Technically, I began shopping sustainably as soon as I had my own money to do so. When I had my first job, I used to spend my earnings in charity shops and at flea markets and car boot sales. But, somewhere along the way, as I was growing up and earning more, the fashion industry began changing rapidly and fast-fashion was at its peak. I remember getting over-excited by how much you could buy in certain high street stores for the price of one or two items at the usual, more niche stores, unaware that the low prices come at a high cost for the garment workers producing them. And I remember when online shopping became a thing; I could browse for hours and choose from thousands of brands and styles of clothing, and still only make a dent in my monthly savings. I thought it was great!
But then, as with most things, what goes up must come down, or should I say what grows rapidly gets quickly out of control and is unsustainable in the long run. The excitement soon wore off, as I ended up with often low-quality garments that didn’t last, and also just too much stuff in general. It began to get overwhelming. I also began to discover so much more about the fashion industry as my interest in wellbeing and sustainability developed, and realised I wanted to be involved in improving our relationship with fashion. To do that, I had to start by making small changes myself, and returned to my initial consumer habits of shopping second hand and boycotting fast-fashion high street names. The saying goes that our parents and grandparents always know best, and returning to a less extreme way of shopping - buying ‘just enough’ and only what we ‘need’, and adopting that ‘make do and mend’ mindset - could be just what it takes to reduce our impact on the world and to rectify some of the damage our harmful and unnecessary habits had been having on it.
Below are some tips for shopping more sustainably, from food and fashion to furniture and beauty products, and some of the places best for doing so in and around London.
1. Buy second hand. Instead of buying brand new things all the time, wherever possible, try to find what you need from a second hand source, such as a charity shops, car boot sales, estate sales, markets, online marketplaces or vintage stores.
2. Swap things. Try swapping items of clothing with friends or renting clothes if you have events or occasions coming up that require a special piece of clothing that you probably won’t wear more than a handful of times. This reduces waste, saves you money and also keeps things exciting, as you can rent something different in future and keep your wardrobe up to date. This also applies for things like furniture, appliances, books and even beauty products. If something doesn’t work for you or if you no longer need it, give it to a friend or swap it for something else. I’ve done plenty of beauty swaps of things that don’t work for me but work for others, and it reduces waste and helps others.
3. Shop at handmade craft, second hand and food markets. Shopping at markets can mean finding locally-produced, unpackaged products, and recycling and reusing items other people no longer need. Now that the weather is nicer, markets also make a really fun day out.
4. Shop from local artisans. For things like food, fashion, furniture and all sorts of other items, find local communities selling direct to consumers, meaning you will be supporting local businesses and individuals rather than larger corporations. You will also find the items you purchase are better quality, made with deep purpose and love and made to last.
5. Buy your groceries without packaging. As much as possible, buy loose foods without plastic or other packaging. That might mean going to separate shops rather than conveniently finding everything you need under one roof (like a supermarket), but it is better for your food, your health and the planet. Visit grocery stores with loose fruits (and use their paper bags or take your own cloth produce bags), and find stores offering refill stations and dispensers of things like nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. It might be a little less convenient for you, but far more convenient for the planet.
6. Look for materials that have a lower environmental impact. Buy clothes and other necessities made from materials that have been produced using low impact ingredients and processes (e.g. materials that use minimal water, chemicals and energy, and that are not polluting in their production, care and end of life). Materials like virgin polyester and nylon are made from petroleum oil making them similar to plastic, and fabrics may be dyed, bleached or treated in order to enhance their design or extend their functionality. Things like cotton and denim also require so much water to be produced, and at the rate at which we consume, it is not sustainable. Therefore make sure you choose products made with natural materials, which are biodegradable and are less of a strain on our natural resources, such as linen, bamboo (although note that the process to turn bamboo into a fabric can be impactful, so it is important to understand how the fabric was made), Tencel, coconut fibres, banana leaf, hemp, organic silk, sugar cane, the list goes on. There is so much we can do with plant fibers these days, so do some research and see for yourself. Another option is buying up-cycled items or those made from recycled materials, such as ECONYL®, which takes plastic found in the oceans and turns it into fabric.
7. If you absolutely need to buy new, only buy something you really love and will use for years to come and opt for brands that are transparent about their environmental and social efforts.
8. Buy less. In general, just try to buy less. Ask yourself if you really need something before buying it. Studies show that owning less is actually more liberating and freeing and makes us feel less cluttered and stressed than owning lots of things but not using them enough or not having enough space for them. We really need very little for day-to-day survival, so reconsider before you buy something new.
9. Buy better quality. While at the time, spending more on something you know you can get a cheaper version of elsewhere can sometimes be difficult, buying better quality means it will last longer and you will be less likely to have to replace it in the near future.
10. Buy local produce. Buying locally grown or locally made produce cuts down the distance an item has had to travel, meaning less carbon emissions, transportation, packaging and labour has been involved in getting it into your hands. Buying local, seasonal food that is made in the local climate and with local Earth and resources often means it is better for and more familiar to your body, and so easier to digest and more nourishing than something that has grown in a completely different climate and that has travelled miles and been confined in lots of packaging while in transit to your plate.
11. Buy more natural beauty products. This will help not only your skin but also the environment. Buy less products made with artificial chemicals and ingredients and find products that don’t include plastics like micro beads, or synthetic preservatives like parabens. These are bad for your skin and often mask skin issues and can sometimes even make them worse, but they also end up in the water supply and can contribute to chemicals in our water or worse, absorbed into the earth. They are also often packaged in materials and designs that can’t be recycled.
12. Whenever possible, opt for longest delivery time when online shopping. Online shopping has its pros and cons, and some people think it is better than brick and mortar shopping. On the plus side, it groups deliveries together in one transit, which is better than a number of people driving or traveling to a shop. It also requires less physical buildings and while head offices, depots and fulfillment centers count as physical buildings, its generally more resource efficient than running multiple stores with more staff, more lighting, music, air conditioning, heating, electronic displays, tills, and so on. However, on the other hand, it does mean more vehicles are out on deliveries, and often means more packaging. Back to the point, if you do shop on line, opting for next day delivery is worse for the environment as it forces companies to send out trucks that are not at full capacity, so whenever possible, always select the longest delivery time to ensure your shipment is added to a larger load, rather than on a specially organised service.
1. Shopping in supermarkets. Everything is generally packaged often unnecessarily in several layers of plastic, paper, films, cardboard, and more, just for the sake of keeping it clean and in shape. Also, ready meals, processed foods, junk food and convenience items have all taken a lot of time, resources, human and technological processes, transportation and so on, meaning they are not very environmentally-friendly. Not to mention, all the processing they go through and all of the additives and preservatives added to them - they are not the healthiest option for you either.
2. Using plastic bags or even paper bags from shops. Get into the habit of taking your own bags (such as a fabric tote bag, turtle bags, rope bags or a good old backpack).
3. Buying things new. Particularly things like clothes. Instead try to take inspiration from new trends and then take a little more time to rummage in second hand stores, vintage stores or markets for what it is you want or need. You can often find many things second hand, like appliances, gadgets, furniture etc. All it takes is a little browsing and some organization.
4. Impulse buying. Just because you want something, it rarely means you need it. If I’m not 100% convinced that I love something or need it, I leave it (occasionally taking a photo as a reminder) and go back for it if I really want it once I’ve given it some thought. Try it next time you feel drawn to buying something new. Stand with the product and ask yourself if you really need it. Ask yourself about the way it was made, who and what was involved, and ask yourself if all of that is worth it just for a moment of your own satisfaction.
5. Packaging. When shopping for anything, request as little packaging as possible. If you’re in a physical store, refuse a carrier bag and definitely refuse gift wrapping unless you really need it (although it’s better if you recycle old stuff or simply use newspaper or kraft paper). If you get a lot of deliveries or gifts for work, request that they are sent in as minimal packaging as possible.
6. Shopping for beauty products. Beauty products are highly responsible for waste in the form of packaging and pollution in the form of dangerous and artificial chemicals ending up in our water supply. If you do prefer to use commercial products, opt for more natural, environmentally responsible and ethical brands that use sustainably produced resources and all-natural ingredients. Try to look for those made with 100% natural ingredients and packaged into refillable, recyclable or biodegradable packaging. Better yet, instead of buying new products, try making your own natural remedies from natural raw ingredients, such as coconut oil, shea butter, almond oil, essential oils and extracts.
Where to buy food
London Food Markets:
1. The Real Food Market, Kings Cross
2. Stoke Newington Farmers Market
3. Netil Market
4. Broadway Market
5. Borough Market
6. West Hampstead farmers market
7. Islington farmers market
8. Maltby Street Market
9. Brixton Village
10. Brick Lane Market
11. Exmouth Market
12. Alexandra Place farmers market
13. Blackheath farmers market
14. Brockley farmers market
15. Marylebone farmers market
16. Peckham farmers market
17. Berwick street market
2. Mother Earth
3. Planet Organic
5. Local farms… particularly those that offer "pick your own"
6. Food for all
7. Earth Natural Foods
9. As nature intended
10. Source bulk foods
11. Borough wines (offers refills)
12. Bulk market
14. Harmless store
16. Earth Natural foods
18. Neals Yard Remedies
19. Abel and cole
23. The Cure
24. De beauvior deli
* Search for local delis, grocery stores, health food shops and markets near you, as there are plenty across London.
Where to buy beauty products
1. Content beauty
4. Cult Beauty
5. Space NK
7. Planet Organic
9. Neals Yard Remedies
10. Glow Bar
11. Cap Beauty
12. Goop Store
Where to buy fashion, furniture, antiques and accessories
1. St Augustine's School Car Boot Sale, Maida Vale (Saturdays from 7am)
2. Picks Cottage Car Boot Sale, Waltham Abbey (Sundays from 6.30am)
3. Chiswick Car Boot (first Sunday of each month from 7am)
4. Battersea Boot Sale, Battersea (Sunday from 1.30pm)
5. Princess May School Car Boot, Dalston (Saturdays & Sundays from 7am)
6. Hounslow Heath Car Boot, Hounslow (Thursdays & Sundays from 6am)
7. Capital Car Boot, Pimlico (Sundays from 10am)
8. Tottenham Car Boot Sale, Tottenham (Thursdays from 6am)
9. Calvers Fairs Car Boot Sale, Uxbridge (Selected Sundays from 7am)
10. Wimbledon Car Boot Sale, Wimbledon (Wednesdays from 10.30am & Sundays from 6.30am)
1. Reve en vert
3. The Basics Store
4. Beyond Retro
5. Brick Lane
7. Oxfam (My favourites are in and around Westbourne Grove, South Kensington, High Street Kensington, Notting Hill, Islington, Stoke Newington, Peckham, and if you fancy a day trip, Bath, Frome and surrounding areas).
8. Mercy In Action
9. British Heart Foundation
11. Cancer Research
12. Mary's Living & Giving
13. British Red Cross
14. Fara Charity Shop