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Creating a Sustainable Wardrobe

It’s not as expensive or as complicated as you think


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Kornelija Gruodyte

3 years ago | 6 min read

Fast fashion has been under a lot of scrutiny in the last few years. It has been branded as the second most polluting industry in the world and is accountable for 10% of overall carbon emissions.

Fast fashion giants are infamous for their unethical treatment of workers — this year alone Boohoo faced modern slavery allegations and several fast fashion brands refused to honour their contracts due to Covid-19, owing $40 billion worth of wages to the garment workers.

We know that fast fashion is bad for the planet. We know that the working conditions of factory workers are appalling. Then why do we continue supporting these businesses?

The answer is simple — they are often the most convenient and accessible option. Not everyone has $200 to spare on a sustainably sourced T-shirt or the time to research the most ethical place to buy jeans. Most people argue that they lack the resources to shop sustainably.

But finding pieces that you love can be good for both your pocket and the planet.

Simply Buy Less

This might be a surprisingly simple tip, but buying less clothing significantly decreases the negative impact you have on the planet. The world currently consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, up by 400% from the amount we consumed just two decades ago.

The average American family spends $1700 on clothes annually and the fashion industry is currently valued at $2.4 trillion.

The kicker? A lot of these clothes are never worn, left to collect dust at the back of the closet.

So buy less. Not every night out or event warrants a new outfit. The world will not explode if you wear the same skirt twice in one week. That’s what washing machines are for.

Before making a new purchase ask yourself if you really need it. I like to run a simple test every time I’m drawn to buying a new clothing item. It involves asking myself two questions:

  1. How often am I going to wear this item?
  2. If this cost $100 would I still buy it?

This ensures that I’m purchasing items that I will wear frequently and keep for a long time and that I’m not buying things just because they’re cheap or on sale. It’s resulted in less frequent wardrobe updates, leaving space only for clothes I absolutely love. And it’s saved me a good bit of money too.

By buying less you reduce your contribution to the waste problem in the fashion industry and you lower demand for unsustainable clothing options.

As a consumer, you have a lot of influence. Brands adjust to their clients’ demands to make a profit. If fewer people are looking to buy cheap and poorly produced garments, they will sell less of them.

So be conscious of where your money goes or doesn’t go for that matter. Be aware of how much you buy and if you really need to buy it. You’ll end up cutting a lot of unnecessary budget costs and doing the planet a favour in the process.

Go Thrifting

Let’s face it, most of us don’t have enough money to spend on environmentally friendly clothes. A $300 dress is not accessible to a lot of individuals, no matter how climate conscious they might be. That’s where thrifting comes in.

Second hand clothing doesn’t require new resources. It’s estimated that every 600 kg of used clothes results in 2,250 kg reduction in CO2 emissions and saves 3.6 billion litres of water. It’s a form of recycling, saving clothes from going to landfills. And it’s one of the best ways to shop sustainably with significant benefits for the planet.

But there are some problems with thrifting. One common complaint is that second-hand shops lack the convenience of department stores, where everything is sorted according to size and style. Having to rifle through racks of clothes to find something you like can be discouraging.

You might be living in a place where thrift stores aren’t prevalent, leaving fast fashion as your only option.

I know how difficult thrifting might seem initially. I’ve lived in places where charity shops are few and far between. I’ve had to swim through dozens of items that were outdated or simply weren’t my size. We’re busy people, not everyone has the time to spend hours searching for the perfect pants to complete your outfit. But it doesn’t have to be that hard.

We are living in a digital age. And with the rise of the internet comes digital thrifting. If you’re struggling to find things in your local Goodwill shop, don’t be afraid to search online.

Apps such as Vinted, ThredUp, Poshmark and Depop make it easier to scour the internet for specific items that you want to add to your wardrobe. They make it convenient to find people who are your size and looking to clear out their wardrobes. You get to enjoy less than retail prices and help the planet in the process.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Try Clothes Swapping

Got a dress you no longer wear and want to get rid of? Great, you can trade it for something you like instead! It’s the same concept as buying second hand clothes, except instead of paying money for new items you swap them out for things you already own.

There are a couple of clothes swapping apps on the market that make the whole process easier. You can join clothes swapping communities on Trade Made, This For That, and Rehash. These apps often have community guidelines that ensure that each trade is easy and stress-free.

It’s also worth taking note of clothes swapping events in your area. Depending on where you live you might be able to partake in vintage swaps and trades. These events are usually a lot of fun, allowing you to barter for items you love and make some friends in the process.

Clothes swaps don’t have to be a grand affair, you can simply turn to friends and see if there’s anything of theirs you’d like to borrow or trade for.

When I went on holidays, most of my backpack was filled with items I had borrowed from my friends’ wardrobes. Instead of buying new clothes for a two-week trip, I got to save a lot of money and wear some awesome outfits that I had admired on my friends. So ask around, don’t be afraid to reach out to people and enquire if they would like to trade or let you borrow certain pieces of theirs.

Being environmentally friendly can be as simple as using the existing networks in your community.

Support Sustainable Brands

Supporting sustainable businesses leads to the growth of more sustainable businesses. As more consumers grow concerned over the environmental and ethical impact of their purchases, more businesses are starting to change their practices to satisfy their customers.

By supporting ethical fashion brands, we encourage more firms to join the sustainability movement.

Those of us that are more financially savvy might baulk at the price tags attached to sustainable pieces.

Why would you buy a $50 shirt from Reformation when you can get a similar piece for $10 from H&M? But there’s a reason why sustainable fashion is more expensive. Sustainable fabrics such as tencel come from plants that are farmed in an ecologically friendly way — the limited use of pesticides and fertilizers means slower growth and production, and waste has to be properly disposed of.

Ethical brands also pay a fair wage to their suppliers and employees which drives up the costs of the sustainable items.

Short on money but still want to buy sustainable? Wait for the sales. Keep an eye out for price drops that can save you some money. It’ll still be more expensive than most fast fashion options, but it’ll enable you to add more sustainable pieces to your wardrobe.

Want to support sustainable businesses but don’t have the time to research every firm? No problem, sites such as “Good On You” do the work for you.

You can find reviews of all of the popular brands, brief explanations of their environmental practices, and comprehensive ratings. The website even provides you with alternative options and easy to shop look books for any occasion.

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