Skip to main content

This article may contain affiliate links. If you purchase via the links provided, I may earn a small commission (this is at no cost to you!).
Read more.

A few years ago, I found myself in a strange conundrum. I regularly felt pressured into buying more clothes I didn’t need, yet as I stood in front of my bulging wardrobe, the ironic truth was that I still found myself silently despairing…

‘But I don’t have ANYTHING to wear!’

Underneath this, I also felt vaguely uneasy about our disposable attitude towards fashion. How could Primark make any kind of profit? And besides, where did all this cheap stuff go once replaced with next season’s trends?!

If any of this sounds even remotely relatable, then I’m here to tell you that I’ve been there (and quite literally got the t-shirt). But what if I told you that by opting out of a fast fashion culture, you could:

  • Save time and money
  • Reduce decision fatigue
  • Minimise environmental impact
  • Support fair labour practices
  • Boost your self-confidence

In this article, we’ll explore how to start your own journey towards a more conscious and compassionate wardrobe – one that sits in harmony with your values and personal style. 💚

First Things First: What’s Wrong With Fast Fashion?

It helps to have an awareness of what the problems are in the first place. Because sadly, most of us are blissfully ignorant. In fact, I worked for a decade in the fashion industry without stopping to consider any of these things!

The temptation of trendy, affordable clothing promoted by fast fashion brands is hard to resist. But behind the bargain-basement prices and daily dropping of styles is a darker reality that impacts people, the environment, and animals.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the major issues surrounding fast fashion, and how something as seemingly innocuous as our shopping habits can contribute to serious problems in our world. I’ve also written on the topic more in-depth here.

#1 People: Exploitation in the garment industry 👤

At the heart of fast fashion is a system that thrives on low production costs, often achieved through exploitative labour practices. Workers in developing countries, where many fast fashion garments are produced, are often subjected to dangerous working conditions, minimal wages, and long hours.

A tragic result of the dire conditions faced by many in the clothing industry can be witnessed in the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013. This catastrophic event saw the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, killing over 1,100 workers and injuring thousands more. The incident exposed the harsh reality of the working conditions in many factories producing clothing for large fast fashion brands.

#2 Environment: Production processes & textile waste 🌍

Fast fashion’s focus on rapidly changing trends encourages consumers to constantly purchase new items, resulting in a staggering amount of textile waste. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that a staggering 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfill in 2018 alone (less than 15% of which could be recycled).

The production process itself also has a heavy impact on the environment. Textile manufacturing uses significant amounts of water, energy, and harmful chemicals that can pollute local ecosystems and impact the health of garment workers.

#3 Animals: Fashion’s hidden victims 🐰

Animals rarely get much air-time in the world of fashion – but they are the silent victims that typically end up in the very fabric of our clothing.

Animal-derived materials, such as leather, fur, and wool, are often obtained through cruel practices that cause immense suffering. For a deeper dive into the issue of animals used in fashion, be sure to check out my article on the problem with animals used in fashion:

Avoid online shopping and try these fulfilling activities today

Let’s Get Personal: Why It’s Hard To Change Your Shopping Habits

It’s all well and good talking about the problems with the fast fashion industry. I think most of us have an awareness that fast fashion prices are too good to be true… But that doesn’t stop us from continuing to purchase from these stores.

Here are the biggest challenges I found when tackling my own toxic wardrobe habits, plus how to overcome them:

#1 Fast fashion is manipulative & addictive 😵‍💫

When you’ve grown up in a society that tells you that you can’t wear an outfit to more than one occasion, it’s normal to shop for clothes every weekend, and that retail therapy will cure all your woes… Well, needless to say, we’ve got a few things to unpack!

Marketing messages bombard you 24/7, ‘retail therapy’ is normalised in our social spaces and free time, and the journey our clothes undertake is completely hidden from view. As such, it’s not quite as simple as just learning about the problems with fast fashion. There is often some genuine inner work to do first to disentangle yourself from the addictive nature of shopping.

In my own experience, it was a short-term dopamine hit that gave me a temporary high. Moving to healthier, lower dopamine ways of finding fulfilment is possible, but it does require a concerted effort to change.

#2 You’ve internalised unhealthy messages 💬

Fashion's dark shadow

When I delved further beneath the surface, what I found is that shopping boosted my sense of validation and self-worth. I was subconsciously asking questions like ‘Am I attractive?’, ‘Would a guy want to sleep with me?’ or, at a fundamental level, ‘Am I enough?’

Fashion can be a creative and liberating outlet, but on the shadow side, it can also be fuelled by all sorts of limiting beliefs. Which, when compounded with its addictive nature, can quickly become unhealthy (despite feeling light and frivolous on the surface).

So, if you have your own issues with compulsive shopping, I’d encourage you to question what’s going on at a deeper level. When you uncover your own toxic patterns, it will empower you to break free from harmful habits, enabling you to make better choices for yourself and others.

#3 Ethical fashion is confusing 🤔

Unfortunately, brands often use clever marketing tactics to appear more sustainable than they truly are. This practice, known as ‘greenwashing’, involves using vague or misleading language to disguise a brand’s actual impact on people, the environment, and animals.

To identify ethical brands that walk the walk and don’t just talk the talk, look out for:

  • Transparent information about factories
  • Use of sustainable materials
  • Efforts to reduce emissions
  • Waste management practices
  • A clear animal welfare policy
  • Third-party credentials like B-Corp, Fair Wear, WRAP, etc
  • Published impact reports

Be wary of brands that rely on buzzwords without providing evidence of their commitment to ethics and sustainability. When you’re unsure about a brand’s practices or want to explore more sustainable options, Good On You provides ratings on thousands of fashion brands. There’s also nothing stopping you from contacting brands directly for further clarification.

#4 Ethical shopping requires more effort 💪

McDonalds Big Mac and fries

I will be straight with you. Building an ethical wardrobe involves researching brands, scrutinising their production practices, and carefully considering each purchase. Unlike the readily available options on the high street, it often involves supporting smaller, independent brands that operate primarily online, which means you can’t try things on as easily.

Put it this way: fast fashion is like fast food. It’s choosing McDonalds over a healthy home-cooked meal. McDonalds is quick, convenient and instantly gratifying. But long-term, we all know it’s doing our health no favours.

The good news is, just like it took me ages to get to grips with reading food labels on my first vegan grocery shop, shopping for your ethical wardrobe gets easier with practice. Before long, you will have a list of go-to brands that you know, love and trust.

#5 Ethical fashion is more expensive 💷

We’ve all been trained to sniff out a bargain. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle to part with your hard-earned cash for ANYTHING that doesn’t have a red pen slash through it.

Speaking from experience, when compared to the ridiculous prices of fast fashion, ethical alternatives can appear… daunting.

However, it’s important to remember that these higher price tags often reflect the true cost of producing garments in a responsible and sustainable manner. Factors such as fair wages for workers, investment in environmentally friendly materials, and commitment to ethical production practices contribute to increased costs.

Plus, while it may be more expensive upfront, investing in well-made, sustainable pieces can save money in the long run, as they’re designed to last. This means that the cost-per-wear over a lifetime may be significantly cheaper, despite appearing more expensive up-front.

#6 What difference can one person make? 🤷‍♀️

Can one person make a difference?

As consumers we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy.

Emma Watson

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless when contemplating the impact of our individual shopping choices on the vast scale of the fashion industry. You may believe that your actions are just a drop in the ocean, making it challenging to maintain motivation and commitment.

But each conscious decision to support ethical brands contributes to the growing demand for sustainability and responsibility in the industry. As more and more of us shift our spending towards ethical alternatives, the collective impact of these choices becomes a powerful driving force for change.

As with any path less travelled, you’ll likely encounter challenges along the way. However, standing up for your beliefs can inspire others to follow in your footsteps and pave the way for change.

7 Steps To Embrace Ethical & Sustainable Fashion

Now that we’ve addressed some of the major challenges, let’s take a look at how you can begin to build a new philosophy when shopping for clothes:

#1 Know your triggers 💭

The first step towards building an ethical and sustainable wardrobe is to stop buying crap you don’t need. To do this, you need to raise your level of awareness when it comes to your shopping habits:

  • What do you consistently spend your money on?
  • Which brands/types of clothes are your kryptonite? (For me, it was coats!)
  • What is it that tempts you to purchase? Emails? Flash sales?
  • How does shopping make you feel?
  • What are the underlying feelings you’re trying to avoid?

To understand my own triggers and get a handle on my emotional impulses, I didn’t buy any new clothes for a year. I know that abstinence doesn’t sound all that sexy, but if you’re anything like me, you probably have a whole wardrobe you’ve barely ever worn, so it’s hardly like you need any more clothes. You just want them because they’re being sold to you as the solution to all of your problems.

Newsflash: They’re not.

When you take a break from shopping, you start to realise that your clothes don’t define you. Not only is there less pressure on a personal level to feel like you’re constantly having to keep up with the Joneses – it lightens the pressure you’re putting on the planet, too.

#2 Increase friction 🚫

Online

Introducing friction into your shopping habits can be a helpful strategy when transitioning to more ethical and sustainable consumption. By making it more difficult for yourself to shop impulsively, you can avoid falling into the fast fashion trap.

Unsubscribing from promotional emails and newsletters from your favourite brands can reduce temptation and limit your exposure to persuasive marketing messages. I honestly believe that in my own case, this was more than half the battle. Plus, make sure to avoid physical stores by switching up how you spend your free time!

#3 Create a capsule wardrobe 👖

Next up, building a minimalist capsule wardrobe will naturally train you to shop more ethically and sustainably, as well as provide personal benefits like reduced decision fatigue and, ironically, more options to choose from. This approach focuses on versatility – curating a limited number of high-quality pieces that can be easily mixed and matched.

By focusing on timeless, well-made items, you invest in garments that last longer and reduce the need for frequent shopping. You also start to develop more of a relationship with your clothes – following care instructions, and upcycling or mending when necessary.

Begin by decluttering your current wardrobe and identifying your personal style. I’d suggest selecting a neutral colour palette which is peppered with accent pieces. Invest in essentials that can be dressed up or down, and accessorise to personalise your look.

If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve done all the hard work for you! You can get started by downloading my ultimate 35-piece capsule wardrobe checklist below.

#4 Opt for sustainable, animal-friendly fabrics 🧵

It’s easy to overlook the materials our clothes are made from and their impact on the environment and animals.

‘Ahh, as long as it looks cute, who cares?!’

The thing is, some materials, like virgin polyester and nylon, are derived from petroleum and contribute to pollution and resource depletion. On the other hand, animal-derived materials such as leather and wool raise ethical concerns about animal welfare.

To make more compassionate choices, look for sustainable and animal-friendly fabrics like organic cotton, linen, Tencel, hemp, and recycled materials. These textiles have a lower environmental footprint and do not involve animal exploitation.

And, if you’re seeking leather alternatives, consider kinder options like cork, Piñatex, and other innovative new fruit leathers, which provide a stylish and eco-conscious choice (hint: you can’t even tell the difference these days!).

#5 Shop with ethical brands 🛍️

It goes without saying that the most sustainable piece of clothing is the one that’s already in your wardrobe! Remember that shopping shouldn’t be your default position – you can also rent, borrow, or buy secondhand where possible.

However, it’s unrealistic to think we’ll never need to shop for anything ever again. It’s also a great opportunity to spend our money with brands that have a conscience and are doing their bit to make the world a better place. In this way, you advocate for the kind of world you want to live in.

So an obvious component of ethical shopping, but one which can’t be overstated, is to get pickier about the brands you shop with!

As I mentioned earlier, you can use an app like Good On You to quickly rate brands on their credentials. Alternatively, you can also check out my comprehensive guides, which will introduce you to loads of lovely new brands that are worthy of your support:

#6 Take it slow 🐢

Slow and steady wins the race

When beginning to shop more consciously, I know how tempting it is to throw out EVERYTHING you own and start from scratch. But transitioning to a more conscious wardrobe doesn’t mean you have to discard everything you own all at once!

For example, when I first went vegan, I was at a complete loss with what to do with all my old leather and wool items. I’ve written more on the subject here, but suffice it to say that the most ethical option where possible is usually to wear out what you already have before bringing yet more new things into the world.

Introduce new items into your wardrobe as old ones wear out, and take your time to make sure that you’re investing in staple, quality pieces that you love and will stand the test of time.

Like all the best things in life, there’s enjoyment to be had in the process, so try to be patient and enjoy the journey of curating your ethical and sustainable wardrobe. When done right, this will be a process that happens over years, not days or weeks, so strap in for the long haul!

#7 Find enjoyment in the process 🥳

Last but not least, remember that everything is a heck of a lot easier when you’re enjoying the process. As Ali Abdaal discusses in his book Feel Good Productivity, the traditional discipline-centric approach to getting things done often isn’t sustainable.

If you genuinely want to quit fast fashion and embrace a slow-fashion lifestyle, then it’s particularly helpful to think about the kind of language you’re using.

When you approach things from a place of lack, or as though you’re missing out, then these are likely the emotions you’ll experience when you can’t engage in your old fast fashion habits.

However, if you approach the process with an open-minded attitude and can find enjoyment in organising and planning out your capsule wardrobe, then you’re far more likely to stick with these changes long-term.

10 wardrobe rules to live by

Making Your Mark in Ethical & Sustainable Fashion

I hope that this post has given you a solid foundation in ethical and sustainable fashion. I know that there’s a lot to digest, but making conscious choices doesn’t have to be overwhelming when you break it down into manageable chunks.

As consumers, we hold the power to influence the world through our everyday decisions. Each choice we make creates a ripple effect that can lead to significant change. By embracing kinder choices, we’re contributing to a better future for our planet and the people and animals who inhabit it.

Start by making small changes in your wardrobe and shopping habits, and encourage others to do the same.

If you have any thoughts, questions or comments, then let me know in the comments below!

Pin This for Later

Leave a Reply