your five dollar t-shirt isn’t ethical, but the expensive one might not be either – a guide to ethical clothing


Clothes are sort of important. We all use and wear them and we all need to buy and replace things (sometimes more than others). A few years ago I never really thought about where my clothes came from, what they were made of, and how I was taking care of them, but as I have learned more and more my buying habits have definitely changed as well as how I take care of the items I do own.

I used to love shopping at places like Forever 21 and H&M and partly because it was so cheap. When I was a teenager I didn’t have much disposable income so being able to stock up on tank tops that were $1.88 and leggings for just a few bucks more helped me to build a very substantial wardrobe. But as I began to see you can’t pay someone well to make such cheap clothes and the fabric suffers as well, falling apart after just a few months and not looking nice after you have worn them for a while.

Alongside my fast fashion buys I have always been a person who loves secondhand shopping, but I used to consider this a way to buy tons of clothes, not considering the brands of items that I was buying, their quality, or even if I really loved and wanted the items. This is barely even better than buying new since I found myself throwing out or returning items to the thrift store that I barely loved and shouldn’t have bought in the first place.

One of the most frustrating things in my journey to be more ethical is that we all know that cheap clothing isn’t ethical, but I am more frustrated by more expensive clothing items that aren’t ethical either, but are displayed beautifully and in a way that makes them seem better than they are.

One picture I have found helpful is this “5 Ways to Build a More Ethical Closet” and I want to go through some of the items in depth.

  1. Value and Take Good Care of the Clothes You Already Own

    Start with the things that you already have at home as the more you take care of the clothes you have, the less you have to buy in the future. For me this includes not putting clothes in the dryer and letting them air dry, getting my husband to fix small tears and falling off buttons (he is better with a needle and thread), and trying to make sure that I am just taking good care of my clothes.
  2. Shop Less, Choose Better, Only Buy Pieces You Love 100%

    This is related to what I mentioned earlier by only buying items that I know I will love, not just because they are cheap and secondhand. I want all the clothes that enter my home to be a part of my life for a long time. I accomplish this by taking a good look at my wardrobe each season and seriously thinking about what I want to bring in and then search specifically for those items either from the thrift store or from ethical clothing brands. I also try not to shop outside of those times so that I am not making impulse purchases.
  3. Go for Clothes that are High Quality and Durable

    A cheap t-shirt or pair of jeans may look good for a few wears but within a few weeks or months the fabric will begin to stretch or pill and they won’t look very great. By choosing fabrics that will last you can preserve your clothing for longer. It is also important to be looking for more natural fabrics such as cotton and linen as material such as polyester and nylon leach microplastics into the water each time that you wash the items.
  4. Buy Vintage or Secondhand

    This is definitely the way that most clothing comes into my life. I love shopping second hand as you never know what you may get. My favourite thrift store is Talize, but there are lots around. You can even buy second hand online from places such as ThredUp. It is always so nice to give clothes a second life and it is nice on the wallet as well.
  5. Support Ethical Brands

    The final (and smallest) piece is supporting ethical brands. This is definitely not as cheap as buying second hand, but there are some great ethical brands. There are some things as well that I don’t want to buy second hand (such as underwear) that I have begun to replace with ethical items. One of the downsides of this is that it is sometimes hard to find ethical brands, especially in person and not online. It is even harder for guys and my husband is finding it difficult to find ethical brands which he likes. Though this is generally more pricey I am enjoying finding an item every few months to splurge on and add some nice pieces to my closet.

Overall it has been relatively simple to introduce these ethical ways into my life. I have found that I now have a more curated and simple closet that I love a lot more than ever before. Last week I even finally replaced an eight year old bra with one that is ethical and new. It is frustrating sometimes to be constantly looking up brands and trying to figure out if a brand is sustainable and ethical, but it is worth it in the end.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Heidi Altree says:

    Great article. I’m also finding it hard to find sustainable men’s clothing for my husband. Clearly there’s a gap in the market for someone!


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