Everyone wants to look their best and pamper themselves with fashion and beauty but in recent years it has become increasingly obvious that our little guilty pleasures can hurt the planet. We may not be aware of it, but by buying clothes from a fast-fashion store or getting a new necklace without checking the origin of its precious stones, we support an industry that’s responsible for resource depletion, pollution, worker injuries, and extensive damage to the environment.
Fortunately, sustainability has swept across the fashion and beauty industries. As more and more organizations start elaborate awareness campaigns on the harmful shopping practices that need to change, a stronger trend is emerging: all over the world, fast fashion stores are beginning to lose their credibility and consumers care more and more about the origin and environmental footprint of the products they buy. About a decade ago, those who wanted to support clean beauty and sustainable fashion had very few options to choose from. Now, not only do you have more sustainable brands to choose from, but they’re also widely accessible and affordable too.
Fast-fashion may be cheap, but it comes at a great cost for the environment. Every year, 85% of the clothes we buy go to the landfill and overall, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions. At the same time, the inhumane working conditions and unethical practices in third-world country factories cause thousands of severe workplace injuries and pollutes the water supply.
Realistically speaking, the fashion industry cannot be 100% sustainable – simply because washing clothes alone pollutes water with microplastics. However, you can learn to make more sustainable choices and choose clothing that has minimal impact on the environment.
Here are the top things you should look for in a sustainable fashion label:
- Local: the company produces clothes locally, thus supporting the economy and minimizing the environmental impact of transport
- Organic: using organic cotton is less harmful to wildlife, soil, and farmers
- Recycled: clothes made from recycled materials reduce waste
- Vegan: always choose faux leather and artificial fur instead of the real thing
- Transparent: the fashion label should be open regarding the origins of their clothing and answer all your questions.
In addition to looking for these things when shopping for new clothes, keep in mind that part of the change should come from you. To help the environment, try to reduce the number of clothes you buy and be more mindful of your choices. Donate your clothes instead of throwing them away and choose swapped, vintage and second-hand clothing whenever you have the chance.
No matter what kind of jewelry you prefer, either the metal or the precious stone originated somewhere in the ground, where it had to be mined. And while there has been significant progress in identifying and stopping unethical jewelry manufacturing thanks to Blockchain technology, the process is still harmful to the environment.
For example, did you know that to mine one single carat of diamond manufacturers have to disturb 100 square feet of land and create 6,000 pounds of mineral waste? And that mining diamonds can be extremely dangerous for workers? Growing man made diamonds has emerged as a safer and friendlier alternative to mining them, so if you love jewelry, but you want to make a positive difference, this is one of the options to consider. Besides, lab-grown diamonds are cheaper than mined ones, so your bank account will be happier for it too.
If you’re not particularly crazy about precious gems, there are plenty of other options to choose from, some of them quite out of the box. For example, did you know that many jewelry brands make stylish accessories like necklaces and bracelets from recycled scrap metal and tires? No matter what your style is, make sure the jeweler you buy from has certifications to back up their claims. And, whenever possible, shop from brands that support local artisans and give back to the community.
The unethical practices of the beauty industry flew under the radar for many years, until about a decade ago consumers became aware of the dangers of animal testing. Although most brands have moved away from that practice, some still cut corners by paying for tests on animals in China, where the practice isn’t prohibited.
If this practice alone wasn’t enough, the beauty industry has many other problems. All the colorful bottles, pumps, and recipients that make products so attractive make up a one trillion dollar packing industry which generates immense levels of pollution. Even with the consumer’s best interest at heart, many recipients can’t be recycled because they feature all sorts of pumps with metal components that local collection centers don’t accept. If you can, choose beauty products that come in zero-waste packaging and re-use containers instead of tossing them in the bin.
Needless to say, you should also check that your skincare and cosmetics are made with ingredients from certified sources, that cause minimal harm to the environment. Contrary to popular belief, artificial ingredients on the label don’t necessarily mean the product is bad for your skin, in the same way that “natural” ones aren’t always the best. In fact, synthetic products are often better for the environment. If you do buy products with natural extracts, then make sure they come from ethical, certified sources and that harvesting them didn’t harm the local community. The Body Shop, for instance, is one of the first cosmetics brands to have advocated for sustainability. Their products are made with Fairtrade ingredients and they direct a considerable part of their profit to empower workers in underprivileged communities, creating jobs and safe working conditions.
However, just like in the case of fashion, you shouldn’t just aim to change your favorite cosmetics brands, but also your shopping habits. If you’re the kind of person who loves collecting new skincare and makeup, consider shopping more mindfully and switching to a more minimal routine that you actually use. Unfortunately, aggressive marketing makes beauty hauls really tempting, but if we want to reduce the footprint of the beauty industry, it all starts with changing our habits.