I talk about sustainability and sustainable fashion quite a bit on this blog. But I must admit: my wardrobe is far from sustainable. My fascination and research for sustainable fashion is a recent addition to my interests, so I have rarely invested in sustainable clothing.
I have dabbled a little bit as I have purchased a pair of jeans from Everlane and explored countless sustainable/ethical clothing brands like Girlfriend Collective. However, most of my closet is Urban Outfitters and Forever 21.
I have started the process of building my very own sustainable wardrobe, but I’ve only found the resources and steps to do so after lots of my own research into what makes a brand truly sustainable and learning about sustainability in general. This knowledge leads me to this post, as I want to apply this information from my research to a comprehensive step-by-step to build your own sustainable wardrobe.
I am in the very beginning stages of this slow process (emphasis on slow), but you can start now and follow along with me as I boost my sustainable style.
Without further ado, here are the different steps and considerations that I will take as I wear through my current wardrobe and replace it with an ethical one.
Don’t ditch your entire closet right now and immediately replace everything with new, sustainable pieces. The most sustainable action you can take when building an ethical wardrobe is to not buy anything at all. Slow fashion is sustainable fashion, and thus, your process must be slow as well. Your closet will not be sustainable tomorrow, nor next month. In fact, this process might take a few years. Actually, it should take a few years.
This step is the most important of this list for two reasons:
- By keeping your current wardrobe, you prevent your clothing from ending up in a landfill.
- Although sustainable fashion is hugely better than fast fashion, it still requires using resources like water and fossil fuels to produce. By keeping your clothes, you prevent any usage of these resources at all.
Obviously, there comes a point when clothes are no longer wearable. They either wear out, no longer fit, or get stained beyond repair. This point is where step one ends and the rest come into play.
BUY SECOND HAND
If your clothes don’t fit but they’re still in good condition, donate or sell them! That way, these clothes stay out of landfills and help reduce microplastics from polyesters from entering our waterways.
Once you’ve donated or sold your clothing, it’s time to replace what you got rid of! The first step in replacing your old clothes with sustainable clothing is to shop second hand. Finding clothing in vintage shops, thrift stores, and online second hand platforms like ThredUp or Depop is a great sustainable action for building your ethical wardrobe because it eliminates the need for resources to produce new clothes.
Here are some quick tips for selling/shopping second hand:
- Be honest. The worst people on sites like Poshmark or Depop shop at thrift stores and then resell that item for 500% of what they purchased it for, often advertising it as “vintage” when it is not. So, if you’re selling, be honest and fair. If you’re shopping, don’t always believe everything you read.
- Negotiate. Prices on these sites are rarely final, and most people just want to get rid of their items. If something seems overpriced, don’t be afraid to negotiate for cheaper. And if you’re selling, be open to negotiating as well! You’ll have an easier time selling your items.
- Be patient. Finding good quality items can be difficult on these sites and in thrift stores. Most items are incredibly outdated or ugly, so it can be easy to get defeated in the process. If you are thrifting, make sure you dedicate a good hour or two to browse the entire store (the men’s section is a goldmine ladies). However, any seasoned thrifter knows the rush of finally finding the most amazing piece for a mere three or four dollars. It’s totally worth the time.
ACTIVELY SEEK SUSTAINABLE BRANDS
This should be your last step/consideration when looking for sustainable fashion. Second hand is definitely the most sustainable action when it comes to looking for “new” clothes, but I know that it does not suit every occasion. For example, professional or formal attire can be difficult to find second hand. When you need to buy truly new clothing, make sure to do your research and actively search for brands with sustainable and ethical values!
My post on slow fashion contains a list of some of the most sustainable clothing brands to shop from at every price point, but Good On You and Re/Make are great sites to start browsing different sustainable styles.
You’ll notice that most of these brands create simple pieces mainly in neutral colors. That’s because they want to create a piece that will last a long time but always stay in style. If you’re going to keep an item of clothing for a long time, you’ll want to make sure that it won’t go out of style. So, when buying new clothes, try to stray from trends that you know will only last a few months so as to make your clothing last.
To close out, I want to address the aspect of privilege when seeking a sustainable wardrobe. I point out the aspect of privilege in sustainable living in all my posts that advocate or address the topic because it is absolutely necessary. The environmentalist/sustainable influencer world is so often riddled with shaming and guilt-tripping those who don’t live in a way that’s currently perceived as sustainable or ethical. The reality is that having the mere choice to live sustainably is a privilege.
Almost every sustainable alternative to clothing, food, home goods, cosmetics, toiletries, etc. is astronomically more expensive than it’s non-sustainable counterpart. Living sustainably is a privilege that comes with money and a lifestyle that is wholly inaccessible to most of the world’s population. NEVER shame someone for making a choice that you disagree with, because odds are they never had the choice to begin with. Do what you can do, and if you find that it is absolutely necessary for every single person to live ethically or sustainably, speak up and act to make that lifestyle accessible for everyone.
However, the best way to speak up for the environment is not shopping for organic fabric or using a reusable straw, but to vote vote vote for those who stand up for what you believe in.
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