EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO SHOP FOR CLOTHES SUSTAINABLY
Shopping sustainably shouldn’t be a chore.
You shouldn’t have to go out of your way to find a sustainable brand or need to question whether your favourite garments are products of greenwashing.
And with all of the misinformation floating around in terms of fabrics, certifications and packaging, what’s an eco-friendly shopper to do?
Enter: this guide.
This guide is split into three categories: shopping second hand, shopping new and what to do post-purchase.
There is also a shopping criteria included to help you make an informed purchase.
For ease, I’ve included a link to all of the sections below, so you can skip to what you’d like to learn about as you so choose.
Before we dive in, one term I’ll be throwing around a lot in this guide is sustainable fashion. If you’d like a refresh on what this is, you can check out this post here.
Shopping second-hand is a great option not only from an affordability standpoint, but an environmental one as well.
By purchasing a pre-loved item over new, you’re helping to limit the water waste, CO2 pollution, and a variety of other elements that come with manufacturing a new item.
Vintage and Thrift Stores
Physically shopping in a thrift or vintage store can sometimes feel overwhelming; however, having a plan in place before you shop, will save you from aimlessly wandering the aisles of your local thrift shop.
Take stock of what you already have in your closet and determine specifically what you need.
Not only will taking stock of the items you have in your closet save you time shopping, it will also prevent you from impulsively purchasing an item similar to something you already own.
When shopping sustainably, one note to keep in mind is it’s important not to excessively purchase.
While I know the deals at thrift stores are tempting, how sustainable is it to purchase something you won’t get a lot of wear out of?
One aspect of physically going to a thrift store that I love is the locality of it.
Most cities and towns have some local mom-and pop thrift stores along with big box stores like Goodwill or Value Village.
By shopping at these local institutions, you’re helping to reduce the carbon footprint of those clothing items.
Depending of course on proximity, consider walking to your local thrift store, for an even bigger impact.
Online Thrift Stores
If physically shopping at a thrift store isn’t a possibility, you can still reap the all of the benefits that thrift shopping has to offer online!
Websites such as ThredUp, Poshmark, Depop and Esty as well as so many others make it very easy to shop online for specifically what you’re looking for.
Most sites have filters where you can sort items by type, price, color and size allowing you to find what you’re looking for in a flash.
Although clothing rental services are still fairly new to the fashion game, they have garnered a lot of attention and for good reason.
Tucked at the back of my closet is an endless amount of dresses and formal wear that I’ve acquired over the years from attending one specific event and are items that I wouldn’t be able to wear to any other event.
Enter clothing rental services.
Most companies, such as Rent the Runway, Nuuly and Infinitely Loft, operate as a subscription service where you pay a predetermined cost per month which includes a specified number of clothing rentals available to you in one month. Some companies also include clothing repairs and various other add-ons.
Many clothing rental services even give you the option to buy an item that you love from your monthly rotation at a discounted rate.
While this all sounds amazing, you might be wondering are clothing rentals sustainable?
To make clothing rentals sustainable, the trick is to utilize them for items you only plan to wear once or a handful of times.
This not only prevents the very wasteful reality of one-wear pieces in your wardrobe, it also saves you money in the long run, since chances are your formalwear comes at a hefty price tag, whilst saving you closet space for pieces that you get the most wear from.
There’s a certain thrill and excitement to clothing shopping that makes it no surprise as to why it can be so addictive.
You walk into a store after seeing a cute top on the mannequin.
You fall in love with it but now need pants to match… and shoes… and a new purse… and new jewellery… and…
You get the picture.
Even if you’re shopping from at a sustainable retailer, the line between sustainable and wasteful can be blurred if you’re not conscious to purchase pieces that complement your existing wardrobe.
Before you head to your favourite clothing shops, take stock of what you already own as well as the items you need and the items you want.
Having a target of what you’re going into a store for, will help prevent impulse purchases that don’t go with anything else in your closet.
It’ll also help you prioritize what items are worth spending your money on.
While you may want to purchase a pair of pants you’ve been lusting after… maybe a trench coat is a missing essential in your wardrobe that would be a better option to purchase.
2. Be Savvy
This tip applies more to online shopping since, at least for me, I’m more likely to buy an impulse purchase from an online retailer because I’m easily swept up in the excitement of a sale 🤷🏼♀️.
When you see an item you love and have added it to cart, wait a day before purchasing.
This gives you time to think over the purchase.
Do you have something similar already in your closet?
Are there any retailers that offer a similar item that’s maybe better quality or a better price?
Taking some time to consider the purchase will ensure you are adding something that will serve your existing wardrobe.
The best part?
More retailers will offer you a discount to complete your purchase if you leave an item in your cart.
Just be aware though that the discount might be offered to you a couple of hours after you’ve added to cart or a couple of days, depending on the retailer and is usually time sensitive.
3. Buy Less, Buy Better
While I’ll get to the shopping criteria that allows you to make an informed purchase a little later in this section, I want to flag the importance of buying smarter.
You want to select items that are good quality and will endure a long time as opposed to fast fashion items that won’t last a couple of spin cycles.
Also consider how many wears you will get out of the item as well as how well the piece fits into your wardrobe.
If you don’t see yourself pairing the piece well with anything else in your closet and won’t get a lot of wear out of it, consider investing in something else.
Buying better does not only mean avoiding fast fashion, it also means avoiding pieces that won’t elevate the wardrobe you have or function as a long term staple.
How to Shop Sustainably In Person
While implementing the shopping habits mentioned above will have you well on your way to shopping more sustainably, there are a few other ways you can make your physical shopping experience more sustainable.
1. Carry A Tote
Carrying a tote around with you in general is a great way to minimize plastic bag waste; however, it’s especially useful when clothing shopping as depending on the size of your tote, you can carry fit clothing from multiple retailers without the need for multiple plastic bags.
Pollution from cars and other modes of transportation is not often considered when shopping, but it definitely adds up!
I’m aware that not all people are in walking distance to shopping centers and clothing retailers; however, if you’re one of the lucky ones who is, then walk!
If the option is available to you, utilize public transportation.
If your only option for transportation is via a car, maybe carpool with a friend.
Fabric selection can be confusing… especially if you’re trying to select sustainable materials on top of ensuring the fabric’s longevity and durability.
Between natural vs. synthetic, organic vs. recycled- is one better over the other?
In terms of natural fabrics versus synthetic, one is not better than the other.
Just because a fabric is natural, doesn’t mean the environmental and economic resources it takes to make the fabric are sustainable.
The same goes for synthetic fabrics.
What you should be looking for instead, are designations such as organic or recycled when searching for fabrics; however, unlike natural and synthetic labels, these classifications are not created equal.
The most sustainable choice between the two is recycled fabrics.
This is because the process of recycling uses far less energy and water resources compared to producing new fabric.
A fabric with an organic designation is the next best option as in most cases, it will take less water and energy to produce compared to a non-organic fabric, without the use of harmful chemicals like it’s non-organic counterpart.
Below you’ll find a compilation of natural and synthetic fabrics to look out for when shopping sustainably.
When it comes to fabric selection here are some important questions to consider:
- Was the fabric created with renewable resources?
- Was the fabric created with harmful chemicals or an excessive amount of energy?
- Is the fabric biodegradable?
- What are the conditions like for the workers creating the fabric?
The answers to these questions are likely available if you’re visiting a sustainable retailer’s site, either directly under the garment information or on their about page.
If the answers aren’t easily found on the website, check out the certifications that the retailer has (more explained in the next section).
Below are 6 of the most common certifications you’ll see on the tags of your favourite retailer’s pieces.
Common Packaging Terms
Similarly, to the confusion that often surrounds certification lingo, packaging terms used by sustainable brands can sometimes be just as confusing.
To help alleviate some of the complexity, below is a list of some common packaging terms and what they actually mean.
If you want to take a deep dive into the science behind the plastics mentioned above, check out these links:
Below is a shopping criteria that can be used whether you’re looking to purchase something second hand or new, online or in person.
How to Shop For Clothes Sustainably and on a Budget
There’s a big misconception surrounding sustainable clothing that all eco-friendly retailers are way too expensive for the average person.
While there are without a doubt plenty of retailers charging a pretty penny for their items (although the quality that accompanies the price tag is justifiably worth it), there are plenty of options to shop for eco-friendly clothing on a budget!
Purchasing clothing second-hand through thrift stores or online consignment shops, for example, is definitely the most inexpensive route to take- so be sure to check out your local thrift stores, or the other retailers mentioned in the second-hand section!
If shopping second-hand isn’t your thing, there is a multitude of retailers offering new items at reasonable prices.
Check out this post which lists sustainable retailers by price as well as other factors like size, etc. for a whole slew of sustainable companies that will fit your budget!
One of the most obvious and easiest ways to extend the life of your wardrobe is through garment care.
Check out this post which features a list of the most common sustainable fabrics and how to care for them to ensure you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to your clothing purchases.
Clean and Organize Closet
Apart from garment care, one of the best ways to keep your newly acquired sustainable items in tip top shape to allow for maximum longevity is to create an organized closet that allows you to display your pieces in a way that retains their optimum shape.
For example, rolling up jeans in a drawer or folding delicate sweaters on a shelf instead of hanging them on hangers in your closet.
I take a deep dive into closet organization in the How To Shop Your Closet Master Guide, so be sure to check it out!
Stop what you’re doing!
Before you throw away the beloved jeans that you spent so long searching for, consider extending its life with upcycling.
Upcycling is a great way to repurpose your clothing that would otherwise be deemed unsalvageable and forced to head to a landfill.
The possibilities of upcycling are endless.
Some examples include turning an old t-shirt into a shopping tote or repurposing a sweater as a cardigan.
Check out this post for most upcycling ideas!
That was lengthy, but I hope you will find it helpful during your next shopping trip!
For ease, the images included throughout this guide can be pinned so you will have all the information you need at a quick glance before you buy a garment.
Let me know in the comments what tips you’ll utilize the next time go shopping.
Did I miss something?
Feel free to share your sustainable shopping tips in the comments, too, I’d love to hear your ideas!