Sustainable Fashion #4 – Shopping sustainably

You may have patched up your old jeans, found some amazing vintage clothes, and donated unwanted items to charity. What if you need some new clothes and fancy a real-life (or online) shopping trip? Is it possible to shop sustainably for new clothes in Oxford?

The short answer is – it’s difficult, and there is no substitute for buying less. However, by being informed and considering our choices carefully, we can definitely mitigate the impact of our clothes shopping. In particular, we should aim to:

  • buy from responsible brands;
  • buy items that are recyclable or returnable;
  • buy lower impact fabrics.

Where to start?

A good place to start is to look at a ratings platform to check your favourite brands before you shop. Below we describe ratings platform Good on You and Green Living UK’s brand directory. And if you want to know how Oxford shops perform, we have done some of the work for you and listed those that have the best score. Finally, we’ve also listed a range of responsible fashion brands recommended by our sustainable fashion expert Kim Polgreen (check out her presentation on sustainable fashion here). Once you’ve done your homework – happy (conscious) shopping!

1) Use a ratings platform to check your favourite brands and retailers

Good on You is an online platform that rates brands to help consumers make more informed buying decisions. Describing itself as a “a world-leading ethical rating system for fashion”, it rates how each label impacts across three areas: people, planet and animals. Each brand is scored and given an overall rating from ‘We Avoid’ and ‘Not Good Enough’, through ‘It’s A Start’, to ‘Good’ and ‘Great’. You can search your favourite brands in the Good on You Directory or App. More generally, Good on You has lots of useful guidance including “How to reduce the carbon footprint of your fashion choices”.

Brands recommended by Good on You include:

  • Nu-in – a European brand that uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials, and reuses offcuts to minimise textile waste.
  • Armedangels – covers all the basics for women, men, and kids, made from eco-friendly and certified materials, like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The brand also adopted the Fair Wear Foundation Code of Conduct to protect its workers abroad.
  • Rapanui: This award-winning eco-fashion brand from the UK makes surf-inspired clothing in a wind-powered factory.

Alternatively, have a look at Green Living UK’s brand directory, which aims to include fashion brands that are eco-conscious and support their employees. Green Living UK says it takes into account a range of credentials such as: Fairtrade policies, Certified organic, Eco-friendly fabrics/materials, Sustainable production, other Ethical accreditations, Charitable Donations, Socially Responsible practices, Circular design, Bring back schemes, Zero-waste or Less waste practices, are certified B-Corporations, Vegan and Cruelty-free.

2) What about Oxford’s shops?

With the help of two young researchers Emma and Panny (volunteering for their Duke of Edinburgh award), we have investigated the sustainability credentials of Oxford’s clothes stores. We checked how shops are scored by Good on You, and for independent shops we looked for other evidence of sustainability. The picture is fairly bleak for Oxford’s larger stores, with none of the shops scoring ‘good’ or ‘great’. Shops given the middle score (‘It’s a start’) include

  • &Other Stories,
  • COS,
  • Calvin Klein,
  • Gap,
  • H&M,
  • Jack & Jones,
  • Levi’s,
  • M&S,
  • Seasalt,
  • Timberland,
  • Tommy Hilfiger,
  • Uniqlo,
  • Vans.

Among the independent stores, Indigo and YOU underwear stand out as most ethical and environmentally conscious.

To help shoppers make more informed choices, we have put together a summary of the research and directory of Oxford shops and their scores: download it here. We are also encouraging Oxford shoppers to write to their favourite clothes retailers and demand better – find out more here, including a list of shops that rate poorly (according to Good On You), contact details, and a template email.

And for an overview of independent sustainable clothes shopping in Oxford, take a look at this article by Rebel Book Club, or check out the Daily Info’s directory.

3) Sustainable brands

Of course you may not want to be constrained by what’s available in Oxford’s stores, in which case there are many more options. It’s impossible to provide a comprehensive list of sustainable brands but here are some that are recommended by our sustainable fashion expert Kim Polgreen.

  • Patagonia: This outdoor brand is widely recognised as one of the best in ethical clothing. On top of using more sustainable materials when it can, it helps you repair your clothes and gear to make them last longer, and it has collections that are Fair Trade Certified and Bluesign approved (which means the supply chain is closely monitored to make sure it’s safe for the environment, workers, and consumers). Patagonia also buys and resells its own styles, so you can get credit for bringing in your old Patagonia clothing or buy something pre-owned for a lower cost.
  • Stella McCartney: According to Good on You, Stella McCartney uses numerous eco-friendly materials including recycled polyester, organic cotton, and regenerated cashmere. They have waste-reduction strategies in place across their entire supply chain, and they measure and report on their direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Thought: uses sustainable materials such as Tencel, bamboo, and recycled polyester.

You can find more suggestions from Kim on this slide from our 2020 Sustainable Fashion webinar:

But before you shop …

… remember, try to buy less, buy second hand, and repair and upcycle! For anyone looking for a recap, Good on You have just published this ‘Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Fashion’.

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