Sustainable fashion on a budget. Can it be done? In short, yes.
Today, sustainable fashion goes beyond organic tees. Ethical fashion involves a number of factors: how the industry operates in terms of fair wages, environmental damage, waste, the use of hazardous chemicals in the production process as well as animal cruelty. As consumers, we have become as conscious of our fashion as our food – where it comes from, who made it, were they paid fairly and what happened during the making process, was there waste or harm to the environment?
Depending on who you talk to, fashion has been described as the third or fourth biggest contributor to pollution, specifically air pollution. Our biggest problems being microfibres found in items like polyester blends, harmful chemicals, landfill space, and as mentioned, pollution.
In South Africa, there are a number of smaller brands who tick all the boxes in terms of ethical fashion for children as well as adults: clothing is made from recycled or eco-friendly materials such as banana leaves, organic cotton or bamboo and by-products that previously would have been considered waste. They’re made with love by hand by people who are paid fairly and no harmful dyes or chemicals are used in the production process. However, while kid brands remain affordable, for adults, a quick Google search revealed that a pair of leggings or a dress could set you back between R950 and R3450 (!) and unfortunately that is the entire annual wardrobe budget for anyone watching their pennies. Caring seems to come at a cost. Thankfully, a number retailers are coming to the party by making sustainable fashion accessible to everyone.
So when it comes to ethical fashion, start with what you CAN do.
BUY CLOTHING MADE FROM RECYCLED MATERIAL
Just five years ago, this would have been impossible but the industry has made huge strides in innovation. Today, you can buy RE: jeans from Woolworths – either made from plastic bottles that would have ended up in our oceans or in landfills, or bottles removed from our seas. This is blended with BCI cotton – a sustainable cotton using farming practices that protect nature, conserve water, and care for the people who make it. And of course only eco-friendly chemicals are used. With their 2016 autumn/winter collection alone, they prevented 192000** bottles from going to landfills. Now imagine how much can be done after a few seasons and a few more years?
Their range is really extensive: from skinny to boyfriend to carrot leg to biker jeans and starts from just R350 per pair. For budget buyers, the great news is that they’re currently running an online-only promo on selected studio.w and RE: jeans: Buy any two and save 35%. That works out to only R227,50 per pair! And at Two Babes on a Budget, we love prices under R300.
REUSE, RECYCLE, OR FREECYCLE YOUR CLOTHES
It is estimated that 60%* of our clothing ends up in landfills, including items like flip flops and rubber soles. While we’re all Kon Maring our lives, there are tons of items that may bring joy to someone else.
Donate to an NGO: Most NGOs are in dire need of clothing – and your clothing could keep a baby cosy or offer a smart interview ensemble to someone starting out, so donate wherever you can. Many NGOs also host clothing markets and resell items to cover day-to day costs. I once picked up a pair of vintage jeans for R25! A way to recycle clothing and help make a difference at the same time.
Host a style swap party: Invite a few of your friends and ask them each to bring one or two pals. Everyone should bring a bag of items they longer wear – new or old then let the trading behind. It’s the best way to gain a whole new wardrobe without spending a cent!
Recycle: H&M has recycle bins in every one of their stores. And to sweeten the deal, you get 5% off every time you bring in clothing or textiles for recycling. You can bring in any brand in any condition, even towels. By the end of 2017, 17771 tonnes of textiles, the equivalent of 89 million t-shirts was collected.
Upstyle: I’ve had a denim shirt and red plaid pants in my wardrobe for decades. And while my Pussy Cat Doll phase is over, the red pants provided a cute pocket to a once-drab denim shirt.
BUY SUSTAINABLE COTTON WHERE POSSIBLE
Organic cotton is grown without harmful pesticides and fertilisers, making it more environmentally friendly. But I have to admit that the ranges out there were quite limited and does come with a mightier price tag. Silver lining is that most retailers like Cotton On have made commitments to bring about positive change. Cotton On, with their “The Good” campaign has promised to create fashion that’s good for you, your community, the planet and the things that matters to us most.
To find out more, read up about their ‘good goals’ to have 100% sustainable cotton by 2021. They’ve already made great strides in Better Cotton, and empowering the garment makers, farmers and suppliers.
H&M and the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced this month a new, expanded partnership to jointly promote improved working conditions in the textile and garment industry and already have their Conscious Collection in stores. They aim to continue making great fashion and design, affordable, by having a circular approach and being a fair and equal company. If their international range is anything to go by, there are some amazing conscious buys we can make.
MAKE A MOLEHILL OF MICROFIBRES
Microfibres are synthetic fibres found mainly found in nylon and polyester. Most of us have worn them in fleece, certain knits, athleisure wear, even underwear. While there are benefits to synthetic fibres – no pesticides are used to develop synthetic fibres as with cotton – poly blends keep costs down and synthetic fibres have the ability to repel moisture making it perfect for activewear, (and also retains its shape – bye bye hours of ironing), microfibres unfortunately account for 85% of man-made debris found on shorelines worldwide. With every wash, these microfibers are released then travel to local wastewater treatment plants by the billions, where up to 40% of them enter into rivers, lakes, and oceans and contribute to the overall plastic pollution, ending up in our food and drinking water, not to mention causing severe harm to marine life.
So what can be done?
Install a microfibre filter in your washing machine to help lessen the problem. A fine filter will trap any microfibres so that you can dispose of them responsibly. Takealot has one for R215. Shop it here.
BUY BASICS, RATHER THAN ITEMS WITH AN EXPIRY DATE
While Marie Kondo’ing my wardrobe a few weeks back, I found a few colour-blocking items that I wasn’t sure I would ever wear again. “Trendy” or “fad” items means that when those trends fade, you’re forced to toss them out like every other disposable item.
So, shop instead for affordable items that will never go out of style. Build a wardrobe of basics that you can mix and match for seasons to come. Essentials like white or striped tees, vests, polonecks, denim jackets, denims and black pants that you can wear year after year. Once you have a basic wardrobe, you’ll be less likely to shop for fly-by-night fashion.
When it comes to basics, Pick n Pay Clothing is my go to. They don’t have an online store yet but you can shop for basic tanks and tees from as little as R59.99.
For earth-friendly options, Faithful to Nature has a few items under R350.
And, if you’re looking for an eco cleaning range as kind to the planet as it is on your pocket, try Checkers’ Simple Truth range of detergents.
While shopping for a completely sustainable wardrobe does seem like a faraway goal, it is possible. And the only way to tackle it is to change the way we shop, use, clean and dispose of clothing. For good.
** Data based on Woolies autumn/winter 2016