Learn about sustainable shopping, ethical fashion, and why they are a big deal to consumers.
September 25, 2023
Consumers are increasingly becoming more mindful of where and how their products are made.
Just as people opt to choose organic produce as it’s grown without pesticides, or eggs from cage-free chickens, shoppers are becoming even more mindful of where their clothes are from and how they’re made.
As consumers learn more about the dark sides of the fashion and textile industries — about harsh working conditions and the harmful effects of clothing production and waste on the environment — they become conscious consumers committed to ethical shopping.
They often look to shop secondhand and to buy from fashion companies that are committed to lessening their carbon footprint and paying their workers a living wage. Mindful shoppers seek out ethical clothing brands that create sustainable products.
Sustainable shopping is when people buy products that are made with the least environmental impact possible.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), around 11.3 million tons of textile municipal solid waste (MSW) went to landfills in 2018. This was 7.7% of all waste that went into landfills worldwide.
In addition to clothing piling up in landfills, the fashion industry has other impacts on the environment. The United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion notes that the fashion industry is the second-largest water consumer — generating around 20% of all wastewater. Over 500,000 tons of synthetic fibers also end up in the oceans from the fashion industry.
As millions of tons of clothing end up in landfills, and as garment manufacturing creates an environmental toll, people are constantly looking for ways to lessen their carbon footprint.
Conscious consumers buy from sustainable fashion companies that are committed to being as green as possible. People also choose to buy fewer clothing items — purchasing more investment pieces that are made to last years rather than a single season.
Ethical fashion is when companies pay workers living wages and provide them safe working conditions, and avoid other harmful practices.
Although the specific definition of ethical fashion varies from person to person and from company to company, people choose to support brands whose values align closely with their own.
People committed to ethical shopping will avoid buying from companies that don’t pay their workers fair, living wages, or that use child labor. They want to be sure that the companies they support care about their employees — and that workers are treated and compensated fairly and not forced to work under unsafe conditions.
Ethical shoppers also want to support companies that are minimizing their environmental impact and avoiding other harmful practices.
Stories like the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013 sparked many people’s support for companies that are pledged to being both ethical and sustainable. More than 1,100 people died and 2,500 were injured when the eight-floor factory collapsed in the Dhaka district in Bangladesh. Despite workers reporting cracks in the walls of the building, they were forced into the factory.
As people become increasingly more aware of where their money is going, they are choosing to change their shopping habits. They choose to support ethical clothing brands and shop sustainably.
A 2018 survey found that 76% of people ages 18 to 24 were supportive of sustainable shopping, while 69% of people ages 25 to 34 and 61% of people ages 35 to 44 supported sustainable shopping. For those ages 45 to 54, 60% support sustainable shopping — and more than 55% of those ages 55 and older do as well.
The 2020 COVID Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid Australia found that 82% of fashion consumers say companies should pay workers fair wages and ensure they have safe working conditions. Additionally, 60% say companies should be transparent about their practices, while almost half said they are willing to pay more for clothes that are sourced ethically.
Numbers show that consumers care — and ethical shopping is on the rise.
The term “vote with your dollar” has a large impact. Essentially, every time a consumer makes a purchase, they are making a statement about the companies and values they support — or don’t support.
A report from The Business Research Company predicts that the sustainable fashion industry market is expected to grow to $9.81 billion in 2025. By 2030, that number is expected to hit $15.17 billion.
By committing to sustainable practices with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) program, 33 fashion mills saved 3 million tons of water, 400 tons of chemicals, and 61,000 tons of coal in 2014.
On average, mills made a return of $440,000 — with the top five saving over $800,000 — by committing to sustainability. In addition to being environmentally and ethically friendly, by committing to sustainable practices, companies save more money.
When consumers shop ethically and sustainably, they show brands that they want to support companies that are committed to being fair to their workers, and environmentally friendly. This conscious shopping helps ensure not only that workers are being treated fairly, but also that the environment is being taken care of in the process.
Sustainable, ethical fashion is here to stay.