5 Ways to Build an Ethical Wardrobe
Photography by: Jessica Baumann
Location: Japan Town, San Francisco, CA
My favorite way to purge clothes is by following the guidance of Mari Kondo- or, rather, the voice behind the ever-popular Konmari method. Essentially, this purging process involves taking everything (yes, everything) out of your closet, holding each item in your hand, and determining whether or not it sparks joy within you. If it does, you keep it, and if it doesn't then you get rid of it. I know it sounds rather hippy-dippy, but it really is an effective system! I've managed to narrow my closet down to 1/3 of the normal size using this, and I am so much happier now. I've really come to embrace the idea of quality over quantity, and it has completely transformed my life! I spend way less time cleaning, organizing, and purging things than I did before. My space is now regularly clean without me having to do much at all, and it's so much easier for me to get ready in the mornings! I don't have to spend hours tidying up my space, and I don't have to waist time sorting through mountains of clothes to find the pieces that I actually want to wear. Everything, in general, is now more effective and efficient.
But how does this tie into owning an ethical wardrobe? Like this: when you shop ethically, you don't buy as much. Now I know what you're thinking- Hannah, how the hell does shopping ethically determine how much I spend? It seems ridiculous, but the effect is quite simple. You see, when you shop ethically, you usually have to spend a bit more money. Not only that, but if you're taking the time to seek out ethical shops, then, most likely, you're also taking time to invest in the quality of your clothes. So, instead of running into Forever 21 and buying everything you thought looked cute (which I shamelessly used to do), you're now putting more thought into your purchases. And, with that extra thought, you're more likely to be pickier about what you purchase.
So with that said, keep reading to find out my five tips for building an ethical wardrobe.
1. Purge, Purge, Purge!
- Given that little intro, you may have seen this one coming. The first step to building an ethical wardrobe is to purge your clothes! Go through and find what you don't wear (or, in Konmari terms, what doesn't "bring you joy") and donate it, sell it, etc. Let it goooooo. If you don't wear it, you don't need it, especially if it's something that isn't of particularly high quality.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you have to go through and purge every single thing that's low-quality (fast fashion) or that's "unethical". I still own and wear plenty of Forever 21 pieces that I purchased in the past. In fact, some of my favorite pieces are from there. But if there are pieces in your closet that you don't absolutely love, that happen to be of the fast-fusion type, then it's probably best to let them go. When I personally get rid of pieces, I do one of three things: I either donate them to a local shelter, sell them on an app like Depop or Poshmark, or I'll take them to Crossroads or Buffalo Exchange. Sometimes, I'll even go through all three. I'll start by hauling everything to Crossroads / Buffalo Exchange, then whatever doesn't sell there I'll split into two groups. The more expensive, higher quality items will be listed online, and the rest will be taken to a local shelter. If you're local to the Bay Area, some great ones that i've donated to before are Shepard's Gate (in Livermore) and Urban Furniture (Oakland). **
2. Stop Shopping
- This may seem completely contradictory to the idea behind this post, but one of the best ways to build an ethical wardrobe is to stop shopping. Stop going on "shopping dates", stop "window shopping", stop wasting time online shopping. Instead, spend time away from stores. Not only will it help you save money, but it'll also help keep you from the temptation of shopping at an unethical retailer. Which leads me to my next tip...
3. Save, Save, Save!
- Save all ya money! Unfortunately, ethical (+ sustainable) clothing is often not cheap, and therefore requires you to shell out a bit more money for your items (remember how we talked about quality over quantity?). But remember, it's worth it, in the long haul. Your Reformation dress will last you a lifetime, while your Forever 21 dress may hold up just for the night. But quality aside, the difference here is that the Forever 21 employees are making as little as $0.03 per item, while the Reformation employees are being paid a living wage, which is why they have to charge more (it's just fair!). So, save your money to invest in quality pieces later down the line.
One of the ways I like to keep myself motivated to save is by making a (secret) Pinterest board of items that i'd like to purchase. I reference it every now and then when I want to either make a purchase or decide what to save up for. Maybe this won't work for everyone, but as a visual person, this tends to work well for me!
4. Invest in Versatile Pieces
- Can you really wear that $300 Merino wool sweater all year round? If the answer is no, then it's probably best to leave it behind. Think about the type of climate you live in, and invest in pieces that you can wear practically all year long.
For example, where I live, in the East Bay, it gets really hot in the summers. However, at night, it can dip down into the mid 40's and 50' (degrees Fahrenheit). So, investing in something like a big, chunky knit sweater or a wool coat is practical for my lifestyle and the type of climate I live in, just as it's also practical for me to invest in crop tops and low-cut bodysuits. But if you live somewhere like Alaska, then investing in quality crop tops may not be the smartest move, just as it wouldn't be ideal to invest in a wool coat if you live in Hawaii. Think practically when you're making your purchases- it'll save you money, and help you create a quality wardrobe at the same time.
5. Thrift it!
- If you absolutely love a certain fast-fashion retailer but don't want to directly support their unethical ways, try to shop second hand! I love the retailer Zara, the cuts of their clothes are beautiful, and often fit me really, really well. But, I don't love their unethical practices. So, whenever I want to shop that brand, I try to only thrift it, or buy it second-hand. Is this the absolute best way to build an ethical wardrobe? No, it's not. But is it effective? To an extent, yes. By buying clothes second hand, you're not directly contributing to the waste and harm caused by the fashion industry. Instead, you're "recycling" an item in a sense, and giving it a new life, therefore saving it from being discarded in an unsustainable way. Some of my favorite thrift stores include Pretty Penny, Mercy Vintage, and Wallflower. These are all based in the SF Bay Area (Oakland, Piedmont, and SF, respectively) but do have shops online that you can check out. Or, online apps like Depop and Poshmark (again) are great as well, and I've made many successful purchases off of both of them.
And those are my top 5 tips for building an ethical wardrobe! Yes, I know that there are more ways than just these, but these are the methods that have worked for me and that I feel are the most practical / accessible for everyone! If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I'd love to hear how YOU have built or are building your own ethical wardrobe!
** Please note: Although I have suggested that you purge clothing, please take into account that I have suggested doing this in a sustainable manner, which includes rehoming your clothing. Many people discard their clothing in unsustainable ways (including burning them or throwing them in a landfill) which accounts for fashion being the #2 biggest polluter on the planet. If you have clothes that are in too poor shape to re-home, try to recycle them rather than throwing them away.