Choosing sustainable options when shopping for clothes and shoes can be a complex and difficult process because of a range of factors. We provide a guide to help you.

Clothes and shoes

Like much shopping, eco-friendly clothes and shoes shopping is difficult because of the number and complexity of factors. For instance natural, sustainable fibres are generally better than synthetic ones made from hydrocarbons. However conventional cotton is made in intensive, chemical-heavy practices (which is bad for the environment) whereas some synthetic fabrics are made from recycled plastics (which is good for the environment).


In addition to the fact that cotton is chemical intensive, and may even be genetically engineered, cotton garments may also be highly processed. Conventional cotton cloth uses hundreds of synthetic products including chlorine bleaches, heavy-metal dyes and formaldehyde. Many of these are highly toxic and will effect the environment if not disposed of correctly.

Buy organic cotton garments or alternatives such as hemp garments.


Leather may be a natural raw material but it then goes through very intensive chemical processing including toxic carcinogenic substances such as salts of chromium. This processing not only makes it incredibly energy-inefficient to produce but it also creates enormous quantities of waste. Treating one ton of raw hide will generate up to 75 tons of waste water and 100kg of waste solid sludge.

Synthetic alternatives are arguably more eco-friendly but if you love leather then look after it. Leather may last a lifetime if looked after properly.


If you really like fur then please (please!) do everyone a favour and only choose feral possum or feral rabbit fur.


Read the label. If the label doesn’t say what the garment is made out of then ask. If you can’t verify the derivation of the materials and manufacturing then it’s probably safe to assume that it isn’t good. To find out more about eco-labelling click here.

Eco-friendly guide to clothes shopping

  • Buy local
  • Buy quality rather than quantity (read about Quality here)
  • Buy garments made from natural, sustainable products
  • Buy organic fibres – cotton, hemp, wool
  • Buy fair trade
  • Buy second hand

Don’t forget to donate or recycle unwanted shoes and garments.