How to shop more ethically

Author: Erica Bartle   Date Posted: 1 December 2016 

So you’ve bought a pair of Outland Denims and now you’re starting to think you’d like to shop more ethically. Where does one begin? And aren’t ethical clothes like organic food (i.e. expensive, a little pretentious, inaccessible to some)? 

Here we share our tips for buying, swapping and curating your way to a more ethical wardrobe you can be proud of…

Before you get started, think about your commitment level, because staying ethical can be hard work in a world that is forever tantalising you with the shiny, new and cheap-cheap-cheap! 

“New” isn’t a bad thing (heck, we are in the business of selling new jeans!) – in fact, it helps to keep 60 to 75 million people  employed in the global textile, footwear and clothing sector, including seamstresses like ours. To go cold turkey on “new”, as we do at times like during the GFC*, would send the garment industry into a spin (pun intended!). 

Rather, it’s WHICH new things you choose to buy that matters now more than ever, because THAT sends a message to clothing retailers and manufacturers about your stance on ethical shopping and environmental sustainability. Dollars speak. You have power in your pockets!  

If you’re serious about this ethical shopping business, you need a game plan to protect you from the obvious vulnerabilities we are all prone to, like the lure of a bargain or the enticing nature of a celebrity-endorsed trend that’s here one day, gone the next. 

Choose your shops and brands carefully and willfully support them – they will appreciate your business, just as we do! And, fundamentally, know your style, too – having a sense of what suits you and your body will keep you from straying too far into trend territory or wasting money on clothing that does you no justice.

A few more hard-and-fast rules to cultivating a more ethical approach to your wardrobe:

  • Don’t throw away the shoes and clothing you already have – that would be counterproductive! But do sort through your stash. Keep the basics you return to time and time again, and some of your fun clothes, and don’t be too hasty in getting rid of trendy things (especially if you paid a high price for them), as those trends are SURE to come around again! 
  • Organise your excess clothes into piles to give to charity (note: they don’t want all the cheap stuff!), take to a clothes swap, give away to friends or sell at the markets or online. Place clothes you love but don’t wear now into bags and stow away for safekeeping. As you sort through your wardrobe, now’s also your chance to think about the brands of the clothing items you’ve bought – which ones have stood the test of time and which do you feel you look and feel your best in (ahem, Outland Denim)? Selling your wares on the eBay or Shedd apps could free up some funds to invest in said Outland Denims. 
  • Get creative: a wardrobe spruce is likely to result in a greater appreciation for the clothes you already have – all you need now is a bit of inspiration. Learn how to style your favorite pieces with your other wardrobe items so you can get more mix-and-match value. Search Instagram or Pinterest for styling suggestions and create a “mood board” or photo album on your phone. That way, you’ll always have something visual to stimulate your wardrobe appreciation, which will also keep you from throwing caution to the wind and hitting the mall.   
  • Get organised! Sort your wardrobe into logical sections so you can best access, assess and visualize your outfits. That means a rack or shelving for shoes and bags; jackets and pants sorted at one end of your closet; dresses grouped together by season and style (formal, casual, party); and tees, shirts, skirts and dresses all separated, too. Fold your easy-wear basics into drawers and give them an airing every so often. Keep organized and you’ll get more enjoyment out of your wardrobe generally. Uniform coat hangers add an element of organised professionalism to any wardrobe – wooden are best for preserving the lifespan of clothes! 
  • Stow away! Invest in some good, hardy enviro-friendly bags to stow away your seasonal wares and/or those clothes you feel aren’t relevant to your life right now but could be in the future (i.e. if you are pregnant, going through a post-break-up weight loss or gain, finding that you wear yoga pants just about all day, you were a suit but now you're a tradie, etc.) Suitcases are also a great way to store clothing. Outland Denim clothing bags are a great place to store purses, clutches and jewellery. 
  • Look after your clothes! They have care tags in them for a reason – to be read and acted on accordingly. Treat your clothes well and you will be repaid with garments that last and don’t disappoint after 10 wears or so. Don’t be tempted to wash after you wear every time – try to stretch your wear-to-wash ratio. This, of course, does not apply to stinky gym clothes (they quite possibly amount to a lot of washing and environmental degradation – ergo, make jeans your uniform!) We recommend washing your jeans every 10 wears rather than two. 
  • Mend, tailor or up-cycle clothes to give what you already have longevity. There are few things more satisfying than picking up a pair of boots you love but have worn to death from a professional cobbler or Mr. Mint to find them looking all shiny and new again, like they’ve been on a health retreat. Respect your footwear and your shoes will love you back. Plus, there’s something exceptionally special about a worn-in pair of boots that say, “I’ve lived a little”. The same goes for your clothes – make friends with a tailor, seamstress or grandmother you can rely upon to refresh your garments or tailor hand-me-downs. These skilled people can also bring your vision for “up-cycling” garments to life (i.e. making your old jeans into shorts or skirts).

Now, how to get with the ethical consumer program when the urge to shop visits you? First, ask yourself a few questions: do I really need it? Will it go with anything I already own? Will it make me happy for longer than a week? Do I already have 54 versions of this one particular item? 

1.    Op-shop. Before you buy new, consider buying someone else’s goods second-hand to eliminate environmental waste. Op-Shop. Vinnies, The Salvos, RSPCA shops and the like are only too happy to have your business. They may require a little extra trawling, as a lot of our cheap trashy clothes wind up there (thanks very much!), but if you look hard enough you’ll be sure to find something amazing to buy for under ten bucks! 

2.    Go Vintage. Vintage is a whole different world of clothing retail, and requires some dedicated investigation time, but the sheer thrill of finding something unique, untarnished and “so you” is half the fun. Everything from tees, coats, shoes and accessories can be adopted by you this way and they will gain a whole new lease on life in your care. You may need to re-sole, mend or adjust some items.

3.    eBay/Shedd. Essentially, an eBay or Shedd search means someone has already done the shopping for you – and you can be as specific as you like down to the brand and the size. Stay clear of unloved/non-pre-worn items and knock-offs done on the cheap and opt to bid on clothes, shoes and accessories formerly loved by someone else. Yes, you will have to pay for postage, but you also get to enjoy the delicious idea that this item is all yours and not to be found on every teen walking the streets who purchased a copy/knock-off on the high street. 

4.    Get a guide! GoodOnYou and Baptist World Aid have both created guides to help us shop for the most ethical brands available. They are GOLD for people wanting to do the right thing and so easy to use! Ethical and sustainable fashion bloggers have also taken a lot of the hard work out of finding GREAT ethical labels – just cross-check yourself in case there is a financial dividend to be gained from their recommendation (likely not ONE of them would take dollars from a questionable brand and diminish their credibility). Find an ethical fashion blogger whose aesthetic and ethos meets your own and you’ve got a new best friend in-the-know. 

5.    Cultivate. Create your own personalised list of cherished ethical/eco-friendly labels, as there are a lot of smaller ones out there who might not have the marketing dollars available to tell the world. Do them a favour and recommend them to friends and/or local retailers (in fact, find a shop that stocks ONLY beautifully curated ethical labels and shopping is a no-brainer!). Most ethical/sustainable brands are completely transparent about their supply chains on their websites, or at least will have a little information outlining their manufacturing processes. No supply chain info = oh-oh! 

6.    Think “invest”. You’ve heard the “cost per wear” rhetoric but have you truly considered the benefits of spending more on a few pricier but better quality items than a few throw-away things? The “new” things you buy have to be of a quality that won’t see the threads end up in landfill, as 500,000 tonnes of leather and textiles bought by Australians each year does (that’s about 23kgs per person!). Think quality over quantity. The tailoring, materials, love and attention that go into making an excellent garment are worth the extra dollars it takes to procure them. Make sure you really LOVE what you buy and what the brand stands for. That is all.

*On that note, Aussies are VERY resilient shoppers – we will happily go into debt to ensure we don’t miss out on something. Australians have a national credit card debt of $32 billion owing on about 16 million credit cards with an average debt of $4,300 per cardholder. That is a little bit disgraceful.