My three top tips to becoming an ethical fashion consumer

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Juliette Epstein
/ Categories: Advocacy

About four months ago, I started as an ethical fashion intern at Tearfund. Before joining the Education and Advocacy team, I held the term “ethical fashion” loosely. I mean, I knew it meant that the people making my clothes were paid fairly and treated justly. What I didn’t know, was the complex process involved in producing one item of clothing, and the amount of research and work required to state that a company is “ethical”.  

Throughout my time at Tearfund, my awareness has increased of what and how I consume, and which fashion companies I choose to support. Although a brand may say they’re ethical, it doesn’t necessarily deem true. If a company isn't transparent about its actions, they’re probably not that ethical. And if the clothing prices seem too good to be true, then they probably are. Simply put, cheap clothes mean the people making them are most likely underpaid and mistreated, not to mention the unsustainable environmental methods used to produce the garments. Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done to never buy clothes from unethical brands. Especially when it’s that SUPER cute pair of jeans on sale in your size….



Cheap clothes mean the people making them are most likely underpaid and mistreated, not to mention the unsustainable environmental methods used to produce the garments.



ith the ease and accessibility of buying mainstream clothing, being a conscious ethical consumer is hard. I get it. I love fashion; it’s an expression of human identity and creativity which is inherently not a bad thing. But, to put it bluntly, we don’t have to enjoy fashion at the expense of someone’s life. It’s just not worth it. The mere trip to my local shopping mall often overwhelms me with the thought that most of the companies are selling products made by exploited workers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that each garment is made by a real human being. Fast fashion often means garment workers are not treated with the dignity and rights they’re entitled to. And for what? So we can continue to buy more stuff. This not only affects people down the supply chain but also the environment. We’re consuming way more than we need to, as fast fashion guarantees that consumers are wearing each item less and less, whilst the volumes of textiles being disposed of are ever-increasing. In the US alone, a whopping 11 million tonnes of used textile waste is generated annually.
Amongst this heartbreaking reality, I wanted to share three things I’ve learnt on my ethical fashion journey since being at Tearfund. Firstly, I need to do my research. Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Guide uses an A-F grading system for companies based on extensive research and collaboration with them. The guide helps you educate yourself about where to invest your money. Unfortunately, just because a company states they’re ethical, doesn’t mean that they are. Or, they are doing really well in one area but need improvement in other areas. In New Zealand, there are so many incredible companies working towards ethical fashion. A company I came across recently called Velvet Heartbeat is a New Zealand owned business selling faux leather products, therefore not harming the environment or animals. They are extremely innovative, as the leather they use is sourced from pineapple leaves, cactus plants, mushroom skin and more! Velvet Heartbeat is conscious of where their materials come from, who makes their products, and are trying to be as environmentally conscious and sustainable as possible to protect the planet and people.



We don’t have to enjoy fashion at the expense of someone’s life. It’s just not worth it. 



Secondly, learn to maintain a smaller wardrobe of quality items that you love. Once you get into the habit of re-wearing items and finding ways to pair items together in different ways, it becomes easier. It also makes you more hesitant to buy something new, as you know you have limited space and the piece you incorporate needs to work in with the rest of your wardrobe. By doing this, it keeps your wardrobe from becoming unnecessarily full, and you'll probably find you wear more of your clothes!

Thirdly, try op-shopping! Most of my clothes are from second-hand stores. It’s ethical and environmentally friendly. It cuts out the worry of contributing to the demand for fast fashion (and whether or not it was made in a sweatshop). It also gives clothes a second life, keeping textile waste out of landfills and interrupting the cycle of buy, use, throw away. Shopping for second-hand clothes also supports charities and helps out the community. Op shops also offer so many hidden treasures and unique pieces that would never be available in mainstream stores. Lastly, it saves SO much money, and let’s be real, we all love a good op-shop bargain.   So, I hope these tips will help you think about how and what you're consuming. When it comes to ethical fashion, there’s always a bigger picture. Here’s to becoming conscious ethical consumers and making a difference together, no matter how small it may be.   Keep your eyes peeled for our 2021 Ethical Fashion Guide in October! 


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Juliette Epstein

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