Stopping to Think: Ethical Clothing

By Ruby Whybrow

A student budget, for me and most people I know, means that shopping for new clothes is a rare indulgence. It happens when Missguided have a sale on, or when I go home and my mum notices the holes in my leggings. This attitude towards clothes shopping tends to mean that, as students, we naturally look for the cheapest option available on the market. But what happens behind the scenes to provide us with the privilege of cheap fashion?

 I have definitely been guilty of buying a top from Primark in the knowledge that it isn’t going to last, but I reasoned that ‘it’s only £4 and if it falls apart in a couple of months I can just buy another one for £4’. However, last year I watched a film called ‘The True Cost’. If I’m honest it was because Emma Watson posted it on her Instagram page, it was 1am, and I couldn’t sleep. But I stayed awake throughout the whole thing, and it genuinely changed the way I think about shopping and opened my eyes to the fast fashion industry. I hadn’t really thought much about ethical clothing before, besides trying to avoid Primark after their sweatshop scandal and knowing that there was something dodgy about Sir Philip Green (CEO of Topshop). The film documents, in a clear and compelling way, the system of fast fashion: the way that most big retailers create clothing to be disposable, and the direct effects that this system has on garment workers in developing countries.


Shopping for clothes ethically can seem a daunting task; most high street chains are so familiar to us that it seems odd to think that they could be directly linked to human rights violations, and we certainly don’t want to be having a moral crisis during a supposedly relaxing retail therapy excursion. Additionally, since people have started paying more attention to where their clothes come from, chains like H&M (who have horrific track records in the industry and whose status as an ethical company is questionable at best) now also run an instore garment recycling programme. This makes shoppers feel good about buying their clothes, even though H&M can continue to source from the same unethical places. However, without going into the deeper and more worrying issues around why buying things makes us feel good in the first place, ethical shopping doesn’t have to be a huge effort. Just being aware of the concept of fast fashion is a start – stopping to think about what you’re buying before you buy it.


Now I’m not claiming to be a saint and I’m not saying that I will definitely never ever wear anything from the high street again. However, now, I do think twice about ordering things I don’t need from online shops. When I do go to buy something, I consider whether I am going to wear it at least 30 times. I boycott H&M, Topshop and Primark, and if I need something specific I look in my local charity and vintage shops, or browse eBay and other marketplace or vintage websites, and apps like Depop. Shopping in this way not only benefits local businesses and doesn’t reward the greed and self-interest of huge international corporations, but as a student it also saves me money. I no longer feel tempted every time I get an email about an online sale, or feel pressured to buy into a temporary trend. I have clothes that I love, that I can wear time and time again in different combinations on different occasions. On a final, personal level, I feel better that I am not contributing to a toxic industry, and am making a positive change, however small, in a seemingly increasingly negative world.



Falmouth has loads of great charity and vintage shops; Wild Pony, Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation, Sue Ryder etc.

‘The True Cost’ is available on Netflix.

The Good Shopping Guide has ratings and recommendations for not only ethical fashion outlets but also food, energy, beauty, interiors and tech –

Balu is an ethical shopping comparison app –

Some Instagram pages to follow: @livia_firth, @ecoage, @peopletreeuk, @lostpropertyldn, @ecofashionweek, @fash_rev