You’re eating vegetarian meals more often, using a keep-cup for takeaway coffees (pre-pandemic at least!), and recycling everything you can. So far, so good in terms of making planet-friendly consumer choices.
However there is one area that often presents more challenges to staying sustainable: clothes shopping. You’ve got the convenience and affordable cost of fast fashion brands on the one hand, and the more sustainably-sourced options that are potentially more expensive and harder to find, on the other.
The allure of fast fashion, so-called because of the rapid turnaround of new products, has made it a vastly profitable industry. But in order to keep churning out new styles for fleeting trends, brands end up generating an enormous amount of surplus products that go to waste — despite the environmental damage caused to create them.
The global apparel and footwear market was valued at about $2 trillion in 2019, while an estimated 30% of stock is never sold and 50% of fast fashion items are disposed of within a year.
A report from the UK parliament’s environmental audit committee in 2019 hit the nail on the head when it declared that the fashion industry is “encouraging over-consumption and generating excessive waste.” But it’s not just the waste that is a problem.
The fashion industry is second only to the petroleum industry for its carbon footprint and is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions — more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Vast quantities of water are used to produce materials such as cotton too, and 20% of all waste-water generated by any industry is caused by the dyeing and treatments of fabrics.
That’s before we even consider the human cost associated with clothing production — with the horrific Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, in which 1,138 people people died while employed by international brands, being one of the most shocking examples of how bad working conditions in fashion production can be.
Bad conditions aren't only found in low-income countries. In 2020, a UK company faced modern slavery allegations after the Sunday Times reported that factories in Leicester, UK, manufacturing clothes for the fast fashion company Boohoo, were paying workers just £3.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage.
As awareness has grown about the fashion industry's detrimental impact, a new breed of fashion "influencer" has emerged. And instead of promoting the most well-known brands or high-end designers, they are using their platforms to offer audiences insight into a different way of enjoying fashion.
These advocates for slow fashion and second-hand garments have got stylish wardrobes that prove you don’t have to break the bank to shop sustainably — and that you can still have fun with what you wear. Here are some of our favourites.
1. Aja Barber
Aja Barber is a fashion consultant and writer based in London.
Her eye-catching outfits offer clothing inspiration to her 227,000 Instagram followers, but she also creates informative long-form posts that really go into the detail of fashion’s impact on the environment.
Barber regularly recommends sustainable brands and promotes re-wearing the same clothes, rather than bowing to the pressure to constantly promote something new. Follow her for a focus on fashion that is inclusive, fun, and doesn’t harm the planet or the people who produce it.
2. Emma Slade Emondson
Also London-based, Emma Slade Emondson is a podcaster and marketer.
Her Instagram grid offers a bounty of delightful retro-leaning, second-hand finds. She’s proof that you can look amazing and shop entirely second-hand. She also uses her platform to educate on issues around race and intersectional activism as well as sustainability.
Emondson is the host of Mixed Up, a podcast about being mixed-race and co-produces Love Not Landfill, a podcast all about giving your clothes a second lease of life rather than throwing them away.
3. Emi Ito
Hailing from California, Emi Ito runs the Little Koto’s Closet Instagram account and the affiliated blog which are both dedicated to documenting her journey to wearing entirely sustainable clothes.
She promotes items that are either vintage or made by “slow fashion” companies, meaning companies that have slower production times because they’ve committed to fair working conditions and use sustainably-produced materials. Ito also co-runs the “Buy from BIPOC'' — meaning Black, Indigenous, and People of Color — account which highlights the work of BIPOC creatives.
4. Marielle Elizabeth
Marielle Elizabeth advocates for more plus-size options from sustainable fashion brands on her Instagram account with her hashtag #slowfashionforall.
Her curated looks are testament to her success, and suggest that slow fashion brands are waking up to the fact that ethical clothing should be accessible in all sizes. Follow her for a stream of beautiful clothes and advice about how to shop for clothes that are both ethically-sourced and work on a plus-size body.
Elizabeth also runs an inclusive photography studio where she lives in Edmonton, Canada.
5. Dan Pontarlier
Dan Pontarlier is a Paris-based sustainable fashion advocate and upcycling enthusiast.
Follow him for excellent upcycled menswear inspiration and advice about sustainable living. His book From Trash to Runway offers even more insight into how to create stylish new looks from items you already have that might be sitting in the closet or about to be chucked out.
6. Daisy Murray
Daisy Murray is the fashion writer for Elle UK magazine and a lover of vintage fashion.
As such she’s in a great position to educate her followers about how to shop second-hand. Murray curates vintage dresses for her own online shop and regularly writes advice guides on everything from how to source a second-hand or rented wedding dress, to the best charity shops in London.
7. Céline Semaan
Céline Semaan is a Lebanese-Canadian fashion designer based in New York where she runs Slow Factory Foundation, an advocacy organization she founded to develop and promote sustainable design and social justice-orientated business practice. The outreach and education side of the organization runs educational events on sustainable fashion.
As both an activist and an industry insider, Semaan’s account is enlightening on all the ways fashion needs to change and what is happening behind the scenes.
8. Mikaela Loach
Mikaela Loach, a Global Citizen Prize: UK’s Hero Award nominee, is a medical student in Edinburgh who uses her Instagram to draw the connection between sustainable fashion and racial justice.
She argues that the confidence you get from wearing a great outfit is not true empowerment if it disempowers the person who creates it. A climate activist first and foremost, Loach regularly posts her all second-hand and sustainably sourced outfits alongside information about her work with various direct action campaigns, including the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK.
Daisy, a UK-based blogger who runs “I Got It From the Charity Shop” on Instagram, dedicates her profile to her charity shop finds, as the name suggests.
This account is super useful if you find the prospect of searching through charity shops a bit daunting. Each one of her posts offers advice for how to get the most out of the process, such as not overlooking items that aren’t in your size, and how to thrift store hunt safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
10. Dominique Drakeford
Dominique Drakeford is a co-founder of Sustainable Brooklyn, an events forum that aims to “redefine sustainability” and improve the appeal of sustainably-sourced products among people of color in Brooklyn and beyond.
Sustainable fashion has previously gained a reputation for having a diversity problem — and Drakeford wants to challenge that.
“The current landscape of sustainability omits the voices and values of Black Indigenous People of Color, perpetuates appropriation, and thrives from a colonial framework,” the organization’s website explains. Follow Drakeford on Instagram for more information on her work as well as eclectic style inspiration.