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The Guide to Becoming a More Ethical Consumer — Part 1: Shopping

The Guide to Becoming a More Ethical Consumer — Part 1: Shopping

When it comes to being ethically conscious, our minds are often crowded with a large number of images, unchecked facts and ideas that lead us to a general sense of discomfort and, for the most part, inadequacy.

Concepts such as climate change, footprint, organic materials, slow fashion, becoming a vegetarian, finding out what tofu really is, and why we should eat so many seeds, ultimately send us spiraling into awkwardness.

In a world populated by 7 billion humans (and counting), and as populations and their demands increase, the idea of continuous growth must give way to a more conscious use of the environment, but this can only be brought about by a dramatic change in the attitude of the human race.

It is not just the matter of the ice cap melting and its huge impact on polar bears (but seriously, who doesn’t want to save polar bears?), it is also about choosing a side: are we rooting for a better world for us and our children, or for the other, dreadful scenario?

When the chips are down, are we really willing to do nothing at all, or are we brave enough to take a stand, albeit in a small way?

Personally, I choose the latter, because the alternative is hard to fathom.

But where should one start?

There is one thing that all of us do, at least once a day, every single day: we buy something. Whether it’s a piece of clothing, some food or an object that we don’t really need, we purchase on an ongoing basis, mostly never considering what are we spending our money on. What we buy, we vote for in life. It really is that simple.

Shopping ethically means considering mainly five things: Human & Animal Rights, carbon footprint, profit to the artisan, locally sourced materials and impact on the environment.

You may think that there are no options out there that align with your values, and yet it’s not all doom and gloom: if you educate yourself on notions like sustainable wardrobe and fair trade you might play your part in saving those polar bears after all.

Chapter 1: SHOPPING

Fashion is the mirror of history - King Louis XIV of France

Clothes! We all love clothes, right?

There’s nothing better or more deeply satisfying than being able to finally buy that garment we coveted for months.

Likewise, we all loooove buying tons of t-shirts, skirts, dresses, jeans that we don’t actually need simply because they are cheap or for the reason that we are trying to keep up with the latest trend we saw in a magazine.

Every day, before we head out from our homes, we perform the old ritual of getting dressed, undertaking the somewhat silly task of conforming to what’s in season.

We couldn’t possibly wear that shirt and pants from last month… dark salmon and saddle brown are so-not-trendy this week, amirite?

However, did you know that fashion is the second most polluting industry? Or that synthetic clothes take decades to decompose?

Are you aware that, more often than you can imagine, the fashion industry is responsible for workers exploitation and child labor?

All this should come as no surprise but let’s admit it: in a fast-paced world we cannot be bothered with label reading, so we buy in bulk and never deeply consider the consequences of our actions.

Faster growth and higher living standards are the presupposed benefits of globalization, but it is rather acknowledged that these betterments are very unequally distributed around the globe.

Clothing items, exactly like produce, are being sold like disposable goods, fueling the machine of consumption as never before.

In order to manufacture billions of clothes in the fastest way possible, the fashion industry is using a growing number of natural resources, depleting fossil fuels to produce textiles, drying water reserves to grow cotton and endangering extremely fragile ecosystems.

It is utterly important to realise that our collective choices are what could make or break our beloved planet Earth.

This is where the notion of sustainable wardrobe comes to our aid: it is possible to manufacture, sell and buy garments created with consideration to their environmental and social impact.

The Slow Fashion Movement intends to oppose fast fashion, pointing out its polluting behaviour, shabby workmanship and gratuitous consumerism.

Take a hard look at your closet: do you absolutely need everything in there? How many items have you worn in the past 6 months?

What about that pink faux fur… Now that you really think about it, was it really a wise purchase?

And that pile of cheap t-shirts? I bet half of them came out of the washing machine completely ruined.

So, what should one do? Don’t sink into despair: it’s just a matter of picking up some new habits and accepting the fact that less really is more.

Here are 6 simple tips to help you achieve a more sustainable wardrobe.

1. Shop less

Yes, you heard me.

We spend our hard-earned money on nonessential articles instead of focusing on what we actually need. In point of fact our wardrobes are full. Some of them may explode.

Do we honestly need to purchase another pair of jeans, come hell or high water, when we already have a dozen pair of them?

To be completely honest, this is not your fault. The Fast Fashion movement would have us believe that we need to incessantly update our wardrobe in order to stay on trend and never miss on the constant release of new products.

New collections shine through shop windows too many times a year, while until recently there were only two of them, Spring-Summer, & Autumn-Winter. Now we have early spring, summer, late summer, sale early autumn', autumn, late autumn, early winter, winter, late winter, sale - yikes!

Instead of buying versatile clothing that can be worn all year round, we are pressured to purchase whatever is new on the market, but guess what? That up-to-the-minute item is not going to be so fashionable next year.

Stop the madness and make your credit card AND the planet smile. 

2. Spend more (if you can)

“But I thought you said I should shop less!”

Yes, and I definitely meant that.

However, although purchasing quality clothing may demand a bigger financial investment, it will save you time and money on the long run.

What’s the point of buying dozens of £5 tees if you have to throw them away after their second wash?

Poorly made clothing doesn’t last and invariably ends in the garbage dump, where it takes years to decompose.

It has become quite clear to me that spending more on clothes that respect the environment, the artisan who made them and are of the highest quality possible is the safer, smarter bet.

Besides, who doesn’t love a beautiful, unique, maybe ethnic garment handmade by a craftsman? 

3. Buy organic, not Polyester

Choosing natural fibers such as organic cotton, tencel, bamboo and hemp is an efficient way to lighten our carbon footprint.

Cotton crops consume immeasurable water resources and the textile industry uses pesticides and herbicides to grow them.

On the other hand, synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon and so on, undergo extensive chemical processing and are treated with acetone, caustic soda and sulphuric acid (just to mention but a few) to survive regular washing and frequent wearing.

Research shows that a very high percentage of the microfibers rinsed off of our clothes in the washing machine, stream directly into the oceans, massively contributing to their growing pollution.

When a clothing manufacturer does not state what a product is made of (or it just says silky...), then it is most likely polyester.

As you wouldn’t eat something farmed with chemicals that could cause you to get sick, you shouldn’t wear items that may cause cancer and pollute the environment in the process of being made.

Buying and wearing organic clothes will make your life healthier. Give it a try.

4. Buy classic designs

As I already stressed before, we don’t need our closets to occupy more room than an oil tanker.

In the same regard, it’s not necessary to follow every trend thrown at us by fashion companies and magazines: we are perfectly capable of defining our personal style on our own, thank you!

Classic, timeless, basic pieces are everything we need to build a phenomenal wardrobe that will be wearable and fashionable 10 years from now.

Pieces that never go out of style are unquestionably the easier to match in endless combinations and will help you switch from formal to casual in a heartbeat.

Invest in some beautiful blouses, a tailored blazer, a good pair of jeans, a little black dress, some good quality white tops, a nice scarf, a beautiful kimono and some good kaftans … all these items have unmatched versatility.

Foundation pieces are your best friends, especially when you want to add some trendier, cheaper items.

5. Mending and alteration

Oh no! Your favourite shirt is now too big for you, thanks to all that better eating... Well, don’t toss it aside and by all means don’t throw it away! Consider having a tailor alter it for you instead.

The same goes for broken zippers, tiny holes in your socks, lost buttons: learn to mend your clothes and save money in the process.

There are tons of DIY videos and blog posts on how to turn a t-shirt into a dress, a scarf into a bag and so on. Don’t be lazy.

If you were to find yourself terribly scared of needles, just go back to point 5 >> Well-made clothes will not require mending.

6. Never buy fur, feathers or anything from (or tested on) an animal.

Sadly, our furry friends get such a raw deal in the world of fashion as well as meat. Animals skinned alive to protect the fur & ££, ducks and geese being plucked alive for feather down jackets, duvets & pillows, rabbits for angora, and did you know silk worms were boiled alive for silk? Unless you find ethical silk which is a much longer process and therefore more expensive. All this cruelty for something decorative? Really? Sadly yes.

Wool is another industry that is revealing a cruel and nasty process, based on time being money – when we speed things up to meet demand, the animal inevitably suffers.

We are not living in the dark ages anymore. Lets educate ourselves, ask questions, face the reality, and if we don’t like what we see, as tempting or as cute as that furry ‘whatever’ may be, say no. Don’t vote for it with your money.

It really is that simple. Animal friendly alternatives are out there. Lets seek them out, and support kindness over cruelty. 

Bonus track! Recycle your clothes

Discarding old clothes is a waste, even when they are too damaged to be repaired.

For instance, you could use them as cleaning rags and never buy them new.

Secondly, don’t dispose of textiles in the garbage because they can be recycled exactly like plastic and glass, regardless of their condition.

Old clothes buried in landfills can contaminate groundwater and never end their polluting cycle.

Charities and nonprofit organizations collect garments and textiles providing work in the recycling field: you can easily find the nearest one with a quick internet search.

Buy some second-hand

It is manifest that the most eco-friendly piece of clothing is the one that already exists.

Whether you are a vintage-freak or simply a beginner in the green movement, this is the most fun and easy way to start.

You can check out thrift stores, flea-markets, consignment stores, even Ebay! Lower price point for you, less pollution for Mother Nature.

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