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Ah yes. Sustainable and ethical fashion has become pretty buzzy these days. And on a macro scale this is an awesome thing. The more people that get on board with supporting better business practices and supply chains the better. BUT, I think there can be one-sided push for buying new clothing from the trendiest sustainable fashion labels, and to be honest, thats not always the most accessible, or even sustainable option.. Am I saying we shouldn’t buy new clothing? Not at all. But I think there is a more affordable way for a person to get on board with curating a more sustainable wardrobe without sacrificing their personal style.
My Imperfectly Sustainable Wardrobe
Slowly I’ve been working to build a wardrobe of old, new, borrowed and thrifted items. I call this my imperfectly sustainable wardrobe. Why? Because I have many older or thrifted items that aren’t from eco-conscious retailers, but I’m extending their life as long as I can, which is eco-friendly in it’s own right. And because there are times when I buy a new item from a less than perfect brand because I know it’s something I will keep and wear for a long time. Ethical fashion has become yet another space for comparison and feelings of inadequacy or not “doing better” perfectly enough. Which is a shame, because pursuing sustainable habits should never be about perfection rather just doing your best.
So let’s dive into the details of curating your own perfectly imperfect sustainable wardrobe!
Old (& Repaired)
The most sustainable wardrobe option? Wearing what you have and extending the item’s life! I have so many older clothing items that I’ve breathed new life into by pairing them with newer items or wearing them in new ways. You can also try up cycling items. Add a patch to a jacket or pair of pants with a hole. Sew that button back on to your favorite blouse. On so many occasions I’ve been shocked by the “new” outfits I’ve created in shopping my own closet!
Did you know that extending a clothing item’s life by just 9 months can reduce it’s eco footprint by up to 30%?
These days, I rarely buy a new item thats not from a brand whose mission and ethics I believe in. But even still, I put myself through a ringer of questions before clicking buy. Simple things like
- Do I see myself wearing this long term?
- Can this item be used in more than one season?
- Does this match many items I currently own?
- Do I really want this, or am I buying it because it’s on sale?
- Do I really want to buy something right now, or am I buying this because I’m struggling with comparison or feeling like I’m enough?
Yeah, I know that last question is DEEP. But it’s totally important. So often we buy things simply because we see that others have them or because we don’t feel like we are enough without this item. Trust me, I chased this feeling of adequacy the entire time I lived in NYC. Spoiler: you never get there no matter how many trendy items you buy.
You don’t have to buy from the most expensive ethical fashion brands to be sustainable. You also don’t have to avoid new clothes all together to be sustainable. Just really check yourself before you buy something new and make sure its an item you yourself using for years to come. And try your best to support brands that align with your values and that are creating quality, long lasting items.
My favorite brands to support?
Going to a special event and need a dress that you know you’ll only wear once? Try borrowing one! You can shop your friend or sibling’s closet or try renting from an online business like Rent The Runway. Rent the Runway is awesome because they send you two sizes of the same dress and a return label. So you literally just pack up the dress when you’re done with it and drop it in the mail! It’s a fun way to get adventurous with dresses that you might not ever have another occasion for, like a gala or black tie wedding.
Borrowing is another great option if you need clothes for a vacation in a climate different from your own. For example, I live in the north east, and the odds that I’d need multiple beach friendly dresses on a regular basis is slim. If I were to go on a beach vacation, borrowing some vacation wear from friends could be a better choice.
At first, I totally didn’t get thrifting. I never found anything I wanted and just felt totally overwhelmed in a place like the Salv A or Good Will. But then I started to manifest what it was I was looking for. I’d write a list of items I wanted to find and would look at it before I stopped in to a thrift shop and I slowly started finding things of interest.
Having that list of things you’re looking for can give you some direction in thrift shops. Thrifting is a sustainable option because you get to extend the life of a clothing item that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. Which is important because more than 80% of textiles end up in a landfill and synthetic fabrics can take hundreds of years to decompose.
You can make thrifting easier by shopping secondhand clothing marketplaces like Poshmark or Thred Up. Poshmark is my favorite place to find gently used name brand items, especially from my favorite less sustainable brands.
My favorite items to look for second hand:
- skirts for work
- jackets and blazers.
Other sustainable wardrobe tips:
- Avoid fast fashion trends. We only have 4 seasons, but fast fashion has far more to make you feel like you are always behind the trends and need to buy more! Read more here about why fast fashion is damaging.
- Do your research! Browse the about, FAQ, sustainability or supply chain information on a clothing retailer’s website. If they don’t have one, thats your first red flag!
- Practice patience. Just because you can’t find something in a thrift store or second hand retailer doesn’t mean you’ll never find it. But if you need it in the immediate future and it’s something you really need/want, buy it new!
- Remember: it’s not about perfection! Just try the best you can.
- Don’t throw away items simply because they are from a less sustainable brand. Extend the item’s life as long as you can!
I’d love to hear from you! Comment below or send me a message to share you experience with curating your own sustainable wardrobe or to ask any questions you might have! Thanks for reading!