Are Clothes Sustainable?

8 Steps to Ethical Sustainable Fashion GuideDownload the Free Guide to Ethical & Sustainable Fashion

Frankly we could solve one of the world’s most polluting problems if we all went naked.

It’s that simple. But you’re not going to show up at a board meeting or dinner party naked.

…So what do you do?

Our clothing is killing the planet but aligning our priorities with our wardrobe can feel daunting.

Conscious shopping doesn’t need to be overwhelming, or require yet another Ph.D’s worth of research. With a little effort, and unadulterated facts, you can shop with ease and feel good about it.

If you are looking for a magic solution, the only option is to become a nudist. But, if you are like the rest of us, in the other camp, we can do better, far better.

Below is an 8-Step path to ethical and sustainable shopping.

This could just as easily be called a dating guide:
You are looking for a long-term mate not a one night stand.
And, you’re looking for more than good looks; good character too.
Your heart melts when you find out he stops to help old ladies cross the street.

The 8-Steps of Ethical & Sustainable Fashion Shopping

Don't buy this jacket

1. Don’t buy it.

Do you really need it?
I admit, that’s probably not great dating advice, but with clothing it’s everything.

Ask yourself:
Am I in need of a piece of clothing to cover my body in a way that nothing else I have will do?

Am I in need of a piece of clothing that sends an important message to others (employers, clients, friends, lovers, etc) in a way that nothing else I own can?

If the answer is ‘no’ to these, then let yourself forget about it.
Take a walk on the beach. Enoy life. Do something that feels good.

Just like finding a partner, it might be love at first sight, but clearing one’s head is highly recommended before signing a marriage contract.

Later, if you find yourself getting dressed and that perfect item pops up, like it would be ‘just the thing’ and nothing else in your closet will do; then, go to the next step.

dress rack

2. Know what you need.

Knowing what you need before you start shopping is the best way to walk out with what you need and not a guilt trip. Acknowledging traits you are looking for in a partner will save you years of heartache and disappointment, don’t you agree?

Child labor-cotton-uzbekistan

3. Know your deal-breakers.

He may be great, but he smokes. Just can’t do it?

What matters to you?

Is it oceans? Is it forests? Is it wildlife? Modern day slavery? Poverty? All of the above?!

This free guide really dives into these issues and helps you identify the lowest-impact choice for your priorities.

We went through this process with food: first it was: ‘Oh, I’m only buying organic milk’.
Later, it became ‘I don’t want factory-farmed ‘organic’ milk, I want grass-fed organic milk’.
And most recently ‘I prefer pastured A2 organic Jersey cow milk’.

If there ever was a motivating factor to become a nudist, it is learning about the depressing issues we face in this industry. But, the cost of not knowing is filling up our landfills and oceans. There is an urgency to become a conscious consumer. You can read my adventures of frustratingly going braless for a good laugh.

Read the guide and after getting some perspective on the issues and your position on them, you’ll find the rest of these tips almost fall into place naturally. Now, you’re ready to go on some dates.


4. Don’t Buy into it.

Do a little research. While you were trying it out, capture the brand name for this step.

It may feel like a ‘yes’ but you want to be sure, so check things out.

This is like meeting the parents. Everyone wants to put on a good appearance, but you need to figure out if it’s really good or it’s hype. If you want to get super savvy with this, my blog/newsletter navigates through this tough terrain.

With your deal-breakers in mind, look at the labels. If you care about the oceans for example, you’ll look to see they don’t use synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon, etc).

You might wonder ‘Why look up the brand when I can just look at the garment label and it tells me?’ True, but we’re really going to get the best return for our investment of time and money if we look for a life partner, not a one-night stand. You’ll have better peace of mind, more time and less ‘looking through the classifieds’. When you find a good partner, one who really meets your dreams in so many ways, stick with it.

Your partner is not the garment, it’s the brand. If you find a good brand that makes you feel beautiful and makes the world a better place, why would you go anywhere else?

Research: Does the brand walk the talk of your issue? Are they trustworthy? If they have a sustainability page that says they are cruelty-free but you spot conventional silk in their collection, you know there is incongruity between what they say and what they do.

If they glorify their sustainability policy but you see polyester in their collection, you know there’s something not right here. It might not be a ‘no’, but a ‘let’s ask more questions’. You can call or email the company.

After getting clear about your deal breakers, with a little research, it’s easy to spot whether this match is marriage-worthy or not.

shutterstock-287424425-water pollution

5. Identify the true cost.

Is the price too high? or Too low? I’m not talking about your wallet.

The cost of the garment when priced very high could indicate:

  • It is paying living wages to the people who sewed it, wove it into fabric, and/or grew it in the fields.
  • There could also be some special material or technique that is rare or time-consuming.
  • It could also mean that the brand is not in alignment with your values and they put their money behind advertising rather than the product.

Red flags go up for me when I see high ticket items being made in china or vietnam…and worse is when it’s polyester to boot. I can’t help but call this a scam.

And if the price is low, you might think: ‘What could be the harm in that? That’s called a deal.’ There is a reason why our ancestors darned socks. Material is precious and expensive but the industry today makes it artificially low.

When you see something priced too low (aside from the sales rack), it indicates that somewhere someone is trying to make a shortcut and while you the customer aren’t paying for it with your wallet today, the people, and planet, and you too, in an unseen way, are paying for that.

Watch this heartbreaking documentary to go deeper on this subject.

I encourage you to learn what it really takes to make a high quality garment with values. Paying double now for something with triple the lifespan is clearly a better investment.
To illustrate this, read my defense of the $500 boots I could not afford in college.

The apparel industry typically outsources for two reasons

  1. Avoid regulations
  2. Cut labor cost.

This has made the industry a closed kitchen operation. The restaurant may have a fancy facade, but have you seen the kitchen? Meaning, go and meet the person who makes the clothes.

Local manufacturing is going to appear costlier. But most local artisan brands are underselling their work because they are afraid the market can’t bear the true cost.

All the more reason, when you find a brand that aligns with you, to support them because by doing so you change the tides for the whole industry about where the priorities should be.

(I’m not sure how this all relates to dating but flow with me here….)


6. Know the terms.

Knowing the hidden expectations of our partner saves a lot of time.

It’s either a ‘Yes I can do that’, or ‘Nope, see ya!’

Does it need dry cleaning? Ironing?

Can I give it the care it needs to live a long life or is it too high-maintenance for me and going to sit in the back of the closet?

Many dry-clean garments can also be hand washed. It does take some discerning skills to know when and where to apply this, so be wise.

80's workout

7. Identify the lifespan.

Is this match going to stick with you ’till the end?

There are four reasons for an untimely separation:

  1. It wasn’t built to last. Poor quality construction or material or design.
    Distressed Jeans are an example of this category.
  2. It wasn’t cared for well. Most of us have experiences a shrunken sweater or two.
  3. It was our favorite but an accident happened. This is where repairs step in. Fashion forward brands are building repair services into the business. It shows that they are more invested in building quality (but not always -a popular outdoor brand who does repairs had a reputation for durability that has been decreasing over the years). Another option would be local alterations & repair services.
  4. It is highly stylized. Cool today, not tomorrow. Unless you have identified your personal style (an expression of your personality, not a trend) and this item matches it, then this kind of garment is sadly headed for untimely death.

8. Savor It

If, after all of that, you’re still smitten, then buy it, and enjoy it to the maximum and don’t look back.

When I say enjoy it I mean exactly that. Like fine dining:

The portion may look small and insignificant but if you savor every bite the satisfaction is worth a hundred plates of mediocre.


*** Bonus:

Shopping is way more fun with a friend.

Grab your like-minded shopping buddy and help each other find ‘the one’.

Bounce ideas and questions off each other, ‘meet the parents‘ together, and last but not least, get their honest opinion to the question ‘Is this me?’

Some friends know us better than we know ourselves!

So, in case you missed it at the beginning here’s the bottom line: There is no perfect answer. There is better but not perfect. Have peace of mind that you did your best with what was available to you and sleep peacefully knowing that you too are helping to move things in a better direction.

Thank you for caring so much!

I invite you to…

    • Share this guide with your friends who could also want to make conscious fashion choices for a beautiful and benevolent world.
    • Subscribe to the monthly Industry Insider newsletter to help you sort through the hype and refine your shopping skills. Sign up at the top of this page or click here.
    • Check out the shop. See if we might go steady or you know someone else who may be a perfect match.
    • Say hi, ask a question, give some feedback [email protected]
    • Take this survey about what you want and need.
    • Who is this lady anyway? Read about me here.