How to move into Sustainable Fashion, with tips from local retailers

This year we should all strive to be better, live better and make better choices. I would love to see more of the shop local and intentional purchasing movement, from everyone, but especially from myself.

I’ve never been one to pay steep fees for my clothing. In my mind clothes are something you wear to cover your private bits and to keep warm. Why should I spend the money on higher quality pieces when low cost, department store clothes work just fine for my needs?

As it turns out, Fast Fashion – a term describing our high rate of fashion consumption fuelled by the quantity of new clothes that go on sale – is creating more waste now than ever before. Business Insider shared that 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year, microplastics from washing fabrics such as polyester releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year (which is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles), and the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water worldwide. [Source]

According to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production, at 1.2 billion tons annually, are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. [Source]

These facts are alarming, and, frankly, I had no idea about any of this. Once I started researching for this article, it became apparent that I could make smarter choices for my wardrobe, and my family’s, going forward.

My first steps:

At Christmas I invested in some new, high quality bras for my girls. They’re still firmly in the “tween” demographic, but I saw a new start-up launching, Apricotton out of Toronto, who were creating comfortable and super cute bras for tweens and teens.

When my purchases arrived at my home I was blown away by the material and workmanship, and the girls love them! I reached out to the creators to see if they would like to share their take on high quality, sustainable fashion, and why it’s important to start our intentional and sustainable purchasing during the tween and teen years.

“Sustainable bra shopping is a more difficult concept to grasp since you know your daughter is going to grow out of her bras quickly,” shared Jessica & Chloe, Founders of Apricotton. “Not to mention, this is a new type of clothing item for a tween girl, so she’ll want to try a variety of bras and styles before finding the “perfect” one. Even though she’s growing, she’ll still appreciate quality bras, as they’re more comfortable, better for the environment, and longer lasting – leading to fewer awkward trips to the store.”

The Apricotton founders suggest we take the opportunity to teach our growing children about the positive impacts of buying quality items and slow fashion while our children transition to making their own decisions about clothing during the tween and teen years.

“We believe that true sustainability requires affordable options. Even if you’re paying a little more than a fast fashion brand, a great way to measure the price of your clothing is through cost per wear,” they said. “Girls wear bras everyday, so it’s important to find one that’s well made and comfortable so it can last.”

The team at Apricotton say they spent a long time designing their bras to ensure they last long, both through quality materials and through features that make them grow as the girl grows. According to the team, the bras’ have adjustability that allows them last through multiple stages of puberty. “Our multi-functional bras range from a size 30A to 36D to also fit any body size (as founders, we fit into sizes M and L!) With our quality and features, Apricotton bras will support girls to adulthood, and can even last to be passed down to younger sisters.”

Local retailers chime in

Fashion retailers in the Kingston area were also on board with sharing how they are incorporating sustainable fashion and eco-conscious ideals into their businesses, and shared a few tips to help us make smarter choices in our purchases.

Cameron Watson has very recently launched a sustainable fashion business, Oak and Fir. She jumped at the chance to share her inspiration, and why she wanted to provide an eco-conscious option for clothing shoppers.

“I have been slowly making the move to sustainable fashion over the last year and found sustainable clothing to be largely expensive or didn’t follow all of the values I wanted to see in a brand,” Watson began. “I want to create a space where people can feel confident, that shares their values, and is closer to fitting their budget.”

“When starting Oak and Fir, I wanted to create a community, not just another retailer. I want to be able to connect to my customers and provide resources on sustainability and minimal living,” she said.

When I asked her to share her thoughts on slowly moving into living more sustainably, her first suggestion was to take your time, and use up what you currently have on hand.

“Instead of buying another disposable item, find something reusable to take its place. Use all of the items in your house fully or until they no longer bring joy and then think about what you are bringing in to replace them,” she suggested.

Watson says this method is how she has slowly been making the transition herself. She’s found that this method of mindful and purposeful curation has saved her money and ensured everything in her home has a distinct use. 

“The same thing goes for clothes,” she continued. “If 90% of your clothes come from the thrift store, then you will have saved enough money to splurge slightly on other pieces. Look for items that are made of natural materials, and are really well made so they stand the test of time.”

When choosing manufacturers and suppliers, Watson says she looks for 3 things: Location, Size, and Employees.

“I only supply products that are made in the USA or Canada, in order to keep my carbon emissions as low as possible and I also ensure that these manufacturers are also using fabrics that are made local to their area. I then look at the size of the manufacturing company and how they create their orders. I choose suppliers who cut-to-order. Meaning, they do not fill warehouses full of garments that may never be sold, creating only what is needed. Finally I look at the factories where the garments are manufactured. I only purchase garments that are created in factories where it is guaranteed that the employees earn a living wage, work the legally allotted hours and the conditions are deemed as safe.”

“It’s easy to feel like one person, or one family, cannot make a difference in climate change. And it’s true – one family cannot. But the large chain stores, the handful of corporations that manage us, our diets, what we watch, what we buy, they can help slow climate change,” she said.

“If we choose where we shop carefully and what we buy, these corporations will be forced to change with us.”

KVA Collections, an appointment only fashion boutique located just north of Kingston, stocks items made from bamboo, a more eco-friendly option, as well as many Canadian made brands.

“I’ve always had a core intention of sourcing out Canadian Made collections, as the foundation of my business started with one Toronto based designer, Tonia DeBellis,” Kristine from KVA Collections shared. “Since then, I’ve added several more Canadian Made Designers. I’ve always had a strong dedication to supporting local as I continue to seek more Canadian content to offer my clients.”

“As more designers are becoming eco-conscious I am able to offer innovative pieces such as jeans made from recycled bottles,” she continued. “I have also found several lines that incorporate Bamboo in their collections. Pieces that are both extremely comfortable as well as fashionable and kind to our environment.”

“I always search out items that can be transitional in my clients wardrobes, thereby offering multi functionality. For example a jacket that can be worn both as a business casual piece or with jeans for a smart look. Pieces that could be dressed up for a wedding but then functional enough that they could be worn for other more casual occasions, has been a focus for me. So no fast fashion here. I offer quality pieces, purchased with intention. Pieces that last and can be the building blocks of a diverse wardrobe and in turn are good for the environment.”

Lindsay at Pure Colour Baby makes all her products at her Kingston boutique. Specializing in grow-with-me children’s items, she ensures her clothes fit for as long as possible, during the fastest growth time for children.

“There are so many great brands that are making baby and children’s clothing both locally and at sewing workrooms across Canada,” Lindsay shared. “Purchasing locally made clothing will most often cost more than clothes you will find at fast fashion retailers or big box stores, but these brands put a lot of thought and care into producing clothes that are ethically made, high quality, and longer-lasting. You might also consider purchasing grow-with-me clothing for your baby or toddler. These pieces are designed to fit through multiple sizes, allowing them to last 2-4 times longer than traditional sizes.”

“It’s also important to consider what type of fabric the clothing is made with. Natural materials like organic cotton and Tencel are breathable, durable and gentle on your child’s skin. On the other hand, many synthetic fabrics are treated with toxic chemicals and they are harmful to the environment (and the workers) when they are being manufactured,” she continued.

Lindsay also shared her go-to blog for learning more about sustainable fashion: My Green Closet.

Fancy That and Roundstone, two family-owned clothing & footwear boutiques in the heart of Downtown Kingston, say they are moving away from ‘fast fashion’ and into a more sustainable way of shopping.

“Quality has always been the heart of what we do,” said Amanda Cronk, Buyer & E-Commerce Manager for the brand. “This means we’ve had the chance to partner with some pretty incredible businesses who have environmental sustainability & social responsibility as their core values. We’ve loved showcasing brands who manufacture their products in Canada, many of which are produced right here in Kingston, Ontario!”

“Our city is full of creative talent and it’s so special to show off our local makers and be able to support their small businesses. You’ll always find our customers gravitate towards a product made in Kingston – or Canada – because they already feel an immediate connection to it.”

“We’ve noticed a positive shift in the way that people shop and customers want to know the value and story behind the product. We are moving toward the understanding that we want our products to withstand more than just one season. We look forward to learning even more about sustainable fashion and continuing to showcase more local brands!”

Allie Duff, from Pure Balanxed, says one of the most important approaches we should take as consumers is learning about the brands we’re are looking to purchase from and the pieces we’re interested in investing in.

She suggests some things to question: where are the clothes made, what are they made with, does the cost represent a lifetime wear, and how are the items being sent to you.

“For example all Pure Balanxed pieces are made in Toronto, ON or Vancouver, BC, and are made using OEKO-TEX standard 100 certified fabric,” Allie shared. “This means it’s healthy for you and the earth. Are you receiving your order in plastic or is it compostable? It’s also a good idea to check what your brand uses to ship your order.”

“When taking the step towards a more sustainable wardrobe you need to ask yourself if what you are buying is something you will wear over and over, will it last, and can it replace many other pieces in your wardrobe?”

Allie also spoke with me about her mental health in a guest post where she talks about how fabrics brought her comfort and helped her develop her business.

“For years, fashion and sustainability have not been synonymous,” said Joanne Angelis from House of Angelis. “However, in recent years fast-fashion has been the primary culprit.”

“In fact, the fast-fashion industry is ranked as the second largest polluter behind the oil industry,” she continued. “Think about that for a second, the oil industry. That trendy little top at that low price hails from manufacturers that are slowly filling our landfills and polluting our waters with chemical by-products of their cheaper dyes. Not only that, many large commercial companies, design and produce a garment that is only meant to last a year or “X” number of washes so that the consumer is forced to replace the item time and time again. Created to fall apart, they cannot even be donated to further extend their lifespan. They simply become garbage.”

“It used to be that the consumer would look for the best quality so that the purchase would last. It was a mindset of quality over quantity. In the long run, having one good pair of shoes, for example, that lasted a few seasons was far more cost effective than replacing them every year.”

“True fashion is about craftsmanship and quality fabrics; garments that are built to last. The textiles are more expensive because of the environmentally responsible way they are made. Folks, that higher price tag means oh so much more than you think,” she said.

House of Angelis carries high quality fashion brands, designed to last through the seasons. At my request, Joanne looked into her brands, and discovered she carried more pieces from the sustainable and eco-friendly fashion world than she thought:

Soak: a Canadian brand of lingerie and delicates wash that is eco-friendly and doesn’t use any harsh chemicals.

Stripe and Stare: a new line of panties they now carry, made from Tencel Micro Modal. “It’s amazingly eco-friendly because the Tencel is made with wood pulp from sustainable tree farms,” Joanne said.

Mey: Also a huge user of Tencel Micro Modal. They have been producing responsibly since 1928 in Germany. Their sustainability strategy focuses on the Sustainable Development Goals from the UN with their key massage being the 5Ps: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership.

Local fabric designer Jessica Trotter shared her knowledge of fabric garment recycling,

“Something people start forgetting is that things can be fixed. If a piece of clothing you like or you wear often has a hole in it, you can fix it,” she said.

“People tend to take the easy route and throw it away to purchase a new item, completely forgetting that things can be fixed,” Trotter continued. “As a textile designer and instructor, I taught a class on mending garments that was meant to open the thought of “reduce, reuse, recycle”. It’s one of the main reasons why thrifting has become so popular! It’s one way to recycle your clothes, but instead of recycling it, you’re reducing your waste by fixing what you have and also saving money in the process.”

Trotter shared some resources for pieces that can’t be donated to a thrift store and have had their time. She said there are places that specifically take clothing for recycling purposes, instead of throwing it in the trash:

Learn more about Jessica Trotter Designs and check out her handmade fabrics on her website.

Once we start really looking at how our purchases can impact industries, making intentional and informed choices will eventually create a push for change. Yes, it’s scary to think about investing your hard earned dollars in high-quality, well made and sustainably manufactured items – for your wardrobe or any aspect of your life – but we have to remember that we’re running out of places to put our waste on this planet.

Make smart choices, reduce your consumption, repair things instead of throwing them away, and research companies before you make purchases, to be sure your money is going towards what you stand for, and not supporting wasteful companies, and unethical working conditions.

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