Finding What Fits

It’s Slow Fashion October and we’re all trying to put more thought into our wardrobe and make more informed buying decisions. It’s easier said than done with the overwhelming amount of options available to us. So, how does someone even start making these kinds of choices? I’ve got a few tips on how to get started.

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Decide what is important to you

Sustainability has many definitions depending on the context. Economically sustainable & environmentally sustainable are two that we hear about pretty commonly. The best way to be both economically and environmentally sustainable? Shop secondhand for everything. This extends the life of the items, keeps them from landfills, and promotes recycling.

That’s a really over simplified answer though, it isn’t always possible to get just what you need, when you need it, by shopping secondhand (but that doesn’t mean you should write it off entirely!). With that being said, it helps to have an idea of your priorities when you’re shopping for new clothing. You’ll want to consider things like where you’re buying from, how the items were made, what the items were made from (and how those were made), and who made them.

Where You’re Buying From

For me, shopping as locally as possible is important. I am willing to pay more in order to do so. But what does that mean? In my case, it means that I aim to shop at locally owned stores and purchase locally made goods. I’ve found that locally owned shops have a more personal relationship with the brands they sell. They can often tell me a lot more about a product or designer that makes me want to purchase something, plus they often support local designers, artists, and makers in my community as well as small brands from around the country and the world who share my values.

Shopping at locally owned stores offers a great deal of economic sustainability too. By spending money at local businesses, more of that money stays in your community to provide jobs & pay wages, support local charities, and support local government. If having a community with a walkable district of independently owned shops and restaurants who act as community gathering places is important to you, then supporting businesses in those districts might be high on your priority list.

How Was it Made?

Another consideration is how was an item made. This means was it made in a factory by machines? Was it hand sewn? Was it crafted in a studio on a small scale? There’s many different approaches to clothing production, each with their pros and cons. Much of today’s fashion coming from larger retailers is manufactured overseas in factories. The major drawbacks here are environmental considerations (condition of the factory, shipping finished goods across the world, quality of materials used, etc.) as well as ethical ones (labor conditions, fair wages, child labor, etc.). Not all overseas manufacturing is bad, but it helps to know a bit more about the brand you’re considering to understand how they make their products. Small scale manufacturing, especially when it is more local (in your same country or even your own community) is a bit easier to narrow down. You know your local laws on things like wages and working conditions, and it is often easier to find information on companies in your same country to know if their values align with your own. Meeting an individual designer or creator is the most direct way to know how your item was made because you can simply ask, many are happy to share how they make their products. Trunk shows, maker fairs, & farmer’s markets are a great way to get face time with your local makers and chat about how they make their products.

What Was it Made From?

There are tons of considerations when thinking about what your clothing is made from. At the smallest level we’ve got natural or synthetic fibers, and blends. Depending on your needs and your values, there’s many things to consider here and it’s not quite as simple as natural vs. man made. Natural fibers are things like cotton, wool, and fur. Synthetic fibers can be made with naturally occurring things like cellulose or wood pulp, but are then put through a chemical process to create a fiber. These are fibers like Rayon, Acetate, & Lyocell. Other synthetic fibers are often made from petroleum products.

Natural fibers are great, but there are still environmental and ethical factors to consider. For example, the way we grow, process, and use cotton for clothing consumes a lot of water, some synthetic fibers use much less water for the same end result. It’s not as clear cut as one type being better than another, environmentally speaking. The process of making wool garments involves the care and keeping of sheep, shearing them, treating the wool and processing it into fibers, then yarn, then fabric & finished garments. This can raise ethical and environmental concerns.

Another factor to consider when considering different fiber types is what is your intended use for the garment. Synthetic performance fabrics make sense when you need a technical garment like a snow jacket, kevlar vest, or raincoat. For an every day dress? You might be most comfortable in bamboo or cotton.

Blends offer a great way to get the best properties of both types of fibers. A lot of KD pieces are made with Rayon/Spandex blends. These blends give the garments properties like breathability, softness, & comfort, while also making them easy to wash and care for so that each garment lasts a long time and avoids needing repair.

The path to making more informed decisions about buying clothing is not one size fits all, and these are just a few of the key factors to consider. The important takeaway from this and from Slow Fashion October is that we should all do our best to consider the impact that these purchases have on our world and make the best choices we can. It’s not about achieving perfection, it’s about being intentional and thoughtful.

Got questions? Leave them in the comments below!