How To / Build A More Sustainable Wardrobe

“Sustainable” is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot these days, but I generally don’t mind since it is referring to the likelihood that our planet is going to survive. Therefore, I am pretty happy that is has been deemed a worthy enough concept to become a cultural “buzzword.” There are plenty of areas of our modern-day lives that need a serious sustainability injection; but, for most of us, our closets are an obvious place to start.

That being said, the intention of developing a sustainable wardrobe from scratch is, certainly, a daunting one. Not being able to shop in the places you are used to, limiting your choices of trends to don, having to spend more money per item than you would normally? These are all valid concerns (and ones that I still have), but I don’t think it is too difficult to get started on a sustainable wardrobe, and it is worth it in the long run because… THE PLANET. 

I don’t want to tell you what to do, nor how to live your life, but I do think that it is essential for all human beings – even those of us that live and breathe fashion – to take the necessary steps to be kinder to the globe that gives us everything. So, for this reason, I am happy to divulge my plan of action (as well as some of the thoughts behind them) in the hopes that it encourages you to have a rethink about your purchases and your relationship with clothes and makes this whole sustainability thing seem a little less intimidating.

1. Determine priorities 

As with most things in life, if you don’t know why you are doing something, then it is very easy to lose interest promptly or in the heat of the moment forget that you are trying to make a change (aka every time I see a jar of peanut butter). It is simple to say that you are going to modify your purchasing habits when you are a considerable distance from a Zara, not so much when you are standing in line for the fitting room. What is needed then is something that you believe in more than how good their latest collection is because their designs are always going to entice you back to the dark side of consumerism. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to change; instead, you and I have to change.

The disastrous impact that the fashion industry has on the environment is widely reported, particularly with regards to fast fashion, which made determining my priority seemingly uncomplicated: I love this planet (far more than another crappily-made new dress), and I want to do as much as I possibly can to reduce my negative impact on it. Armed with this clear reasoning, I am then able to move forward and make decisions that reflect and align with my priority. On the other hand, your priority may be that all your clothing is made in an ethically run factory, or that you predominantly care about the environmental impact of its fabrics, recognize your priority so that you can make a game plan that works for you.

2. Strive for a curated closet

Step numero uno happened at the end of last year, which led to me starting 2019 with a determination to create a capsule wardrobe. The term has gained a lot of popularity and I, like many others, figured it would result in both a more sustainable wardrobe and a less familiar feeling of “I have nothing to wear” – despite having plenty to wear. I rambled on about it for months, before recognizing that a capsule wardrobe of 30-something pieces is not for me. However, a thoughtfully curated closet? Now that sounds more up my shopping cart. Although, I am not entirely sure what I mean by this.

What I don’t want is to be discarding and replacing my clothes each season; instead, I want to wear everything in my closet for years to come, and I want it all to fit and to make me feel good. This involves choosing quality over quantity and refraining from impulse buys. Purchasing clothing with intention is a fundamental part of creating a sustainable wardrobe, and the hope is that it will lead me to smarter shopping decisions while also helping me discern my core style.  In a similar vein, I need to get better at taking care of my clothes so that they can last longer and won’t have to be discarded or replaced as frequently.

3. Seasonally rotate

One of the main ideas I have stolen from the capsule wardrobe concept is the “seasonal rotation” – something that has built itself up in my mind to be a quarterly ceremony that I will embark on with my clothes. The first one needs to happen ehm next week when I will remove my winter clothes from the closet and drawers (and throw it all on the bed) and take out the spring clothing that is currently packed up in boxes. Then I will go through the spring stuff and decide what I want to keep for this season and what needs to be donated or sold. The keep pile will get hung up and folded, and the winter items will get thanked for their service (so Marie Kondo of me) and placed into boxes where they will remain until the snow returns later in the year.

While it seems like a lot of work, this is the part that excites me the most. First and foremost, it means that when I try to get ready in the morning, I am only confronted with clothes that are appropriate for the season, thus making it less overwhelming to get dressed. Second, it also means that I am setting myself up to feel like I am getting a whole new wardrobe every three-ish months. This is a great way to trick your brain into getting re-excited about pieces that you have had for a long time and decreasing the likelihood that you get bored with your closet. Right now, I couldn’t tell you too many things that are in my spring boxes, so it is going to be a lovely surprise when we are reunited soon.

4. Refine shopping habits

For the record, I don’t intend to never again buy clothes. I still am going to make vintage hauls, and I am still going to explore my creativity and my relationship with the world through my clothing choices. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t also have a more sustainable wardrobe. When I think about it, over the past few years, my shopping habits have naturally become quite sustainable considering 75% of my purchases are thrifted finds and vintage pieces. Last year I barely bought anything that wasn’t secondhand.

That I love vintage and thrift shopping is nothing new around these parts, so I don’t need to go into that. However, I do want to highlight the reality that – after buying nothing – vintage and secondhand are the best options for sustainable fashion as it helps keep clothes out of landfills and the amount of new energy needed to produce the clothing is zero. So the thrifting is going to continue, along with special pieces from vintage stores and then a focus on new items from sustainable brands and local companies rather than fast fashion.

More than anything, I want to concentrate on choosing more versatile pieces that can be styled in different ways and that have more longevity so that I can wear them again and again. Purchasing 10-30 high-quality items each year, rather than 60 cheaper, less eco-friendly pieces will significantly reduce my carbon footprint.

5. Keep learning 

There is so much more I need to learn about sustainability and ethical fashion, so it is necessary that I stress that I am very much at the beginning of this journey. In a lot of ways, it feels overwhelming, which is why breaking it down step by step is the only way change is going to come about. There is no way that I am going to be perfect at this from the get-go, or that I am never again going to buy a pair of Zara shoes, but I am committed to continuing to learn more and make better choices. The journey and my learnings will (of course) be documented on this blog which will both keep me accountable and also help me learn from you and vice versa.

This is just the start, but I am presuming that as my knowledge grows, then it will become easier and easier for me to make the right choices because my mindset will have shifted and my desires will be for the environmentally friendly options because I’ve done the research. It is only through consuming fashion that is both meaningful and aligned with my values that my wardrobe will be a true expression of my self.

Outfit Details

Vintage jacket / Thrifted Marc Jacobs dress / Thrifted boots & bag & sunglasses

Photos by Mel Costanzo

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