There are a lot of terms being tossed around these days to describe better ways to shop: ethical. eco. slow. sustainable fashion. Each of these is a little different, but they also very similar.
It can be confusing; however, I’ve sorted out the way I’d define each of these terms, so here’s my super quick overview:
Ethical fashion: You’ve likely seen the #whomademyclothes hashtag on social media and noticed people holding up signs reading, “I made your clothes.” Ethical fashion focuses mainly on how the industry impacts people.
Companies that make ethical clothing are about respecting people – they pay their worker's fair wages and treat them humanely (e.g., safe working conditions, working the appropriate number of hours, etc.)
Ethical also means the brand is transparent about the whole story of the product – from where the materials are made right through to how you get it to your home.
Eco-fashion: When I think of eco-fashion I think of organic fabrics, recycled fabrics, and materials like hemp and bamboo. While eco-fashion may be better for the environment in some ways, the clothing may or may not have been made locally or ethically.
Slow fashion: I’ve noticed that the term slow fashion is often used to describe fashion that is better for people and the planet. The focus is on stepping away from “fast-fashion” items that are produced quickly for trends, and are typically environmentally irresponsible.
If you look up the term slow fashion, you’ll notice it’s often used to describe capsule wardrobes. But the clothing in a capsule wardrobe isn’t necessarily eco-friendly. Instead, the focus is on buying fewer pieces.
Sustainable fashion: For me, sustainable is the word I use to describe the way I shop. It’s better for people and the planet. I like to think it combines the best elements of ethical, eco, and slow fashion, all in one.
The clothing and accessories I choose for my family must meet the following criteria:
- made with reusable or organic materials like cotton or hemp
- produced locally/North America
- ethical practices for humans and the environment
Unfortunately, shopping for sustainable fashion isn’t yet as easy as walking into your local shopping mall. More often these days, well-known retailers (like H&M) are offering a selection of organic clothing, but there aren’t many truly focused on sustainability in a deeper way.
As you can tell, figuring out which type of fashion your clothing falls under can be tricky because there are so many similarities.
Questions you should ask when shopping for sustainable fashion.
To help me stay focused on choosing sustainable fashion — shopping for clothing and accessories that are people and planet friendly — here is the mini-checklist of questions I ask myself before buying a new product:
- Local vs. Overseas: Is this item made locally? First, I focus on within Quebec, then I move out to Canada, and then outward to North America. If I shop overseas, it’s because I didn’t find it in one of these places first, and it’s sustainable and ethically-made. Consider how this item is going to get to you, too. Bike courier, truck, train, or plane?
- People & Planet First vs. People and Planet Last: Can I find information about this brand’s sustainability policy? Brands that are ethical and sustainable freely share this information. I look for transparency and easy-to-find sustainability policy. It makes me worried about what’s being hidden when I can’t find any information about how a brand creates its clothing.
- Need vs. Want: Do I really need this new piece of clothing or accessory? Do I already own something similar to this that can be repaired or refreshed? Can I find this item second-hand?
I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you: sustainable shopping isn’t easy. It takes time and even some deep Internet sleuthing to choose something that meets my criteria, but when I find the item –and I always do– it feels pretty satisfying to know I’ve chosen well.
If you love sustainable fashion, head over to my Instagram channel. You’ll catch some great fashion in my photos and stories, like these yoga pants and leg warmers made from recycled water bottles, this great organic scarf made in the USA, and this fun necklace made from recycled keys by The Giving Keys.