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A guide to shopping for clothes sustainably

By Waverly Neufeld

Thanks in part to the internet and social media, fashion trends have become more easily accessible—you can instantly see what people around the world are wearing. Trends are being updated at a much quicker rate than fashion seasons can keep up to, and, as a result, wasteful practices have increased drastically. In a report, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation warned of “potentially catastrophic” environmental damage in the industry if these trends continue to grow. But that’s not to say we as consumers have to actively partake in wasteful shopping practices.

Michelle Salter, who sells handpicked vintage clothes, accessories and decor through her Etsy shop, Magnetism, said shopping mindfully can be intimidating at first. “It can feel like an all-or-nothing situation, which I think discourages a lot of people,” said Salter.

Taking individual strides towards reducing your carbon footprint can make a difference—and more students are taking the initiative to get their clothes ethically. Here are some small but conscious adjustments you can make to become a more ethical shopper.


One of the easiest ways to sustainably shop is through thrifting. You’re purchasing clothes that have already been made and giving them a new life. Some of my favourites include: Public Butter, Sub Rosa Vintage, Courage My Love and Black Market Clothing. You can often find rare, high-end brands in Toronto thrift stores, and often at a fraction of the original price. Vintage is in right now, and a lot of ‘fast-fashion’ companies are pulling inspiration from previous decades’ trends. Stay one step ahead by checking out your local vintage shop.

Know what brands to avoid

According to Good On You, a resource that scores fashion brands on how ethical their practices are, many fast fashion brands hire overseas and underpay their employees. Often these employees work long hours in unsuitable conditions. Stores like Forever 21, H&M and Zara are able to sell their clothes at low rates because their employees are earning well below Western living wages. Some other examples of fast fashion brands to avoid, according to Good On You, include Nike, Adidas, Fashion Nova, Uniqlo and Victoria’s Secret.

Shop less

Try to buy less pieces and strive for a minimalist wardrobe. Try buying staple pieces that go with a lot of the things you already own, rather than buying trendy pieces that will go out of style in a few months. Investing in your clothes means you’ll be more likely to care good care of them. Chances are, if you’re buying cheap clothes they won’t last long and you won’t care if they get ruined. Owning less clothes and taking better care of them will help reduce waste and save you money in the long run.

Look for natural fibres

While you’re shopping, take a look at the clothing tags on garments and scout for natural fibres. Common natural fibres include cotton, linen, wool and silk, cashmere and hemp. Synthetic fibres are clothes made out of plastic materials, such as polyester, nylon, lycra, spandex and acrylic. According to the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, your body absorbs a percentage of the toxic chemicals these fibres are made of. Natural fibre clothing is also a better investment, as they typically last longer than synthetic fibres do.

Support indie/ethical brands

Supporting small business goes a long way in the fight for ethical consumption. Buying one or two quality shirts that have been ethically and sustainably made, instead of buying from fast fashion brands constantly, will not only last longer, but will also save you money in the long run. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are some ethical brands you can feel good about spending your money on:

KOTN: this shop makes their garments from Egyptian cotton, pays their workers a fair wage and sells at a reasonable price. What more could you ask for?

You Swim: Ethically and sustainably made swimwear that fits up to five different sizes, making it less wasteful to produce. These pieces also last longer because since they grow with you.

Moons & Junes: A female owned company that is committed to all body types and makes sustainable handmade bras.

Frank and Oak: This Montreal brand specializes in basics made with sustainable textiles.

Some small batch, female-owned clothing companies that use quality vintage fabrics, without outsourcing or using sweatshops, include: Paloma Wool, Courtyard LA, My Elenoula and Lisa Says Gah.

Donate old clothes

Whether it’s to a friend, sibling, a stranger online or a resale shop, donate some things from your closet that you no longer like instead of throwing them out. Recycling old clothes and giving them a second life helps reduce your carbon footprint. According to a report conducted by The Global Fashion Agenda and the Boston Consulting Group, the fashion industry is the fifth biggest polluting industry in the world. Stores such as GoodWill and Value Village make it easy to drop off your clothes at their door. Stores like Plato’s Closet will buy your gently used clothes if they are determined to be on-trend. Apps such as Carousell, allow you to buy and sell used clothes as well as accessories, beauty products and furniture. W

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