5 ways to shop for sustainable clothes online

Submitted by ctate on
Lauren Fleischman

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter of water globally, produces more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, and harms worker health with toxic chemicals. Green America works to reduce that impact by pushing companies to clean up their act through the voices of consumers like you.

Remember, before you do any shopping, look through your closet as maybe you forgot about something you already have that meets your needs! Or ask a friend or family member to borrow something if it's for a single occasion.

1. Shop second hand

The most sustainable clothing option is to NOT buy new and opt for secondhand whenever possible. Every year, Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste, equaling just over six percent of total municipal waste.

While already popular but exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, shopping online is a main avenue. The great news is that there are more and more options to buy 2nd hand clothing online.

  • Thredup: women’s and children’s clothing.
  • Swap.com: men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing.
  • ShopGoodWill: men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, along with a whole host of other products.
  • Poshmark: men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing.
  • More and more name brand stores, like REI and Patagonia, are offering 2nd hand clothing.

Many of these companies will also buy your used clothing!

2. When ordering from a major retailer, double check any third-party vendor’s green cred

Big corporations, like Walmart, Target, and Amazon, have online marketplaces, which means other businesses can sell on their site. These other businesses are not held to the same standards that the big retailer holds their own products to – this can be a good and a bad thing, depending on the vendor.

Some vendors may have much higher standards than the retailer, but conversely, vendors may be doing less to protect people and the planet. So, be sure to do your research on the vendor before clicking buy!  If the vendor has no information about sustainability on their website, that’s a really bad sign.  If they are certified by Green America’s Green Business Network, B-Corp, or are a member of the Fair Trade Federation, that’s a positive sign.

Often times, you can order directly from the vendors listed in online marketplaces, cutting out the big retailer and making sure more money goes into the vendor’s pocket.  

3. Buying new? Look for clothing made with organic cotton

We get it – sometimes buying new seems like the best option. Traditional cotton is doused in pesticides and uses more water than organic cotton.

Bluesign, Oeko-tex 100, and GOTS are all good certifications to look for on clothing to ensure that harmful chemicals aren’t present.

Our magazine article unpacks the impact that harmful chemicals in textile manufacturing have on people and the planet. It also features our Toxic Textile Scorecard, which looks at the chemical management policies of leading US apparel brands and can be a useful tool when decided where to buy new clothes from.

4. Watch out for these bad actors

Unfortunately, apparel brands such as Walmart, Kohl's, The Children's Place, Ross, Sears, JC Penney, TJ Maxx, and Urban Outfitters used the pandemic as an excuse to cheat garment workers.

Recent research estimates garment workers have lost up to $5.8 billion in wages during the pandemic; our recent guest blog explains how COVID-19 has impacted garment workers. The Worker Rights Consortium is tracking which brands have and have not paid for cancelled orders.

5. Shop sustainable clothes from green, small businesses

Small businesses are an essential part of our economy and often lead the way in green, innovative business practices. Using your dollars to support green businesses sending signals to big corporations that consumer demand for ethical products and ethical business operations is growing.

In order to transform the clothing industry, we need brands integrating environmentally and socially responsible practices across their entire business model.

Businesses in our Green Business Network are doing just that, and Maven Women, for example, is showing how it's possible.

Our Certified Green Businesses offer a wide range of products, including clothing, and they sell sustainable clothes online.

Shop small and green for people, planet, and communities.

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