How to Avoid Clothes That Are Bad for Workers and the Environment

CC BY 2.0. Tinou Bao

The world of green fashion can be a daunting one, so here are some tips for finding clothes that make you feel good about your purchase.

It has been over two years since the horrific Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. While the memory of that horrific event will not fade, there is a silver lining that has fortunately emerged. A growing number of shoppers are paying attention to where and how their clothing is made, and refusing to support companies who don’t deserve their business. Conscientious consumers are seeking ethical and eco-friendly clothes made by companies whose visions are more in keeping with individual preferences.

The only problem is, it can be hard to find such companies. The clothing industry is dominated by fast fashion and big-name brands with huge marketing budgets. They’re in our faces all the time, which makes looking for the truly ethical companies much harder.

In an excellent YouTube video called “Ethical and Eco Fashion Shopping Tips,” a young Canadian “conscious designer” named Verena Erin shares her thoughts on how to be a smart shopper. She offers plenty of practical tips, some of which I’ll summarize here.

What are your priorities?

Before you even start shopping, you have to know what’s important to you. Assess your personal values. Do you care most about manufacturing? Local production? Sustainable materials? Vegan or cruelty-free products? Fair trade? Organic?

Which clothing attributes are most important?

What do you look for when shopping for clothes? Quality, fit, comfort, price, colour, durability, functionality, style, trend, and pattern/print are all things to consider. Once you narrow down your preferences, it will be easier to know what to look for.

What do you need?

Verena Erin recommends keeping an ongoing wish list of items you’ve thought about or need. That way you’re less likely to invest in superfluous things. Don’t be too specific, since that can limit your ability to see the potential in certain items, but it’s good to have approximate categories, i.e. a pair of black jeans or leggings. Strive for a "capsule wardrobe" -- a collection of a few essential items that don't go out of fashion and are eternally versatile.

Figure out where and how to look.

The Internet is the most accessible shopping outlet for everyone. It gives access to a broad range of ethical products, and many companies have filters that make it easier to search. It allows you to research companies and contact them with questions.

Online shopping, however, is problematic if fit is a priority; but then you could consider using a tailor – a service that Verena Erin says is much underused, considering the many different body shapes that cannot possibly be satisfied by sizes on a rack.

Shop in person.

If you live in a city, it is much easier to find stores that specialize in eco-friendly and ethical clothing. If there’s a certain online retailer that you really like, check for lists of stockists in your vicinity.

Look locally at craft markets, farmers’ markets, or One-of-a-Kind shows. This allows you to talk to people who actually make the products you buy. You can also order custom-made items.

Second-hand stores are great.

This is arguably the most sustainable way of shopping, since no extra labour or material is used to make a new garment and your purchase diverts it from landfill. There are different kinds of second-hand stores: thrift, vintage, and consignment (both regular and high-end). There are also places to rent clothes, usually formal attire, which makes sense for those rarely used items.

There is debate about whether buying second-hand clothes made by unethical brands is appropriate or not. On one hand, your money doesn’t go toward supporting that company, but rather supports the second-hand store that’s selling it. On the other hand, if an item features the company’s name or logo prominently, you are advertising on its behalf, which is a form of support.


Be OK with something that’s not necessarily perfect. And if you can’t find an ethical or eco-friendly option, always go for quality. Don’t hesitate to contact brands you like if they’re dragging their feet toward ethical and environment change. The more consumers speak out, the faster changes will occur.