To understand what sustainable shopping is, we first need to define sustainable fashion. To understand what sustainable fashion is, we first need to define sustainability. The problem is, sustainability doesn’t have a set definition––it’s subjective.
Here’s a definition I like though:
1. of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged
2. of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods
Essentially, “sustainable fashion refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured, distributed, and used in ways that are environmentally friendly” (
Sustainable fashion encompasses 1) fabrics made from eco-friendly materials (e.g. sustainably grown fiber crops or recycled materials), 2) how the fabrics are made, 3) clothing with the longest lifespan possible, 4) wearing secondhand clothing from friends or thrift stores, 5) reducing the amount of clothing that’s overproduced, burned or throw into landfills, and 6) reducing the environmental impact of chemicals in producing fiber crops (e.g. cotton).
As I mentioned before, sustainable shopping is a bit of an oxymoron, because shopping is inherently unsustainable (the #1 most sustainable option is to not buy anything at all!).
Unfortunately, we can’t go our entire lives avoiding shopping altogether. In some cases, we need to buy new things (i.e. underwear, shoes). Sustainable shopping acknowledges this reality and encourages shoppers to try to buy in a way that is the least harmful to the environment.
What is ethical shopping? 🛒
The term ethical shopping encompasses slightly more than sustainable shopping because it factors an item or clothing brand’s environmental impact, labor conditions and animal welfare. For many consumers, sustainable and ethical shopping go hand in hand.
It’s important to note that ethical shopping factors in a purchase’s second and third-order effects, beyond its direct impact on the environment.
Why do you shop sustainably? 🙋
Minimalism means that all of my items contribute significant value to my life. At the core of my lifestyle is the desire to live deliberately. To me, this includes living a life that’s aligned with my values, one being to cause the least amount of harm in the world.
Since I rarely buy new items, I’m deliberate about supporting brands that are as environmentally sustainable as possible. Additionally, I’m deliberate about buying items that will last as long as possible, since I want each item to add as much value as possible to my life.
If you’re a minimalist, why are you shopping? 🛍
After wearing the same outfit (a white t-shirt and blue jeans) for almost two years, I discovered my interest in fashion. After further reflection, I realized that minimalism and style are not mutually exclusive; minimalists can be fashionable! Minimalism isn’t about owning the least amount of items possible, it’s about making sure every item you own adds value; it’s not about deprivation, it’s about intentionality. Since fashion is important to me, fashionable clothing adds value to my life, so I’m okay with owning more clothes than what people would expect of a minimalist.
Also, I think it’s unrealistic to believe that someone can go their entire life without shopping, since we all eventually need to buy new things, like underwear, shoes, pens, toothbrushes.
Is shopping sustainably a first-world privilege? I.e. is it only for the wealthy? 💸
Many stores branded as “sustainable” are notoriously expensive. This makes sense because when you shop from these stores, you're paying for clothing that's made from material that is ethically sourced (which costs more money) and you’re paying for clothing that's produced by factories that pay their workers a living wage. Fast fashion is only cheap for consumers because the true cost is paid for by exploited workers and the environment.
But shopping sustainably doesn’t have to be expensive since you can buy from thrift and secondhand stores (which may even be cheaper than if you buy from a fast-fashion brand!). Also, you may end up spending less on clothing if you invest in fewer, high-quality pieces that will last a lifetime, than if you buy many low-quality fast-fashion tops that will wear out quickly. Shopping sustainably definitely isn’t just for the wealthy and affluent!
are principles that I’ve established for myself, based on my personal definition of sustainability. Since sustainability is subjective; know that you can ALWAYS find ways to justify purchasing a piece of clothing. As my dad says, “humans are not rational creatures; they are rationalizing creatures.”
So if you find that you ended up buying something that isn’t as sustainable as you’d like––don’t beat yourself up about it. Figure out the lesson you learned (e.g. don’t buy your a cappella group’s hoodie that you can only wear for a year) and add it to the list of principles that will guide your purchasing decisions in the future.
None of us are perfect and none of our purchases will be perfect (after all, the #1 most sustainable option is to not buy anything at all!). What’s important is to learn from your purchasing mistakes and try your best to purchase as sustainably as possible. Doing something is better than doing nothing.