sustainable shopping 101
Updated: Jun 18
Lately, something that has been on my mind is how my love of shopping is impacting the environment. With the recent climate change protests and ongoing discussion about the current climate crisis, I began to wonder how my shopping habits are harming the environment.
For many years, there has been lots of information about the damaging effects of plastic materials and ways to lower your plastic intake as a consumer, such as using reusable containers and water bottles or eliminate plastic straws from your lifestyle. While yes, recycling and cutting down plastic use is extremely important, I find that most people do not realize that their shopping choices are also severely impacting the environment.
For instance, a 2016 study uncovered that of the 100 billion garments produced annually, three-fifths end up in landfills or incinerators within a year. The fashion industry is also responsible for producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping. One of the reasons behind this is that much of the clothing produced in the world is being produced in countries like China and India, which have little CO2 regulations.
Most shocking, the fashion industry is responsible for 5% of global emissions.
After digesting these numbers and statistics, I knew I had to change the way I shop and become aware of the ethics I am supporting while shopping at fan-favorite stores. To me, if I can make a difference by just changing where I shop, then that is something I am going to be consciously aware of!
It seems easier to say "I am going to start shopping sustainably and ethically" than done- I know this firsthand. That is why I wanted to write a post on the simple changes you can make in your life to reduce your effect on the environment while still loving fashion.
So, let's dive in.
Some things you can do off the bat:
1. Become aware of what stores you are consistently shopping at and their impact on the environment.
Fast-fashion companies like H&M, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Zara, Brandy Melville and so many more are drastically impacting the environment. Recently I learned that H&M and Forever 21 receive daily shipments of clothes from their warehouses. Think about the greenhouse gasses not only being used to create the clothes at such a fast pace but the emissions of these trucks going back and forth between different stores and warehouses. All so WE can have cute and affordable clothes at the palm of our hands!
Also, you should be aware that there may be chemicals in the clothes that you purchase from fast fashion stores. "Lead-contaminated purses, belts and shoes" from Forever 21, WetSeal, and Charlotte Rouse have been found to have lead above the legal amount in their clothing items. While this might not concerning to you, I should note that lead is "linked to higher rates of infertility in women and increased risks of heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure".
Yes, that is correct. Clothing from these stores can be harming our bodies.
Becoming aware of what stores you shop at is a perfect place to begin if you want to offset your carbon footprint, become a smarter shopper, and be more sustainable.
Once you become more conscious of where and what ethics you are standing by when you shop at these stores, you can start slowly eliminating them from your life. I'm not saying that you are never allowed to shop at these stores again, but just realize how you may be impacting the environment if you continually only shop at these stores.
2. Change your mindset around shopping.
Something I try to remember when I am going shopping or browsing online stores is just because I like something, that does not mean I need it. This year I have begun to actively practice saying no to clothing pieces because I simply do not need them. I especially try to do this at stores like Urban or Brandy Melville because they tend to sell trendy pieces that every girl ends up buying. I rather buy something at a boutique or local store where the pieces are more one of a kind. By shopping small you are not only helping the environment but supporting small business owners as well.
And if you find something you like at one of these stores that is not sustainable, just try and make the most out of the item to justify your environmental cost! Also, instead of throwing clothing pieces out, donate them to second-hand stores. This way you are recycling your old pieces and letting them have a second chance at life.
3. Begin to incorporate pieces from sustainable fashion brands into your wardrobe.
I bet you are thinking "Ok, Ella but I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on clothes and don't even know where to start."
That is why I have compiled a list of sustainable brands that you NEED to check out.
I have mentioned Reformation countless times on my blog before, but never for the reason they should be applauded the most- they are actively making an effort to be a sustainable clothing brand.
Reformation's goal is to use 75% of fabric that is either made up of a) natural fibers that are rapidly renewable, plant-based and have a potential for circularity, or b) fibers that are almost all-natural or recycled fibers. Also, RefScale tracks their environmental footprint by "adding up the pounds of carbon dioxide emitted and gallons of water we use, and pounds of waste we generate". Most importantly, they "share this information on every product page of our website and tell you exactly what impact each garment has on the environment."
So, if you want to start with a sustainable staple, try checking out Reformation. Here are some of my current top picks.
While researching sustainable brands, I came across Ninety Percent and I can't believe it has taken me so long to discover them. Launched in 2018, this brand utilizes organic fabrics and shares 90% of its profits with charitable organizations. Another impressive component of this brand is that the shopper gets to be a part of deciding what organization Ninety Percent donates the money from your purchase to. Seriously check out this new brand.
While the impact of jean production may have never crossed your mind, jeans are one of the most polluting products in the fashion industry. Boyish Jeans is a sustainable denim company that "utilizes ethical and sustainable practices when developing and manufacturing its products." According to their website, "jeans use up to 1,800 gallons of water to make one pair. That's about 500 billion gallons of water just for the jeans sold in the USA every year." Boyish Jeans combats the issue of denim sustainability by using 1/3 the amount of water than regular denim production uses. Also, they recycle all of their water so no water is polluted in the jean production process.
Everything from "hangtags and hardware to the polybags they are shipped in... is thought through to ensure there is minimal impact on our environment."
And on top of all the environmental benefits, they happen to sell very cute jeans.
I wanted to include an activewear brand as well because I know how important a good pair of leggings and workout clothes are. Outdoor Voices is committed to minimizing environmental impact, so it is one of the better options for sustainable activewear.
M: https://www.outdoorvoices.com/products/megafleece-crewneck-1?variant=30259371835470 (this product is made out of recycled wool)
Second-hand stores are a great way to find affordable pieces and help reduce your environmental footprint. You will be shocked at the things you find, and there are vintage stores on almost every block. You are saving the environment and your wallet- it's a win-win.
With the abundance of fast fashion, it's hard not to give in to the 20 dollar sweater from Brandy Melville, or the cute tank from Forever 21, but it is important to acknowledge how fast fashion plays an active role in the emission of greenhouse gases, water waste, and unfair labor practices.
I need to note that I am not saying I am perfect at shopping ethically and sustainably- but it is something I am going to try and work on and be more conscious of in the future. And I hope you will too.
I am also going to be aware of the links I choose to put on my blog and which stores I choose to support, that way viewers can support environmentally conscious companies.
I hope this brought attention to an issue that is so important and provided some basic ways to improve your purchasing decisions to be more of an ethical shopper. Consumers can do so much to combat climate change especially through sustainable shopping, and I think with more awareness of sustainability within the fashion industry, it could become a less polluting industry.
So let's take these steps and start creating a positive contribution in the world of fashion.