We hear the term ‘sustainability’ used a lot nowadays, but it’s not without good reason. More recently, we’ve begun to hear the phrase ‘sustainable wardrobe’. This is almost certainly a reaction to the devastating impact fast fashion is having on the environment. I don’t use devastating lightly; the United Nations Climate Change department suggests the current total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production is 1.2 billion tonnes annually. This is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined – insert horrified emoji face.
Fast fashion is the result of retailers trying to meet the ever-increasing demand for catwalk styles at cut down prices. Due to production innovation, new lines can reach stores in days, meaning there is constant pressure to have the latest trends.
With the sole-aim to convince consumers to buy more, we’re wearing our clothes for less time, throwing them away and continually refreshing our wardrobe. While this is a brilliant for business, it isn’t very sustainable.
With this in mind, it seems we should tweak our habits and consider the idea of a sustainable wardrobe more seriously. But how do we even start? Below I list eight ways that you can start making a difference today:
1. Ask yourself – how many wears will I get from this?
Livia Firth, founder of Eco Age and Wife of Colin, began the #30wears campaign a few years ago. This simple idea asks one question of us – can I wear this item at least 30 times? If you can’t, you don’t buy it. According to Eco Age’s website, the average woman keeps a piece of clothing in her wardrobe for only 5 weeks.
Livia is on a mission to reduce the amount of clothing that ends up in landfill, an important task considering an estimated £140 million worth of it ends up there each year. She hopes to encourage people to think more about what they buy and keep those items for much longer. A small question hopefully resulting in a large change
2. Go o’naturale
Now while going naked might be a great way to buy less clothes, this tip focuses on natural fibres. Roughly, 63% of clothes are made from petrochemical-derived materials which include plastic polymers like nylon, rayon, viscose, and polyester. These materials do not biodegrade and end up polluting our water system. Where possible, seek out items made from biodegradable materials such as wool, linen or Tencel. While cotton has its own environmental implications, only 1% of global cotton crop is organic, so rally behind organic wherever possible.
3. Quality not quantity
We all know that more often than not, quality over quantity is the way to go; the same should be said of our wardrobes. Invest in a few great pieces which really match your style, make you smile and last longer. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up spending more, but you’ll certainly end up with less clothes, which is ultimately the goal. Buy versatile, trans-seasonal items and really get your money’s worth from every purchase.
4. Look after your clothes
If you’re going to invest your hard-earned cash in more expensive clothes, you’ll want to take extra care of them; that way they will definitely last longer. This means washing jeans and darks inside out, avoiding the tumble dryer, wearing items more than once before washing again (expect for pants – that’s just gross), and washing at lower temperatures and lower spin speeds.
Buy a delicates bag to prolong the life of fragile items, don’t over-cram the washing machine and know which iron setting is correct. When clean, store clothes with care, hanging as much as you can and storing in a cool, dry place. All these little habits make a big difference in the lifecycle of your clothes.
5. Second-hand doesn’t mean second best
I’ll admit, I’ve always been sceptical about buying second-hand. But after a handful of friends recently said they’d bought in a charity shop, I gave it a try. I was shocked at the quality of clothes inside which is possibly a result of our fast fashion culture. We don’t wear our clothes out, we throw away far before then, resulting in a brilliant selection in our charity shops. When you do need to buy, consider visiting a charity shop first, after all it’s far cheaper, recycles unwanted clothing and supports a charity. If you want a real investment piece, find a local vintage store and get some classic items which really will stand the test of time.
6. Get friendly with a tailor
Whether buying new or second-hand, there does come a time when clothes tear or break. Rather than throw them away, keep them going with the help of a local tailor who is savvy with a needle and thread; it’s surprising just how much can be made as good as new. This is also useful for when you find brilliant second-hand or vintage items which don’t quite fit but are well worth having in your collection. A decent tailor can get those fantastic finds fitting like a glove in no time.
7. Move towards a capsule wardrobe
Style-guru Susie Faux coined the term ‘capsule wardrobe’ in the seventies. More recently stylist Gok Wan has taken up torch and continued to spread the word. The concept focuses on a small, curated selection of quality clothes which can be styled together for any occasion. Rejecting the notion of fast fashion, a well-designed capsule wardrobe should give you wide range of looks from versatile and coordinated pieces you love. This is a far more sustainable approach to dressing, building on many of the other points in this post. Buy less, more versatile and better quality, then wear each piece more often. The capsule wardrobe is truly the foundation of the sustainable wardrobe.
8. When you do shop, find sustainable brands
Finally, if you’ve exhausted the second-hand shops and really need a new item, make a b-line for the more sustainable brands. Companies such as Zara and H&M have both released sustainable lines, with Zara committing to 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025. In H&M, the Conscious Collection is a range of organic and sustainable clothing and unsurprisingly, it’s very popular. Away from the highstreet, the internet is crammed with emerging fashion brands which all support a sustainable ethos. If you have to buy, the options are definitely out there.
Written by Gemma Newton
Freelance Copywriter and Designer for sustainable organisations and charities