A giant pile of used clothing of all different colours with a woman standing in front of it.

Photo by Boro

4 surprisingly easy ways to make your closet more ethical

Kelly Drennan, founder of Toronto non-profit Fashion Takes Action, shared tips for giving your closet an ethical upgrade

It’s sale time at one of my favourite trendy retail chains, and it’s the first one since I gave up my fast-fashion shopping habit. Before, the retail giant’s site would dominate my browser during the semi-annual clear out, six or seven windows open with a potential new favourite dress or bag, all just waiting to find a home in my closet. But this time, I’m actively avoiding the site and the store, because I’ve decided I don’t want to be a part of fast fashion’s throwaway culture.

Writing on a chalboard that reads

The fashion industry is one of the worst polluters in the world. According to the Global Fashion Agenda, it produced 1,715 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2015 alone. It accounts for a huge amount of water consumption (2,700 litres to make just one cotton T-shirt), and our treatment of clothing as disposable is filling landfills. Plus, it’s is an industry rife with labour issues. I want to make my closet a better reflection of the change I want to see in the world. But I know it can’t happen overnight, and I also know I need a little guidance.

Enter Kelly Drennan. The founder and executive director of Fashion Takes Action, an organization focused on advancing sustainability in the fashion industry, she obviously knows a thing or two about making ethical clothing choices. Here are her four easiest tips for giving your closet an ethical upgrade.

Rent or swap outfits
I need an outfit for a wedding, and I don’t want to wear the same thing I wore to the last one since the same group of people will be there. Drennan points out that are other ways to get your hands on a new dress without actually purchasing one. “The whole sharing economy is becoming a really interesting business model,” she says, name-checking companies like Rent Frock Repeat and Boro, where you can find designer dresses to rent for as little as $100. Clothing swaps are a great alternative to shopping, too, especially if I want to offload things in my own closet.

Photo of two models wearing designs from Indigenous Fashion Week

Spend more, buy less
Let’s say I spend $3,000 a year on clothing, and I spend it at fast fashion retailers, dropping $250 on 10 items every month. Drennan points out that you could keep that same budget, but allocate it differently. “You could buy a quarter of the garments and you’re going to wear them more and they’re going to last longer,” she says. “And the actual cost per wear is far less than the cheap stuff that falls apart or was super trendy and you don’t want to be seen wearing it again.” That makes it hard for me to write off sustainable fashion as too expensive, and gets me thinking about all the local designers I’ve supported in the past—instead of buying five dresses of questionable quality from a big box chain, I could have one dress from Horses Atelier or a designer featured at Indigenous Fashion Week, and I’d know exactly who made it and where the fabric was sourced. And, I can proudly wear that Canadian design for years to come.

Care for the clothes you already have
Not everyone can ditch fast fashion entirely. But, Drennan says, “two-thirds of the environmental footprint of our clothing happens after we purchase it.” That means consumers have a lot of power beyond where we spend our dollars on clothing. You can reduce that footprint by doing things like washing clothes in cold water and hanging them to dry. Drennan also points out that spending more on something can make you feel compelled to take better care of it. “If you invest in a dress, you’re more than likely going to hang it up, and you might wear it six times before you even need to launder it because you kept it in really good shape,” she says.

Do your homework
I need to know what brands are doing their part and which ones to avoid. That way, when I do add things to my closet, I can trust that they’re not also adding to the problem. And as it turns out, there’s an app for that. “Good on You is the best app for any ethical fashion consumer,” Drennan says. The Fashion Transparency Index is a great resource, too. Her number one piece of advice is to dig around a company’s website. “If you don’t see a tab that says sustainability or anything about sustainability in the About Us section, it’s a sign that they’re not doing anything,” she points out. “I would stay away from those companies, and put your dollars towards one that are making an effort.”

Photos courtesy of Fashion Takes Action and Evan Ducharme Studio

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