patagonia is registered as a benefit corporation in California, meaning it has proven an “explicit social or environmental mission, and a legally binding fiduciary responsibility to take into account the interests of workers, the community and the environment as well as its shareholders.”

There’s also Reformation, which manufactures a lot of its clothing right here in the USA using sustainable methods and materials. According to their website, “Our factory uses the most efficient, eco-friendly and pro-social technologies and practices we can get. We invest in green building infrastructure to minimize our waste, water, and energy footprints. By providing on-the-job training and opportunities for growth, we also invest in the people who make this revolution possible.” On top of it, I’m crazy about their clothes!

Last, there’s Stella McCartney, a leader in sustainable luxury fashion and maker of gorgeous faux leather bags and dozens of other great products! As a lifelong vegetarian, Stella is devoted to ecological and ethical standards in her design and production. I’m absolutely in love with this bag of hers, as seen in the photo below!

These brands are really just the tip of the iceberg, which I happen to have the most firsthand experience with. But there are so many more! Even H&M, one of my go-tos for fast-fashion, is very vocal about sustainability, with a Sustainability Department and Conscious Clothing line devoted explicitly to this very concern.

Walking the Walk

Supporting sustainable and ethical clothing brands is a great first step to take, but another is shifting the way you approach fashion consumption. Being a conscious consumer, in my eyes, means changing shopping habits for the better.

So much clothes is wasted by everyday people in the Western world who don’t thoughtfully consider their clothing’s lifecycle. H&M aside, fast-fashion can be environmentally devastating when people shop and dump their clothes. According to Newsweek, “In less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans toss each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons, or an astounding 80 pounds per person.” This waste is terrible for the environment, contributing to more CO2 emissions.

I try to resell or donate almost everything I wear, and in order to ensure it’s not dumped, will do so regularly. I’ve outlined my tactics in another article for those who are interested in learning more. My best advice is to focus on quality over quantity, take care of your clothes, limit your sprees, and feel free to let your clothing pass on to new ownership before they get too beat. This way, they will get far more use and be less likely to end up in a landfill.

There’s so much more we can do, but these are two fairly simple ways to get started. I know my education on this matter has only just begun, but I hope to be helpful to others along the way!

Follow me on Instagram and check out my blog, HonestlyKate, for more honest fashion tips for the girl curating her own future!

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