How long did it take you to buy your last pair of pants?

By Lindsey, Sustainable Fashion Volunteer, posted 13/09/21

The curse (or not) of conscious consumerism

Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

Like it or not, however much we’re aware of our impact as consumers, it’s almost impossible to live life without occasionally buying something. While we should all now be aware of the fashion industry’s contribution to climate change, we do still need to wear (and therefore sometimes buy) clothes.

But knowing about the causes of climate change and being aware of our consumer power comes with great responsibility – when you need new pants/socks/trousers/shoes, how do you make the most ethical choice?

As consumers we have more choice than ever, and thanks to a growing awareness and responsibility among those in the fashion industry, there is an excellent range of sustainable options for almost any item you need.

But what is the most important thing to look for? Is it better to choose organic cotton, which has less of an environmental impact on the soil in which it’s grown or something that was made in an ethical factory that provides education and healthcare, as well as a fair living wage to all its employees? How about something printed and assembled in the UK, reducing the miles it travels between the factories where it gets its treatments? When combined with the other considerations of price, availability and personal preference, the choices can become overwhelming. Caring so much can soon seem like a curse, how do you make a choice?

Part of the reason that these choices are more complex now compared to twenty years ago is that very few fashion brands then were engaged with sustainability. The majority probably didn’t care about workers’ rights or the provenance of their materials and so, irrespective of your own concerns, you didn’t have a sustainable option and a therefore simpler choice. That such a growing number of brands have added ethical or sustainable ranges (if not their whole offering) is in part down to consumer pressure. It’s important that we continue to promote the brands that are making real progress in their efforts to produce clothing in a way that has a minimal environmental impact. Of course, it has to be recognised that there are still many fashion brands who don’t acknowledge the huge role their industry plays in climate change – your consumer voice (and your wallet) are the best tools you have to drive change. Shop with sustainable brands where you can, and where you can’t, use social media to tell other brands how they can improve. Fashion Revolution have lots of information on how to maximise the impact of your actions.

In answer to the question at the top of the page, the very fact that you’re spending time considering your purchasing options means that you’re likely to make a more sustainable choice. Whether you’re looking at a brand’s credentials, reading a clothing label or considering how you’ll use and care for the garment, you’re engaging with the reality of the fashion industry and the power your money can hold in encouraging brands to keep getting it right. You should feel good about whatever choice you then make.

Some tips for a sustainable purchase

  1. Do you need it? Do you already have something at home that would serve the same purpose? Remember – the most sustainable piece of clothing is one you already own.
  2. What’s your budget? There is nothing to be gained by spending amounts that are unaffordable to you, no matter how sustainable the item. A less pricey, and more sustainable alternative to buying new is to buy second hand. Charity shops, eBay, Depop and similar sites all have an amazing array of barely (and in some cases never) worn clothes.
  3. Find a reliable source of information on who in the fashion industry takes sustainability seriously. The Fashion Transparency Index might be a good place to start and you can find brands that align best with your values.
  4. Do your research on fabrics and find the ones that you’ll be able to care for in a way that easy for you. The better you care for clothing, the less frequently you’ll need to shop for more! SHRUB has a booklet that can help with this.
  5. You may need to accept that the “perfect” item (e.g. something that ticks all the sustainability boxes) might not be available to you, in which case just make the best choice you can find. After all, if you need some pants, buy some pants!

By now it’s recognised that remaining informed about and engaging with the climate crisis can cause anxiety for some people and as such, please be kind to yourself and try not to feel like you alone have to shoulder the weight of the world’s problems. If you are finding the topics discussed overwhelming, please talk to someone about it. SAMH can offer information and advice on dealing with anxiety.

SHRUB Coop is supported through a combination of grant funding and generous donations from our community. We’re grateful for all their support. Find out more about our grant funders by clicking on the logos above.