Do you want to become a sustainable fashion advocate? Maybe you’re considering building your first capsule wardrobe? Trying to work out where to find sustainable clothes? Yey! I’m proud of you✨
However, I get it if it’s taking you some time to figure out how to make this transition. Aligning your wardrobe with your values isn’t easy.
It might involve changing up your style, or it might not. It might mean reconsidering what your values are, to begin with. So being confused and a little bit lost is alright.
So we’re here to find out what sustainable fashion should look like for you and how you can achieve that conscious style. Let me walk you through the process.
Read more: How To Know If a Brand Is Sustainable
First, I want to show you something:
The buyerarchy of needs by Sarah Lazarovic is this little Maslowian pyramid that gives us one of the key elements of sustainable fashion: there’s no right way to understand it or practice it.
We have unending options at our fingertips to make more responsible fashion choices, yet we keep trying to convince ourselves that these alternatives are far too expensive, ugly or beige and boring.
You don’t have to break the bank to buy new clothes from the trendiest sustainable brands. And building a sustainable closet isn’t either about wearing ratty old 4th generation hand-me-down flannels.
Sustainable fashion is a beautiful thing that comes in all shapes and sizes. There is something for every body, every aesthetic, and every pocket.
So let’s get to the nitty-gritty: how and where can I find sustainable clothes?
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1. Buy from sustainable brands
Almost 50% of fast fashion retailers have recorded a dip in sales as consumers look for more environmentally-friendly and ethical alternatives.
When you buy from a sustainable brand, there are some things you’re looking for:
- Environmental consciousness
- Respect for ethical and social issues
- S l o w n e s s and rejection to the dynamics of fast fashion
- Responsible business model (innovation, circularity,…)
However, not all brands that claim to have one (or all) of these characteristics are sustainable – have you heard of greenwashing?
You might luck out and find sustainable brands are both environmentally friendly and ethical, but this is not always the case. Each of them is as unique as can be, as each of them will have different understandings and priorities in terms of sustainability.
For example, think about a vegan shoe brand that uses recycled plastic to replace leather because it prioritizes animal wellbeing. Also, think about a minimalist clothing brand using innovative zero-waste design techniques because reducing their textile waste is their number one goal, but they use wool, which is not always considered a cruelty-free textile.
Both can make their case and argue that they’re sustainable, and they wouldn’t be completely wrong. One can also argue that both are sustainable or that neither of them is. We would just be seeing sustainability through the lenses of different values and interests.
So finding the perfect sustainable brand for you is a matter of learning about the values of the brands you like (aesthetics and style-wise) and seeing if they align with yours.
Another conversation we need to have about shopping from sustainable brands is that of the price.
Today, sustainable brands aren’t geared exclusively to wealthy eco-conscious consumers. Now, you can easily find fashion brands for every budget – you can find examples of susty brands for all budgets in this post.
Of course, no sustainable brand will be as cheap as fast fashion. But that’s not because green fashion is too expensive, but because fast fashion is artificially underpriced and we’re used to irrationally low prices – like, they’re trying to tell us that paying £ 0.08 for a discounted dress is okay.
Read more: Fast Fashion Facts You Need to Know
2. Buy second hand
Shoppers are turning to second hand as a sustainable and affordable way to transform their wardrobes. So much so that in 2021 second-hand alternatives diverted nearly one billion clothing purchases that would have been bought new.
There’s nothing you can buy new that has the character and uniqueness of a second-hand piece. Circularity is all about getting rid of the idea that only new things are worth buying, and trusting that something that has had a previous life and that’s new to you is just as great.
Have you ever felt the high of finding the perfect preloved dress? You get the chance to give it a new life – go pair it with your favorite shoes and the belt you took from your friends wardrobe and get creative. How magical is that?
No one will have the same look as you at a party ever again, and that’s priceless.
You can also choose from different styles, price ranges, etc. it’s just a matter of finding your perfect store – we did the diggin’ so that you didn’t have to, so here you have a list of some of the best second-hand shops in the interwebs.
We’re buying 60% more clothes than we did 15 years ago, but we keep them for half as long as we did then, which contributes to the global textile waste problem.
Damn, I love this one. Mending clothes is putting into practice the principles of the circular economy at the personal level.
My mama taught me how to sew and knit when I was just old enough to hold a needle without being a hazard to myself or others. Today, crocheting my clothes is still my favorite thing to do. And I love bringing the spirit of DIY to those clothes that might need a little TLC by mending them.
Making things for yourself or fixing what you own is not only an act of self-love and love for the clothes that make up your personal style. It’s also a great idea sustainability-wise because it keeps you from throwing away pieces that are fixable and usable.
If you don’t have time to mend your things yourself or give DIY a try, consider supporting small local tailoring businesses and seamstresses. You can also find mending and repairing services for your more valuable items online – The Restory is a great example.
There’s a difference between “end-of-use” and “end-of-life” in the life cycle of a piece of clothing. The items you don’t want to use anymore aren’t trash, they can have a second life in someone else’s wardrobe.
The whole idea behind swapping clothes is that you get to Marie-Kondo, find what you don’t want anymore and swap those pieces for others that don’t bring your friends joy anymore.
Why don’t you organize a post-spring cleaning clothing swap get-together?
You can organize your own in-person clothes swap or find events happening in your area – I can’t believe I’m recommending this, but Facebook is usually a good place to find them. If you need guidance to organize your own, Fashion Revolution has a great guide on how to host a clothes swap.
A piece of clothing is vintage when it’s 20 years or older. Giving clothes extra years of life by taking care of them, upcycling them or handing them down reduces dramatically their original environmental footprint.
Do we get to pick favorites? Because out of all forms of sustainable fashion this one has to be mine.
There is nothing that I love more than rummaging around in the treasure chest that guards my mom’s old clothes at the beginning of each season.
So steal something from your mom’s retro stash, shamelessly ask your friend for that blouse of hers you love for your work brunch, or borrow your bf’s white button-up that perfectly doubles as a shirt dress.
Clothes rental challenges our single-use (and single-ownership) mindset around fashion.
Did you know that you can rent your clothes? Not only gowns and Met Gala-worthy ensembles, but also jeans, jewelry and everyday clothes.
Think about those clothes we only wear once for a special occasion: a fancy dress, those impossibly high high-heels,… We all have that kind of thing in our closet – but kudos if you don’t!
In these situations, renting (or borrowing) is the most sustainable alternative to buying because you won’t be responsible for the emissions that come with the production of new clothes.
By supporting circular business models such as renting, we’re fighting fashion waste and pollution linked to overproduction.
You’ll rent something that has already been produced, you’ll use it as much as you need, and then send it off to make the next renter happy. Extra points if you rent from ethical and eco-friendly brands – Rent in the Loop makes this easy for you by curating their pieces from sustainable brands themselves.
Plus, the cost-per-wear of renting is one of those things that make your credit card smile and most rental companies help you calculate how much you’re saving by renting vs buying specific pieces.
7. Shop your closet
Increasing the life of a piece of clothing for around 9 months longer will reduce its environmental impacts by 20%-30%.
Sometimes we just obsess over trends so much that we forget about what we already have.
Maybe use your next wardrobe cleanup as the opportunity to (sustainably) get rid of the things you don’t need anymore, to give a little TLC to those that need it and re-spark your relationship with those clothes that have lots of potential but you don’t use enough.
Rethink every single piece you own. Mix and match, look for that je ne sais quoi that makes your style yours and see how many new looks you come up with.
Now let’s talk about those clothes that don’t bring us joy anymore…
Knowing what to do with the clothes you don’t want anymore is key to building that dreamy sustainable closet. One can’t just throw half their clothes into the trash to buy new greener ones and still aspire to be all eco-friendly.
There are other options to consider before you decide to throw them away:
- fix them if possible
- repurpose them: turn t-shirts cleaning rags, for example
- donate/swap /sell them
As your very very last resort, throw them away, but be aware that only about 1% of textiles are recycled globally, even when you discard them responsibly.
Look for information about the textile recycling options and guidelines in your community and spread the word so that your friends and family know about it too.
Now, go save the world – and make it fashion.
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