I was going to give out “instructions” for buying ethically with all my Christmas presents this year. Didn’t turn out that way. Most of the gifts I bought were ethical, but I never got round to giving presents out to my friends. So I thought I’d post those instructions here instead. It applies mostly to clothing, but can be applied more widely.

These instructions have mostly been taken from “Green is the New Black”, written by Tamsin Blanchard.

Green is the New Black book, by Tamsin Blanchard
  • Fashion uses 25% of the world’s pesticides, is a huge waste of water and has high levels of CO2 emissions
  • 500,000 tonnes of unwanted clothing ends up in landfills each year in the UK

So think about what you’re buying. Go for quality over quantity: better to have a few timelessly stylish pieces than wardrobes of clothes that barely get worn and then change each season. Ask yourself a few questions before buying, or even before going shopping.

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. Why is it so cheap?
  3. How much are the workers likely to have been paid? Are they in a good working environment, with recognised unions and decent working conditions? What about child labour?
  4. Is the packaging excessive?
  5. Is the fur trim real? (real fur has been known to get into supposedly fake fur, and I’m not talking about years ago)
  6. Is it recycled, fair trade or organic? (Charity shops and eBay also count towards recycled, and farmers get a 50% increase in income for growing organic cotton. As consumers, we can empower the people who make our clothes, to get better wages, better working conditions, and generally a better standard of living. All for a small price rise.

I remember being on a night out with four friends years ago, and we all wore dark blue jeans and a black strappy top. The tops were all different, but we still all looked the same. And that seems to be happening on an ever-increasing scale: the McDonaldsisation of fashion. It’s bad enough that we accept crap chain food outlets spring up everywhere, and now it’s happening with clothes (I’ll discuss coffee another time).

At least people can buy different clothes if they shop in charity shops and vintage shops. They don’t take up as much of your income, and with a little imagination they can be customised. Fair trade and organic are more exclusive by definition; and if can afford designer or bespoke, why would you want to buy the same clothes as everyone else?

Style is ultimately about self-expression. By purchasing more and more clothes, and demanding lower prices, we have allowed ourselves to buy poor-quality, badly made items, and lost our sense of style in the process.

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