Shopping can be emotional. It’s easy to get swept up in not-so-practical desires and make hurried decisions that, in my experience, one can later regret.
In trying to take a more deliberate approach, I’ve worked up a set of questions to ask myself before I make a purchase, especially when it comes to clothing. Mindful shopping can begin at any point, but if you want to start where I did, go back and read this post.
If you’re ready to go deeper, let’s dive right in.
QUESTION NO. 4: What is it made from?
When it comes to fiber content, natural is best. That means biodegradable, renewable plant fibers like cotton, linen, and hemp or protein fibers like wool and silk, instead of synthetics.
Synthetic textiles are typically fossil fuel-derived, such as acrylic, nylon, spandex, and polyester. These materials are inherently nonrenewable, extractive, and are the some of the largest contributors to microplastics in our oceans and food chain. 
When it comes to dye, (no surprise here) natural is best. That means plant and animal dyes instead of acid, azoic, nitro or sulphur dyes, among others, which often employ toxic chemicals that leach into surrounding waterways, harm wildlife, contaminate crops, and cause short and long-term illnesses for garment workers.  
Natural dyes and mordants, when used properly, are non-toxic. This could (and should) become its own post, but the quick version is that natural dyes encourage healthy stewardship of the planet, make local sourcing more feasible, and create healthy garments for the maker and the wearer.
The drawbacks? Cost and labor. While natural dyes are more mainstream than ever, some question if they can truly be scaleable for modern demand. As a maker, I’m obviously in the natural-or-nothing camp. As a consumer, I try to buy naturally dyed as much as I can.
QUESTION NO. 5: What does ‘natural’ mean?
Similar to food, ‘natural’ can mean many things… and isn’t always great. After all, what good is ‘natural’ cotton that has been bathed in pesticides during the growing process? Organic cotton colored with toxic dyes? Compostable wool blended with here-for-centuries polyester?
There are a few standardized certifications that provide clarity and confidence in a huge, often murky global supply chain. These certifications are voluntary and not every clothing company uses them (it’s an extra expense), but knowing these can help you cut through greenwashing claims and make informed shopping decisions.
A few common certifications you may have seen:
Organic Content Standards (OCS):
Tracks fiber content through the supply chain, but has no limitations or requirements on processing (eek), has more lax fiber blending requirements, and is not recognized by the USDA as organic. OCS textiles need only 5% organic fiber to receive certification. 
Fair Trade Certified:
Ensures high social, environmental, and economic standards including safe and healthy working conditions, sustainable wages, environmental protection, a commitment to community development. 
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS):
Tracks fiber content, limits processing and chemical inputs, and requires responsible social and environmental practices. GOTS products must contain a minimum of 70% organic fiber, with the remainder limited to an approved list. 
Ensures a garment does not contain substances that could be harmful to human health. The standard is rigorous, often surpassing national and international requirements and covering everything from thread to zippers to buttons. 
QUESTION NO. 6: Who made it?
Image: The River Blue [Film]
What company policies am I supporting? How are the people creating these goods living and working?
The garment industry employs approximately 60 million workers worldwide, with as much as 80% of them women.  Thanks to modern garment production and capitalist greed, these workers are often subject to unsafe working conditions, 10-18 hour workdays, poverty wages, child labor, and lack of basic freedoms and support.  In 2013 Rana Plaza, an enormous production center for familiar brands like Walmart, J.C. Penney, Primark, and The Children’s Place, collapsed, killing 1,132 people and injuring over 2,500.   The structure was knowingly built in defiance of construction codes and despite urgent warnings from engineers, workers were forced to return to the cracking building to resume production.
This reality is far from a non-US phenomenon. Our own domestic labor laws were only inspired after a similarly heartbreaking event: the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, in which 146 workers, including children, were killed.  The subsequent Labor Movement improved protections and regulations for workers, but even today, domestic factories in Los Angeles and other places exploit workers in secret. 
It’s heavy, I know.
So what can we do, as consumers? Boycotting buying from certain countries isn’t the answer. Instead, support labor unions, encourage transparency, and take stock of your own shopping habits. There isn’t always an easy or ideal solution when shopping. Better choices often come with greater up-front investment. Life happens, and we can’t always be perfect. When faced with limited options, keep it simple and go back to Questions 1-3.
When we buy to fill an urge, it’s easy to lose sight of where things come from and who made them. Fast fashion depends on this low commitment, habitual purchasing, and constant purging. When we shop consciously, we’re honoring the humanity behind the garment and acquiring something that we’ll have for years.
Research brands you’re engaging with and shop small whenever possible. There are conscientious makers all over the world. Find them, enjoy them, and share them!
While sometimes inspired by grave realities, these questions have actually made shopping more enjoyable for me. They’ve empowered me to slow down, step out of the want-get-discard cycle, support companies that benefit humans and the environment, and find things that I truly love.
Want to learn more?
I’m proud to announce that Pirtti is now on Bookshop!
Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg
Fashionopolis: Why What We Wear Matters by Dana Thomas
Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment by Maxine Bedat
Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism by Aja Barber
Pirtti receives a 10% commission for sales through the affiliate program. Bookshop also supports independent bookstores through profit-sharing nationwide.