Pin It
Le kilt ethical fashion dazed
Le Kilt, which uses ethically sourced wool and was chosen by Selfridges as one of the young designers leading their ethical Material World projectPhotography Reto Schmid, styling Elizabeth Fraser-Bell

Seven totally achievable ways to be fashionable AND ethical

Because you are way too good for that sweatshop knock-off, honey

By now, you may well have heard the facts. You know that the fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry (after oil), or that over 235 million items of clothing of clothing will end up in a landfill in the UK this year. Or maybe you read about the British sweatshops busted by Channel 4 that were paying people a shocking (and shockingly illegal) £3 an hour. According to the Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse of the Fashion Industry report, apparel consumption is projected to rise by an enormous 63% to 102 million tonnes in 2030, which means we all need to start thinking long and hard about the parts we play in all of this. Spearheading the discussion, last week a host of the industry’s most prominent minds gathered in Copenhagen for their annual Fashion Summit to talk about what the hell we are going to do about it all. We went, took some notes, and have formulated these simple tips.


Fashion can be emotional. We form connections with clothes – they become key markers of our identities, things that remind us of certain moments in our lives. But somehow, it’s so easy to ignore everything bad about the way we consume fashion – we’ve totally detached ourselves and our consciences from the realities (cheap labour, exploitation – mostly of women – environmental destruction… the list goes on). As WGSN’s Vanessa Belleau pointed out at the Summit, we need to get emotionally invested in sustainability. The human cost of our shopping addictions is very, very real, and seeing an advert for a £7.99 dress should make you wince, not rejoice. If you just aren’t that bothered, try watching a documentary like The True Cost and see how you feel.


Ok, ok, ok. I know this is hard. I pretty much spent every weekend of my teenage years in a shopping centre throwing my hard earned minimum wage cash back into cheaply made, totally regrettable clothing just because it was on sale. Right now, mainstream clothing culture is so intrinsically throwaway – high street retail giants try their hardest to get you to spend as much as possible, get bored of it, and then buy more. One speaker at the summit discussed the idea of consumers not only binging on clothes, but actually getting fashion hangovers – you know, where you look at the stuff you spent a load of money on and realise you didn’t actually need any of it. There are thousands of people whose job it is to make you buy things, and we all feel that desire once in awhile. But try to step back, take a breath, and think: do I really want this?


If you make a list of what you really want, it’s easier to not get distracted by the small things you just THINK you want. Maybe you hope to own a Chanel flap bag, or get your first pair of Prada shoes. Whatever it is, having goals will help you not be so tempted by the other stuff. You should look at your wardrobe as an archive which you curate over time, where every piece should either be useful or bring you joy. Don’t give in to sample sale fever, plan out your purchases, and think about shopping as voting with your money. You are too good for that high-street-high-fashion knock off.


Apart from the hand-painted Margiela boots that my non-fashion friends like to joke look as if I’ve let a toddler loose in my wardrobe with the acrylics, the piece I own that elicits the biggest response is a jacket. A jacket that cost me precisely £30 in Camden Market. Cool clothes don’t have to cost hundreds, and when you find that something that no-one else has, it feels way more special. Even if you weren’t raised to think that getting up at 7am on a Sunday to scour a car boot sale was the ultimate idea of fun (guilty), get out there – you’ll be surprised by what you find – there’s a pair of 90s Moschino jeans or a 50p vintage Michael Jackson t-shirt out there with your name on it.


Fashion is all about what’s next, but that doesn’t mean that some things go out of style. A booming re-sell market has popped up over the last few years, with sites like The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective giving you a safe way to shop guaranteed authentic designer items that are nearly-new. They are also seriously good value (we’re talking barely two seasons old clothes for a fraction of the retail price) and a great way to track down those killer pieces you missed the first time around. Prada flame heels? A Chanel basketball? Vintage YSL? Check, check, check. A way to shop second hand, give clothes a new lease of life, and save money. There are literally no downsides, other than the fact you will WANT IT ALL.


The good news is that some stores are on the side of sustainability, or at the very least offer more ethical ways to shop. Selfridges, for instance, want to make sustainability the new standard, and as well as initiatives like their Material World project are introducing labels onto garments that meet certain ethical criteria. Then there are indie retailers like Dazed favourite Birdsong, which stocks handmade, ethical garments created by women’s groups, and recently launched their own collection of basics you can wear, love, and not feel guilty about.


Sell, donate, or recycle your old clothes! Have a swapping party with your friends and the pieces you’ve got bored of! Handwash clothes instead of shipping them off to the dry cleaner every week! Consider trying out a clothes rental service! Get involved in fashion revolution week! Educate friends and family! There are so many ways to do your bit for sustainability. So what are you waiting for? GET GOING!