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Going green: 6 realistic ways to build an ethical wardrobe

“Sustainability” is one of those boring buzzwords in fashion. Nobody wants to have the uncomfortable talk about being sustainable or ethical, let alone read about it. Articles with the S-word are barely getting clicks. And by now, you would’ve heard the hardboiled facts more than you’d like to.

You most probably know that the fashion industry is the world’s second most pollutive industry only after oil. Or maybe you read the heart-rending 2007 story by The Observer, which exposed how Indian sweatshops were employing child slaves at an astoundingly low wage.

And time isn’t on our side. Truth be told: Apparel consumption is projected to rise by a whopping 63 percent to 102 million tonnes (102,000 million kilograms) in 2030. This underlines the importance of how we all need to seriously start contributing in the parts we play in the cycle. Like, stat.

Nevertheless, the seemingly looming challenges that follow the decision of making conscious choices — increased expense and time intensiveness at the cost of ethical purchases and discernment — may deter you from opting to be more responsible.

In fact, if your idea of “green-ifying”  your wardrobe is by exclusively shopping ethical labels, you should know that it is only the tip of the iceberg of a whole set of strategies you can employ. So here are the little things you can do to lessen your sartorial guilt without so much as breaking a sweat.

(Main and featured images: Dario Catellano)

1
Look after the clothes you already own

Don’t take this lightly. Did you know that the laundering process, not the production phase, is where your clothing impacts the environment the most? For instance, the washing and drying of a polyester blouse requires around six times as much energy as needed to make it in the first place.

Natural fibres like cotton and linen tend to require less laundering. Hang your clothes out to air overnight instead of tossing them into the dryer. And unless something is visibly dirty, try to wear your garments at at least three times before they hit the laundry.

Pro tip: Invest in good coat hangers. Swap shoulder-stretching plastic and wire hangers with wooden ones. Although slightly more expensive, think of it as an investment. They will help your garments last longer.

2
Invest in high-quality basics

Shop less, choose better. Choosing non trend-driven pieces is key. Over time, the only recurring staples you’re going to wear are the trans-seasonal ones that won’t go out of style.

Buying clothes that are well-made with excellent materials is more eco-friendly than buying lower-quality pieces, because they’ll last longer and need to be replaced less often. It’s important to always look at the item in the flesh, not online. To really assess its durability and skin-feel, you need to be able to inspect it up close, feel it, check the seams and try it on.

Pro tip: Don’t hoard. If a massive sale sign eggs you on to purchase more than you need, call to mind this golden rule of thumb: Don’t buy unless you see yourself wearing it for at least 30 times. And pre-shopping, create a list of items that you actually need to avoid excessive hauls.

3
Go on a fast fashion diet

Just like fast food is bad for your health, fast fashion is a big no-no. Plain and simple. Bringing in new stock every week, the speedy pace makes it seem as if the “trend” of last week is outdated. We don’t need to name them, you know who the big culprits are.

Retailers are also reducing prices by buying fabric — mostly synethetic, at that — in massive bulk, which can lead to unnecessary waste. Their swift turnover and affordable price tag more often than not point to low production cost. Meaning: Sweatshop labour, low-wage workers and non-quality materials.

Pro tip: Bottom line is to remember that if a garment’s price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Someone is paying the price, whether it be the environment or factory workers on the other side of the world.

4
Support ethical labels

Sure, most sustainable brands cost you more. Instead of buying five new things a month from a fast fashion chain, you may only be able to afford one piece. But, that’s actually a good thing. Not buying as much will help you be more selective and over time you’ll build up a wardrobe that will last you for years to come.

Here’s a list of labels you can shop at that will give you better options than grabbing a flimsy S$5 top from the top of the sales pile that will end up as landfill in three months.

Pro tip: Shop local labels, too. Less freight, less carbon footprint.

5
Sell the unwanted and buy vintage

Speaking of landfill, it’s time to sort the one in your closet. Donate it to your local Salvation Army or sell it on Carousell. As Macklemore says it, one man’s trash is another man’s come-up.

Fashion is all about what’s next, but that doesn’t mean that some things go out of style. A booming resell market has popped up over the last few years, with sites like Vesitaire Collective or local The Fifth Collection giving you a safe way to shop guaranteed authentic designer items that are nearly-new. It’s also a splendid way to track down those killer pieces you missed the first time round.

Pro tip: When travelling overseas, research the country’s best vintage haunts and scour for that ’80s vintage Chanel or ’90s Gucci. Not everything needs to be from the latest season.

6
Educate yourself

It can’t be said enough. Do you know where your clothes came from? Who made the tee on your back? Are you comfortable with the possibility that your jeans were made by a modern-day slave on the other side of the world?

Coming to terms with the reality of where your clothes came from is the first step to changing the way you consume fashion.

Pro tip: Watch documentary The True Cost, read Cline’s Overdressed and download the Good On You app. These eye-openers will help in your greener walk.