As you've probably heard, the fashion industry is one of the most environmentally damaging industries on the planet. The manufacturing process uses vast quantities of water, which is not sustainable, and the toxic chemicals and dyes used to make clothing can harm fashion industry workers and pollute the local waterways into which they are released. Further, "fast fashion" which describes the cheap, trendy, mass-produced clothing that shoppers buy, wear for a relatively short period of time, and then throw away, has accelerated the volume of clothing produced and the volume of clothing going into landfills, where it can leach toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater.
Fortunately, the world has started to become more aware of the environmental impacts of the fashion industry and a growing number of environmentally conscious manufacturers and designers are leading the way toward creating more sustainable fashion. Social influencers are spreading the word, and consumers are starting to look for ways that they can stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution by voting with their wallets for sustainably produced fashion.
In this article, we will look at six ways that you can begin to create a more environmentally conscious closet, filled with sustainable fashion that you can feel good about.
What Is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainability, in general, is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A sustainable lifestyle is about living in a way that doesn't deplete the earth's resources or damage the environment like causing more greenhouse gas emissions. Every day examples include using reusable bags instead of plastic bags, buying organic produce instead of pesticide-laden produce, and driving a hybrid or electric car instead of a gas guzzler.
When applied to fashion, sustainable fashion means that the environment is not harmed throughout the entire process of sourcing, manufacturing, consumption and disposal. This could involve producing new clothing in a sustainable way, or re-using existing clothing so that new clothing is not produced.
So let's look at how you can start doing some planetary good with your fashion purchases!
6 Tips for Creating a Sustainable Wardrobe
The road to a more environmentally-friendly closet is easier than you think. Rather than a destination, it is a rewarding journey that can be embraced as a lifestyle and not simply an objective. The most important thing is to take the first step! Here are six ways that you can start building a more sustainable wardrobe.
1. Buy Sustainable Fashion Brands
Sustainable fashion companies produce clothing that has been produced in an environmentally friendly way with a minimal carbon footprint. This includes using sustainable materials and embracing environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes across the entire supply chain.
Ethical fashion is another term that is sometimes used interchangeably with sustainable fashion, or can be used to focus more on the human/social impacts of the fashion industry such as worker conditions and fair wages. Ideally, you want to buy fashion that is both sustainable and ethical.
The benefits of ethical and sustainable clothing are numerous. Firstly, you help support the environment by reducing the demand for raw materials and finite resources that the manufacturing of synthetic materials often call for.
You also improve working conditions for the people involved in the production process, ensuring that they have safe workplaces and are paid a fair living wage.
In addition, you also give your health a massive boost by staying away from clothes manufactured with harmful chemicals that could continue to off-gas or leach into your skin after purchase.
When considering a sustainable fashion brand, look for one that uses natural fibers or recycled materials, fair trade practices, and environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes.
These brands are often more expensive, but the quality is typically better. This means that you will likely keep them for a longer period of time and won’t have to replace them as often. This can save you money and help reduce textile waste in the long run.
In addition, raw materials made of natural fibers like organic cotton that DO end up in landfills will decompose in less time, further reducing the carbon footprint of the product.
Here are a few sustainable fashion brands you can check out:
2. Buy Used Clothing
If you're tired of wearing cheap, toxic fast fashion and wish you could buy good quality clothes like they used to make in the olden days, but at an affordable price, then shopping for the actual clothes of yesteryear may be the solution for you. Thrift shops, second-hand stores, consignment shops, and vintage clothing stores all sell used or gently-worn clothing, or sometimes even unworn clothing with the tags still on. You can find some real treasures at these types of stores.
There are many benefits to buying secondhand clothing.
First, it is much cheaper than buying new clothes. You can find no-name or even brand name tops, skirts, pants, blazers, and coats for around $10-30. Some stores carry high-end designer items for around $100-$300 that might have originally retailed for over $1000. So you can wear quality clothes that look more expensive without breaking the bank.
Second, you can find some one-of-a-kind, well-made pieces that you wouldn’t be able to find in a store. When you are shopping at stores that carry clothing styles from across many decades, there's a much better chance that you will find clothes that fit your personal style and are flattering to you, than if you are stuck with whatever the fast fashion stores are pushing this year.
Third, you are helping the environment. Every used piece you buy means one less new clothing item that needs to be produced and disposed of. This reduces the carbon footprint and chemical load on the planet.
Finally, you support good causes by shopping at non-profit thrift stores, which donate a percentage of their proceeds to charity.
When shopping for used clothing, there are a few different types of stores to choose from.
Thrift stores, such as Goodwill, sells a variety of used clothing items, including both casual and dressy pieces. Goodwill processes a massive amount of donated clothing each year. If the clothing doesn't sell in its retail stores, the clothing continues on in the process to an outlet with even lower prices, then to an auction where bidders can buy in bulk, then to a textile recycler, and sadly, for the last bits of unsold clothing at the end of the line, to landfill.(1) You can donate your own unwanted clothing to thrift stores, and if it is a non-profit, you'll receive a tax deduction for the donation value.
Consignment stores sell designer and name-brand clothing that is lightly used, allowing you to look more expensive at a fraction of the cost. For your own higher-end clothing that you no longer want, you can bring it to a consignment shop, and if they accept it, they will sell it and give you a percent of the sale price. If it doesn't sell, then they donate it.
Vintage stores sell clothes from a previous era, generally from 20 to 100 years ago, that clearly reflect the style of that time. Examples would be clothing from the 1920s, 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s. Vintage stores source their clothing from a variety of sources - both used clothing and "dead stock" or clothes that were never sold or worn. So you might find used or never worn clothing at a vintage store. Note: Vintage clothing is actually from the era in question, whereas "retro" clothing is recently manufactured clothing that is designed in the style of a previous era.(2)
Secondhand outdoor apparel and gear shops can get you kitted out for about 10% to 30% of the retail price.
No matter what type of store you shop at, you’ll find some fantastic deals on used clothing. So next time you need a wardrobe refresh, consider shopping at a used clothing store instead of a department store. You’ll be helping the environment and your wallet!
Here are some large used clothing chains with locations nationwide:
3. Rent Clothing
Clothing rental used to bring up images of renting a formal tux for prom or a wedding - something done only once or twice in a lifetime. Today, it is a whole new industry with vastly expanded choices for dressy and casual clothing. Clothing rental companies allow you to rent an item just once, or you can sign up for a subscription to get new clothing to try out each month.
Renting clothes can be a fun and affordable solution for the times that you need something specific that you may not wear again, or if you just like trying out new-to-you fabulous fashion all the time and don't have the budget or closet space to buy and keep it all.
How does clothing rental work? Clothing rental companies source their clothes directly from the brands, and then rent them out to customers. When the rental items are returned, the are checked for condition, and then rented out again. Some clothing rental companies have stylists who will help select curated boxes for you each month.
In addition to just being fun, renting clothes is also a great way to be more sustainable in your fashion choices. It reduces the amount of environmental harm related to clothing production and disposal. Not only are you renting an already-produced piece, but hundreds of others may rent the same clothing item as well. It also saves you money in the long run. You might consider using those saved funds to ditch the fast fashion and invest in higher quality pieces for your new conscious wardrobe that you can keep for a long time.
So if you’re looking for a more sustainable way to refresh your wardrobe or try a new look, consider renting instead of buying. It will amaze you how much money you save and how many new options you have!
Links to popular clothing rental websites: (3)
4. Sew Your Own Clothes (New or Upcycled)
If you've got the skills to make your own clothes (or desire to learn), you can break free from the tyranny of fast fashion, trends, and the mall. You can create your own beautiful, custom-fit, sustainable clothing. The possibilities are endless in terms of the styles, fabrics, and embellishments you can put together. Who knows, maybe you'll get so passionate about it that you'll become a sustainable fashion designer.
You can find patterns online or in fabric stores, or create your own patterns from scratch. For fabrics, aim for using sustainable fabrics.
Fabrics that are mentioned as being sustainable (with various caveats) are: organic cotton, wool, silk, bamboo, hemp, linen, Piñatex, reclaimed fabric (deadstock), Tencel/Lyocell, ECONYL®, Modal, and recycled polyester. (8)
What is currently considered "sustainable fabric" is an in-depth subject that you may want to research to your satisfaction. Look not only at what the fabric is made of, but also at the environmental and ethical impacts of creating it.In some cases, a recycled polyester fiber might be more sustainable than a cotton fiber. (6)(7)
Want to go a step further in creating environmentally conscious clothing? Try upcycling. Upcycling is the process of taking something old and and turning it into something new and fresh. So, you could take that dress that you never wear, or buy something interesting from a thrift shop, and create something entirely new and fabulous with it.
One of the great things about upcycling is that it allows you to be creative with raw materials. You can take recycled materials and turn it into something new that you’ll actually want to wear.
There are a plethora of online tutorials and videos for the budding dressmaker to help you get started, and clothes that you make with your own hands always look and feel better.
Some sources for sustainable fabrics:
5. Clothing Swaps
A clothing swap is a great way to pass along your unwanted items to someone who can love them next, while picking up some fab gently worn clothes for yourself, all for free or perhaps for a small participation fee.
You can participate in a clothing swap either online or in-person.
Swap via a clothes swap websites or apps.
Finding an online swap is probably the easiest and quickest way to swap clothes. Here are a few examples of online clothing swaps:
- Rehash- Swap clothes and accessories online for free.
- Swap Society - Send Swap Society your unwanted clothes. They will give you SwapCoins in exchange that you can use to buy other clothes on their site.
- Dopplle - Clothing swap app for students. (5)
Find an In-Person Clothes Swap Event
You can find local clothing swap events in your area. Try searching Google for "online clothing swap near me." MeetUp also has some clothes swap groups you can check out.
Host a Clothes Swap Event
Want to host a fabulous clothes swap event yourself? Go for it! They tend to be popular. Who doesn't want to get rid of unworn clothes while picking up some new ones for free?
Simply invite a bunch of friends over and ask them to bring their gently worn, unwanted clothes to swap with one another. Serve some refreshments, and let the fun begin!
Some tips to help ensure a successful event: Invite people who are share similar styles and are likely to fit into each other's clothes. Ask them to bring a bag of clothes and accessories to swap and suggest a minimum/maximum number of items. Clothes must be in clean and in good condition. Bonus points if they are made with natural fibers!
You'll want to provide for some private changing areas, or suggest that people wear tight shorts and tanks tops that they can try clothes on over. For supplies, you'll need some clothing racks, lots of hangers, lots of mirrors, and some tables for items that don't hang well like accessories. (4)
You'll have fun mingling with your friends and getting a closet clean-out and wardrobe refresh without spending a penny. A clothing swap with friends brings a more personal meaning to the word “recycle”. You'll enjoy seeing them wear your clothes with their own personal touch. Any leftover items can be donated to charity.
6. Create A Conscious Capsule Wardrobe
What is a conscious capsule wardrobe (and how wonderful would it be to have one)?
To start with some definitions, there's "fashion conscious" - someone who is conscious of looking fashionable. And then there is "conscious fashion" - which is ethical, sustainable fashion that takes into account all of the inputs, outputs, and processes that go into making the clothes we wear.
Finally, there are capsule wardrobes, which are a small collection of clothes (say, 25-40 items) that coordinate well to mix and match and give you every type of outfit you'd normally need to wear. Capsule wardrobes are a reaction to and solution for the problem of having a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. Instead, a capsule wardrobe gives you a small collection of beautiful, quality clothes that look good on you and can be thrown together with hardly a thought because they are all designed to coordinate. How great would that be? You could be a fashion-conscious fashionista with a conscious fashion capsule wardrobe.
So, a conscious capsule wardrobe is a small collection of clothing that has been assembled with thoughtfulness and care for the environment, for fashion workers, for the quality and longevity of the item, for how well it coordinates with other items in your wardrobe, and finally, of course, for how well it enhances the personal style that looks best on you, regardless of the latest trend.
Source your clothing from ethical companies and buy natural, organic textiles whenever possible. By knowing what each item in your wardrobe is made of and where it came from, you can be more conscious about your purchasing choice.
While building a wardrobe in this way requires more effort than simply buying whatever is on-trend or available at the mall, the end result is a closet full of clothes that you genuinely love and feel great in. And as a big bonus, you can feel happy knowing that you have done something positive for the environment.
Final Thoughts On Sustainable Fashion
Many of us are starting to realize the extent of the environmental mess that we have gotten ourselves into and we've begun to take steps to lead a kinder, more environmentally-conscious lifestyle.
Many are also starting to realize the redundant nature of trends and are jumping off the bandwagon, choosing a more minimal lifestyle, and pledging to buy from sustainable, fair trade sources. Thankfully, the number of available sustainable fashion companies is starting to quickly grow.
When it comes to sustainable fashion, it is vital that we all work together to make a difference to reduce our collective environmental footprint.
Every little bit helps, and by making small changes in our everyday lives, collectively we can make a significant impact in protecting the planet and kicking climate change in the butt!
- 6 Tips for Creating a Sustainable Fashion Wardrobe - June 9, 2022