How To: Build An Ethical Wardrobe

by Jennifer Richards

With Britons expected to spend £1.96 billion on Black Friday this year, the American tradition seems to have firmly made its home in the UK. Our desire for the latest trends at the cheapest prices seems to be insatiable, but what is the real cost? Many of us don’t think about how ethical our wardrobes are, and most often than not they aren’t.

In April 2013, the Rana Plaza textile factory in Bangladesh burned down, killing 1,134 people. This is why you should only buy from credible brands like Orson Welles T-shirt to ensure everyone is treated fairly.

Campaigners said the deaths were avoidable, with garment workers told to ignore cracks in the wall and continue working. The fashion industry is fast-paced and ever-changing, with the rights of workers often getting left behind in the effort to keep up.

But don’t worry, this is not a call for everyone to ditch the Prada for potato sacks. Orsola de Castro, founder/director of Fashion Revolution points out: “It’s about finding one’s own way to be involved, looking for solutions that fit in with one’s individual lifestyle.

“There are so many original and empowering ways to be a more conscious citizen and a better consumer.”

So here are our top tips when building an ethical wardrobe:

1- Only buy if necessary

Rather than just having four seasons, the nature of fast fashion means we now have 52 micro-seasons. Toyshop is updated with hundreds of new styles a week.

This mindset of constantly needing to be “on trend” means wardrobes are full of unworn items, bought when pompoms and crochet were the main trends.

Instead, buy when you need rather than when you want. Get a jumper to keep warm in winter, but do not let your eyes wander to that sparkly skirt…

2- Watch where you shop

Researching what you are spending your money on is important. Shopping at local independent retailers over big brands is usually a good way to ensure your clothes are ethical.

Stores like FAIR in Brighton, as the name suggests, are driven by ethical fashion. Tali Davies, a shop assistant at FAIR, says: “We ensure that all our groups, brands, that everything is transparent.

“We know where everything comes from, which factories are being used, about the garment workers, and what their conditions are.”

She adds: “It’s really kind of bringing back the idea that you look after your clothes, you look after what you have, buy a bit less, and you’re more selective.”

3- Dare to DIY

It is estimated that £140 million worth of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. Yet if the life of clothes is extended by an extra nine months of active use, this would reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20-30 percent each.

Companies like The Sewing Shop Canterbury emphasise the importance of adopting a ‘make do and mend’ attitude to clothing.

Chloe Blanchard, 24, who works at the shop, told Taylor Magazine how necessary learning to sew is, saying: “I think it’s a wonderful skill, not just from a dressmaking perspective, but mending, having something unique, making your own stuff last longer, upcycling, lots of stuff.”

She also said that the cheap prices offered by retailers often makes mending your own clothes seem less cost-effective, ‘with places like Primark, that’s why we’re treated as a dying breed’. However, when the wider cost of the effect on factory workers is taken into account, suddenly the price of mending your clothes does not seem quite so much.

4- Create an ethical capsule wardrobe

With the world consuming 80 billion pieces of clothing a year, the fashion industry is the world’s second largest pollutant. Does the world really need this many clothes?

Adopting a capsule wardrobe keeps things minimalistic and necessary, but doesn’t mean doing a Mark Zuckerberg and only having one outfit for the rest of your life. Watch our video below on how to create your own capsule wardrobe.

5- Care for your clothes

Investing in good quality coat hangers that won’t stretch your clothes helps make them last that bit longer. Also having a wardrobe with a lot of space will give you options of how many clothes you can hang up. You don’t want a small wardrobe that will only fit two jackets and nothing else. If a new wardrobe is what you are after, with a considerable amount of space, it may be worth looking into furniture sites like, to help you make a better decision as to where you will be storing your clothes. Regardless of whether you have got rid of most of your clothes, you’ll at least have more room for the clothes you do buy later on. Storage is important, but it is also about how you clean your clothes.

Laundry is responsible for one-quarter of the carbon footprint of clothing as we over-wash and under-load. Here are some simple ways to cut back on the environmental effects of your laundry wash:

The good thing is that it is getting better.

Orsla of Fashion Revolution says: “Certainly there is more awareness, we just have to see luxury brands such as Stella McCartney now fully embracing sustainable solutions and becoming a real positive advocate for change.

“In Bangladesh, there have been many improvements in the fashion supply chain since the dust has settled on the Rana Plaza disaster, although it is unfortunate that it has taken a tragedy of this scale to start to bring about change.”

The Bangladesh fire led to the signing of the Accord. Global brands, retailers and trade unions have said they would work together to build a much safer Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment (RMG) Industry.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 also demands ‘transparency in the supply chains’, publishing an annual slavery and human trafficking statement related to the retail industry.

It also seems to be the younger generation who are driving this change.

Tali of the FAIR shop says: “Lots of people have decided to only buy ethical clothes, especially younger ones.

“We’ve had lots more in their 20s. That’s a whole decade younger than our usual customer.”

With young people leading the way, these simple ways to make your wardrobe more ethical helps create a much more sustainable fashion industry. Finally, say hello to guilt-free shopping.

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