Looking to create a sustainable closet but not sure where to start?
Let’s face it. Global fashion brands like Zara and H&M make it incredibly easy to stay within fast fashion’s irresistible orbit. With temptingly cheap price tags and constantly evolving new trends, departing from the sartorial norm and creating a sustainable closet from square one can feel like a challenge.
However, the reasons to create a sustainable closet have never been so compelling. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. Fashion corporations generate approximately 92 million tons of waste and consuming 79 trillion liters of water each year. Compounded by the fact that 35% of microplastic pollution is synthetic textiles and 97% of fast fashion is made in countries with problematic labor laws and human rights protections, it’s clear our relationship with clothing needs to change.
The idea of uprooting your entire wardrobe, searching for new sustainable brands, and possibly investing more than you’re used to is an overwhelming thought. But, you’ll be pleased to know that creating a sustainable closet is much easier (and cheaper) than you might think.
So, here are some simple steps you can follow to help you build a sustainable wardrobe on a budget.
A sustainable closet is one that is consciously curated with people and the planet in mind. In other words, it is a collection of quality clothes that have a low environmental and social impact, with every piece intended to be long-lasting and versatile. As renowned fashion designer Vivienne Westwood advocates, to create a sustainable closet is to “buy less, choose well, make it last.”
How to Create a Sustainable Closet: 8 Simple Steps
1. “Shop” Your Own Closet
The most sustainable closet is the one you already own – it’s really that simple!
Did you know that extending the use of an item of clothing from one year to two years reduces its carbon footprint by 24%? So, why not take a look at your own closet and experiment with new outfit combinations? From matching a work blazer with a pair of jeans to wearing a sundress with sneakers, by mixing and matching different styles and prints, you will have increased the life of your wardrobe without stepping foot in a store. Need some inspiration? Pinterest is a great place to start!
2. Choose Second-Hand
According to charity Oxfam, buying second-hand clothing is the solution to the fast fashion crisis and one sure way to create a sustainable closet.
Buying a preloved item of clothing instead of a new one has a huge environmental impact. According to thrift store ThredUP, buying a preloved item of clothing “displaces 17.4 lbs of CO2 emissions. Buying second-hand clothing also reduces its carbon footprint by 82%.” Plus, used clothing tends to be less expensive than new items. With the revolution of online thrift stores like The RealReal, Poshmark, Depop, and ThredUP, it’s never been easier to choose second-hand.
3. Repair, Don’t Replace
Since fast fashion items are so cheap and readily available, it’s easy for most of us to replace rather than repair them. Climate action NGO WRAP found that 4 in 5 consumers own clothes they never wear because they either don’t fit properly or need mending.
So, where possible, reconnect with age-old traditions of mending and start taking care of your clothes again. If you’re new to mending, why not take a class? Or, if stitching really isn’t your thing, find a good seamstress that can mend and tailor your clothes and bring them back to life.
If you’re worried about whites that are beginning to look dingy and faded, try bringing them back to life before throwing them away. You can do this with a simple mixture of vinegar and baking soda. This solution is natural, won’t harm you or the environment, and works great on sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton. Just be wary of using it on delicate fabrics.
4. Ask Yourself, “Will I Wear It 30 Times?”
Before buying new clothes, consider whether you will wear them at least 30 times. If the answer is “no,” it’s best to leave it on the rail, says Climate Activist Livia Firth. The 30 wears challenge not only keeps clothing out of landfills for longer but also eliminates the carbon footprint that clothing generates during production. When creating a sustainable closet, try to avoid impulse purchases. Instead, invest in high-quality, versatile pieces that you can wear many times across different seasons.
5. Donate or Recycle Unwanted Clothes
Inevitably, there will come a time when you need to say goodbye to your old clothes. With a garbage truck of textiles thrown away or incinerated every second, it’s important we try to keep unwanted clothes out of landfills as much as possible.
Although we shouldn’t stop donating our old clothes to amazing charities that need them, we should be mindful that only 10-30% of the clothes donated are resold. In the countries where these clothes are donated, over 50% are shipped abroad to developing countries, where large quantities are dumped in local landfills.
From clothes swaps with friends and thrifting online to upcycling old clothes, there are a myriad of ways you can recycle clothes sustainably. If an item is unsalvageable, it’s worth checking in with your local textile recycling spots to see what they accept.
6. Choose Staple Pieces
You can create a sustainable closet with new items, but be mindful of your choices. But before you add to your wardrobe, consider investing in sustainable staple pieces that are easy to mix and match. These should be quality items that you can wear almost every day. Think of the essentials like a go-to pair of blue jeans and shorts, comfortable pair of flats, sneakers, and versatile casual tops.
It’s no secret that sustainable brands are more expensive when compared to fast fashion retailers. However, fast fashion’s incredibly cheap prices come at a huge cost to people and the planet.
With the average US consumer purchasing a new item of clothing every 5.5 days, we must ask ourselves: do we really need to buy clothes so often? Perhaps instead, we could try investing in good-quality staple pieces from sustainable clothing brands. That way, we consume less while supporting slow fashion brands that treat workers fairly, use eco-friendly materials, and perhaps even hold sustainability certifications.
7. Invest In Timeless Fashion
When creating a sustainable wardrobe, think about incorporating sustainable fashion brands that carry timeless clothes and accessories. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “can I wear this in 10 years?” If the answer is yes, it’s safe to consider it timeless.
This also stays true for special occasions. When selecting occasionwear, aim for classic and chic pieces that are still true to your original style.
8. Change Your Mindset
In a global and consumerist world, we have come to view our clothing as inconsequential and easily disposable. Instead, we can treasure and take care of what we do have. By being mindful of where our clothes come from, who’s to say a better and more sustainable future can’t be achieved?