Sustainable Fashion 101 – How To Shop Mindfully & With Intention

Nikita Oliver Metcalfe

Perhaps the most important step when it comes to building a sustainable wardrobe is being honest with yourself and starting on the path to conscious consumption.

This means shopping more mindfully and purchasing with intention, which can be easily achieved with some slight adjustments in perspective and mindset.

Here is where your shopping list comes into play.

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Prepare and Plan

This list should be ongoing, always evolving and constantly updated…things will come and go from the list and not always because a purchase has been made.

The longer an item remains on your shopping list the clearer you become on your need for it and exactly what role you want it to play in your wardrobe.

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That being said intent doesn’t always mean a list.

Some of your most loved pieces may not necessarily be items that were planned purchases, the best finds can be the result of a good browsing session.

What shopping with intention does mean however, is being aware and conscious of how long each piece will live in your wardrobe before committing to a purchase.

We all know the age old cost per wear trick but with the all too obvious insignificant costs of fast fashion these days this doesn’t hold much stead in some cases.

A more measurable rule pioneered by Livia Firth, CEO of Eco Age, is to ask yourself of each new purchase “will I wear this a minimum of 30 times?”.

Simple as that!

Although it may not sound like a huge amount of wears, five times a month in a six month season, you’d be surprised how often you don’t reach this number even with items in your current wardrobe.

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"We don’t need such an abundance of options in our wardrobes, we just need to love what we have and know how to wear it."

On your next shopping trip alter your mindset, look at each piece subjectively and consider its use in your wardrobe, how it fits with your colour palette and if it works for your body shape.

Is it representative of your style personality, how will it mix and match with your current wardrobe and does it fill a gap or is it similar to five other tops you already own?

Fashion purchases are important ones and we need to start treating them as such, don’t get carried away in the feeling of wanting something new!

Reconsider Your Motivation

I’m sure we can all agree that shopping can be a fun and enjoyable occasion, even more so when you have money to spend!

But when you delve a little into the psychological factors behind shopping it’s unclear at what point we became so misguided. Let’s start with this…retail therapy is not a real thing! Sure you might get a moment of euphoria from that new purchase but who do you think penned the term ‘retail therapy’? It most definitely wasn’t somebody actually concerned for your wellbeing and state of mind.

Our relationship with clothing and essentially shopping has become one of excess consumption, defaulting to an attitude of ‘whoops’ when it comes to impulse purchases and ‘I just had to have it’ or ‘don’t tell the hubby’.

We have been sold the idea that owning something new can directly influence our happiness and marketing has turned us into professional consumers.

We are so far removed from the realities of what this 3 trillion dollar industry is built on, only presented with the glossy exterior…an enviable advertisement, beautifully merchandised store and exciting new garment.

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Slow down and reassess your motivation

Shopping trips don’t always require a purchase, instead view them as a great way to scout out your options, plan and evolve your current wardrobe.

We tend to research before we buy, especially when it comes to big ticket items, even with food we check labels and make sure we know what’s going into our bodies. What’s going onto our bodies is just as important, so do your research and discover what this highly creative industry has to offer beyond fast fashion.

Think of your clothes like your best friends, they’re there for you when you need them, supportive and complementary, always ready to have a good time with you and should be treated with the respect they deserve.


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One of the biggest contributors to our change in shopping habits has come from marketing, and most significantly the reign of social media.

These outlets are amazing tools to provide wardrobe and style inspiration but can also be triggers that provoke the feeling of missing out and needing something new…supposedly for the sake of your happiness!

If you find yourself tempted and your shopping desires triggered then hit unsubscribe! Do you really need to receive so many promotional emails everyday or have your Facebook feed full of products rather than friends anyway?

Despite what your initial reaction may be, you don’t actually need to know about every sale, if there’s a gap in your wardrobe research your options and shop with intention…and let’s face it we all know the retail cycle by now, sales happen at the same time every year!

If you’re consuming consciously and on a needs basis only then you’ll be happy to pay full price for that item you fall in love with, because it will perfectly compliment you and your wardrobe.

"You would never disregard and dispose of an old friend, you love them, and if not then perhaps you shouldn't have become friends in the first place."

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Reassess Your Budget

These wise words from Elizabeth L. Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, could not be more true, “Buying less costs less.”

Our attitude towards the distribution of our shopping budget could also benefit from a change in mindset. If you paid close attention and actually added up exactly what you spent on fast fashion during a season you’d likely find that a slightly different distribution of the same funds could result in a much more fulfilling wardrobe.

Spending a little bit more on fewer pieces will not only afford you better quality and longer lasting items but also offers you the opportunity to own something truly unique, to make a purchase at a store you’ve dreamed of shopping at, or to discover an emerging local brand.

Understandably your budget may constrain you to the prices offered at high street stores while the convenience factor also makes them an obvious choice in a ‘time poor’ society. But maybe it’s time to look to different sources and not put all your fashion eggs in one basket, one that’s already overflowing with revenue and consumers.

Thrift stores, op shops and clothing resale websites like Ebay provide great options to find pieces that would otherwise be out of your budget. Second hand markets are a fun way to get involved and make some money from your used clothing or enjoy a day out scouting new pieces. Or keep it personal and host a clothing swap with your friends.

Challenge yourself to make your next purchase from somewhere you wouldn’t usually shop, seek out something different and rediscover the true joy of fashion and shopping.

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Understand Quality

Our quality standards have dropped as rapidly as prices have and a $10 t-shirt has become good quality by comparison with the number on its price tag.

Quality is defined by customer satisfaction, and when a cheap purchase falls apart after a few washes we’re not upset, we half expect it to and rather than repairing it we just buy another one…we have validated that this poor quality is acceptable. And in doing so we continue to support the business model of large fashion companies.

In order to change the idea of disposability towards apparel we need to educate ourselves and understand what we are investing our money in.

Know what to look for when it comes to stitches, learn about different fabrications and their qualities, and understand how a garment is constructed. Human hands have created everything we wear, so let’s be interested and learn more about it. Greater knowledge leads to a greater respect. Value your clothing and the importance of how it ended up in your wardrobe.

Building your sustainable wardrobe should be a rewarding experience, for you, the planet and garment workers. Take your time on this journey and enjoy discovering and learning. You are making a difference and your happiness does not live in your wardrobe!

Image via Unsplash

Nikita Oliver Metcalfe

Personal stylist with a focus on ethical and sustainable fashion combined with conscious consumption. Nikita believes in the power of styling to ensure women always feel great in what they wear while building meaningful wardrobes and a greater understanding of the impact of their clothes.