How To Be the Informed Consumer
Welcome to the land of memes, trending topics, viral Tik Toks and… a lot of fake news. If you’re a thirsty reader and inhaler of information like me, it can all be pretty overwhelming.
Climate anxiety is like a yappy dog that does not go away and brands which promote greenwashing disguised under the trendy tag of “sustainable fashion” really don’t help at
all. Widespread misconceptions about ethical fashion are practiced every day and can derail consumers from keeping on the right path toward a truly maintainable lifestyle.
Here are 5 common myths that need debunking:
1. The country that comes on the tag = The country your clothes is from.
That really cute top you bought last week from that small, local boutique may have been assembled in the country it says on the label, but truth be told, most times the chain of labour that went into making it is far too complex to include in one small tag. There was a farm that grew the raw material, a factory that wove the fabric, a workshop that dyed it…
What dyes were used? Natural dyes? Were the workers paid fairly? Where did the zips and buttons come from? Encourage your favourite brands that claim to be ethical to be transparent about their supply chains and share the process behind their clothes.
2. It’s okay to buy online and then return the product. Another customer will end up buying it.
It’s actually cheaper for companies to throw away your returns. Most of them do exactlythat. Each year, 5 billion pounds of waste is generated through returns. And even if your product did end up with a new customer, the re-packaging and re-sending may have already created a carbon footprint. So next time you want to buy those trousers you’re not sure may fit, why not double check your size or try it in-store?
3. The clothes you donate to your charity shop will get sold.
I´ll hold my hands up. For a long time, I was the person who would donate about 15 items per year. I would tell myself “it’s for charity so it’s a good thing”, right? And although some of the proceeds, if sold, do go to charity and the item will be reused, unfortunately that’s not always the case. Only 10 to 20% of donated items get sold on shop floors. What happens to the rest? It either gets dumped in a landfill, burnt, downcycled or sent by distributors as second-hand items to other countries. And what happens if they don’t want our old clothes? Mountains of wasted material. I encourage you to look for alternatives. Some that have worked well for me include platforms like Depop and Vestiaire Collective. I get to package the item consciously and send it to someone who will actually give my preloved item a happy second life.
4. Eco-friendly is synonymous to expensive.
Giants like Primark and Amazon have made anything over the 10-pound mark seem unreasonably expensive. A pair of sustainable trainers may be more expensive than a 100% polyurethane pair but look at it this way: when I buy an item of clothing, instead of looking at the price as a one-time hit on my credit card, I divide the cost over how many times I estimate I’ll wear the item. My own previous experience has taught me that the average life span of a pair of trainers from Primark varies from two to three years. A perk which comes with most eco-friendly brands is the wonderful quality. You’ll get more value out of your money’s worth. So, don’t make the mistake of buying cheap mainstream thinking you’ll bespending less. You’ll actually be buying more over a longer period of time. Another perk?
You’ll be investing in a brand that provides fair working conditions.
5. Vegan leather is the way to go.
This is a complicated one. We can all agree it trumps real leather as it’s cruelty free. However, there is still a lot to be done. The common malpractice in the fashion industry includes using highly toxic synthetic materials, such as polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride, both of which are not biodegradable and contribute to high carbon emissions. Don’t despair. Vegan leather alternatives that are cruelty-free, sustainable and ethical do exist!
Increasingly so, some sustainable brands are pushing eco-friendly vegan leathers made out of cork or piñatex (pineapple leather). Although they may still use polyurethane in the coating or lining, overall, the amount used is significantly smaller. My hope is that the innovators who are taking on food-waste based fibres for textiles will push through, making their product the chosen option for the majority.
Sustainability in the fashion industry is still more nuanced than what we’d like it to be but, in a world where information is only a click away, there is opportunity for us to further educate ourselves and compare our sources in order to make a truly informed decision. Something we can all do is simply buy less. And when you do shop, patience my friend. Take the time to explore your options. Get to know the brand’s manufacturing process. Have asnoop around second-hand shops. Or if you have a mother and two sisters with excellent taste in fashion as I do, why not check out their closet and ask for some hand-me-downs?