As someone in their mid-twenties who values style, but is also determined to reduce their impact as much as possible, incorporating ethics into my wardrobe has been challenging to say the least. Since breaking free from my awkward emo phase almost a decade ago, I have slowly but surely developed my personal style. Honestly, it’s still a work in progress.
The truth is, when most of your clothing comprises of hand-me-downs, you kind of just inherit the style of whomever palmed the clothes off on you in the first place. In my case, it was my mother and cousin, and a few family friends. Luckily they all have good taste, but getting the pieces to work together flawlessly can be a struggle, and not all of them are quite me. While I have never been a shopaholic, before discovering the truth about fast fashion I would default to the cheapest, most accessible option, like dime a dozen department and chain stores. Remember: when the goal of a company is to keep up with trends and pump out as many garments as possible, you can be quite sure ethics are not a priority.
As someone with a limited disposable income, it has been a steep learning curve over the past few years as I have striven to become a more conscious consumer in all aspects of my life. When I went vegan over five years ago, I quickly realised that ethics don’t stop on your plate – from cleaning products and makeup to clothing and even superannuation companies, doing an ethical overhaul can be a daunting and time-consuming process, but don’t let that stop you. The benefits far outweigh the cost, and I promise it will be well worth it when you wake up each morning knowing that you are doing your best to tread lightly on the earth and treat all of its inhabitants with compassion.
At this point in my life, contrary to stereotypes of twenty-something women, I am shopping less than ever. Since delving into the world of ethical fashion a couple of years ago, I have purchased only a few new items of clothing. This is mainly because I obsessively check the Good On You rating of each store I walk into, and more often than not find myself walking right back out again, empty-handed. It can be overwhelming to realise that a lot of the clothes in your closet were probably the product of environmental distress, animal cruelty, and/or worker exploitation. I have to gently remind myself that there is no point in dwelling on that fact. However they got to you, you have the clothes now, and you should do your best to make the most of them, even as you consider updating your wardrobe to match your newfangled ethical outlook on fashion.
Style is a strange and deeply personal thing. As the saying goes, “fashion fades, style is eternal” (Yves Saint Laurent). While the media throws trends in our faces every single day that society expects us to keep up with in order to remain relevant, it can be difficult to take a step back and ask yourself if you really need to wear what’s hot on the runway in your day-to-day life. If the answer is no, which it probably is, then think instead about investing in pieces that are classic and timeless, that can be dressed up or dressed down, that you won’t be sick of after just seven wears, and that will bring you joy (because you can wear them knowing they didn’t cause any unnecessary harm). If you do decide that your wardrobe needs an overhaul, consider trying the KonMari method to sort out the still-loves from the let-gos.
To build up your wardrobe with clothes that you really love and identify with, consider delving into the world of op shopping. I have made a habit of popping into every op shop I see to have a quick browse and figure out what the quality and price points are, and if I like what I see, I set aside a few hours on a day off to do some thorough exploring. Just remember not to fall into the trap of buying things you don’t need just because they are cheap! If you need jeans, for the love of denim, just buy jeans.
While I haven’t explored it myself, clothes swapping is increasing in popularity at the moment and seems like a fantastic way to ensure your old clothes are going to a loving new home and not to landfill. Why not host your own with your friends or neighbours?
To top it all off, consider condensing – capsule wardrobes are all the rage right now, and what better way to build one than by incorporating ethical brands that make quality pieces worth investing in, and secondhand goodies you can breathe new life into?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. I am just one person working their way through life, trying to do their best. The fact that you are reading this is such a positive sign and a commendable first step – it means you are probably considering similar things on your path to conscious consumerism in a world where it is so easy to fall into the traps laid down by the fashion industry and countless others.
Good luck out there, and remember that everything you do can change the world for the better!
“The idea that everything is purposeful really changes the way you live. To think that everything that you do has a ripple effect, that every word that you speak, every action that you make affects other people and the planet.” ~ Victoria Moran
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