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Your Guide to Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

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Nicki Patel, the designer behind milo + nicki, shares five ways you can show you care through what you wear.

By Sarah Holcomb

As the founder of milo + nicki, a cruelty-free clothing line, and a writer for sustainable fashion magazine mochni.com, Nicki Patel has made it her mission to discover the stories woven into our clothing. Patel celebrates ethical fashion while creating awareness about destructive industry practices. After chatting about the story behind her brand, she shared her tips for shopping ethically and sustainably.

Ethical and Sustainable Fashion 101

Ethical fashion answers the questions: Who made specific clothing and how was it made? Many workers at retail factories and artisans at smaller operations work in exploitative and unhealthy work environments. However, when you purchase items from companies that provide fair wages and safe work environments, you have the ability to affect the fashion supply chain for generations to come.

Sustainable fashion concerns what the product is made of, how long it will last and what happens at the end of its lifecycle. Will it degrade naturally or lay in a landfill? By shopping sustainably, you help to minimize harmful effects on the environment, people and animals. Sustainable materials to look for include linen, hemp, organic cotton, bamboo and organic wool. These fabrics each have a more minimal environmental impact than materials such as nylon and polyester, which come from petrochemicals and are non-biodegradable.

Why Shopping Sustainably Matters

“Being ethical and sustainable should be a standard, not an option,” Patel says. “If we choose to eat healthy, all natural and organic, why do we think twice about shopping the same way when it comes to our clothes?”

Like our food, our clothing can impact our health, Patel says. After all, it’s in constant contact with our skin. But it also affects the planet on a much larger scale, from child labor and poor workers’ wages to polluted wastewater and landfills.

Where Do I Begin?

1. Realize it’s a process. “I don’t think people should feel like, ‘Now I have to get rid of everything in my closet and start over,’ ” Patel says. “It’s a process. I’m still working on the process of figuring out what I need and don’t need and not buying more.”

2. Choose timeless versus trendy. Trendy clothes take away from unique personal expression.

Additionally, “we’re buying things we get rid of or may never even wear,” Patel says. Trendy items have a shorter lifespan in our closets and will end up in landfills more quickly. Instead, choose well-constructed pieces made with sustainable materials.

3. Do your detective work. Patel suggests contacting brands and manufacturers. Start by talking to a sales associate or manager about where your clothes came from and how they were made, or reach out through a brand’s online contact form.

“Once you know that story, you’re going to want to wear it even more,” she says.

For more tips on tracking down information, she recommends fashionrevolution.org.

4. Connect with brands on social media. “You can reach brands and create awareness so easily, showing the tag and asking, ‘Who made my clothes? How was it made? Where was it made?’ ”Patel explains. “For the brands that respond, you’ll know that this is what they believe in.”

5. Pull out your phone. Patel recommends Good on You, a free new app that features a database of all brands available to buy locally, each rated according to how sustainable they are. Use price or style filters to find the pieces you’re looking for quickly and easily. The app’s companion blog, Good Edit, provides explanations behind the ratings and clothing-care guides, plus curated fashion roundups to help you stay informed and inspired.

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