Creating Your Very Own Ethical Wardrobe

Intro to ethical fashion

Illustration: Frances Ives

Welcome to the Wardrobe section of A Better Place. We hope that this section provides you with the information and inspiration you need to create a functional, stylish, and positive-impact wardrobe that you can take true pleasure in every day.

Ethical fashion is about making thoughtful decisions to minimise the human and environmental impacts of clothing production. It’s about connecting consumers and producers on a human level, understanding how garments are produced, and knowing that the people who laboured to make them are treated fairly. It’s about a curating a wardrobe by selecting long-lasting and well-made garments. It’s about recycling and repurposing clothes, swapping with friends, and giving a new lease of life to old garments. It’s about buying less and choosing well, investing in your wardrobe in a way that has a positive investment on humanity and our world.

Ethical fashion is about making thoughtful decisions to minimise the human and environmental impacts of clothing production.

These days it is becoming easier to find ethical fashion to suit most budgets, but it is still true that you should always except to pay a little more for ethical items. Fair trade certified garments typically cost 5% more than their conventional equivalents, for example. Think of £30 or $50 as a good starting point for an ethically made shirt. So, while you do generally have to spend at least a little more, products that haven’t been made in sweatshop conditions should be of a higher quality, meaning that they last longer and require less frequent replacement. And with the average person only wearing around 20% of their wardrobes on a regular basis according to the Wall Street Journal, buying fewer items that cost more might actually save you money in the long-term.

Incorporating ethical fashion and accessories into your wardrobe does not happen overnight, and it does not happen by accident. It is a choice, a conscious decision to do good with your wardrobe. It takes a bit of homework to know what’s what, but that’s where we come in. The products we have selected for you right here on A Better Place have been carefully chosen to try to cater to all your different tastes and needs whilst also empowering the people who made them and minimising their impact on the environment. We have also broken down some of the main issues to be aware of when trying to create an ethical wardrobe, below, so that you can work out what works best for your priorities, lifestyle, and budget.

buying fewer items that cost more might actually save you money in the long-term.


ethical fashion, mens style, brogues

Issues to be aware of when you’re buying new clothes

1. People

The first thing that informs an ethical shopper’s decisions is a concern for the people who made their clothes. The majority of fast fashion garments are produced in sweatshops by workers at the very bottom of the supply chain, often children, labouring in deplorable conditions for abysmal pay that is below a realistic living wage. These are the people absorbing the cost of cheap fashion. If you ever need an antidote to the idea that “At least these people have jobs”, watch the powerful documentary True Cost, which details the extreme poverty that sweatshops perpetuate as well as the tragic deaths and crippling health issues that the fast fashion industry is responsible for. But don’t despair: there is a better way.

Look for fair trade certifications like Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade UK, FLO-Cert, or WFTO to ensure the workers are fairly compensated and work in healthy conditions. Fair trade provides an avenue for industry oversight, which is all but nonexistent in conventional factories. Most high street brands don’t even know where their garments are made because their supply chains are so convoluted, which probably means that they are simply buying from the cheapest suppliers on the market, using sweatshops to keep prices competitively low. By buying fair trade, you are directly supporting the people who laboured over every stitch and every seam.

If a product isn’t certified, look up the brand’s trading policies, ask an employee, or check their rating on a website like Ethical Consumer. Shopping from local artisans and small businesses where you can get to know the designers and manufacturers who crafted your new favourite handbag or pair of shoes can be another way to make sure that you know where your clothes have come from – and it’s also great to know that you are supporting local industry and small businesses.

2. The environment

Another issue to be aware of is the environmental impact of our clothes, although in reality the environmental and human elements of fashion cannot really be separated. The World Health Organisation, for example, believes that around 20,000 farmers in developing countries die a year as a result of agricultural pesticides used in cotton farming.

A good place to start is by looking at the textile content of an item of clothing. Conventional cotton is doused in pesticides, hurting both farm workers and the environment. Certified organic cotton is a good alternative, and there are plenty of other natural fibres on the market. Hemp and linen are both crossovers from the kitchen – derived from hemp and flax plants – and require far less pesticide than cotton. Lyocell and rayon, both made from wood pulp, are recyclable and biodegradable. Making sure that your plastic bottles make it in the recycling bin means that they might just show up again in a recycled polyester fabric lining a handbag.

3. Animals

For the vegans amongst us (or even just those who want to make sure they don’t accidentally support inhumane farming or animal cruelty) materials such as leather, fur, silk, wool, cashmere, angora, mohair, shearling, and the like can be replaced with organic plant-based fibres in clothing, and eco-friendly synthetics in shoes and handbags. We’ve included a selection of vegan-friendly accessories in our Accessories section.

ethical fashion, vintage dress, 1950s ballgown

New isn’t always better

Over the past few decades our appetite for cheap, swiftly produced fashion has been spiralling out of control. An alarming fact revealed in Lucy Siegle’s book, To Die For, is that each person on an annual basis in the UK consumes around 20 kilos of brand new clothes, and almost the same quantity is dumped. According to a study into the rates of supply and demand by in 2008 quoted in Siegle’s book, we now consume roughly four times the number of clothes that we did in 1980.

Make do and mend

Making more careful decisions about what to buy, and taking the time and attention to care for our clothes and repair them when they get damaged could not only save us money, but it would also have a hugely positive impact on the environment.

Think creatively, and remember that you can take clothes to a tailor to get them altered if they don’t fit you quite right or you’d like to change something about them; this is a great way to give your clothes a new lease of life.

Buy vintage, and donate, sell, or recycle your unwanted clothes

Something else we can do to slow down textiles production and avoid so much waste is to shop vintage. It can also be a fun and more affordable way of ethical shopping, when you feel like buying new from ethical brands is too expensive for your budget. Explore your local vintage and consignment stores or websites like ThredUp, Bib + Tuck, and Vinted, and use these websites to upcycle your own unwanted clothes that you think you can sell.

You can also host clothes swapping parties with friends – you never know, clothes that they no longer want might just become your favourite new outfit. And of course you can always donate your old or unwanted clothes to your local charity shop, and if they are in bad repair and can’t be fixed up, don’t forget that most textiles can go in the recycling, too.

Creating an ethical wardrobe doesn’t have to be a chore. If you slow down and appreciate where your garments come from, and make conscious decisions to do good with every purchase, you will find that in the long run you are taking more pleasure in a carefully curated wardrobe, as well as saving yourself time and money in the future by choosing to buy only good-quality items with a long life that you really love and need. And we’ll be right here with you, sharing the experience so that we can encourage and inspire each other along the way.

Author: Sarah Glendon

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