So, you’ve decided to ditch fast fashion. How did you get there? Perhaps you’ve watched The True Cost. Or you’ve read about the shitty effects fast fashion has on our planet. The unethical treatment of female workers by brands like Zara and Primark scares you, so you desperately want to do something.
Thoughts of throwing away all my existing clothes and starting fresh have definitely crossed my mind, but let me tell you – it’s a mistake! That’s why I’ve decided to compile a list of the top 10 ethical fashion mistakes to avoid when you decide to ditch fast fashion for good.
So here it is:
1. Getting rid of all of your fast fashion clothes (or even your whole closet!)
When I first learned about the truly scary effects that fast fashion has on our planet (collapsing buildings with people buried underneath, toxic rivers, deforestation etc.), I desperately wanted to make a change. Brands that were mentioned in movies such as ‘The True Cost’ were some of my favourite ‘affordable’ places to shop : Zara, Mango, Primark. It turned out they were not only bad, they knew what they were doing and just kept on.
So when I checked my wardrobe, I realised almost everything I owned came from fast fashion brands. At that moment, I wanted to get rid of everything I owned. It just seemed reckless to support places that condoned poor ethical practices or didn’t give a crap about our planet.
But trust me, that’s a mistake. Because what you’ve done cannot be undone. You’ve bought these clothes, period. Throwing them away doesn’t eliminate the problem, it adds to another one: excessive waste from too much clothing. So instead of throwing or even donating the items I already owned, the best thing to do was to keep them and wear them. Or at least, to try to re-sell them to someone who will wear them with pleasure, and get some money back to invest in better clothes.
So keep the clothes you already own, and try to counter-act the effects of fast fashion by wearing each item 30 times. Not consecutively, of course! Also, use the hashtag ’30 wears’ to see how other fashionistas are wearing the same item time and time again.
2. Thinking that you need to spend a fortune on ethical clothes
That’s a popular myth that many people fall into. Yes, there are designers such as Stella McCartney and Tom Ford who employ sustainable practices in their business. That’s great and all, but most of us cannot casually drop £600 on a pair of trousers, right?
However, it is true that sustainable and ethical clothing brands are more expensive. That’s because they use better fabrics, pay their workers a living wage, produce smaller quantities which raises the price, and many other factors which contribute to the higher total costs. But some of it is the ‘I’m better than you’ marketing, though. If you want to do good, you don’t always have to pay premium price. Beyond Retro Label is a company that uses scrap fabric and vintage pieces to create new, on-trend items which cost a fraction of designers’ items. Just look at this cute circle bag!
And don’t forget, the most sustainable and ethical way to shop is by not using any new resources. Swap or buy second-hand, and check my post for more ideas on how to make your closet more sustainable on a budget!
3. Trying to do everything and failing
I recently read this great book – The One Thing – which basically says we suck at dividing our attention. In order to be successful at something, we need to focus on it, and only it. I honestly think it applies so much to when you decide to shop ethically. You can’t do everything. I would personally love for all materials to be organic, dyed with non-toxic dyes, produced by happy ladies paid a fair wage in a completely safe building. Oh and yes, I also want to be able to shop these clothes locally, at a low price.
If it seems like too much to ask, it is! It would be great if we could focus on improving everything at once, but we can’t. What we can do, though, is focus on one thing! Pick your battle, and focus on it. If you don’t want to support the leather industry, buy vegan or second-hand leather. If you want to keep the prices low and reduce waste, thrift or buy pre-loved. Want organic and less toxic products? Then prepare to hunt for these items and pay a higher price.
We can’t do it all at once, and if you try, you’ll most likely slip up and get discouraged. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Start by changing just one thing, even if that’s a promise to shop less in fast fashion stores. Every little helps, and with time you can build your good habits.
4. Deciding that you have to educate everyone around you
We all love a preacher, don’t we? But honestly, I’m all about the ‘live and let live’ principle. The best way to make someone listen is to inspire them and spark their curiosity. That’s why I’m trying to create great, trendy and interesting outfits that are 100% sustainable. I want to challenge others to ask me where I got it from, and surprise them by saying I got it all from the charity shop.
In my opinion that’s a much better way to inspire people. Rather than preaching them about the atrocities of fast fashion, share the cool movie that opened your eyes. Instead of throwing away the new Zara coat they bought, show them the amazing ethical dress you found. I don’t want ethical shoppers to be the new vegans – we’re not angry at you personally, but at the ignorance of big companies that keep just ‘doing business’.
5. Doing it alone
When everyone around you (or on Instagram) is prancing in their new designer bag, it’s natural to want to have it as well. But for most of us, we can’t afford that, so we try to find dupes, searching for that ‘I’ve got a new item’ high on the high street. When you decide to shop ethically, or go on a shopping fast, you can’t even do that!
It’s quite hard to be a conscious shopper, and doing it alone is a mistake I feel many women make. Maybe no one around you knows, or cares. But there are thousands of people online who do care. That’s the part of Instagram I truly enjoy: connecting with like-minded people.
If you’re wondering how, check popular hashtags such as ‘secondhandfirst’, ‘whomademyclothes’, ‘ethicalfashion’ etc. I guarantee you’ll be able to find so many amazing and inspiring fashionistas, and you’ll feel less alone on your ‘mission’ to be a better shopper.
6. Not knowing good from bad fabrics
Knowing your fabrics is a skill that can be learned. While a year or two ago I couldn’t tell polyester from linen, I can now recognise silk, cotton and many other fabrics by just touching or looking at them. It takes a little time, but if you’re in doubt, always check your labels! There are fabrics which involve a tremendous amount of water to grow, or a lot of toxic chemicals to produce. There is a sustainability issue with each and every fabric, but some of them are just worse than others.
I’m planning a series on each and every fabric that exists, with all their pros and cons, but for now here’s the short list.
Good on you: Linen, Hemp, Lyocell, Silk, Recycled Polyester, Organic Cotton, Recycled Leather
Ok on you: Cotton, Viscose(Rayon), Modal, PU (vegan) leather, Wool
Bad on you: Polyester, Leather, Nylon, Acrylic
7. Shopping ethically from the other end of the world
When you first start shopping ethically, it can be tempting to order from the first brand that catches your eyes. It also doesn’t help that the US, Canada and Australia seem to be much ahead of Europe in terms of availability of ethical brands. As a Europe-based shopper, I’ve been tempted more than once to order from websites from across the globe, such as Reformation. But one thing stopped me: thinking about the carbon footprint of my order. And the potential return if the item doesn’t fit.
The truth is, if we want to be ethical, we have to pick our battles. If you value ethical working practices more than the carbon footprint, there’s nothing bad with ordering your clothes from Australia when you’re in the UK. But for me, shopping locally eliminates the huge amount of resources that are wasted on shipping my product. Buying locally allows me to support smaller brands who produce in smaller quantities and probably don’t ship world-wide.
Yes, that may mean that you’ll love an item on me and cannot buy it for yourself. If you care about the transportation effects of your order, consider finding a similar item from the country you live in. Let using the ‘free world-wide shipping’ option be your last resort!
8. Not learning how to repair your clothes
I’m so guilty of falling prey to a broken zip, or a small stain I can’t get rid of. We’re taught to treat our clothes as disposable, and when you pay less than a tenner for almost everything, it’s easy to just get rid of a broken item. I agree that sometimes it’s not worth repairing an item. When you don’t love it and know you won’t get your 30 wears out of it, it doesn’t make sense to spend time and money fixing it.
But if you stained your favourite dress and consider buying a new one, did you really try everything? Sometimes introducing a small embroidery, a patch, or even cutting the item shorter can get rid of the problem. Small things like a missing button or a broken zip can be repaired at any tailor’s for a few bucks, so don’t postpone it. Repairing your clothes helps to get the most for your money, and helps to reduce waste – what’s not to love?
9. Trying to be trendy
This is an issue close to my heart, and one I know some people find problematic. You see, if you love fashion, work in it or want to be a blogger, you kind of need new items. It’s the sad truth – sometimes we get bored of our clothes. We want a new trendy piece, something to inject a little sparkle to our boring old clothes.
I used to be afraid of switching to ethical shopping because I worried I won’t be able to look ‘trendy’. But with new trends introduced each and every week in shops like Zara and on Instagram, it’s pointless to try to catch up. There will always be the ‘new best thing’. The IT item you just need to have. It’s a lost battle for anyone who wants to maintain their sanity, integrity and bank balance!
So I gave up on being trendy, and focused on developing my own style. Yes, you’ll see me wearing a lot of ‘trendy’ items, such as ruffles, dad sneakers, checked blazers and so on. But that’s because my style is based on being partially trendy and modern. I’ve tried being the neutral, classic, minimalist girl. It’s not me, or at least not me at the moment. But I always try to find my items in charity shops, and if I can’t, I turn to eBay and Depop to see if someone has already got bored of their trendy item.
So you don’t have to ditch the trends altogether when you shop ethically. But be prepared that most new brands focus on classic, clean items that last beyond trends. It’s a great concept, but it may not be for you. Wear what works for you, but just keep in mind you don’t have to keep up with fashion – it’s kind of pointless, really!
10. Expecting to never slip up
Finally, let’s talk about the big elephant in the room- perfectionism! When I turned vegetarian, I expected myself to be perfect, and for the most part I’ve managed to avoid meat. But guess what – last month I tried my boyfriend’s stir-fried chicken, and I confused a piece of meat with a mushroom. And last week I ate some jellies, forgetting they contain gelatin (which is basically animal fat). Instead of talking down to myself and giving up vegetarianism, I just kept going. One slip up doesn’t diminish all the effort!
But in the above situation, please understand that I don’t even like meat that much. So it was kind of easy giving it up. But let me tell you, I’ve tried ‘giving up’ chocolate more than 100 times – it’s never really worked. Probably because I do love chocolate, and it’s really hard when temptations are all around me.
That’s why, if you’ve been a fast-fashion addict, you’ll probably find it hard to give it up altogether. If you just occasionally shopped the Zara sale, then you may find it much easier to become an ethical shopper. But nevertheless, don’t expect to be perfect. No one is! Don’t listen to people who try to be ‘holier than thou’, and shame your clothing choices. It’s better to buy that 1 special thing at Zara if you know you’ll wear it 30 times, than to abstain completely and then binge-shop when you can’t bear the pressure anymore!
These were the 10 ethical shopping mistakes to avoid when you decide to quit fast fashion for good. You may not be guilty of all of them – so congrats! But even if you’re just starting, please know that it’s a journey.
No one expects you to be perfect, so don’t try to be.