Want to Start Shopping Sustainably? Here Are 7 Small Ways to Get Started

Fun fact: fashion is one of the top three polluting industries in the world. This is in the result of many reasons, from the way our clothes are made, to the fibers they’re made from, and additionally, the way in which we, as consumers, participate. What many of us don’t know, however, is how to address this big issue. It seems like it would take a huge movement, involving large corporations, in order to make any change at all, and to some extent this is true. Yet aside from this, there are a number of ways we, as individuals, can start making a change.

Shopping sustainably seems like a huge step if you're thinking about curating a more sustainable closet. But honestly, there are so many small steps you can take to build a more sustainable wardrobe and world. Here are just a few ways to get started in creating a more sustainable lifestyle:

1. Shop intentionally, not compulsively

This may sound simple, but it might be more challenging than you think. Frequent shopping has become a trend on its own, whether that be out of habit, in response to a sale or even just a little retail therapy. It’s scary how much money we all spend on stuff we don’t need, and it’s even scarier how much over-consumption has grown because of it. Try to only go shopping when you actually need something, and while I know those impulse purchases are tough to avoid, I think we can all handle the challenge.  

2. Don’t buy into every new trend

One major problem with fashion is the practice of ‘fast fashion’ shopping. Fashion retailers used to operate on two seasons per year, Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. Now, fast fashion stores put out as many as 52 seasons per year, also known as ‘micro-seasons.’ New trends come and go rapidly, and to ensure that your new clothes won’t come with an expiration date, stick with classic pieces or those of your own personal style.

3. Shop secondhand  

Mass overproduction is a major contributor to the pollution that fashion has caused. If you love shopping as much as I do, and find that doing it scarcely just isn’t for you, try shopping secondhand instead. One huge problem the industry is facing is that people go through their clothes too quickly, and a large amount of clothes is never even worn. Instead of introducing new garments into this cycle, shop garments that have already been a victim to it. Another plus: thrifted clothes often have more character, and as opposed to the pieces you get at H&M or Forever 21, you’ll find that your vintage pulls are beautifully unique.

4. Plan a clothing swap

Another great way to avoid contributing to overproduction is by hosting a clothing swap with your friends. This is a guaranteed way to give your clothes another life-cycle, and to get some new pieces in return - it’s a win-win, especially if you and your friends have the same sense of style.

5. Check the labels

Many of the fibers that cheaper garments are made from are dangerous for the planet. Synthetics (such as polyester, nylon, spandex, etc) are technically a form of plastic, which means that they will most likely take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Other fabrics, such as cotton, are made using chemicals and pesticides that are dangerous for both the environment and the people who make them. Next time you shop for new clothing, try looking for alternative garments made from sustainable materials, including organic cotton, organic wool, recycled synthetics and more.  

6. Think quality, not quantity

Garments made from sustainable fibers may be on the pricier side, but the quality you get is worth the investment. This is especially true when you’re only really buying what you need. Think about it: H&M offers you a deal to get 3 low-quality tees for $30. You only really needed one tee, to begin with, and the quality of the tees won’t allow them to last long in the end. Wouldn’t it be both more reasonable (and fiscally responsible) to buy one high-quality tee for the same price?  

7. Share or borrow clothes for a single event

Needing a specific garment for a special event always seems to be a winning excuse for a shopping spree. Most of the time, I don’t even wear the piece again afterward, contributing to the dangerous cycle of overproduction that I mentioned above. Instead, try visiting a friend’s closet or test out a clothing rental service. This will not only be helping save the environment but again, your wallet as well.

Shopping sustainably can seem like an overwhelming lifestyle choice, but like anything, taking it one step at a time makes it totally doable. Plus, any small step towards a sustainable closet makes a difference! 

Check out Alyssa's zine on sustainable fashion and capsule wardrobes here.