Sustainable fashion tip 6: buy better

Like I said two tips ago, one of the key aspects of the slow fashion movement is to buy less, but better. Instead of buying three or five dresses, you buy one that is made sustainably and of good quality, so it can stay with you for years. In that post I talked about how to enjoy the fact that you buy less, but this time I want to focus on what it means to buy better.

Besides being made from natural, organic or recycled fabrics and under the fair trade principle, sustainable fashion, in my opinion, should also be of good quality. This ensures that an item can be used for years and will not be thrown away, which for me is key when it comes to sustainability. I could’ve named these series “eco fashion tips” or “fair fashion tips”, but sustainable fashion is about creating a system that can be maintained over time. It means both eco and fair, and also takes into account the massive amounts of waste fast-fashion produces. An organic cotton t-shirt from a fast-fashion chain is better in terms of the production method of the cotton, but if the quality is as poor as the regular cotton t-shirts, it will end up in the trash just as fast. And that’s still a huge problem. So it’s important to think beyond organic and fair, and start thinking about quality.

When I say quality, I’m talking about a couple of different things. First, there’s fabrics. Natural fabrics are not only a more eco-friendly option, but also generally last longer and launder easier. Then there’s the weight of the fabric: this is a hard one because some fabrics like silk can feel light as air, but still be very durable (when treated right), so it’s not as easy as “heavier is better”. Some items should be made out of a heavier fabric, though, like jeans. And that cotton t-shirt should also have a certain weight to it, that is definitely heavier than your average fast-fashion chain shirt. The key here is feeling the fabric: when you feel it, you can not only check out the weight, but also how strong it is, how easy it’s pulled out of shape and see how tightly woven or knit the fabric is. This way you can also check out the durability of lighter weight fabrics, which can be very strong as well. I’m working with a very lightweight hemp fabric at the moment that is very strong and holds it shape very well.

Then there’s construction. Start by checking out the seams: look for loose threads and broken stitches and remember that more stitches per cm/inch is usually better. Real good quality garments usually have french seams or bound seams instead of serged seams. Then, inspect the lining and look at how buttonholes, facings, collars, cuffs and the like are constructed. And last but not least: put the garment on and look at the drape. You can tell a lot from how a garment falls around the body or, in case of a body-hugging garment, how it feels on your skin. Is it flimsy, see-through, does it stretch too much? Look – and feel – closely.

I’d also like to add that when it comes to quality clothing, it’s usually a pretty safe bet to choose garments from independent designers and small fashion labels that put a lot of love in the making of their garments. It’s pretty silly to put so much love into something if it isn’t going to last.

Do you have any tips to add on determining the (lasting) quality of a garment? Do you have a favorite quality garment that has lasted for years, maybe even generations?



  1. says

    I’ve got a skirt that never goes out of fashion and is still as pretty as the day I bought it, even though I must have it for at least 4 years now. I can’t remember where I bought it, but the wide elastic band is still strong and the fabric is still soft and black. I’ve patched the rim up several times, but besided from that, it’s still going strong.
    I don’t have many tips on determining the sustainability of a garment, but I do have a tip to make clothes last longer. Before throwing an item in the bin, determine if you can still fix it up, either by stitching the holes, adding a ribbon or a patch or by dying it. I’ve recently been dying a skirt that was a second hand from you in the first place. The collor got vague, now it’s good as new.

  2. says

    What a wonderful post Inge! I actually have never thought to check the seams, so thanks for that tip! I completely agree w/ you on checking the quality, i get easily frustrated that a lot of brands now are using organic cotton but not making the item well, when generally it would cost them less than $1 to make the item more durable (at least that’s my estimate because my hubs told me once he learned from his supply chain studies that it would cost a company 20 cents to make a more sturdy, comfy insole for a shoe). For an ex of this, i have 2 fast fashion t-shirts that i bought back in 2010, which might sound like a while ago, but they both have holes all over them now. i still wear them to sleep in since it’s hot here, but i have other shirts I’ve had since HS w/ no holes whatsoever, & even t-shirts from childhood still that are intact. this was one principal i tried to tell myself when we lived in Mexico, i would purchase a few pricier embroidered tops for myself since they were handmade and of such durable material and of course they’ve all held up perfectly these past 3 years.

  3. Kerry says

    Hey Inge, thanks for the food for thought. I’ve only just come across your blog so sorry if this answered elsewhere but do you have any suggestions of places to buy clothing from? Also do you divulge where you buy your hemp from? Thanks Kerry

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