Can You Really Shop Sustainably And Ethically On The High Street?

Going green is easier (and more affordable) than you might think.

A model wearing a high-necked white dress from Baukjen

by Charlotte Pavitt |

The age of lockdown dressing and wardrobe cleanses has made many of us rethink our relationship with clothes, prompting questions like, ‘Why do I only wear things for six months before getting bored?’ and ‘Is it wrong to throw away old clothes or should I be recycling them?’

Hopefully, you've found answers to some of these questions and realised that shopping sustainably simply means buying with longevity in mind. It also, crucially, means buying from businesses that put not only sustainable but ethical credentials at the heart of what they do. Despite what you might think, this doesn’t exclude the high street. Keep reading for three sustainable fashion myth-busters - and a guide to shopping the high street in a more sustainable and ethical way.

1) The Myth: Sustainable Fashion Isn’t Stylish

No one with their finger on fashion’s pulse could think that sustainable fashion is something devoid of style. According to global search platform Lyst’s 2020 Conscious Report, there was a 37% increase in searches of sustainability-related keywords in the first half of last year, rising from 27,000 to 33,100. Consumers clearly want to shop more sustainably - a want that will only have deepened during lockdown as many of us have realised that we no longer 'need' that dress or that top.

2) The Myth: Sustainable Fashion Is Expensive

Let’s not beat around the bush. Shopping from sustainable brands can be more expensive, but take a minute to think about what you’re paying for. Do you want to buy a cheap T-shirt from a fast fashion brand that doesn’t protect every link in its supply chain and isn’t transparent about how much it’s harming the planet? (Think about it: if an item of clothing costs less than a takeaway coffee, someone has paid the price somewhere down the line.) Or would you rather spend slightly more on a product that is traced from ‘field to final’, like luxury sustainable brand Mother of Pearl’s offering, with full disclosure on where everything's made and what it’s made from? Also, shopping with a sustainable mindset isn’t just about buying from sustainable brands, it’s also about buying less. Orsola de Castro, in her book Loved Clothes Last, is very clear that one of the biggest traps you can fall into is confusing something being expensive with it being long-lasting because, in reality, both high street brands and luxury brands are a long way from being 100% transparent. As she told Grazia: ‘It is your own morals and relationship with a piece of clothing that ultimately dictates what is of value.'

3) The Myth: Shopping Sustainably Is Inconvenient

It’s difficult to know what brands are sustainable when you shop IRL, but there are plenty of great online resources to help you out. Fashion Our Future, a sustainable fashion movement founded by Mother of Pearl’s Amy Powney, has lots of useful information on its website about things like renting/sharing clothes and why conventional cotton is so harmful to the environment. You’ve also got sustainable e-tailers, like Rêve En Vert, who have done all the filtering for you, allowing you to shop clothes, accessories and homewares from planet-friendly brands. Finally, try popping to your local charity shop or vintage emporium when you next need something. Buying second-hand is a more sustainable than buying something new, as long as you’ll cherish whatever you decide to take home, or better yet, dig deep into the back of your wardrobe. That really is important to remember: whatever you buy, make sure you love it enough that you'll want to wear it now and 10 years from now.

Traid store

Can I Shop Sustainably On The High Street?

It is possible to shop sustainably on the high street, but you have to check labels, do your research and generally sort the real strides towards sustainability from marketing spin.

It might surprise you to know that of the 250 brands assessed for 2020’s Transparency Index, a system created by Fashion Revolution that ranks brands according to how much information they provide about things like their supply chains, their manufacturing processes and their workers’ rights, H&M claimed the top spot with a score of 73%. Adidas and Reebok, meanwhile, both scored 69%, followed by Esprit at 64%, Patagonia at 60% and Marks & Spencer at 60%. Of course, transparency doesn’t necessarily mean sustainability, but it goes without saying that having to be upfront about things like how well they’re implementing workers’ rights means that they will likely be taking those issues very seriously.

As sustainable fashion becomes more and more ‘mainstream’, with initiatives like Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge and Powney’s Fashion Our Future, many high street brands aren't just jumping on the bandwagon, but are staking their business on sustainable principles. Arket, which is founded on the principles of simplicity and function, reported that last year, 76% of its ready-to-wear, accessories and homeware textiles were made using sustainably-sourced materials, and it also reached its goal of working exclusively with preferred cotton (organic cotton, recycled cotton or cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative).

Earlier this year, Mango launched a denim collection that managed to reduce the amount of water consumed in the making process by 30 million litres, while French Connection is the only high street brand to make their handbags out of 100% recycled leather.

Other tips are looking out for particular materials like ECONYL, a regenerated nylon that is made out of plastic salvaged from oceans and landfill, and also paying attention to fabric content. If something cotton contains elastane (as many stretch jeans do), it's going to automatically take longer to biodegrade in landfill.

To help further, scroll through our gallery of the best sustainable buys below. And remember the golden rule: if you don’t love something, don’t add it to basket.


SHOP: Sustainable Buys On The High Street

Mango, Printed Cotton Dress, £49.99
1 of 16

Bershka, '90s Cut-Out Two-Tone Jeans, £29.99
2 of 16

Weekday, Cat Triangle Bra, £12
3 of 16

Weekday, Cat Briefs, £7
4 of 16

Monki, Chunky Wool Vest, £60
5 of 16

Baukjen, Zadie Dress, £159
6 of 16

Whistles, Short Button-Front Polo Knit, £99
7 of 16

Hush, Washed Linen Jumpsuit, £99
8 of 16

Camper, Oruga Sandals, £85
9 of 16

Arket, Quilted Long Jacket, £99
10 of 16

French Connection, Recycled Leather Tote, £140
11 of 16

Mango, Ankle-Length Straight-Fit Jeans, £49.99
12 of 16

COS, Midi Knitted Cardigan, £69
13 of 16

Massimo Dutti, Plain Linen Shirt, £49.95
14 of 16

Veja, Campo Leather Trainers, £115
15 of 16

H&M, Knitted Dress, £24.99
16 of 16

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us