How To Ethically Shop The Sales

It's January, which for fashion lovers means one thing: there's a sale pretty much everywhere (including here at Immaculate Vegan). Sales are often synonymous with wild, thoughtless shopping: grab it while you can, as it won't be on offer forever! Massive amounts of clothing and accessories are purchased, tried on, discarded and returned during this time.

By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert. 

Discounts seem to be on every corner and it's easy to get swept up in the excitement of a bargain. Months later, with the garments still languishing unworn in our wardrobes and those shoes still box-fresh on the shelf, we finally come to the realisation that the sale got the better of us. And it's not only our own overflowing, largely unused wardrobe that suffers: the environment is greatly affected by unwise sales shopping. In the US, returns alone produce around 2.27 million tonnes of landfill waste. Returns also call for transport and packaging, all of which contribute to carbon emissions. In short, the sales can be an environmental nightmare. But there are ways to carefully indulge while limiting your impact.

Shop like there isn't a sale.

Before you jump on a crazy price deal and take a garment (or a few) home, ask yourself: would you buy this if it was on full price? Because, and here's the real deal – it's only a bargain if the answer to that question is yes. If you're getting a lower price on something that you will actually get good use out of, then yes, you've scored a deal – good job. But if your only reason for buying a so-so item is the low price, you're unlikely to get much use out of it, which might mean that once sale season is over, it may be headed for the charity shop or landfill.

Resist going overboard.

So you found something you like in the sale. Great! But you feel a bit deflated going home with just one item. Aren't the sales meant to be about scoring lots of bargains? Desperate for that high, you force yourself to search through the shop racks or click through that website's sale section once again. But at this stage in your life, you might not need more than that one item, which will fit beautifully into your life and elevate your wardrobe. Panic-purchasing will lead to regret later, when the buzz of the sale is over and reality sets in. So resist that frantic need to be an expert bargain hunter – you already are one for finding that one item (or no items, if there was nothing that suited your life and needs) and not going overboard.

Check for quality.

Just because something is on sale, that doesn't mean it has to be cheap! Quality is still key when it comes to the longevity of a garment or accessory. Check the fabric – is it thin and flimsy where it should be sturdy and comforting? Are the seams strong, with no loose threads? Is that heel made from plastic (that might mean it might break quicker)? Is that faux leather heavy and rich, rather than shiny and plasticky? Are any embellishments fastened tightly, or might they come off in the first wash? Take these details into consideration and, even if it's the sale, only splurge if the item fits your quality requirements.

Give brands the regular scrutiny.

Don't let your morals slide just because prices are dropping. Still check the brand's stance on labour conditions and workers' rights, what their transparency procedures are like, whether they sell fur, and other factors that might be important to you when shopping sustainably. Your favourite small, ethical brands might be having sales – support them rather than heading for the high street. That way, you know that your purchases truly align with your values.

Rethink the returns.

Returns of online purchases are one of the main environmental perils of sale shopping. CO2 emissions soar during the sales periods due to the extreme amount of returns. Not only are the items picked up in heavily polluting vehicles such as vans, but returns also generate a waste problem: it is estimated that only 50% of returns go back into stores, and returned clothes are rarely re-sold. This is due to the items being damaged or used, or even just opened. As a result, they often end up where we don't want them – in landfill. So, think carefully before buying. Of course, if something doesn't fit, we often have no choice but to return it. But buying online with the intention of trying lots of things on and sending back what doesn't fit is harmful to the environment, and a behaviour to avoid.

Carefully consider how this item will fit your life.

Any time you're buying something, whether it's on offer or not, consider this item's contribution to your life. Is it something that will fit with what you already have? Do you have occasions where you can wear it? Does it work with your personal style? Do you see it staying in your wardrobe for years? Only if the answers are clear yeses should you consider parting with any money. That way you're certain that you're shopping wisely, mindfully, and in a way that has the smallest possible impact on the environment.

By Sascha Camilli

About Sascha

Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Cover image by Charles Deluviosecond photo by Freestocks, both via Unsplash

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