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Start the New Year with Ethical Fashion

I love to shop. I am very much a product of my generation, eagerly searching for the newest feel-good product when I already have a closet full of beautiful clothes, shoes, and handbags. There’s something about that shopping high, about finding the “right thing” to take your wardrobe to the next level. Especially if it can be done on sale! Last quarter I was at my worst. While I would never buy something that I couldn’t afford (credit card debt is not one of my goals), I was spending way too much money on clothes to fill imaginary “wardrobe holes.” It didn’t help that I was lonely and stressed out being away from my husband during the week because I’m still in college — and that combined with boredom and the miracle of online shopping filled an awful lot of imaginary closet holes. Yes, I am a lot happier with my wardrobe (turns out I really did need a couple of versatile jackets and winter sweaters!), but did I really need a billion pairs of perfect jeans? No. (Okay, maybe it’s closer to ten pairs, but you get the idea).

This year I am determined to get it right. I want to stop wasting so much time browsing online stores, to stop giving importance to the “shopping high,” and to stop fueling the horrendous cycle of violence involving irresponsible clothing factories. Factories who care more about producing clothing quickly and cheaply instead of caring about their workers, who are often involved in abuse, human slavery, and even human trafficking. This cycle exists because of our own impatience and unwillingness to buy less and to spend extra on quality, ethically made goods. Because the truth is, every time I buy a cheap $5 tee shirt without checking the responsibility of the company, I’m saying that it’s okay to oppress others because I simply don’t care. My money talks, and I don’t like to think about what it’s been saying lately.

The point of this is not to share an attitude of doom and gloom, but to instead share the amazing way you can improve the quality of your closet as you put a stop to harmful working conditions. I have no intention of telling you to stop shopping, but to merely re-think your attitudes and habits involved in your purchasing decisions.

Do Some Research

I can’t possibly cover every company’s ethical practices in this article, and the complicated nature of clothing industries makes it challenging to know exactly what is going on at any given time. That being said, it’s our responsibility to do our own research and to find companies with a good reputation. The good news is that there are plenty of fabulous companies out there! I’ll be listing a few of my favorites in my next article.

The easiest way to positively change your shopping impact is to research a handful of companies that you buy most of your clothes from. There are plenty of internet resources out there, and chances are someone has already done your research for you! Goodguide.com is a good place to start, simply type the company in question into their search bar, and they’ll give you an idea of how well they do in terms of ethics. Disappointed in the score your favorite company received? Email them about it! Companies are starting to change for the better recently as more people voice their concern. Your opinions as a consumer matter a lot.

Have a Game Plan

Does your shopping cycle go something like this?:

1. You can’t find anything to wear in your closet.

2. You go shopping, somewhere cheap because you go shopping a lot and like to buy lots of fun things.

3. Yay! Shopping high! This shirt is so pretty and flowy!

4. Shirt has less appeal a week later; you didn’t realize you had something just like it, and the fabric doesn’t fall as nicely as you thought it did in the store.

5. You can’t find anything to wear in your closet.

Does this sound familiar? The reason you go shopping so much is probably because you don’t have a game plan when it comes to shopping. You might gasp when a friend tells you about spending $100 on a pair of designer jeans, but you end up spending at least that amount on ten different shirts you’re not even excited to wear, just because they were “on sale” and in a decent color.Instead of shopping purposelessly to feel good about yourself, focus on building a wardrobe of quality pieces that will work for you as they last forever and flatter your body at the same time. The better basic pieces you have, the less you’ll feel like shopping, and the less harm you’ll do in the clothing industry. This means, you guessed it, that you’re going to have to do a little work:

1. Donate all clothing items that just don’t work for you. Life is short and there’s no point in having anything in your closet that doesn’t make you feel amazing.

2. Figure out what’s missing: do you need a couple pairs of jeans that actually flatter your derriere? Are you missing a quality blazer or jacket? Write a list of at least five things your closet desperately needs. For me it was black flats, a perfectly fitted jacket, a pair of dark denim skinny jeans, a couple of quality wool sweaters to transition my summer tops into cooler weather, and a dressy shirt for fancy outings.

3. Figure out your style. Make a Pinterest board of images, and take note of the things you are drawn to. Do you like plaid or polka dots? Skinny jeans or dresses? Lacy feminine tops or simple classy tees? Write down a list of your style themes next to your list of needs. Since I’m drawn to clothing with edgy elements, I decided to look for a motorcycle jacket instead of a preppy blazer.

4. Save up as much as you can to buy the best quality items you can afford. Make coffee at home, go on hikes with your friends instead of going out to brunch, and be a penny pincher. I have a jar at home that I dump change into when I come home from grocery shopping—it’s a great way to remind myself to save and to put aside a little extra cash.

5. When you have enough saved, use the money to buy your clothes ethically.

Buy Your Clothes Ethically

You have several good options when it comes to buying your clothes ethically. If you’re buying something like a coat or a pair of jeans, secondhand is a great way to go. You aren’t doing any damage because your money is not supporting an unethical company, and it’s also great for the environment! You can also look for companies who are committed to making their clothes only in the United States or companies that have a good reputation overseas. If you absolutely cannot find a company with these qualifications, buy the best quality you can afford to avoid buying the same item more than once.

Stay tuned for the next article, where I will be covering my personal wardrobe journey and a few ethical companies to consider!

Rachel is majoring in English at UC Davis and has a passion for sharing tips on living happily and stylishly on a budget, among other exciting hobbies. She loves cats, Pomeranians, anything covered in chocolate, earl grey tea, and her husband, a handsome UC Davis graduate. You'll find her lost somewhere in the halls of Voorhies, or in the frozen aisle of Trader Joe's stocking up on delectable turkey meatballs. She loves to write and hopes her articles add a little extra joy to your busy life!
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