Sustainable and Ethical Fashion 101: Making Sustainable and Ethical Fashion a Part of Life

Part 1 I Part 2

Welcome to part three of our series on Sustainable and Ethical Fashion. If you missed parts one and two, you can click the links above to read them. We spent the first two weeks in our series understanding sustainable and ethical fashion and getting past any guilty feelings we may have for not being as thoughtful with our shopping as we could be. Today, however, is where the real fun begins!

In this week’s post we’re talking about how we can incorporate sustainable and ethical fashion into our lives. Before we talk through some steps, I want to remind you to TAKE IT SLOW. Environmental and ethical issues did not become a problem in the fashion industry overnight and it’s not your job to solve them overnight. I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed by the information below or the thought of adding sustainability into your wardrobe. Instead, I want you to take baby steps. I want you to think about ways you can be more thoughtful with your wardrobe. I want you to focus on tiny, consistent changes that can lead to big change over the long-term. You can pick just ONE suggestion from the list below, remain committed and consisted, and you will see results over time. When it comes to incorporating sustainable and ethical fashion remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Shortly, I’m going to share a list of “10 Tips for Building a Sustainable and Ethical Wardrobe.” The list created below is not, by any means, exhaustive; it will, however, give you a number of easy and practical ways to incorporate sustainability and ethical practices into your wardrobe. No matter how many of these tips you choose to incorporate, there are a few things that will help you on your journey towards a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe.

Decide where you stand.

You can take on as much or as little of the journey as you want. Everyone’s journey will be different and it is deeply personal. We each need to decide where we stand and what matters to us. The environment might matter or ethical production might matter or something else might matter or all of it might matter. It is up to you to decide how much or how little of this work you want to do – AND any decision you make is 100% OK. Stuck on what might matter to you? Here are some areas of sustainable and ethical fashion to consider:

  • materials
  • production
  • shipping and transportation
  • support to local communities
  • clean water
  • working conditions
  • fair wages
  • fair trade
  • human welfare
  • animal welfare

Picking just one of these areas to intentionally focus on will change everything, for the better, about the way you shop.

Realize you likely can’t be 100% ethical and sustainable and be OK with it .

Washing your clothes, having them delivered during a pandemic, etc. make it nearly impossible to be 100% ethical and sustainable. But even if you get 20% of your wardrobe through sustainable and ethical means, that is a HUGE change.

Do some research.

If you want to learn more, do your research. See if there are brands who have philosophies that align with your own personal values and make a point to shop with them more. Learn about how larger brands are trying to be more sustainable (hint, hint: a fast fashion brand with a “sustainable” line really isn’t doing much) and which brands aren’t. Learn about how materials are sourced and made. Then, at least, you’re making a more informed decision when you shop.

10 Tips for Building a Sustainable and Ethical Wardrobe

1. Swap

One of the easiest ways to update your wardrobe and keep things sustainable is by swapping with your friends. I have several girlfriends who make my closet their first stop when it’s time for a shopping spree. I’m constantly evaluating my wardrobe and pulling out what I don’t wear or doesn’t fit, so it’s a no brainer that they should ask me what I’m planning to sell and donate. I know that parties aren’t a thing right now; but, when they are, think about inviting over a few girlfriends for a clothing swap. Whatever doesn’t get swapped can be sold or donated. Make sure you have a few people who are in similar sizes so everyone can leave with something. And, during pandemic times, think about hosting the swap via Zoom and arranging contact-free drop offs.

2. Thrift/Consign/Resell

This tip works two ways. First, you can take the items in your closet that you are no longer wearing and resell, thrift or consign them. There are a number of easy ways to do this both in-person and online. It really just depends on how much or how little work you want to do and how quickly you’d like to get paid. This is a really easy way to make some cash from the clothing that is in great condition that you no longer wear.

Second, you should visit thrift and consignment shops to do some of your shopping. This is a great option because it gives clothing a second home that isn’t a landfill. And, it extends the life of the clothing. This is an especially great option when looking for vintage items, designer gear, and jewelry. You can often find high quality, designer pieces at a fraction of the original price.

Whether you’re selling or shopping, your focus should be on high-quality items.

3. Shop Slow Fashion

Another great way to be more thoughtful in your shopping is by shopping slow fashion. You might be asking yourself, “what is slow fashion?” The following is, by far, the best definition of “slow fashion” that I have seen.

Slow fashion is the movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity. It encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste.


Slow fashion means that brands are likely producing fewer garments less often each year. Many slow fashion companies are also taking pre-orders to cut down on fabric waste and massive inventories. Slow fashion represents a conscious decision by both a brand and the consumer to be more thoughtful, sustainable and ethical in their ways.

4. Shop Local Fashion + Designers

There are a ton of reasons that shopping local (within the US, your state, your city/town) is beneficial for individuals and the environment. First and foremost, you are likely supporting a small business. Bonus points for shopping women-owned, Black-owned, or minority-owned businesses. Your are financially supporting these businesses and keeping money within the communities you live in and are a part of. Further, shopping locally means more jobs for local workers. Shopping local also means there is likely more control for fair labor practices and safe work environments. There are also strict guidelines for waste disposal. And finally, your simple proximity to the garment leads to a cleaner environment. A garment, made in America using materials grown in america (like organic cotton) travels less throughout the manufacturing process than a garment whose pieces are made somewhere else. So even if a garment is shipped from California to New York, the carbon footprint is far less than something manufactured in a foreign country.

5. Shop sustainable + ethical brands

This is a big one. It’s so big that next week’s blog post will be solely dedicated to sharing a list of sustainable and ethical brands for you to shop. Again, when shopping these brands you will have to do some research to see what their mission are and how they carry out the mission. Some brands, like a sustainable shoe brand I am going to share with you, are committed to using sustainable materials and utilizing sustainable manufacturing. Other brands, like a jewelry brand I will share, focus on sourcing local artisans to create their jewelry and are committed to paying fair wages. Other brands, like a clothing brand I discovered, use recycled materials and are committed to low-waste and no-waste collections. It’s a big, growing world of sustainable and ethical fashion out there and shopping these brands can help you in your journey.

6. Upcycle + Recycle

Where possible, upcycle or recycle your clothing and shoes. Upcycling is the practice of creatively re-purposing old materials into something new, while maintaining some characteristics of the original material. As an example, you might take a pair of jeans that have holes in the thighs (#thickthighproblems) and make a denim skirt (it’s surprisingly easy!). We take my son’s white onesies that he has outgrown and are too dirty to donate or resell and turn them into cleaning rags for around the house. We have magnets that are made out of vintage brooches. Upcycling is a great way to re-purpose old clothing or accessories in new and innovative ways.

Recycling is also an option for our clothing, shoes and accessories. Recycling breaks down the items and creates something new out of the raw materials. Think making new shoes from the rubber in old sneakers. A lot of companies are now adding recycling programs. Before you shop check to see if any of the retailers you will patronize have recycling programs for shoes, bras, jeans, etc.

7. Repair First

Fast fashion has trained us to simply discard something instead of repairing it. This is because the clothing is cheaply made and cheap to buy. So we aren’t terribly invested in the pieces and know that we can quickly and easily replace them. However, as you start to be more thoughtful in your purchases (we’ll discuss quality over quantity in the last 3 steps) you should also be thoughtful in what you do when an item of clothing gets damaged. Instead of immediately opting to toss and replace, instead think about repairing the item. Clothing can easily be repaired at a tailor, shoes at a cobbler, and jewelry at a jeweler. If you own a designer handbag that needs to be repaired go to a retail store. Many will repair your bag free of charge once they verify it is authentic.

8. Invest for the Long-Term

Investing in the long-term is one of the best ways to gradually transition to a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe. What do I mean? As you find that you need to replace your clothing, look for options that are high-quality and well made. Look for items that are not made with synthetic fabrics or materials. Some of these items may be more expensive at first but they will last you much, much longer than something cheaply made. When it’s time to replace a white t-shirt, for example, look for brands that align with your values and make clothes in sustainable or ethical (or both) ways.

This is also the best approach to avoid spending a lot of money all at once. Instead of going out and buying an all new wardrobe, you can replace things one item at a time in a gradual and thoughtful manner. Over time the quality of the clothing in your wardrobe will be better and you’ll become more and more sustainable and ethical. This also helps you buy only what you need.

9. Take Better Care of Your Clothing

Let’s be honest, many, if not most, of us don’t pay an ounce of attention to the care instructions on our clothing. Lots of people probably can’t find the care instructions and a few of you didn’t even know there were care instructions. Those instructions, however, are there for a reason. And, if you follow them, it’ll help you take better care of your clothes and help the clothing last longer.

10. Build a Capsule Wardrobe

All of us aren’t born to be minimalists but some of us are. A capsule wardrobe is a cohesive collection of clothing that can create a full wardrobe for an individual using the least amount of clothing possible. This is where the idea of a cohesive closet (something I’m always ranting about on my IG stories) is incredibly helpful. Because the clothing in your closet will be minimal, you need to make sure every piece speaks to every other piece. This approach isn’t for everyone and it can definitely be challenging to whittle down your wardrobe to the most important and versatile pieces. But, if you can do this or are up for the challenge then I say, “go for it!”Not sure where to start? Your Chic is Showing offers a “Wardrobe Essentials + Inventory” workbook for just $1.99. It walks you through the 11 essential items you need in your closet AND provides you with a checklist to build a 42-piece capsule wardrobe.

Remember, as you jump start your journey to a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe, take it one step at a time. By implementing any one of these tips, you’ll be well on your way to making a better world for all of us to live in. Stay tuned for next week’s post where I’ll be sharing sustainable and ethical brands you can shop!

2 thoughts on “Sustainable and Ethical Fashion 101: Making Sustainable and Ethical Fashion a Part of Life

Comments are closed.