Top tips for more sustainable shopping practices

1. Less is always more

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Photo source: Round Two

We all have far too much stuff.

UCLA have named contemporary society the most materially rich society in global history (BBC). Even in the smallest house they studied (980 sq ft), they found 2,260 items in just the 2 bedrooms and living room – and this doesn’t include anything found in cupboards or drawers! They also found that 3 out of every 4 families no longer have space for a car in their garage because it’s filled with all of their stuff! James Wallman cleverly coined our obsession with material goods “Stuffocation”, and we truly are stuffed.

We’re especially bad when it comes to clothing. The average British woman buys 59 items of clothing a year and has double the amount she had in 1980. This is a waste of our money, our resources and our time.

A study by M&S found we only wear 44% of the items sitting in our wardrobe regularly (Oxfam). 3.6 million clothes are left unworn in Britain alone, an average of 57 items per person with 16 only ever being worn once and 11 still with tags. They also found 1 in 20 has 50 items with the tags still firmly attached – think what you could buy with 50 items worth!

And all this wardrobe cramming is also causing us unnecessary stress in the morning. Women spend on average 17 minutes a day choosing their outfit – that’s 4 whole days a year! And this morning madness sees 1 in 10 of us arriving late for work because we were struggling with what to wear that morning!

So when you’re out shopping, really take the time to think about whether you need that item. Do you already have one similar? How much use will you really get out of it? This leads me on to my next tip…

2. Don’t impulse buy

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Photo source: Ed Equity

Shops are clever; they constantly change the placement of their products to make you believe that the items are in stock one week and sold out the next. It also makes you see the following weeks products as the new “must haves” you need to be sporting to stay on trend.  They regularly offer small discounts to make you think “what a great bargain”, so you buy the piece without really taking the time to think about whether you actually want and need it.

Don’t give in to clever marketing and product placement.

Yes, fashion is an art that should be celebrated, and you shouldn’t be condemned for all of your purchases.  But buying faddy fashion pieces that are “so in” one week and “so out” the next isn’t good for your bank balance, the people having to make these items as quickly and cheaply as possible, and the natural environments being disrupted and degraded for the raw materials used to make the product.

So have a think before you buy. Is it really a bargain? Do you actually need it or are you simply drawn in by the reduction on the price tag? Is it something you’ll wear over and over again?

3. Do some research

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Photo source: Goop

If environmental and social issues are of interest to you, you may want to look into the sustainability credentials of the company you’re buying from. Do they do anything to reduce their energy consumption? Are they trialing any more sustainable materials like tencel or hemp? Are they cruelty free? Do they pay fair or living wages to employees throughout their supply chain?

By purchasing from a company, you are supporting their practices. So by shopping at a fast fashion brand, you are maintaining the demand for cheap, disposable clothing, produced in an unfair and unsafe manner.

Be clever about what you buy and where you buy it from. Perhaps it’s an item from a recycled collection? Maybe the company is carbon neutral? Or are they transforming the way they design to make their products longer lasting or multi-functional? Support companies that are deserving of your support.

4. Follow Livia Firth’s 30 wears 

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Photo source: Finny & Dill

Livia Firth, founder of Eco-Age and the Green Carpet Challenge, has a 30 wears rule, urging her followers to only buy items they will wear at least 30 times. If you’re not going to wear it multiple times, it is simply not a worthy investment.

And yes, there will be occasions when you need an outfit you can’t wear everyday, so try and pick a piece you can dress up and down so you can way it at least a handful of times.

Multi-functional or transformable items are great for this, as they allow you to alter your look without the need for different accessories. Perhaps the straps on the dress are removable, or it is reversible and the other side has a different print? And just think of the space you’ll save with one dress that creates a number of looks. Plus, multi-functional items are inherently more sustainable as they require fewer resources to make than their separate counterparts. According to the WWF, it takes 2,700 litres to produce the average cotton shirt. So if you buy a white shirt that reverses into a black one, you’ve used far less water than if you’d bought the two separately!

5. Can you get it second hand?

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Photo source: Save the Children charity shop (Daily Mail)

An estimated £140 million worth (350,000 tonnes) of used clothing goes to landfill
in the UK every year (WRAP). If instead, these materials could be reused, repaired, or recycled, we could stop wasting our space needed for landfill, our time and effort producing these goods, and our money buying things that go to waste.

Buying second hand and making use of something someone else no longer can is a great way to lengthen the lifespan of an item. You can often find a great price on pre-worn items too, so it makes sense financially as well as environmentally. So next time you find something you like, have a quick search on eBay, Depop, or another second hand sales platform, to see if you can find what you want. I use eBay and Depop both to buy and sell and I’ve had great experience with both!


Do you have any other tips for more sustainable shopping practices? Let me know by commenting below!