Eco-Conscious Gifts, Ranked: How to Shop Sustainably for Holidays and Celebrations

For this year’s celebrations and holiday season, we all want to be more mindful and eco-conscious of our spending. Whether you’re trying to shop more ethically or have friends who value sustainable fashion, there are many ways you can find the perfect gift that will match their values.

The world of eco-conscious fashion can be quite overwhelming at first glance with so many different labels and subcultures defining what’s in right now and what will be out before you know it. Fortunately, with some research and planning ahead, you can navigate this industry with confidence and ease — all while knowing that your fashion choices are also good for the planet.

Disclaimer: We’re Not Here to Judge or Make People Feel Bad

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to eco-friendly holiday shopping. In fact, there are plenty of eco-conscious brands out there that make some of the fashion world’s most iconic pieces. In our quest to find and recommend brands making eco-friendly clothing this holiday season, we came across some pretty surprising statistics. 

For example, we saw that the majority of people want to buy more sustainable clothing but aren’t sure how to do so. We also saw that some eco-conscious brands only offer footwear, while others don’t include accessories at all. So while we’re always here to help and make recommendations, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to eco-friendly shopping. 

Not everyone will have the same eco-friendly shopping habits and preferences, so it’s important to keep that in mind when buying gifts or shopping for others. Some people will be more willing to buy used clothes, for example, while others will prefer to buy new items from brands that are certified as sustainable. Some will want to buy a middle-priced item from a big brand, while others will want to buy a high-priced item from a small, independent brand. 

Learn about your gift recipient’s taste and values while you focus on learning to make the most thoughtful decisions. We’re here to break down the eco-conscious fashion industry and help you make the best, most sustainable choices possible.

With that being said, here are the top tiers of eco-conscious gifts, ranked from highest to lowest:

  1. Not buying at all
  2. Buying used
  3. Buying upcycled
  4. Buying local & small businesses
  5. Buying recycled
  6. Buying regenerative
  7. Buying if you’ll wear it many times
  8. Buying whatever – anything and everything (booooo)

Tier of Eco-Conscious Fashion – Ranking #1: Not Buying At All

Grade: A+

Buying nothing new at all is the highest level of eco-consciousness. It’s an admirable goal to work towards, but it’s also one of the most challenging – and nearly impossible if you’re focused on buying a gift for that special someone.

We are not recommending that you buy nothing for your friends this year! But they may value other kinds of gifts, such as experiences, charity donations, acts of kindness, gift cards, or cryptocurrency(??), rather than material items. Therefore, find out what they truly want before buying (or not buying) something for them at all.

Tier of Eco-Conscious Fashion – Ranking #2: Buying Used

Grade: A

Buying used clothing is one of the easiest ways to make eco-conscious fashion choices. Not only are you making smart, cost-effective fashion choices, but you’re also helping to reduce the amount of clothing waste in the world. According to an article by Slate, the U.S. textile industry generates about 17 billion pounds of textile waste every year. 

However, there is still a stigma against gifting used items. So if you know that your friend likes to thrift shop or look for secondhand goods, you can buy them a gift card to these types of resale stores instead.

Buying used clothing and accessories from consignment or thrift stores or from online marketplaces or apps like Poshmark, ThredUp, Girlfriend Collective, or Depop will reduce the amount of clothing waste in the world. It also helps reduce the amount of water that textile manufacturers have to use, since they have to clean and re-make new clothes, which takes a lot of water to do. Used clothing also reduces the amount of chemicals that textile manufacturers have to use to grow cotton, synthetic materials, and other textiles. Plus, there are plenty of benefits for the sellers who are selling used items! They are able to make some extra money, declutter their homes, and help the environment by reducing the amount of used clothing in landfills.

Tier of Eco-Conscious Fashion – Ranking #3: Buying Upcycled

Grade: A-

If it was up to us, upcycling would be the best gift by far. But for the ethics of this article, we rank it third because its sustainability factors.

Upcycling refers to the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or value. When clothing is upcycled, it means that it has been recycled or repurposed. This process can happen many different ways, but the most common is repurposing used clothing. For instance, you can use old t-shirts to make a new pillow, or make a headband out of old leggings. 

This is the most creative, original kind of gift to give that’s actually eco-friendly. Upcycling is a great way to make eco-conscious fashion choices because it reduces the amount of waste in the environment by repurposing materials that may have otherwise been thrown out. It also helps reduce the amount of energy and chemicals that textile manufacturers use, since they don’t have to make new materials from scratch. 

The handmade process of upcycling also adds a ton of value to the gift itself. You can upcycle your clothing yourself, or you can support small businesses and artisans who are upcycling and selling on the RE.STATEMENT marketplace.

Tier of Eco-Conscious Fashion – Ranking #4: Buying Local & Small Businesses

Grade: B+

This is a great place for those who want to be eco-conscious but aren’t interested in repurposing used clothing or buying expensive upcycled items. 

Buying from small, local businesses that use eco-friendly materials is another easy way to be eco-conscious while making fashion choices. Buying local and small is also a great way to support small businesses and local economies, which is important to many millennials and Gen Z shoppers. In addition, buying items made from sustainable materials is another great way to be eco-friendly. For instance, natural fabrics like cotton, wool, and leather are significantly more eco-friendly than synthetic materials like polyester.

Tier of Eco-Conscious Fashion – Ranking #5: Buying Recycled

Grade: B

If you still don’t have the money to buy new eco-friendly things, or you’re just not interested in buying used, you can always wait for something to be recycled. You can find a ton of recycled clothing and accessories, like bags and shoes, at thrift stores. You can also find recycled clothing and accessories online. This can be a great way to find eco-friendly items without spending too much money. You can also find plenty of recycled materials in fabrics, like recycled cotton. This can be a great way to make eco-friendly clothing choices. You can also find recycled materials in home goods, like recycled paper towels, recycled coffee filters, and recycled plastic food storage. This can be a great way to make eco-friendly home choices.

Tier of Eco-Conscious Fashion – Ranking #6: Buying Regenerative Fabrics

Grade: B

This is the most expensive way to make eco-friendly fashion choices. Many textile brands, like Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Stella McCartney, are investing in regenerative fabrics, which use a fraction of the water that traditional fabrics need to be made. You can find eco-friendly fabrics at a variety of price points and for all sorts of garments. 

However, make sure your friends might be familiar with or like regenerative clothing before buying it as a gift for them.

Tier of Eco-Conscious Fashion – Ranking #7: Buying If You’ll Use It Many Times

Grade: C

If all else fails, make sure they’ll use what you buy. If you’re shopping for a friend or loved one, this is especially key when you’re trying to buy ethically. 

If you know someone who loves wearing cozy sweaters or wool coats but is looking for a vest, you’ll want to buy them one that they’ll wear frequently. Maximizing utility is one of the most eco-conscious things you can do, even if the products themselves may not be as sustainable.

Tier of Eco-Conscious Fashion – Ranking #8: Buying Whatever – Anything & Everything (Booooo)

Grade: D

Next, we have the most common faux pas committed by those who are buying sustainable clothing: buying everything. You know that friend who tries to buy everything at once because they want to “spend less.” They buy the $5 socks and the $10 t-shirt, but they don’t use them often enough. They buy the $50 jeans and don’t wear them often enough to make it worth buying them at all. This is one of the most common mistakes made by ethical shoppers, and it can be super frustrating. Your friends might not have the need for it, and it often leads to people getting rid of the gift sooner.

Summary

Here is a table that shows the rankings and grades for each type of eco-conscious gift. You can download a copy of the infographic for it below.

Just remember that every effort counts and that we assume no one wants to actually kill the planet, so it’s up to us to try our best as well as understand and support others on their journey towards eco-conscious consumerism.

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