How to Shop for Clothes Ethically


Shopping is fun and we all love to add new pieces to our wardrobe each season, but the environmental and human impact to stocking up on pieces from Forever 21 is more than you’d expect.

Many fast fashion companies do not pay workers a fair wage and use cheap materials. $15 might be cheap for a cute top, but it probably only cost $1 to make and the person making it likely doesn’t make a living wage. The factories that don’t pay fairly for that labor also don’t have good business practices, so the environment around them becomes polluted.

And it doesn’t get any better once we’re done with clothes - a lot of clothing ends up in landfills. In fact, NPR reported that the United States generated 15.1 million tons of textile waste in 2013, and 12.8 tons of that ended up in landfills.

Fashion is a major industry, and everyone needs to get dressed every day, so the solution isn’t as simple as not using plastic straws anymore or composting everything you possibly can. However, there are things we can do to lessen our impact without sacrificing style and flair.

There are many great options for shopping ethically and sustainably, such as:

1) Thrift stores.

It requires some digging, but you can find gems at Goodwill. The clothing is super cheap and you’re giving it a second home. Recycling clothing instead of buying new is a great way to reduce your shopping footprint. If you feel iffy about Goodwill, there’s also stores like Crossroads and Buffalo Exchange. Taking your old clothes to Goodwill or selling them at Crossroads is also a great way to contribute to recycling fashion - and sometimes help you make a little extra cash!

2) Online secondhand shopping.

From major sites like ThredUp to Etsy boutiques, there is a lot of amazing vintage and secondhand clothing to be found online. Just like thrift stores, selling online is a good avenue for you to repurpose your old clothes, especially if you’re someone who cycles through styles quickly. There are also apps like Poshmark and Depop that make selling and buying secondhand clothes extremely easy!

3) Vintage and consignment shops.

These are often more expensive than a thrift store or recycled clothing store like Buffalo Exchange, but these are the stores where you can often find higher quality, older pieces. Consignment stores often have really unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.

4) Clothing swaps.

If you’re a little tired of your closet, get a few friends together and have everyone bring a bag of clothes and accessories they’ve been wanting to get rid of or never wear anymore. You can even trade or borrow clothes for a few months just to change up your style for a season.

5) Shop ethical brands.

And this last one is major: shop ethical fashion. There are many brands (and designers on Etsy) that are working to produce slow, sustainable fashion. The clothing is made new, but from deadstock fabric or high-quality fabrics made in a factory where workers are paid fairly. In these factories, not only are employees paid fairly, but the production is done in the most eco-friendly way and creates as little waste as possible. This makes the production process slower, but that’s not a bad sacrifice to make. Often, the clothing is also made to order or made in small batches, so there aren’t boxes of extra pants lying around that no one ever purchased.

Think about it this way: the same way that shopping at a farmer’s market means you know you can trust the food and where it came from, ethical fashion makes it easy to feel good about your purchases.

Here are just a few of many wonderful slow fashion/ethical/sustainable brands:

Ethical fashion is all about quality over quantity. It may be a little more expensive, but it’s so worth it to know where your clothes came from and feel good about the impact of your purchase.

Tara Caroline McNally
Caroline is a writer from San Francisco with a day job in Public Relations. She majored in journalism in college and is always writing something - from The X-Files fanfiction to lifestyle blog posts. She loves many things, including green tea, memes, classic rock music, true crime and Netflix binging. You can usually find her quoting pop culture, tweeting about intersectional feminism or hugging other people’s dogs on Twitter, Instagram or her blog.