The global perspective has shifted and ‘sustainability’ is no longer just a word: it’s morphed into a movement. In 2020, consumers ask questions before they make a purchase and want to know where their garment was made, who made it and if they were paid fairly. Alyssa Lau, a Canadian content creator and owner of e-retailer New Classics, shares some tips on shopping sustainably, no matter where you are in the world or what your budget is.
Shopping Sustainably Tips
We spoke to her about how she started her sustainability journey, her favorite brands and how we can transition to an ethical wardrobe right now with her best tips for shopping sustainably.
All The Pretty Birds: New Classics was launched in 2014. What prompted you to start an ethical e-retailer?
Alyssa Lau: The story behind New Classics really is two-pronged: Firstly, I was introduced to sustainable and ethical fashion via a book my cousin had gifted me called Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution. This book helped me re-evaluate my fashion consumption behaviors.
Secondly, in 2014, I was at a crossroads in terms of where I wanted to take my career. When I decided against pursuing my master’s in biochemistry, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) Eric suggested I open an online store. I knew right away that I didn’t want to open your run-of-the-mill e-shop, but instead, a store dedicated to providing a platform for: a) the designers paving the way for sustainable and ethical fashion, and b) starting a (then-nonexistent) conversation about slow fashion, educating people about the impact of their consumer habits.
ATPB: Sustainability is a hot topic but it’s a practice that has to continue for the sake of our planet. How have you sourced clothing and what are the standards for pieces/goods entering New Classics?
AL: My goal at New Classics is to provide our customers with a wide range of products whose production, manufacturing, and sourcing somehow fall under the umbrella of slow fashion. We’ve committed to carrying brands that are made to last (as to slow down our rate of consumption) and are ethically produced.
On each of our products, we also include our “Standards” since each label’s production, design, manufacturing and sourcing are all done differently. So, while each brand operates differently, we’ve made sure to only carry brands that echo the same slow fashion ethos.
ATPB: Ethical pieces are usually a lot more expensive to produce – how would you suggest people go about starting a sustainable wardrobe?
AL: The topic of accessibility is really important when it comes to sustainable fashion, because let’s face it, sustainable fashion a lot of the time isn’t accessible.
With that being said, there are ways to start a sustainable wardrobe without spending a dime.
The first way to go about it would be to wear the clothes you already own. Next, shopping vintage or secondhand is a much more affordable way to be sustainable. Buying one item used over new reduces its carbon footprint by 82%, while also saving it from landfills or flooding the local markets in developing nations (which is where much of our donated clothing ends up).
If you have the means to, consider saving up and investing in sustainable and ethical fashion pieces. Pieces that are made to last will likely hold more meaning and be loved longer, and this practice in itself will reduce your rate of consumption. Plus, higher-quality pieces can be resold in the future, thereby contributing to the circular fashion economy.
ATPB: When did you transition to buying more ethical brands and sustainable items for your wardrobe?
AL: I had little to no awareness about the slow fashion versus fast fashion debate growing up. And while I don’t condemn anyone who does (fast fashion IS accessible and some people simply don’t have a choice but to shop at these retailers), I simply urge people to really think twice about their purchases. Once I was handed the opportunity to learn more about the effects of our consumption, I made a commitment to only purchase things I truly loved, support as many local and small-batch businesses as possible, and shop second-hand.
So much of my closet used to be filled with never-worn pieces that I bought because they were on sale or cheap. But this meaningless consumption has led to a 400% increase in clothing consumption over 20 years (more than 80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed per year).
Nearly 60% of all that apparel ends up in landfills or incinerators within a year of being produced. And when we consider the human cost of all this, it’s really quite staggering. One in six people work in the global apparel industry, and only 2% receive a living wage.
Plus, over 80% of garment workers are women, meaning women are disproportionately feeling the burden of the fast fashion industry in developing nations.
ATPB: What are your top tips for purchasing sustainable and ethical clothing?
AL: Do your research and ask questions. Ask where it was made? And who made it? If the brand can’t reply to these questions, then usually it’s because they aren’t proud of the answer.
Educate yourself! If you don’t know where to start, we have some great information on the New Classics “About” page. For instance, knowing the difference between fabrics is very important when considering the footprint of a piece of clothing. Washing synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and spandex contribute to the release of a half million tonnes of plastic microfibers into the ocean every year, accounting for 38.4% of global microplastic pollution.
Support local and small businesses. Spending your dollars at these independent businesses versus at chain stores contributes to the development of local communities. And make sure you really, REALLY love what you’re buying.
ATPB: Can you mention some of your favourite sustainable brands?