Sustainable shopping may seem paradoxical as modern-day consumerism has been closely linked with harmful environmental practices. However, there are many ways to greatly reduce your environmental impact while shopping. Whether you are shopping online or in-store, it is important to be mindful of yourself and the brands you are looking to purchase.
Being a mindful consumer, shopping for sustainable fabrics and certifications, and finding ethical brands can have a huge positive impact. Although the number of companies that are truly sustainable is small, they do exist - and this article can be used as a guide to help you find them!
Being a mindful consumer may seem simple enough, but there are many things to consider. Companies make it easy to get pulled in by “must-have” clothing items, but it’s important to consider if that clothing is what you really need and what you’re actually going to wear. It is important to reflect on your own personal wardrobe “necessities” rather than give in to external pressure. Good questions to ask yourself when you are contemplating buying something are: Do I really need this? Does this piece flatter me, feel good, and feel comfortable? Will I look forward to wearing this? Do I have anything similar in my closet already?
One helpful tip to make your next shopping trip more sustainable is to shop with a purpose. Instead of going to the nearest outlet mall just to look for the best deals or the new trendy bag that all of your friends have, try to make a short list - mental or physical - of the pieces you want to add to your wardrobe.
Another pointer for sustainable shopping is to limit the quantity of things you buy. Giving yourself a spending budget could be useful. However, most sustainable companies are more expensive. Given the choice, most people would choose 5 cheap fast fashion items over 2 sustainable items for the same price. Fast fashion is the practice of always following the newest trend and then moving on to the next trend after a very short period of time. Companies take advantage of this by selling mass amounts of trendy pieces as fast as possible. It is important to consider if the next piece you buy is simply trendy or a true wardrobe essential that you can pair easily with other pieces for a long period of time. Timeless pieces made through sustainable practices are a result of slow fashion. Capitalism is ingrained in our society and consumption is a hard cycle to break, but hopefully after implementing some of these tips you can become a more mindful shopper.
As if shopping to find the perfect clothing item wasn’t hard enough, some companies write false environmental slogans like “green” or “recyclable” to appeal to more consumers, when in reality, they are just taking advantage of the surge of consumers who are trying to be more sustainable. This practice is called greenwashing and it is harmful in multiple ways. Not only does it give a false positive reputation to the company claiming to be sustainable, but it also takes away focus and undermines companies who are actually putting in the effort to low their carbon emissions or reduce waste within their business. So how can you avoid it? Look for evidence of sustainable practices such as any sustainability certifications.
Sustainable fashion includes many different facets of sustainability but two of the biggest indicators are sustainability certifications and sustainable fabrics. Circular fashion brands aim to make the supply chain circular. This means that everything that is made is up-cycled and little to no waste is produced. Completely circular supply chains are very challenging to achieve, but there are companies making great efforts towards circularity. Koraru’s actions towards circularity includes zero plastic packaging and a take back program that will encourage customers to send back their swimwear at the end of its lifetime to be used to create new products.
Many types of sustainability certifications are used across the fashion industry to promote the businesses that are actually doing the work. Some certifiers include the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), B Corp, Bluesign, and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). Each certifier has unique and specific criteria that a company must meet in order to be given the certification.
For example, TOMS is a famous shoe company that is B Corp Certified. They donate ⅓ of their profits towards grassroots efforts to help create sustainable change on a local level. For companies that go above and beyond such as Kathmandu, multiple certifications are applicable; Kathmandu is B Corp and Bluesign Certified. GingerOrganic is a womens’ hygiene company that was awarded GOTS certification for their use of ginger and organic cotton in menstrual products that supports both women and the environment. Hasuna is a jewellery company based in Tokyo, Japan that has met all social and environmental standards set forth by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). Hasuna has been a member of the RJC since 2011 and has renewed their certification three times since then. Certification renewals are a great way to prove a company’s long-term commitment to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals.
It is worthy to note that although most companies that have certifications are sustainable, not all sustainable companies have certifications. Research from credible sources is the most valuable way to learn more about the company you are purchasing from. Certifications can definitely be a good indication of a company’s sustainability efforts, but that shouldn’t be the only thing you look for when shopping sustainably. For example, SilkGenie is a small company that creates silk hair wraps for individuals with curly hair; the products are made from recycled silk and arrive in minimalist packaging that you can recycle.
Another big part of sustainable fashion is the use of sustainable fabrics. Synthetic fabrics are popular across the fashion industry for a variety of reasons. With its quick-drying and flexible qualities, it is an obvious choice for many clothing pieces. Common synthetic fibers used in the production of swimwear are microfibre, polypropylene, and spandex. Synthetic fibers like these are woven together to make synthetic fabrics.
The biggest problem with synthetics fabrics is that they are plastic-based and, when washed, often shed micro-plastics into the water. This eventually makes its way into larger bodies of water such as sea, rivers, lakes, and inevitably the oceans. Additionally, if these synthetic fibers end up in landfills, they can take up to two centuries to decompose. And if they end up being burned instead, they release extremely toxic gasses such as hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide. These gasses pollute the environment and further damage the ozone layer.
Koraru uses innovative ECONYL fabric - regenerated nylon that is made from waste that would otherwise be harming the environment in the form of fishing nets, industrial plastic waste, etc. The regenerated nylon is responsibly sourced and can help to reduce the carbon footprint of a swimsuit by up to 80%.
Companies could have taken environmental strides toward sustainability, but their ethics expand farther than that. Ethical brands prioritize environmental and social initiatives. Companies that have strong ethics will most likely support and encourage slow fashion. Their products will be responsibly sourced and they will be transparent about their production practices. They may even be transparent about their carbon emissions or have ESG disclosures that provide additional data to back up their statistics. Companies like Etsy even offset their carbon emissions for every order to ensure carbon neutrality. After you have reflected on your wants as a consumer and decide on an item to purchase, it is just as (if not more) important to ask yourself about the company you are directly supporting with your purchase. Are they treating their employees with respect and providing fair compensation? What steps are they taking towards a circular supply chain? Do they donate any percent of profits to support good causes?
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There are many ways to decrease your environmental impact on future shopping trips. If you can’t decide if you should buy something or not, simply looking at the fabric it is made of. Sustainable certifications can be a helpful indication of a company’s environmental efforts, but there are still plenty of sustainable companies without awards to show for their efforts.
It may feel unrealistic, unnecessary, and time-consuming to research the companies you support, but it is best to start with the ones you purchase from most often. It is your duty as a consumer to decide if your purchasing is doing more good than harm and to make sure the companies you support are worthy of your money. Think of spending as investments; you would always research where you put your investments, or travel experiences you spend your money on, and clothing should be treated no different. The time it takes to research a brand and their ESG initiatives or lack thereof is always worth it. Companies that are driven to promote positive environmental and social change tend to be smaller companies that need your support to grow!
Buying less new items and instead more wardrobe essentials will give your closet more flexibility and can help you feel less overwhelmed. Even though we always want more in the moment, you might end up being happier if you wait to find a more sustainable option, or just simply refrain from buying the item at all.
By shopping with a purpose, doing your research, and supporting ethical brands, you can shop with peace of mind. Incorporating these tips into your daily life can help you become a more sustainable shopper, which will make your shopping experience cleaner, greener, and more rewarding.
Written by Neesha Basnyat - Sustainability Writer for Koraru
Neesha Basnyat is a an experienced sustainability writer and researcher specialising in biology, sustainability, CSR, and ESG analysis and reporting. With an educational background in Biology and Environmental Science and over 6 years of experience in the sustainability field, Neesha loves everything green, from shoveling compost to calculating emissions or researching the best new standards in the sustainability space.