"Sustainable" and "Fast-Fashion..." What does it mean for your closet?

October 23, 2020

What is Sustainability?

In regards to environmental science, sustainability means for something to be created and is not harmful to the environment through depleting natural resources in it's creation.

How does it relate to fashion?

Sustainable fashion refers to fabrics derived from eco-friendly resources and practices, such as sustainably grown fiber crops, dyes that aren't harmful, using recycled materials like water bottles, eco-friendly ink, or reducing water waste during production. It also refers to how these fabrics are made. Many times, fabrics left over from production convert to waste rather than being repurposed. 

Typically you will hear the word, "Fast-fashion" as an antonym to sustainably sourced clothing, A.K.A "Slow-Fashion." This can mean a variety of things, but essentially refers to clothing that is inexpensively made and produced on a massive scale. Think of stores like Forever21, Zara, H&M, Boohoo, or Pretty Little Thing. They always have the latest trends in 6 different colors, have hundreds to thousands of new arrivals on a daily basis, do huge sales that prices the items ridiculously low, and restock sold out items quickly.

Another word you will sometimes hear with sustainable is, "ethical." This typically means employees at the company are provided safe working conditions and fair pay. Keep in mind that ethical and sustainable are not synonymous, and you can have one without the other. Just because a brand says they are sustainable does not mean they are ethical. 

Why are sustainable and ethical clothing stores so expensive?

If you want to try your hand at sustainable clothes shopping, I have to warn you. Sustainable brands' prices are significantly higher than what you may be used to. This is because there aren't any corners cut when producing their products. Many times child labor is used to produce fast fashion's products. This reduces production prices since the children are hardly paid anything. The reduce in production costs then provides the ability to produce more and at a cheaper rate. When things are ethically made, the employees typically are an appropriate age and are paid a livable wage. Being sustainably sourced means there is a significantly slower and more expensive production which in turn means less products are being sold. 

Why should I try to shop sustainably?

The fast fashion industry produces about 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. Alone, that percentage is more than the emissions released from all international flights! Fast fashion also produces 20% of global wastewater, which is mostly caused by toxic textile dyes. The way I see the impact of shopping more sustainable brands is like a ripple in the water. The more people shop at those brands, the less fast fashion companies produce and the more likely they are to convert their practices because of "peer pressure." Of course, it is not your sole job to reverse their impact. It's those corporations who need to be held responsible and change their practices. It's also not your job to police other people's shopping decisions. Like I said, sustainable and ethical shopping is expensive. Not everyone has the ability to buy from those brands.

Ways you can be more sustainable:
  1. Where did this item come from? Read website's "About Us" to see if they mention how their clothes are made and how they treat their employees (do they have good working conditions, are they paid livable wages, etc.). Sustainable companies almost always talk about the materials they use, who is making the product, and/or their impact on the environment. I also like to check out Good On You to see a company's practices rating.
  2. Do I really need this? Often, I struggle with wanting something momentarily and not realizing I already have a similar item, or if I purchase super on-trend pieces, I will only wear the item once or twice then get tired of it. When new trends come out, I try to stick to 1 new piece that can rotate throughout all the seasons. Hold on to trends that reoccur like snake or leopard print and leather jackets. This way you don't have to keep rebuying them, but rather tuck them away until it's their time to shine again! Simply shopping less is a great contribution to making our planet better!
  3. Don't purchase an item just because it's on sale. I am a sucker for wanting something simply because it's a great deal. Usually the piece isn't all that amazing and doesn't fit me or into my closet perfectly. This is where the famous KonMari method comes in and you can ask yourself, does this bring me joy? If the piece doesn't make me instantly excited, then I don't really need it in my closet. If you can't tell whether it's the price or piece making you excited, ask yourself, would you buy that piece full price? Would you buy it as a splurge item? If the answer is yes, then go for it! Remember, your clothes are curated and represent who you are. Don't waste your time on pieces that don't make your heart sing or you know you won't wear as much as you could.
  4. Can I find it in second-hand? If I see an item I like, I always check Poshmark to see if there's a listing for the same thing. You can do this by typing the exact name of the product into their search function. If you're okay with similar items, try typing in the style of the piece. This way, it's bought second hand (and usually a fraction of the price). This reduces your amount of personal waste and helps reduce the amount of new clothes in circulation. Some bloggers also host local closet sales where you can shop more current pieces second hand. This is a great option for people who don't like the idea of wearing thrifted clothes because you know who the pieces are coming from. The only catch is you need a blogger who is the same size, lives close by, or is willing to ship. 
  5. Buy Sustainable Basics. As your basics start needing refreshing, try replacing them with sustainable or higher end options. Yes the cost is more upfront, but you'll need to replace them less often since the quality is typically higher than fast fashion pieces. Plus, investing in quality basic pieces is great for any wardrobe, sustainable or not.
  6. Don't throw out your clothes. This isn't necessarily related to building your wardrobe, but throwing out your clothes contributes to millions of tons of clothing waste. If you can, repair, donate, repurpose, or resell. There are a ton of local alterations places, donation centers, ways to repurpose, or places to resell. I try to only throw out items like old/used underwear or swimsuit bottoms (I think some donation centers will take them, but that weirds me out idk). A few google searches can provide your options for any of those!

Places with sustainability in mind:

Buy it New

Pact - Basics; > $80 ^!!
People of Leisure - Loungewear; ~ $100
Whimsy + Row - Classic pieces
Outdoor Voices - Active lifestyle; $40-100 ^
Everlane - Very transparent & ethical; huge range of prices ^
Kotn - Classic Styles; ^
Able - Classic Styles, bags, jewelry
Parade - Underwear at a great price; Undies > $15 *
Girlfriend - CUTE workout gear, sells out fast; $30-100 * 
Pine + Sapling - Fair priced clothing for Mamas and babies
Thought - More mature style, has really affordable sale items ^
Wholesome Culture - Cute, affordable graphic tees; > $60 ^
Spell - Boho inspired pieces (not sure if sustainable, but are ethically made)
Ace + Jig - Cool patterns, Quirky, higher end.*
UpWest - Cute Comfortable pieces, Affordable sale items ^
Life Clothing Co - This section is sustainable, not sure about the rest! They often have sales or you can use lavenderrep10 for 10% off :)

*Size Inclusive (goes above XXL)
^ Offers women's and men's clothing
I've purchased from and would recommend

Although they are still fast-fashion brands, Aerie, Zara, H&M, NA-KD, and ASOS offer recycled materials or more sustainably sourced pieces, so you can shop more affordably and sustainably through larger companies like that. 

Disclaimer: I'd like to point out that a couple of these brands have been in the media for underpaying or refusing to pay their employees. I'm not so sure if they changed their practices after being called out, so keep that in mind if you want sustainable and ethical. 

Buy it Second-Hand:

Poshmark - shop mine @victoriaaeddie or sign up here (you get $10, I get $10)
The Real Real
Vintage Stores or Etsy Shops
Consignment stores (think Plato's,  Buffalo Exchange, or Uptown Cheapskate)
Thrift stores: Goodwill, Salvation Army, Park Avenue, etc. (again, just google "thrift stores near me"

Rent it:

Rent the Runway


It's okay not to be 100% sustainable in your closet. Not everyone has the means to shop sustainably because of time, sizing, and/or money factors. Sustainability is a privilege and simply isn't accessible for all. Making little shifts in your wardrobe can provide an impact on our environment, but it's also the large corporations who are making the biggest impact. Be kind to people regardless of their shopping methods, it's your choice for you and your life - not your choice for them! 

Check out my Instagram @breathinglavender. I post reels with restyling old pieces, second hand shopping, & more. Thanks for reading!

  1. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sustainability
  2. https://www.greenstrategy.se/sustainable-fashion/what-is-sustainable-fashion/
  3. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/fashion/a28552865/sustainable-fashion-terms-ethical-recycled/
  4. https://thegreenhubonline.com/2019/03/28/what-actually-is-ethical-fashion/#:~:text=It's%20important%20to%20note%20that,its%20fabrics%20and%20environmental%20practices.
  5. https://www.encircled.ca/blogs/live/5-ways-to-know-if-an-online-fashion-brand-is-ethical
  6. http://the-curious-button.com/ethical-sustainable-slow-fashion/
  7. https://passionlilie.com/blogs/designersjournal/ethical-sustainable-clothing-important#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20treating%20workers,lower%20impact%20on%20the%20environment.&text=%E2%80%94%20Clothing%20is%20made%20using%20natural%20energy%20and%20avoiding%20pollution.
  8. https://goodonyou.eco/  This is an awesome website for resources!!
  9. https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/why-is-sustainable-fashion-expensive  This is another awesome website for resources!!

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