Towards a Sustainable Approach to Shopping

Since becoming a Certified Image Consultant, I have applied a very high standard to everything I buy.  A key principle of a finely curated wardrobe is that you LOVE every garment you own.

Woman shopping clothes. Shopper looking at clothing indoors in store. Beautiful blonde caucasian female model wearing casual winter clothing and black scarf.I now live by the mantra of “buy less; buy better“, which means buying less items of clothing over all, but ensuring everything I do buy is carefully selected to maximize my personal style.  I believe this mentality is the key to great style, but more importantly, it’s essential for a sustainable planet.

My “buy less; buy better” approach goes against the grain of popular culture. Today, we consume 400 times the amount of clothing we did just two decades ago.  We live in a “two-for-one”, disposable fashion world.

Retailers have conditioned us to want to replace our entire wardrobes each season (and created weekly “micro-seasons” to ensure we’re perpetually behind the fashion curve).  We’ve been trained to shop for sport, hunt bargains over value, and buy clothes for their symbolic value rather than their actual wearability.

‘Fast fashion’ means that clothes are often available at very modest price points (think H&M, Suzy Shier or Joe Fresh).  While on the surface inexpensive trendy shops offer an egalitarian and anti-classist route to style, the downside is we now think nothing of throwing money away on poorly-made pieces that won’t stand up to a single machine wash.  It doesn’t bother us that our clothes don’t last because it’s just an excuse to buy more and move on to the next trend.

Such cavalier consumption wrecks havoc on our environment and is the root of many human rights violations.

From an environmental perspective, many of the dyes and fabrics used by fast fashion retailers release carcinogenic toxins into our atmosphere.  All clothing, even those made with the most environmentally-friendly materials, require energy and water to produce (it takes about 700 gallons of water to produce a singe t-shirt and a whopping 2,600 gallons to make a pair of jeans!). Natural fibres use up environmental resources and synthetic fibres typically involve petrochemicals.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t an “environmentally-friendly” way to mass produce clothing.

From a human rights perspective, sweatshops subject workers to dangerous working conditions at unfair wages.  According to True Cost director, Andrew Morgan, fashion manufactures outsource approximately 97% of their production, paying workers as little as $1 per day to make clothes for first-world consumers. We all know about the devastating Savar building collapse in Bangladesh where an eight-story factory, constructed without proper codes, killed more than 1,000 people and injured more than 2,500. Perhaps a lesser known evil is the deforestation of ancient and endangered rainforests which destroys the habitat and livelihoods of native communities to get pulp for fabrics like viscose and rayon.

Savar factory building collapse in Bangladesh.
“Dhaka Savar Building Collapse” by rijans – Flickr

From a waste perspective, disposable fashion is a leading culprit of our landfill crisis.  The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that the average U.S. citizen throws away 70 pounds of non-biodegradable clothing and textiles each year.  In my view, this is downright shameful, and one of the few crimes of fast fashion we can begin to tackle as individuals.

Truck Working Landfill
The average American tosses 70 lbs of textiles into the garbage each year.

The path forward:  Changing our culturally-ingrained consumer habits is a difficult thing to do; I know this as well as anyone. New clothes can inspire you, improve your mood and change your outlook – that’s what this entire blog is about!  As an Image Consultant and mid-thirties mama with two “I wanna wear a princess dress” daughters, I’m culturally (maybe even genetically) wired to shop, yet I realize that the current model of consumption is unhealthy, unsustainable and unethical.

I’m still in the early stages of my journey to more sustainable living, but changing the way I view and consume clothing is an obvious place to start.  My current practice (while not ethically flawless) is to be more minimalist in my approach to shopping, buying only the highest quality/most cherished garments in anticipation of loving them for many seasons. Who knows, maybe some of these gems will even be passed down to my daughters one day (you can’t do that with Joe Fresh).

As a fashion lover (who also loves the Earth and values human dignity), I don’t think there’s a better way to end this post than with a quote from the True Cost director himself:  “I don’t want people to think, ‘I should feel guilty if I love the things that I wear.’ We just need to take a step back from our incessant consumption of mediocre stuff. Let’s go back to a place where we invest in pieces that we love, that we’re going to wear and hold on to.” Andrew Morgan

5 thoughts on “Towards a Sustainable Approach to Shopping

  1. I agree 100%. I only buy pieces that are classic and will last a long time. I might buy a few trendy pieces here and there. Then each season I purge things I don’t wear anymore, and give them away. I’ve also found some really great items at thrift stores.


    1. Thanks for the comment, WorkingGurl. I love your considerate approach to shopping. The way our culture thinks about clothing needs to change.

      I’ve become very interested in consignment shopping. I’m considering limiting my fall/winter wardrobe to a a very small number of pieces and buying only consignment. It will be interesting to see how challenging that is.


      Liked by 1 person

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