It’s happened again. In the midst of my annual closet clean out, I’ve come face to face with my buying habits… and found them wanting. Frowning at the two large garbage bags in front of me, I mentally scroll through their contents. The really cute dress with the cutouts, that fit me once and then shrank to an indecent size. The T-shirts I bought in a 6 pack because they were cheap and trendy, but are now coming apart at the seams. The shorts in the bright orange I thought I would wear all the time (they were a statement), but now a year later I have yet to wear once. All this, headed for the dumpster?
Before you get up in arms, yes, some of these items will be going to Goodwill (maybe somebody else will rock the orange in a way I never did). But this scene in my closet is one that plays out a thousand times a year in closets across the world as people rid themselves of their fast fashion. Unless we want to walk around naked, that means we are off to go buy more of the same so that the cycle can continue. Buy, wear, toss, repeat.
But what if we could shop in a different way? In a way that would support the environment by using sustainable fabrics? In a way that would allow for less that equaled more? In a way that would let your clothes serve you for years and not just become another “one hit closet wonder”? Enter, Ethical Consumerism.
Ethical consumerism is, at its core, being conscious about how your shopping choices affect others and changing your buying habits as a result of that knowledge. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of waste and harm that comes from trends like fast fashion. Luckily, there are small things you can do today to make a difference. Plus, you’ll look great and save money long term doing it.
Here’s what you can do to put an end to your “one hit closet wonders” and help to, literally, save the world.
Invest in Quality over Quantity
I know, I love having a million options to choose from in my closet, too. But it’s been noted that having too many choices in all walks of life can actually lead to more anxiety. Why not simplify things by having fewer choices that are of a higher quality? Higher quality = more lasting power. It’s often an exponential increase; where a $50 pair of shoes might last you two years, a $150 pair of shoes will last ten (with proper maintenance, of course). So when buying don’t just think about the 5th wear. Think about the 50th wear. Will it still look great?
Start With Your Fabrics
How do you invest in quality? One great place to start is the fabrics. Avoid polyester and other synthetics. One reason quality fabrics often cost more is the amount of time and effort that goes into making them. Time and effort are the opposite of fast and cheap. Shockingly, after the oil industry, the clothing industry is one of the largest polluters in the world, the biggest culprits being the manufacturing of synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and acrylics. By consciously choosing natural, eco-friendly, sustainable fabrics, you will be using your dollars to send a powerful message to the clothing industry that high quality is worthy of investment.
You’re Going to Own Less (in Quantity)
Since I’m going to assume that you haven’t won the lottery and don’t magically have more to spend on your wardrobe, investing in "slow fashion" will result in possessing fewer pieces overall. You can maximize these items by looking for great separates (think a top and a skirt instead of a dress), that you can mix and match into a larger overall combination of outfits. You can even go a step further and embrace the capsule wardrobe and have only one color scheme so that everything in your closet matches!
Even if you don’t want to commit to wearing only shades of gray, having a handful of high-quality pieces that last will keep you from having to toss anything next year when spring cleaning comes around. You will also be taking the first steps towards minimalism, which has been shown to reduce stress and increase enjoyment in the little things. And just think about how much time and money you will be saving on laundry and all of that folding, too!
It Takes Time
It will be a bit of a financial investment to achieve a closet full of high quality, long-lasting pieces. But it doesn’t have to happen overnight unless you are really dying for a sustainable shopping spree. It’s about the small choices. Thinking about whether the dress you want to buy will make it through not just next year’s wardrobe culling but the next 5 requires an active change to our thinking. But repetition is the path to mastery, so the next time you go shopping ask yourself: "Will that shirt be unwearable after 3 washes? Can I pair those shorts with more than 3 other items in my closet? Does that fabric contribute to pollution?"
Being conscious of your choices and making small adjustments here and there can have a big impact on your wardrobe over time. Until one day, you'll open that closet up and be left a little in awe at the smaller selection of truly high quality, sustainable, coordinated options before you. And doesn’t that sound like a fun way to get dressed?