This post is part of an ongoing series: The Do Gooder Lifestyle

There’s no getting around it: we all have to wear clothes.

Meaning – we have to choose which clothes to buy and wear. In addition to fit, style, and price, we do gooders might want to think about where our clothes come from, as well. Recent tragedies in the Bangladeshi garment industry (see this thoughtful NPR piece) brought this front and centre for me.

So, I had to ask myself: What can a regular person with a limited budget living in a mid-sized Canadian city do to clean up her clothing supply chain? I already knew about one store in my city (Lucid Lifestyle) that sells sustainable fashion, and I’ve made an effort to shop there in the past – but what else?

Fashion week Edmonton

Slow Fashion advocate Kierra McIntyre (right) with her award-winning upcycled design at Western Canada Fashion Week 2013.

I did a little digging on the subject, and also sat down recently with local Slow Fashion advocate Kierra McIntyre to find out. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

What we can do now:

  • Buy used: by shopping in vintage, consignment, and thrift shops, we can absorb some of the flow of used clothing that might otherwise end up in landfill or shipped overseas to flood the markets in developing countries. Buying used also reduces demand for new products to be manufactured.
  • Buy ethical/sustainable: seek out the shops in your community that sell clothing manufactured in a conscious way. Ask how they define ethical and sustainable – do they mean locally manufactured? Do they mean manufactured overseas, but with certain standards in place? How are workers’ rights safeguarded? How are materials sourced?
  • Upcycle: Upcycling is the practice of making things out of old materials. If you’re even a little bit crafty yourself, you can create a lot of great clothes and accessories on your own and economically from old stuff you already have, or things you find in thrift shops. Kierra recommends checking out Pinterest for ideas and instructions. There are also designers, stylists and stores now specializing in upcycling. Here in Edmonton, Kierra recommends Fridget Apparel for good upcycled fashions.

What we hope to be able to do in the future:

  • Find more ethical sources for fabrics: Kierra reports that a big concern for ethical/sustainable clothing suppliers is that, although it’s relatively easy to find clothing that’s manufactured locally and/or in an ethical way, it’s harder to find fabrics that are. So – even if you’re buying a shirt from Lucid Lifestyle, for example, that’s made in British Columbia by workers in good conditions, the material they’re using might still have been shipped from very far away and produced under less than desirable conditions.
  • Create access to more universal/functional styles: Kierra acknowledges that shopping used and upcycling tends to yield a certain look. It’s kitschy, it’s quirky – it’s really cute on people who embrace a particular style, but what about the rest of us? It would be nice if, someday, there were an ethical/sustainable version of Old Navy; somewhere you could go if you just needed a basic tank top, say, or pair of shorts. Vintage hipster-chic doesn’t work for all of us.
  • Make ethical and sustainable clothing choices more financially accessible and/or convenient: The specialty designers and shops that offer ethical and sustainable clothing choices (including used and upcycling) tend to be more expensive than your average WalMart or SuperStore. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to sift through the piles of stuff at thrift shops, you can find bargains, but that’s expensive in terms of time and effort. Kierra is concerned that this leads to a certain elitism in Slow Fashion – that it will only be practised by those who can afford it, and never spread to the mainstream.

That being said, I think that if the higher price and effort level aren’t too dramatic, they can be realistic for a Savvy Do Gooder.

Looking at these kinds of lifestyle choices as a path to doing good makes it easier to justify the extra expense and effort. If we’ve given towards issues affected by clothing choices (e.g. workers’ rights, international development, environmental issues) in the past, it’s easier to justify shifting those resources to procuring more ethical and sustainable outfits. It’s simply a different way to put our resources towards the same goals.