Adding Ethical Accessories to your Wardrobe

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Choosing Accessories that are good for people, and good for the earth

 Accessories are the “spice” of our wardrobes. The right pair of shoes can bring an entire outfit together, a beautiful statement necklace can make a simple dress look formal and elegant. Accessories are also an area of our wardrobes that can easily collect excess, with the average woman today owning at least 11 handbags and 20 pairs of shoes (and most of us say that we don’t wear or use many of those pieces!)

Careful consideration of the accessories we choose to add to our closets (and the ethics behind them), will reduce waste and excess,  and encourage us to place greater value on the items that we own and the story of how they were made.

What to avoid

Avoid synthetics when possible. Fake “leather” shoes and bags are usually made from two types of plastic- polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane. The manufacturing process of these materials is harmful to the environment, and discarded and worn out items will exist in landfills forever- PVC never fully breaks down, it just turns into smaller and smaller micro plastic particles. Cork, cotton canvas, wood, natural rubber, leather (try to find vegetable-dyed pieces that are made with leather from meat industry waste), and wool are all alternative materials that can be used to make shoes, bags, and other accessories. These materials will, in the correct conditions, biodegrade at the end of their life cycle. For vegans, there are leather alternatives like Pinatex (made from pineapple fiber), and “apple leather” (made with, you guessed it, apple waste like cores and peels).

Avoid cheaply-made accessories. There are two big issues with buying cheaply made goods. First, durability: shoes that quickly fall apart will end up as trash, but a well-made pair of shoes can last a lifetime (with a bit of TLC and a sole replacement here and there). One of the most positive actions you can take for a truly sustainable wardrobe is to simply “buy better, and buy less”! The second issue is poor treatment of workers- if a product is extremely cheap it’s very likely that the factory worker who produced that item was not paid a living wage.

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What to look for

Look for brands that have a solid code of ethics, third party certifications/auditing of their facilities, and a genuine care for workers. You can learn more about what questions to ask brands through our post on asking good questions.

Look for timeless classics. Look for colors and shapes that fit your style, and that you know you’ll reach for time and time again. Accessories that won’t go out of style mean that you can slow down your purchasing habits and simply love and maintain the pieces you own!  

Choosing the right accessories for your wardrobe

Consider your lifestyle

What type of shoes, bags, and jewelry do you gravitate toward? How often do you use the pieces that you already have? If you only wear high heels for weddings and special events, you probably don’t need more than one classic, high quality pair. If you wear heels to work every day, a few pairs to rotate might be best.

Consider your budget

Ethical accessories are often more expensive than their conventional counterparts, so plan carefully for the items you want to add to your wardrobe. If you conduct an "expected cost-per-wear analysis"- you might find you'll actually save money in the long run by purchasing a product you have to save up for- one well-made bag can outlive 2 or even three cheaply made, synthetic ones. 

Consider the values you care about

With so many awesome ethical brands taking the fashion world by storm, there are more choices than ever before for conscious consumers. You can support the causes you care about through your purchases- poverty alleviation, environmental activism, even the preservation of cultural heritage through buying artisan products with beautiful handmade embroidered or woven details.  

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Hannah Maria