Are you wondering how you can make your wardrobe more sustainable and ethical when all you hear is that fast fashion is destroying the planet?
We all want to live more sustainably, but dressing more sustainably can feel a little daunting. Where do you start when there is so much that needs to be done?
There are simple steps that you can take today to make your wardrobe sustainable and ethical.
And let me settle any fears, dressing sustainably can be affordable and offer you all the choice of clothes that you want… so why not start to build your sustainable and ethical wardrobe today!
What is a sustainable wardrobe?
A sustainable wardrobe is one that helps to reduce the impact that your clothes have on the planet.
By buying high quality timeless pieces, caring for the clothes that you own and wearing your entire wardrobe rather than just 20% of it, you will have already made massive progress towards building your own sustainable wardrobe. It really doesn’t need to be much more difficult than that.
A sustainable wardrobe is loved, worn and used again and again. It works to fit every occasion and is something that you can be proud of.
To build a truly sustainable and ethical wardrobe, there are simple steps that you can start taking now. It’s time to turn our attention towards what you can do to start dressing sustainably today.
1. Buy quality clothes that last
We have all heard the saying, buy nice or buy twice. This statement is certainly true for fashion. The price tag of high quality items can be off putting, especially for someone starting out on the journey to build their first eco friendly wardrobe.
It’s easy to want to compare an item to your favourite high street store, where it is no doubt sold at half the price. Yet chances are that the cheaper alternative won’t last half as long.
Keeping this front of mind will make buying a slightly more pricey piece that little bit more manageable. If you know you will love it for years to come, it will feel all the more worthwhile.
2. Look at the label
With sustainable fashion becoming ever more popular, many fast fashion retailers are jumping on the trend. However, not all sustainable clothing brands are created equal.
So how do you choose sustainable clothing? A good place to start is by looking at the label. If an item is made from something you can’t pronounce, chances are it’s made from petrochemicals (such as Polyurethane). Want more proof? A brands website normally makes it very clear whether sustainability is a top priority or an afterthought designed to follow a trend.
Whilst these ranges are helping transition the industry towards a more sustainable future, don’t be fooled by sustainable claims. Why make a sustainable item consist of just 20% sustainable materials such as some items in Topshop’s Considered Collection?
3. Find your favourite sustainable and ethical brands
Once you know your favourite ethical and sustainable fashion brands, shopping becomes easy. Yet if you are just beginning to build your sustainable closet, you may not know many eco brands yet.
Your favourite brands may have a specific purpose or message that you agree with. Importantly you love their style, and enjoy following their story. You’ll soon remember your favourites.
So where can you find sustainable clothes?
There are hundreds of sustainable clothes brands out there, each unique. From the largest with a history of helping the environment like Patagonia, Pact Apparel, Tentree or Finisterre, to smaller brands like Cariki, there is something for everyone.
Still stuck? Just Google ‘best sustainable brands’ and you will find hundreds of brands to explore. Otherwise, you can find sustainable and ethical fashion brands on comparison sites like Compare Ethics or Good on You.
4. Buy clothes that can be worn through all seasons
We all have those staples that we wear all year round. This is an easy way to dress more sustainably. By buying clothes that you can make work at any time of the year, you will be preventing items from sitting at the back of your wardrobe unused and unloved.
If you know you will make the most of your clothes, you can feel good when you spend on something that will work whatever the weather. Afterall, we all want to shop more, so feel justified when you buy something you know you will get value from.
5. Wear your wardrobe
A great tip to help build a sustainable and ethical wardrobe is to use, love and wear it - all of it.
Wearing your wardrobe sounds simple, but we all have clothes at the bottom of our cupboards that never see the light of day. In fact, only 20% of our wardrobe is worn regularly. So instead of heading to the high street, try digging around first to see what you find at home.
If needed, look for inspiration on how to rework forgotten clothes into stunning new outfits. If you really think you’ll never wear it again, just pass it along to someone who will… you could even potentially earn a bit of spare cash on sites like depop.
6. The #30wears campaign
We’ve all been there. Shall I buy it? Does it look good on me? Can I afford it? How often have you stopped to ask yourself how many times will I actually wear this?
This is something everyone should do if trying to dress sustainably and make your wardrobe more ethical.
The #30wears campaign was started in 2016 by Livia Firth (Colin Firth’s wife), and is one of the most important questions you should ask before buying anything, whether fashion or not. If you can honestly say that you will wear it at least 30 times, then go ahead and buy it! This is still a very relevant campaign and championed by many today! (such as Niamh O'Sullivan on Instagram)
Afterall, dressing sustainably isn’t about giving up buying new clothes altogether. We all need to refresh our wardrobe at some point (and even the most sustainable amongst us secretly get pleasure from buying new clothes). Instead, the principle behind the #30wears question is about changing your approach to shopping.
7. Learn how to repair your own clothes
When asking ‘how can I dress more sustainably’, one of the best things you can do is learn how to mend your own clothes. It may sound daunting, but once you learn the basics it's actually very simple.
There are thousands of articles and video’s online introducing you to the topic of sewing, stitching and mending old clothes. Spend a few hours doing this and you will be impressed with what you can achieve. You never know, you may enjoy it so much that you find yourself refashioning those old pieces you have at the back of your wardrobe.
8. Find a local tailor
We get it, you don’t always have the time or the know-how to fix things yourself. One of our top tips for a sustainable wardrobe is to find a local tailor.
This may conjure up dreams of days gone by, where clothes would be fixed by tailors in their Victorian looking shops. But local professionals are actually very easy to find and often so SO much cheaper than you might think.
Most dry cleaners can mend that annoying rip in your jacket or jeans. Recently, I managed to find someone who fixes shoes to mend my favourite leather belt. Amazingly, it took them next to no time and it cost only £2 for a brand new belt buckle. If I hadn’t asked in their shop, I would never have known they could help!
With the advent of fast fashion and cheap clothing, it has become all too easy to throw things out rather than repair. Local professionals would be grateful for your business and do an expert job.
Leave a comment below letting us know what you get fixed!
9. Care for your clothes so they last longer
It shouldn’t just be your new jacket or most expensive dress that you look after, every item in your wardrobe should be something you care for.
Not only will this keep your clothes looking vibrant like the day they were bought, it will also ensure they last longer, ultimately saving you money. Often clothes have recommendations printed on the label for how to best care for them, but if in doubt, wash on a lower, more gentle cycle.
10. Wash your clothes less
Sounds disgusting, right? Well you would be surprised what you can get away with before clothes start to smell.
Obviously I am not giving you an excuse not to wash socks, underwear or regular use sportswear, these will very quickly start to smell and we don’t want to be at blame for this.
However, one of the best ways to make clothes last longer is to wash them less regularly. This is most true for heavier items such as jumpers, jackets and trousers, which need washing much less regularly than you might think.
Want some inspiration, take Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh as an example, he hasn’t washed his jeans for over 10 years - now that is dedication.
11. Wash clothes on a colder setting
Everyone knows this, but do we all do it?
According to the Energy Saving Trust, washing accounts for 60-80% of a garments total environmental impact. By washing clothes at 30 degrees rather than 40, you can reduce energy used by up to 40%.
Not only that, it is better for the material and helps your clothes last longer, plus you are much less likely to see colours fade over time, meaning your favourite top will remain as dazzling as the day you first bought it.
12. Use natural and eco laundry products
Nowadays there are many eco alternatives to regular laundry detergent which are made with fewer harsh chemicals yet still keep your clothes clean and fresh. They often contain natural ingredients and are produced with care for the environment.
Don’t just stop at buying eco laundry detergent. Avoid overloading on the washing powder as well, otherwise your clothes can soon start to feel stiff and look dull. You can almost certainly get away with half the prescribed amount, and try adding baking soda as a natural detergent booster.
13. Explore eco’s new look rather than heading to the high street
Gone are the days when you had to compromise on style to be sustainable. With sustainable fashion becoming ever more popular, you can now find everything you need from a sustainable label.
Whether you are looking for high luxury, detailed designers, or more affordable ranges, sustainable fashion offers it all.
Today organic and hemp means much more than the hippy scene of the 60s. Sustainable fashion brands realise they need to compete on style as well as sustainability if they wish to remain in business, which means you and I are spoilt for choice.
14. See clothes as an investment
Good news, I want to encourage you not to feel guilty when next out shopping… IF you change your mindset and see clothes as an investment.
Unfortunately not all clothes are built to last. Cheaper clothes will often soon start to fall apart, fade or stretch. They are designed for just one season, and intended to encourage you to shop the latest style or fad.
Clothes should be considered an investment. A pair of jeans sold at twice the price will likely last many more years than their fast fashion alternative.
Your future self will look back and be grateful for spending that little bit extra on clothes that still look as amazing as the day you bought them. Your sustainable wardrobe will be proud of you.
15. Choose sustainable fabrics
A good way to make your wardrobe more sustainable is to choose sustainable fabrics… however, this is often more easily said than done.
There is sadly no material that is far superior to other fabrics, as many have their own downsides. Rayon, for example, can contribute to deforestation, cotton to pesticide usage and wool to methane emissions.
As a rule of thumb, it's best to avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and spandex. These are chemically intensive materials to produce and result in microplastics seeping into our waterways throughout the life of the garment.
Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as saying that these materials should never be bought, as sometimes they can be cleaner than natural fabrics, especially when they are made from recycled materials.
What is the most sustainable clothing material? We do have some recommendations. Look out for organic cotton, which generally requires less water, energy and no chemicals compared to regular cotton, and usually pays fair wages to farmers. Tencel is arguably one of the most sustainable fabrics out there, produced through green energy with virtually no wastage.
16. Discuss with friends
It is likely that some of your friends may have similar thoughts about the consequences of fast fashion. You never know, it might be something they are already passionate about but haven’t mentioned it.
If you are new to the world of sustainable fashion, chatting with friends can make it feel more manageable. You may even get some top tips for a sustainable wardrobe and learn their favourite brands that you haven’t heard of before.
It’s also a good way just to hear other people's thoughts on important topics like sustainability. Perhaps you will inspire each other to set up your own brand to help the planet? Let us know if you do as we would love to support you!
17. Donate your unwanted clothes to charity
We all have clothes that lie unwanted at the back of our wardrobe for years. Rather than leaving them to collect dust, give your clothes the chance to be worn by donating them to a charity of your choice.
Charity shopping for those hidden gems is exciting for everyone, and your forgotten clothes might be someone’s treasure.
If it makes you feel better about giving clothes up (we know how hard it can be), treat this as a one in one out policy, giving yourself permissions to buy something else.
And yes, thrifting is sustainable fashion as second hand clothes don’t require any new materials or energy to produce.
18. Buy Second Hand clothes
Thrift shopping has become all the rage, and the environment is for once happy with this trendy transition to second hand.
You may well be asking, is buying second hand sustainable?
Buying second hand is one of the most sustainable ways to purchase new clothes. This is because the most sustainable clothes you can buy are clothes that are already made. No new materials or energy is required to make them, meaning buying second hand a very sustainable alternative.
You don’t need to limit yourself either to what’s in your local charity shops. Expand your horizons online and shop without guilt at sites like Depop, you could earn yourself a bit of extra cash by also selling through this platform.
The sustainable brand Cariki's founder Sam loves thrift shopping and has written a great list of her favourites here
19. Consider renting
Long gone are the days when you rent ill fitting suits. Today the fashion rental market is booming, but perhaps you haven’t tried it yet.
Rental makes it affordable to get those high end luxury items that look amazing at a fraction of the price. It means that clothes are no longer being bought to be worn once.
There will likely be many rental sites in your area, just give it a quick Google. The best examples are large rental sites like Rent the Runway, By Rotation, or My Wardrobe HQ, however you can also rent things more specific to your tastes, such as designer bag rental from Cocoon.
As the wardrobe rental platform HURR states, “We're on a mission to make fashion circular, one rental at a time.”
20. Look out for products that extend the lifetime of your clothes
Just like a good relationship, looking after your clothes takes work. It’s all well and good trying to dress more sustainably, but if you are not looking after your clothes then they are not going to last.
Don’t stop at washing on a low heat, think about ways to avoid washing by protecting your clothes in the first place.
Try using fabric refresher sprays and add drawer liners to revitalise stale clothes. Re-waterproof that old jacket or spray your suede. Shell out a little bit extra for specialist cleaning products that protect your clothes (and ideally the environment), and buy yourself a stain removal pen to get rid of stains before they spoil your clothes.
Fabric Care leader P&G has shown that a thoughtful laundry regime can make your clothes last up to 4 times longer. Through WRAP data collected in the UK, P&G has shown that quadrupling the life of one laundry basket’s worth of clothes can save 230kg of CO2, the same as driving 600 miles.
21. Make friends with your Iron
None of us have ever left a burn mark on our clothes (*cough*), but if you have, it might be because you don’t know what temperature to iron specific materials. The result can be shrinkage, or worse, burning right through delicate fabrics.
Get to know your iron and we can avoid these mishaps! We would suggest setting the iron below what’s recommended for that garment.
Better yet, if you can get away with not ironing and just shake out creases before drying, you’ll not only prevent accidental damage, but save energy (and the hassle) of doing the ironing.
22. Stop buying plastic clothes
I challenge you to find any eco warrior who doesn’t own any clothes made from plastic. Unfortunately, plastic has become a common addition to the clothes we see in store, especially in sports clothes, fleeces and jackets. In fact, 64% of new fabrics made today may contain plastic.
There are many downsides to plastic. They are often resource intensive to make, release microplastics when washed, and take hundreds of years to decompose.
However, they are hard to avoid, so don’t beat yourself up if you own nylon, acrylic, polyester, or other plastic based clothes. Instead, try to reduce the damage they might cause.
Start by simply washing your clothes at lower temperatures, then air drying rather than tumble drying. We’d also recommend getting your hands on a microplastic catcher, such as a Guppyfriend Bag or Coraball.
Where possible, try to buy clothes made from recycled plastic rather than virgin plastic.
23. Next life
No matter how committed you are to thrifting, mending and donating, many of your unwanted clothes that you donate to charity centres will sadly end up in landfill. The rise of fast fashion has meant many charities simply can’t deal with the flood of poor quality clothes.
Where possible, always try to give unwanted clothes which have reached the end of their life to clothes banks. Here, materials can either be donated or recycled into fabrics or other useful products.
If you are feeling adventurous, why not try to create something yourself from your unwanted fabrics. Leave a comment below to let us know what you have made!
24. Fold heavy sweaters and clothes
Yes, this is as simple as it sounds and will make your clothes last longer. By hanging heavy items on coathangers, they can stretch and lose their shape. No one wants to wear something that doesn’t fit as it should.
So take that extra 10 seconds to fold heavier items and place them on a shelf.
25. Buy better hangers
Another simple but effective suggestion to make your clothes last longer is to buy better hangers. Buying better hangers that don’t stretch out the shoulders will prevent clothes from looking saggy and worn.
Wooden hangers can be slightly more expensive, but they last a lot longer and take better care of the shape of your favourite items.
26. Spread the good message
Tell your friends and family about the need to make their wardrobe more sustainable.
Now we admit that no one likes someone who is preachy. Perhaps just show them the designs you like and a few that might interest them, then mention the added benefit about how it is also helping the environment.
It will get some heads scratching, and you may even convince others to consider a more sustainable future.
27. Be prepared to do your research
Although it’s easy to create a sustainable wardrobe, it can take some time before you feel confident in all your decisions. Don’t look to be perfect right away. This is a lifelong journey that you will need to stick to.
It may seem daunting at first, you don’t know what you are looking for or which brands are honestly sustainable or just claiming to be. Don’t punish yourself for doing something slightly less sustainable, it is a learning journey for us all.
Overtime, you will build your own portfolio of sustainable brands that you love and return to time and again. At this point, choosing sustainable clothing becomes easy.
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