A Guide to Sustainable Clothing

By Alice Healy, Second Year English Literature and History.

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

The problem of fast fashion is becoming increasingly acknowledged, but what can we realistically do about it? Sustainable clothing is unaffordable for many, and second-hand shopping often provides logistical issues. With tackling issues of fast fashion comes a realisation that forsaking cheaper and easier access to clothing is not always straightforward and is closely tied to issues of wealth.

Learning to appreciate what we already have, borrowing from each other, investing in quality and giving a new life to discarded items are all ways in which we can make positive change.

Failing to recognise the barriers to sustainable fashion and shaming those who do not have access to it is not the way forward in the sustainability movement. Instead, finding sustainable options wherever possible and encouraging a more conscious relationship with consumerism allows us to explore sustainable fashion without guilt. This guide provides information on the various kinds of sustainable fashion to which we have access!

Shopping your wardrobe

Shopping your wardrobe may seem like a strange idea. However, neglected items are often pushed to the back of the closet, so restyling your clothing offers a new lease of life to pieces that may have been given away. Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube can provide inspiration for new ways to style clothing, preventing you from purchasing more. Shopping your wardrobe is the easiest and cheapest way to find a new outfit and is a great option for those of us with extensive wardrobes.

Shopping friends/family’s wardrobes

Borrowing clothing from family and friends of a similar size is a great way to access new clothes and is particularly useful for black tie events, reducing the stress of searching for smarter clothing in second-hand vintage or charity shops. If we share formalwear that is generally only worn once, we can maximise its use. Buying a new suit or dress for each event is not only detrimental to our planet but is also ridiculously expensive. Borrowing from friends and family allows us to wear something different without either the environmental or literal price tag.

Second Hand

The world of second-hand fashion can be overwhelming. Charity shops greet customers with racks of random items in comparison to the organised and size-ordered layout found in clothing shops. This is both difficult to get used to and more time-consuming, especially if you don’t know where to start. Paying attention to sizing is not always the best idea in neither charity shops nor vintage shops, given that vintage sizing is generally smaller than that of modern items. Instead, look for styles that attract you and then try the items on. Rejecting the societal importance projected onto an item’s sizing is additionally an empowering way to consider clothing and body image.

Another benefit of shopping second hand is the access to premium brands for a greatly reduced price. Replying to compliments regarding your clothing with ‘Thanks, it was only £2’ never gets old. Although you often have to sift through lower quality items, finding the perfect piece for an insanely low price is definitely worth it. Furthermore, charity shopping allows your money to fund positive change, whilst reducing the amount of clothing going to landfill. Truly a win-win situation.

However, second-hand shopping can be problematic, especially when accessing fewer common sizes. It is certainly possible to find more specialised sizing in charity shops and vintage shops, but the time commitment required may make this route less accessible. In this case, turning to sites like eBay, Depop, and Etsy can streamline the process of shopping. Though sometimes a more expensive option, having the ability to digitally filter sizing facilitates second-hand shopping.

Sustainable Clothing Brands

Now we come to sustainable clothing brands – the most expensive option. Supporting local sustainable clothing businesses is certainly positive, but financial constraints make it an unrealistic option for many.

Simultaneously, it is important to call out fast fashion retailers for their low pricing, caused by the exploitation of workers within the supply chain. These low prices have undoubtedly changed our attitude to the consumption of fashion, often making it more disposable and cheaper. A £4 shirt from a fast fashion retailer should not ethically be allowed to exist. Reducing our rate of consumption and emphasising investment in long lasting, good quality clothing is an important aspect of rejecting fast fashion.

Yet, wealth inequality plays an extremely restrictive role in sustainable clothing, and no one should be shamed for not spending a lot of money on a single item. If affordable, supporting ethical brands is a great option, but if not, second-hand clothing is generally cheaper and of better quality than its high street counterparts.

finding sustainable options wherever possible and encouraging a more conscious relationship with consumerism allows us to explore sustainable fashion without guilt

There are many options when it comes to acquiring sustainable fashion, and each is a step in the right direction. Even simply reducing the amount purchased from fast fashion retailers combats the environmental impacts of the clothing industry. Learning to appreciate what we already have, borrowing from each other, investing in quality and giving a new life to discarded items are all ways in which we can make positive change. Supporting others who are making environmentally conscious change is the best way we can move forward in our movement towards sustainability.

Want to share your thoughts? We actively encourage discussion and debate and would love to hear your opinion! If you’d like to write a full response, or if you have any thoughts on this article that you would like to share with us, please comment below or email johns.chronicle@durham.ac.uk.

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