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How To Build An Ethical Closet From Scratch

You’ve likely witnessed the ways “fast fashion” has overtaken malls nationwide. Fast fashion retailers like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M sell items that are very cheap and extremely trend-based. In fact, they intentionally release new trends constantly to manipulate buyers into buying the next “hot thing” week after week. It used to be that fashion seasons followed the four seasons, but there are now 52 unique “seasons” that fashion sellers work to produce every year, attempting to lure you in for a fresh look every single week.

In order for fast fashion companies to respond very quickly to trend changes, they must often produce items in grueling conditions. This often unfortunately means that human suffering and toxic environmental impacts were the price these companies paid to give you cheap options on the rack. At its worst, the fast fashion industry can be built upon slave labor. (If you want to learn more about this, check out the documentary The True Cost.)

However, there are so many other options available for filling your closet. Sustainable alternatives abound and they also can be quite affordable. Here are some tips to build a curated ethical closet:

Buy used

A simple and wallet-friendly way to build an ethical closet is to buy used clothing. Even if the brand has compromised ethics, your purchase dollars go to the reseller, not the original producer.

Double your ethical impact buying from a thrift store with a social purpose like Goodwill, The Salvation Army or a local charity-run thrift store. You can also buy from more fashion-forward resellers like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet or Crossroads for more on-trend options. Alternatively, you can buy directly from individuals on eBay, Poshmark or Offer Up.

In addition to reducing sweatshop labor, buying used also has a positive impact on the environment; your purchase prevents used items from reaching landfills and reduces packaging waste.

Buy “Made in America”

When you purchase “Made in America” items, you can rest assured that a minimum level of care was considered for the product’s manufacturing. Employees were paid at least minimum wage and not forced to work overtime unless properly compensated for their time. Companies manufacturing in America must also comply with environmental regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Additionally, when you purchase “Made in America,” your dollars will stay within the country; keeping your funds within the USA, helps grow local economies and protect American jobs.

RELATED: 7 Ethical Beauty Brands Worth Adding To Your Cart.

Choose B Corps

B Corps “are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” Think of the B Corp label like the Free Trade or Certified Organic labels seen on food packaging.

There are over 3,500 B Corps and the B Corp Directory features over 100 fashion-specific brands that have been independently verified for their ethical business models. (Pro-tip: the B Corp Directory can help you find recommended brands for purchases beyond your closet as well. Why not build a more ethical pantry, home and office while you’re at it?)

Check brands’ websites for a supply chain disclosure

In recent years, many brands have received bad press for problematic supply chains and sweatshop labor. With increasing attention being paid to manufacturing, brand are likely to proudly publish their policies on their websites if they’re engaging in ethical manufacturing.

Certainly, there are ample smaller name brands to seek out in boutiques and online stores. However, even when shopping major department stores, there are globally-recognized brands operating with a heart. A few great ones we love are Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Adidas, Brooks, Rebecca Minkoff, and Levi’s.

A few more resources we love

Before you purchase your next item of clothing, you can check a out a brand’s practices with these tools:

  • Done Good: This is a web browser extension. Done Good’s browser notifications alert if you’re about to make an online purchase from an ethically compromised brand. The app then recommends an alternative vendor and provides a coupon code to incentivize you buy from the better business. You can also explore Done Good’s website to find verified businesses to support.
  • Good On You: This mobile app is great to reference when shopping at a brick-and-mortar store. Quickly input the brand’s name to see how they check out for production practices. Good On You also runs a fascinating blog that regularly takes deeper dives into specific popular brands and their strengths/weaknesses as ethical vendors.
  • Dressember’s Ethical Fashion Directory: Dressember is a fashion-oriented non-profit organization working to eliminate slavery. This directory is frequently updated with recommended brands and also features discount codes for buyers.

Stick with the brands you trust

You may feel overwhelmed with all this information. Set aside some time to research to find your “go-to” apparel brands. While it takes time up-front to do this research, the good news is that there are ample companies that can fill your closet. Once you’ve figured out the brands you’d like to wear regularly, keep coming back for more! 

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