How I have embraced conscious fashion and clothing habits

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When I started understanding what fast fashion was all about and the impact it is having on people and the environment, I started looking for alternative ways to clothe my family. Being a more conscious consumer has led me to finding wonderful new brands that support workers fairly, and sustainable fabrics that feel even better than they look. I’ve also learnt to thrift like a pro, and learnt to sew! Most importantly, I’ve come to a great appreciation of how things are produced, and reevaluated whether shopping is really all it’s cracked up to be.

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Dressing up and enjoying fashion doesn't have to be at the expense of others of the environment. Read on for the many ways we get new clothes that are ethical and sustainable.

Clothes have never been so cheap or so bountiful in our lives than today. The fashion industry has come under more and more scrutiny in recent years, thanks to media coverage of disasters like the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. Now we as consumers can demand more transparency, and initiatives like the Fashion Revolution that it further with their campaign encouraging shoppers to ask #whomademyclothes?

The number and range of ethical and eco-responsible manufacturers is also continually rising, which is great news in many ways. Shoppers can access the styles they prefer, workers get treated fairly, and the environment gets taken care of too. It’s a much better system and if everyone embraced it and could afford to buy sustainable clothing, it would be perfect! But luckily it’s not the only way we can be clothed with less impact. Here are some other ways we have reduced our consumption.

Second-hand shopping

Me and my four dollar jeans!I paid $4 for these jeans! Yep, a whole $4. They are next to new and fit me perfectly: unusually, I didn’t even have to take the hems up! A perfect pair of jeans, found in a quick look in an op shop, with change from five bucks.

I re-discovered op-shopping (aka thrift or second-hand store) when I was pregnant with my first-born. I knew enough about babies to know they don’t wear out their clothes before growing out of them. And it quickly became clear that the op shops of my childhood – when grunge fashion was all the rage and it was cool to wear clothes from the 70’s and/or your grandparents – were not the same as the op shops of today. I realised why later: with our huge fashion turnover and the price of clothes so cheap, there is a surplus of clothing everywhere.

Since then I have discovered many treasures in second-hand stores. I’ve found my snow jacket, skirts, tops, jumpers, several pairs of jeans, and everything for my kids, including brand-new shoes. Often clothes still have their tags on! I have never found much for Anthony in op shops though. Perhaps men don’t buy into the trends quite so much, or tend to hang on to their clothes for longer.

But beware, even second-hand shopping can be wasteful!

If one million women bought second hand clothing we would save 6 million kg of carbon pollution


Op-shopping can turn quite compulsive though, especially if you love a bargain and you’ve found a few real gems. Because they’re so much cheaper than new items it’s easy to go a bit crazy and buy things you don’t need. They can always be donated again though, and that way you’re supporting the second-hand store and it’s charity even more I guess! But perhaps it’s better to learn restraint in all purchases. If not, you are addressing the fashion waste issue, but not the compulsive “I need more!” shopping attitude. That is probably the harder one to break. It is a habit formed from many years of conditioning and media messages, and I am still battling it sometimes. But it’s a great one to keep working on and I want to fully break it as well as model more thoughtful practices to my kids.

Starting young with better clothing practices

Dressing our kids can be a great exercise in recycling, ‘upcycling’, and thoughtful gifts. Retailers would love to hook them into buying licensed clothes and new trends constantly, but in my experience, kids don’t care as much about it as they think. Both of my children’s wardrobes are more than 90% filled with handed-down items, op shop finds and hand-made or knitted gifts. They have some new and licensed clothing too, and they are special gifts they appreciate. But they have their favourites, and usually they are hand-made or second-hand garments. I have made them both outfits and costumes, and decorated plain t-shirts for them which have included their favourite characters. Their grandmothers have knitted them special jumpers and beanies, which they really love. And my kids have also enjoyed doing some projects with me using fabric pens and paint.

I have also made some jeans for Dante from a pair of menAllegra and her doll in their upcycled dresses’s jeans found in an op shop, and I really feel satisfied up-cycling like that! I also recently finished this dress for Allegra (and matching one for her doll), made from a skirt of mine that had a stain right on the front. And I made some pants for Dante from a pair of my bamboo maternity pants and some leftover material from another project. He loves comfy pants and I love not wasting good fabric.

I know that sewing yourself is a luxury of time that many people don’t have. I am not very fast so each project takes me quite awhile to complete. But it is something I enjoy doing for the creative process, and to model these real-world skills to my kids. What I have also gained from learning to sew is a great appreciation for how all clothing is made. Each garment takes a lot of work! It is heartbreaking to think of the people who have made our bought items, who are usually in sweat shops in low-income areas. They are paid next to nothing and work in terrible, unsafe conditions. And we wear what they have made only a little before discarding it.

Supporting conscious fashion manufacturers

With buying so much clothing second-hand, I feel ok to spend money when I need something new from ethical and sustainable manufacturers. There are more and more companies around now who pay their workers fairly, and who use sustainable materials and environmentally aware practices. And I feel good that I don’t need to support companies who exploit their workers and the environment.

Also while we travelled to Southeast Asia, where clothes are even cheaper than ever, we sought out fair trade certified fashion and social enterprises who take care of their staff as a priority. We visited Ethnic Lanna, a fair trade fashion warehouse in Chiang Mai, Thailand, who pay their staff and partners fairly, and who source vintage fabrics and support traditional artisans and techniques for their beautiful clothing and bags.

We also restrained from buying into the bargains lining every street market. It was amazing to see the staggering amount of clothing that is made for tourists, just in the few places in the world that we visited. But it was also reassuring to see that practices are changing everywhere, and it was still easy to support sustainable options when we shopped. My post on Responsible Travel in Siem Reap details some excellent producers and social enterprises in Cambodia.

Further suggestions to rethink your fashion practices and cut your waste, save money and live more sustainably:

By now you might be thinking ‘This is all very well Emma, but I love fashion! I love to update my look and go shopping and wear new things! And I don’t want to scrounge in thrift stores or sew it myself!’ Fair enough. You don’t have to! You can still love clothes and be conscious of what you’re consuming. Try all of these suggestions and I guarantee you’ll be happier with your wardrobe, more relaxed getting dressed, save some money, and help the environment too!

  • Look up ethical companies. There are so many around now, and some traditional manufacturers are changing their practices too. If you find them more expensive than your usual outlets, it’s a great reason to think twice about your purchases and only get something that you really need. Try to only buy things that fill a gap in your current wardrobe. Speaking of which:
  • Girl in wardrobe pictureTake stock of your wardrobe! Many people have so many clothes in theirs, it’s hard to find things and confusing to match up an outfit. Too may choices is a very bad thing, as it takes more brain-power than we give credit for to decide what to wear. Some people get intentionally very boring with their wardrobes so they can save their decision-making powers for their more important work. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama are among these people, and does anyone care about their lack of clothing ingenuity? Of course not.
  • Create a clothes-swap party with your friends. Women often love to share clothes anyway, so why not swap a few things permanently? It’s just like getting new clothes except you don’t have to buy them. Plus it’s lots of fun and no fashion waste will result.
  • Invest in quality over buying into cheap and trendy clothes. Items that are well-made from robust material may be more expensive, but if they are a timeless style you will have them for many years. The cost per wear is much less in the long run. My winter coat is over 15 years old but doesn’t look dated and the fabric isn’t worn. Those few hundred dollars were well spent I think!
  • Try buying and selling some unwanted clothes on e-bay if you can’t swap them. It is the biggest second-hand store in the world! I used to buy and sell office wear on e-bay before having kids.Why buying, I found it best to stick to brands I knew my size in.
  • Maybe have a think about whether you love clothes, or the clothing manufacturers love you. They are excellent at marketing and hooking into needs you might have, such as to feel beautiful, on-trend, in-the-know, rich or tasteful. Have they got you hooked? Do you want to be told what to wear and when, or do you want to find your own, unique style?

Dressing up and enjoying clothes is lovely, and you don’t have to become super boring to appreciate what you have and cut down on fashion consumption. I still enjoy getting my favourite clothes out for the next season, and wearing a signature look that I feel comfortable in. Being conscious of what happens in the fashion industry and my own habits has brought less clutter and more appreciation into my life. And I want to model these qualities to my kids, not the “get more more more” attitude that is so easy to buy into in our culture. I hope this inspires you to reduce excess and appreciate more too!

Pin this post for later:
Dressing up and enjoying fashion doesn't have to be at the expense of others of the environment. Read on for the many ways we get new clothes that are ethical and sustainable.

I also have an Ethical and Eco Fashion board on Pinterest that you’re welcome to follow for more inspiration. There are articles about ethical clothing brands, how to create a capsule wardrobe, how to host clothing swaps, and even ethical lingerie and wedding rings!

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