5 Things Every Ethical Fashionista Should Know

Being a fashionable and eco-conscious consumer is possible with these tips!


When I was growing up, girls I went to school with loved hanging out at the mall. While I never understood this, fashion companies sure do. That’s why they pump out new styles every week. As quickly as possible and and with the biggest margins that they can manage.

While most people love $7 tops and $20 shoes, I’d rather compile a quality collection of sustainably-made (and non-toxic) clothing. That’s why I make every effort to be a conscious consumer, doing my research on the fashion industry and looking for alternatives to fast fashion.

5 Things Every Ethical Fashionista Should Know

Fast fashion is the new normal for major retailers, but it’s not ethical

What I found out was that the true cost of fast fashion is far greater than any bargain. For starters, if there’s a new “season” of clothes every week, you’re bound to be out-of-style before you’ve even worn your new find. To keep up you have to buy more and toss more – the average American throws out more than 68 pounds of textiles per year!

And that’s just the beginning of the environmental impact. In order to keep costs down, manufacturers don’t adhere to safety standards and some of your fave inexpensive accessories contain lead, in addition to all the other chemicals – pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde, and flame-retardants – that are routinely used in mainstream fashion.

20% of all water pollution comes from the apparel industry. If we change the way we shop we can make a huge impact.

5 Things Every Ethical Fashionista Should Know

Perhaps the most tragic cost of all is the human cost, with up to 60 percent of fashion being produced by ‘informal’ workers, there’s no way to regulate their working conditions.

But you don’t have to participate in all this madness. You can step out of the fast fashion system, by following the below tips:

Shop vintage

The most reliable path to being a sustainable fashionista is to by buying vintage. While you can’t be sure the vintage piece was ethically made, by purchasing a vintage piece you’re breathing new life into something that might have been discarded into a landfill. Here’s my guide to getting great deals on eBay.

Look for natural materials

Did you know that polyester is actually toxic because it’s made from petroleum? Always avoid synthetic fabrics, as the processing chemicals and dyes used in these materials are particularly toxic. Instead, opt for (organic, if possible) cotton or linen.

After all my wool and cashmere sweaters got moth holes in them, I replaced them with with thick sweaters, denim, t-shirts, pants and more — all made from cotton or linen. If you can find it, hemp is another great choice.

Manufacturing practices and supply chain matters

For example, bamboo products are being marketed as green, but while bamboo itself is very sustainable, it is often processed with so many chemicals that it becomes toxic. And even if a brand uses “organic” cotton doesn’t mean they’re using non-toxic dyes.

There are some certifying companies such as OEKO_TEX or GOTS which cover parts of the supply chain, so you can also look out for those certifications. If you are buying non-organic clothing, OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification will ensure that there are no toxic chemicals used in the textile dyeing and finishing process.

Think you can just wash away the toxins? Think again

Washing clothing does not thoroughly remove toxins, but it does spread the toxins to our local water.

Made in… where?? 

There is a lot of haziness in labelling law, since it’s a ‘standard’ rather than a rule. Companies take advantage of that and put a ‘Made in USA’ label when the component parts are not actually American made.

The good news is that fashion-conscious consumers don’t have to compromise. A simple rule that I’ve adopted is to build my wardrobe slowly by picking out sustainable pieces I love. I try to find brands that don’t use toxic dyes and chemicals or underpaid labor. That doesn’t have to translate into expensive clothing; check out a couple of my favorites brands: Wildlife Works (their profits save animals) and Thought, or search for “organic clothing”.

Being an ethical consumer is all about educating yourself then doing the best you can. After all, if you want to change the world, the best way is to vote with your dollars.


What’s your best fashion tip? Do you try to shop sustainably?

Avatar of Hilary Rowland

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 168 Comments

  1. Avatar of Janice Garcia

    Janice Garcia

    I’ve gotten into the habit of looking at tags to note what it’s made of. Better be safe than sorry!

  2. Avatar of Lillie Vaoughn

    Lillie Vaoughn

    If you want to stand out, be different. Don’t follow the trend! lol

  3. Avatar of Monique Sanchez

    Monique Sanchez

    If you’re into fashion then it really doesn’t matter what you do. You’re in it because you love change, you’re in it because you’re curious, you’re in it because you’re looking at things to be different. So just do it.

  4. Avatar of Dianna Ballard

    Dianna Ballard

    I don’t understand why there are people who want to be part of the fashion world!

  5. Avatar of Helen Griffith

    Helen Griffith

    Fashion is not just for wealthy people, don’t worry if you have a limited budget, you can shop vintage! I always do.

  6. Avatar of Joanne Reese

    Joanne Reese

    Being authentic, having an open mind, a fascination with clothes, whether past or present are the things that you need to keep in mind if you really want to be a fashionista.

  7. Avatar of Leah Steele

    Leah Steele

    I’m a minimalist when it comes to my wardrobe. Simple yet classy. It helps me to buy less fast fashion. 🙂

  8. Avatar of Bobbie Gilbert

    Bobbie Gilbert

    Shopping for clothes doesn’t need to be so overwhelming, time-consuming, and full of uncertainty. This article sums up what you need to do if you wanna stay fashionable without compromising sustainability. Nice one Urbanette!

  9. Avatar of Christina Duncan

    Christina Duncan

    Just make sure you feel comfortable. You’ll never be able to pull off one of the latest fashion trends if you don’t feel comfortable with yourself. Just make sure you have fun, sustainably, of course!

  10. Avatar of Fannie Kelley

    Fannie Kelley

    Best tip would be to always dress for the occasion. The last thing you want is to arrive in an outfit so dressy that you can’t enjoy those baby back ribs they are serving. Or even arrive so casual that everyone assumes you are fashionably challenged.? You certainly don’t want that!

    • Avatar of Lynda Ruiz

      Lynda Ruiz

      True! Your clothing must match the event you’re attending but should still reflect your personality, your own style.

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