Sustainable Fashion is the New Black

clothes on hangers garment rack

Hey, it’s Aquala Bogan, aka The Realist Woman here. I wanted to introduce you to this blog’s first post by a Guest Writer. Below is an amazing article, written by Bay Area Image Consultant and Stylist Samantha Smith. She is introducing us to the topic of savvy and sustainable fashion, and how to achieve that in a time where fast fashion rules. Fast fashion has hurt our environment and has hurt the women behind the scenes of the garment industry. I wrote about this topic last year when Fashion Nova was accused of wage violations. Sustainable and ethical fashion flips that reality upside down, ensuring women a safer and more accountable workspace, better and fair wages, and helps our planet. This article is truly an education and I’m incredibly excited to have this platform to show off my amazing and world-changing friends. Show Samantha some love on her website The Image Incubator, follow her on Instagram and Facebook, and read her fantastic article below.

 Samantha Smith –

I have been a fashion and style lover for as long as I can recall. I remember being a 90s kid and watching Clueless and The Nanny and coveting everything that Cher and Fran wore. I love the feel of natural textiles, the way colors and patterns play off each other, and the way the perfect outfit can make you feel like a million bucks. It was this love that led me to start my own business as an image consultant/stylist. However, it wasn’t until the past year or so, that I started to delve into the world of sustainable and ethical fashion. This world was far deeper than I had initially realized. Some folks use “sustainable” as a catchall term – anything from approaches with a loose environmental bent to robust processes that hone in on measurable benefits to the environment and human rights. For the purpose of this article, I will use ‘sustainable’ to apply to the environmental goals and ‘ethical’ to apply to the human side of things. 

Some of the reasons why I’m passionate about sustainable and ethical fashion include my being concerned with the dangerous and low-paid working conditions for workers (primarily women and sometimes children), poor quality, trendy items that either end up in the garbage or shipped away to foreign countries to be “their” problem, the insane amount of man-made (e.g. nylon, polyester, etc.) microfibers that end up in our waterways to be devoured by marine life, and the fact that the fashion industry contributes to 10% of annual global greenhouse emissions. The aforementioned reasons and more only barely scratch the surface. Honestly, once you open this Pandora’s box, you can’t put that lid back on it.

The Netflix Patriot Act episode, “The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion,” with Hasan Minhaj, is a really great primer on the harsh truths of how much the fashion industry truly harms the environment. He explains “greenwashing” – when companies mislead consumers into thinking they’re much more environmentally friendly than they truly are, especially when fast fashion companies like H&M and Zara use terms like “green,” “eco-friendly,” or, again, “sustainable”. 

mutli-colored fabric
By Andreas Fickl from Pexels

So, what can YOU do about it? 

  1. First and foremost, use what you have and take care of it 
    • If something is torn or stained, find a way to mend or clean it 
    • Wash non-undergarments less
    • A lot of dry clean only garments can actually be hand-washed, depending on the fabric 
    • Consider upcycling e.g. dying clothes and different types of alterations, along with remembering that search engines and Pinterest are your friends when it comes to ideas 
    • This will get easier to do if you invest in better quality items from the start 
  2. Don’t be afraid to borrow things from friends or family or use a service like Rent the Runway
    • If you have a special event coming up, don’t be afraid to ask around 
    • These suggestions are helpful when trying to make more financially sound decisions
  3. When you’re tired of clothes you already have
    • Consider clothing swaps/trades with your friends 
    • Donate to thrift stores, but keep in mind when donating clothing to thrift stores, if they don’t sell or aren’t chosen to be sold, they can end up in the landfill or shipped to foreign countries who don’t need or want them
    • Sell them to consignment shops or online thrift stores like ThredUp, post them for sale on Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, or Craigslist, or use secondhand selling sites like Poshmark, Depop, Mercari, and eBay 
  4. Shop secondhand 
    • Hit up your local thrift stores, consignment shops, and the secondhand online shopping sites mentioned in the previous section 
    • Look for quality items and items made from natural fabrics (e.g. cotton, wool, cashmere, hemp, linen) 
    • Be patient, thrifting is a long game 
    • Don’t be afraid of alterations 
    • This also tends to be less expensive than buying new and requires fewer resources than the creation of new items 
  5. Sew your own clothes
    • Learning to sew is an underrated lifelong skill 
    • You can buy bolts of fabric, patterns, and larger clothing sizes to make clothing out of secondhand 
  6. Shop new sustainably and ethically 
    • I recommend this option last because I know there are some who aren’t comfortable wearing secondhand items 
    • Look for businesses that follow the non-profit Remake standards for sustainable and ethical standards in six key areas – transparency, traceability, maker well-being, environmental sustainability, raw materials, and leadership 
    • As mentioned under the section about shopping secondhand, look for quality and natural fabrics 
    • Sustainable and ethical shopping is more expensive, but your cost per wear should be less, and overall, you should be okay with buying less in general and much of the time, you’re supporting a small business 

Clothing has a very high, and usually hidden, human, and environmental cost. In the past, Americans used to pay more for clothing, but they also used to buy much less overall and items lasted. Most of the clothes were made in the U.S. by union workers. Unfortunately, the corporate bottom line didn’t grow by following this credo. 

The fashion industry will not change overnight, but as consumers, we have power in how we choose to spend our money. The good news is that interest in sustainability, ethical shopping, and shopping secondhand is trending and will continue to grow in the future.

women working in garment factory
Photo credit by Andrea Piacquadio

Keep in mind that when you shop new in the sustainability and ethical space, you are paying more to ensure that workers make a living wage and have a safe place to work, and materials are sourced safely in an environmentally conscious way. But, if you cannot afford to shop in that space, shopping secondhand is a perfectly fine, viable, and financially smart way to expand your wardrobe. Please realize that you don’t have to have a giant wardrobe to have plenty of things to wear, and you don’t have to be trendy to be stylish (e.g. Well-made basics, classic styles, and capsule wardrobes). This is a process, no one is perfect, and just by being a more conscious shopper, you can make a big difference. 

I know I just threw a lot at you to think about and research, but isn’t this one trend you want to be ahead of the curve on?