Sue Stemp’s fashion background includes a stint at Alexander McQueen. So when the St. Roche co-founder (the other is her husband, Paud Roche) talks fashion – we listen.

As the designers of their own sustainable brand here in LA. (think casual West Coast stunners like the above) we knew this eco-couple would be able to offer us a little guidance on shopping more responsibly. Despite our desire to streamline our wardrobes, reduce our toxic load, and shop like a responsible human, it’s not always easy to know where to start.

These simple tips help us wrap our brains around the topic and focus on choices that have major impact. From vital vocab (do you even viscose?) to an insider secret on shopping wholesale, we’re diving in…

Buy less + better quality pieces

Americans buy three times the amount of clothes as they did 50 years ago, while paying half as much. Much of what is bought is cheap, throw-away fashion. Buying pieces that will last for more than one season goes a long way towards cutting down on waste. And if you buy half as much, you will be able to afford higher quality, better-made clothing.

Know your viscose

“Green” and “eco” are marketing terms with no specific meaning. When buying man-made fibers like viscose, look for Tencel or Modal, which are viscose (rayon) produced from sustainable sources in a process that captures and recycles the chemical waste. Even though “bamboo” may sound environmentally friendly, it is often just viscose from sources that may not be sustainably grown and with production processes that may be polluting.

Look for Certified organic cotton

About half the clothes manufactured each year are made from cotton. Unfortunately, most cotton is grown conventionally, in a way that is very water intensive and with large amounts of pesticides and herbicides. Because cotton is such a huge crop, a transition to certified organic cultivation could have a huge environmental impact. Look for labels that name the certifying agency, such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).

Ditch the middle man

In general, the fewer intermediaries between you and the clothing manufacturer, the better. Much clothing is sold through a wholesaling model, where the garment is marked up as it passes from manufacturer, to wholesaler, to retailer, to you. This creates a downward pressure on the cost of production as each party tries to make a profit. Because of this, the small initial cost of using organic cotton or fair-labor practices is multiplied, greatly increasing the final cost of the garment. Buying directly from the company that manufactures the clothing (for example, buying it from a brand’s e-commerce site) creates a shorter path to market that allows a larger portion of the retail price to be spent on things like organic fabric or higher wages.

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