Creating a sustainable closet is a response to the world’s collective discussion surrounding the fashion industry’s practices. Fast fashion brands capitalise on consumers’ constant want for the latest, trendy clothes. This further leads to the use of production processes that are harmful and unethical.
The industry utilises 93 billion cubic metres of water yearly, an amount enough for five million people’s water consumption needs2. Yes, fashion brands need to uphold sustainable practices. However, consumers play a role in making ethical and eco-friendly choices. So, you might be looking to build a more eco-friendly closet. Here’s a breakdown of what a sustainable wardrobe entails, a guide and tips for creating one:
Building a sustainable wardrobe is a conscious effort to make informed decisions about our clothing choices. This means educating ourselves on how sustainable fashion brands and retailers design, manufacture and distribute our clothes. From this, we have a better understanding of the carbon footprint of our clothing on the planet. The ethical fashion model also takes into account the working conditions of everyone involved in the supply chain. This considers the welfare of workers in factories, stores and the transportation chain.
By paying attention to these production and distribution processes, we become conscious consumers. As a result, this creates the desire to build a sustainable wardrobe, which is an investment in what you wear. Such a wardrobe contains carefully curated, high-quality pieces of value. A simple note is to consider taking care of products owned, shopping with ethical brands and designers and buying local.
Ready for a closet edit? Here are five tips for a sustainable wardrobe:
Fashion Revolution made the ‘who made my clothes?’ campaign famous. In turn, sparking the requirement to request transparency and accountability from every fashion brand.
This simple question gives consumers the power to request information from brands on the behind-the-scenes production and supply process. By asking, consumers are showing greater concern for all workers in the clothing industry. This includes the way they treat workers, if their wages are fair and ultimately, their safety. This question drives the switch to support sustainable brands that place importance on the safety and well-being of all workers.
The Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 greatly influenced the prominence of ‘who made my clothes?’ There was an awakening surrounding the impact of the fast fashion industry on garment makers. The building’s collapse led to the death of over 1000 workers, who were converting materials to clothing for brands. Fashion companies have the responsibility of monitoring the entire life cycle and chain of supply of their products. However, this does not directly translate into sustainable and ethical ways and practices. The incident stirred a change in practice for some companies. Many, nonetheless, still seek cheap labour to produce large quantities of clothes.
Fixing our clothes is another tip towards building a sustainable quality closet. By mending clothes with faults, we’re ensuring that we use them and extend their lifespan.
Rather than consistently making purchases for new clothes to wear, buying less and owning for longer are more sustainable ways of clothing ourselves. Mending involves repairing clothes that have holes, tears, missing buttons or zippers and noticeable stains. By so doing, we're acting so that our clothes last for longer without dumping them in the trash. Studies show that people in the United States consume more fabrics than any other nation. Around 85% of these materials and clothing get sent to landfills as waste. This pollution harms the planet.
Shopping with ethical brands may not be the most affordable option for everyone. This is because these brands channel a good amount of money into paying wages and sourcing sustainable fabrics.
Second hand, also known as thrift, offers a cheaper alternative to the price tags of clothes from ethical brands. There are thrift stores in most parts of the world, and more and more online, where people can purchase second hand and pre-loved items. These stores offer unique items with affordable price tags. This also creates a new home for clothes.
Compared to years ago, the word ‘second hand’ does not have the same negative connotation it used to. Thrifting has now become a ‘cool’ activity. It is particularly popular among Generation Z and Y, who are reportedly generations that are most concerned about climate change.
Further Reading: What is Fast Fashion?
Renting services offer clothes to wear for specific occasions. Instead of buying new clothes each time a special event comes up, why not opt for a renting service? This allows you to select items from your favourite brand while acquiring them at reasonable prices and only for the period they’re needed. In a world where we discard pieces almost as fast as consumption, renting becomes an attractive step to cut unnecessary spending. This is particularly relevant for clothes only used for specific events.
Intentionality goes beyond deciding to shop with ethical brands and stores. It also means considering the types of materials and fabrics you wear and slowing down to choose what you wear. Someone who is intentional takes time to consider an item before deciding to purchase it. It entails choosing quality pieces over quantity, even if that means spending a little more on a brand. This is crucial when creating a sustainable closet.
Some fabrics are known to have adverse effects on the environment. These include synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon and acrylic from the large volume of water and chemicals needed to manufacture them, to pesticides harmful to humans and the environment. These fabrics have varying and often detrimental effects on the planet and people. Apart from reducing consumption and engaging in activities like thrift shopping, it’s also a sustainable step to pay attention to certain materials and fabric.
Organic cotton is known to be the most widely used organic material in the world1. Aside from organic cotton, other fabrics such as hemp, linen, modal and recycled materials are some well known sustainable options. This means that the process to acquire them for cloth making has less adverse effects on the environment. Such fabrics are usually biodegradable, require less water consumption as crops and require little to no chemicals and pesticides.
Upcycling is a sustainable and creative way to convert old clothing materials into something new. This gives old and worn-out things a new life. It also helps to cut unnecessary spending by using materials readily available to create something new out of old styles. Instead of throwing old clothing into the trash, we can modify and repurpose them into something useful. This leaves us with items that we can use several times.
From a plethora of brands to choose from when shopping, we become spoilt with choice when building our wardrobe. However, making the effort to prioritise conscious consumption means deciding to be a part of the sustainable and ethical movement. Building a sustainable wardrobe is not as daunting as it may appear. While asking a fashion company for transparency, we should also examine areas and the steps we need to take for change. Building a sustainable closet starts with a single thought about what you wear.
Sustainable Fabrics Market Information: By Product Type (Organic, Regenerated, Recycled, Natural), Application (Clothing, Furnishing, Medical, Others), and Region — Global Forecast Till 2023 (Market Research Future)
|Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashions future. 2017.|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.