two women looking at clothing hanging on a rack.
two women looking at clothing hanging on a rack.

The Tiers of Eco-Conscious Fashion: How to Shop Sustainably

With the rise of eco-conscious consumerism, our awareness of what we’re putting on our bodies has never been more heightened.

If you’re like most millennials or Gen Z, keeping track of your personal brand is practically a full-time job. So it only makes sense that how we present ourselves to the world matters more than ever. That being said, there are plenty of ways to express ourselves while also making conscious choices when it comes to your wardrobe. 

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 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, 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. 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. Let them make their own decisions while you focus on learning to make the best decisions for you. 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 tiers of eco-conscious fashion, 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 fabrics
  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 toward, and it’s also one of the most challenging. While there are plenty of thrift stores that sell used clothing and accessories, there aren’t nearly as many new secondhand clothing stores. That’s why, if you’re serious about buying nothing new, you may want to consider buying used online instead. There are tons of online marketplaces where you can buy used clothes and accessories. You can also use the internet to buy used furniture and home goods, like pots and pans. Overall, if you’re going to buy anything used, make sure to use your best judgment and avoid anything that has obvious stains or smells. It’s also a good idea to avoid buying anything that’s cheaply made since it may not last as long as a new item would. Buying used is a great way to save money while being eco-conscious.

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. 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-

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. 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. Upcycling clothing is also a great way to make money while also being eco-friendly. 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

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

Grade: C

So first things first: as soon as you find something you think you want, ask yourself how many times you could see yourself using the item.

If you love wearing cozy sweaters or wool coats and own too many of them, you won’t really want to buy another one if you don’t have the need for it. 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 shopping: buying everything. This is one of the most common mistakes made by ethical shoppers, and it can be super frustrating. People don’t have the need for this many things, and it often leads to people discarding items faster and encouraging commercialism and consumerism.


Here is a table that shows the rankings and grades for each type of eco-conscious shopping method. 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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