ethical fashion hierarchy pyramid

A Beginner’s Guide to Ethical Fashion

You’ve read about the detriments fast fashion is having on our planet. You care about the people, including children, working in unsafe factories for little and often no pay. You want to shop better, but feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. That was me too, and years into this ethical fashion journey, I still often feel overwhelmed. But, I also know this issue is too important to simply stop caring. So I want share a simple resource that has helped me on this ever-evolving desire to support sustainable fashion.

When I first started researching fair fashion, I saw an ethical fashion pyramid that really helped me understand the hierarchy of sustainable fashion. I couldn’t find the original one, so I decided to recreate my own.

IG Ethical Fashion Hierarchy

I think a huge barrier to shopping ethically is finances, and while I do not deny that this barrier exists, it absolutely does, I’ve personally found that supporting ethical fashion is more a matter of changing my mindset than changing my closet. That’s why the bottom of the pyramid is wear what you own.

1 // WEAR WHAT YOU OWN

Maybe, like me, when you learned about the horrors of fast fashion, your first feeling was guilt. I looked at the tags of my clothes and discovered that most were made in Bangladesh and other countries with extremely high risks of worker exploitation. I wanted to replace all these clothes with better clothes. However, I definitely couldn’t afford that. And if you can’t afford it, it’s not sustainable.

Turns out the most sustainable and ethical option was to wear what I already owned. The truth is that I didn’t really need new new clothes. And when I started viewing clothes more as a need, and less as a want, this simple change of mindset revolutionized my thoughts on fashion.

Having said that, I enjoy fashion and have since I was a little girl. There is nothing wrong with liking fashion or wanting to dress fashionably. The problem is when our wants interfere with other’s basic human rights, like what is happening in fast fashion. Fast fashion bets on people viewing clothing as seasonal and disposable, instead of investment pieces.

2 // MEND AND ALTER

In addition to wearing what you already own, it’s equally important to care what you already own. Before practicing ethical fashion, when my clothes became worn, I simply donated or tossed them. Mending clothes didn’t really cross my mind, probably because the cost of clothing was so little. However, mending is such a simple way to lengthen the life of your clothes and keep them out of landfills. Patch holes in jeans, sew buttons back on and treat stains.

Altering your clothes is another great and often forgotten option.  If you’ve gained or lost a few pounds, it’s easy to assume you need a new wardrobe, however most clothes can easily be altered up or down a couple sizes. Find someone who does alterations and help support local jobs while also giving clothes new life.

3 // BORROW AND SWAP

This point is often left out in ethical fashion posts, but borrowing and swapping clothes is an easy and affordable way to practice fair fashion. Unless you plan on wearing something 30 plus times, try borrowing from a friend. Clothing swaps are another great sustainable option. Organize a clothing swap with a few friends and come home with some new clothes.

4 // BUY QUALITY SECONDHAND

Before buying new, ask yourself, can I buy a quality version secondhand? The word quality is really important to me because the world of secondhand and thrift shopping can so easily become another version of fast fashion. No, you’re not buying new, but buying from a thrift store, only to re-donate a few weeks later is continuing the cycle of waste since the majority of clothes we donate are not resold.

However, I do really love thrift store shopping and the majority of my clothes are secondhand. When shopping secondhand, I always try to ask myself the same questions as when I’m buying new:

Will this last?
Will I wear it 30 plus times?
If the fit is not perfect, can I have it altered?
Are the fabric and seams quality?

Also, check out this post if you want some more simple tips for thrifting.

5 // SUPPORT ETHICAL BRANDS

Finally, when you’re ready to buy something new, support ethical brands. Your dollar does have power. Shopping ethically is going to cost more, a lot more, however if you’ve followed the pyramid, you probably won’t be buying that many new pieces. And while this hierarchy is a pyramid, it’s also cyclical. Once you’ve bought that new piece, wear it often, take good careof it, mend it and then properly donate it when you’re finished.

Hopefully this pyramid will help you on your ethical fashion journey. Do you have any  more tips for practicing sustainable fashion?

 

3 Comments

  1. Kendall Hoeft

    “The problem is when our wants interfere with other’s basic human rights, like what is happening in fast fashion.”

    That’s so powerful and important! Thanks for inspiring us to live more consciously in this way.

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