The idea of creating a sustainable or ethical wardrobe from scratch is, without doubt, a daunting one. There's the prospect of not being able to wear the brands you're used to and limiting your choices in terms of trends, not to mention having to spend a little more than you would normally.
All of these concerns are of course valid, but it isn't as hard as you might think to get started on a sustainable wardrobe – and it's definitively worth it in the long run.
Here, we have rounded up 10 tips from the experts on how to create a more sustainable wardrobe, without very much effort at all.
1. The 30 wears test
Livia Firth, the founder of Eco Age (a company that certifies brands for their sustainability) began the #30Wears campaign to encourage us to only buy an item if we really know that we'll wear it.
She told us: "The biggest message is every time you buy something, always think, 'Will I wear it a minimum of 30 times?' If the answer is yes, then buy it. But you'd be surprised how many times you say no."
Try to veer away from buying that statement piece you know you are only going to wear for one occasion, and instead invest in something with more longevity that you can wear again and again. Pick more versatile pieces that can be styled in different ways, rather than that one item you know is going to fall out of fashion in no time.
2. Be more informed
One of the most difficult things about trying to be more sustainable is knowing where to start – and, more importantly, where to shop. Thankfully, it's now much easier than it once was; there are so many brands that operate with a sustainable focus in mind.
Amy Powney, creative director at sustainable label Mother of Pearl, previously told us how important it is to do your homework. "I always suggest doing a bit of research and asking questions if you’re uncertain,” Powney notes. “Social media is such an easy way to speak quickly and directly to brands. When making such a special purchase, you want to make sure you are buying from a brand that aligns with your values."
Do a little investigative work to find a handful of brands you love and start from there. After a while, your portfolio of knowledge will have grown – and you'll have a whole host of labels to choose from.
Tome, Reformation, Aitch Aitch, Amur, Article22, Zady, Kitx, Veja, Bottletop and Lemlem are all recommended and certified by Eco Age (more of their clients this way). Alternatively, see our pick of eco champion Emma Watson's recommended sustainable brands. For further inspiration, consult our guide to the chicest sustainable brands.
A general rule to apply when researching into whether a brand is sustainable is that if it's difficult to find out their stance, chances are they aren't as eco-conscious as they seem. Read up on our 'Unstitched' series, where we focus on a brand that knows exactly what it means to be a sustainable force for good in fashion today, spotlighting brands such as Brother Vellies, Omnes and Bogdar.
3. Change your attitudes to shopping
"Every new item of clothing made has a substantial carbon footprint attached to its manufacturing, but the amount of new energy needed to produce vintage clothing is zero," Emma Watson previously said. "Vintage clothing has a huge role to play in making fashion more sustainable and reducing a global footprint that includes the 132m metric tonnes of coal used yearly through the production of new fibres, dyeing and bleaching of garments and the 6-9 trillion litres of water used by the industry."
William Vintage, Vestiaire Collective and Edit Second Hand are all great options. See more of the best designer resale sites below.
Another eco-friendly way to keep your wardrobe updated is to opt for rental fashion. Given that 300,000 tonnes of unwanted clothes are binned, not recycled, every year, it's clear that sharing our wardrobes and contributing to the circular economy is a step toward a more sustainable future.
The circular economy concept is, in simple terms, an economic system aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources; it challenges fashion’s linear production line that ends with clothes being discarded in landfill. By using rental platforms instead of buying new every time it means less will be bought and less will be left ruining our planet. Discover our top rental platforms below.
4. Invest in trans-seasonal clothes
Only buy items that you know are going to work for you all year round. Don't shell out on an entire summer wardrobe each year when you live in cold and rainy London – you won't pass the 30 wears test. Instead, spend the bulk of your money on pieces that will see you through more than one season. Jeans, T-shirts, classic dresses, timeless coats and jackets will make for a much more sustainable wardrobe.
5. Donate your unwanted clothes
Donating your unwanted clothes to a good cause, rather than leaving them hanging in your wardrobe, will help others to be more sustainable; they will invest in your old pieces, rather than buying something new. A great way to do this is to have a one-in, one-out policy – live by the mantra that every time you buy something, you'll donate something.
6. Look after your clothes so they last longer
It sounds obvious, but it's so important. Of course, if you buy higher-quality clothes, they are likely to last longer (and you're also more likely to treat them more carefully because they were more expensive), but this goes for everything hanging in your wardrobe. Look after them properly and you will have to replace things less often. From caring for your cashmere to washing your denim inside out, go the extra mile to ensure your clothes stay at their best for longer.
Frej Lewenhaupt, CEO and co-founder at Steamery Stockholm, previously advised us on the basic tools you need for looking after your clothes properly.
"If you want to invest in one essential clothing care tool we would recommend a steamer - either a handheld or a standing one. A steamer is an efficient and gentle alternative to an iron. It leaves your clothes smooth, fresh and wrinkle-free. The hot steam reduces bad smells, kills bacteria, and removes all signs of a garment being worn. We also recommend a fabric shaver, which is a great tool for de-bobbling and for prolonging the life of your knitted garments."
7. Learn how to repair clothing yourself (or find a good tailor)
When something rips or a heel breaks, you don't necessarily have to throw it away. Learn how to repair your clothes and accessories – or, even easier, pay a professional to do it. Think twice before using it as an excuse for something new.
We all know that renting our clothes and contributing to the circular economy is great and we know that buying secondhand is favourable over fast fashion. But being sustainable can be as simple as finding a great tailor you can rely on, rather than throwing things out when they feel worn. Check out alterations app Sojo, which connects its users to local seamster or tailoring businesses and delivering your items to be altered or repaired - via bicycle of course (the greenest option).
“When you give your clothes to charity or you even put them in a clothing recycling unit, that doesn’t necessarily mean they get re-sold or even recycled. Quite often these clothes that you think you’re giving a new life will still end up in the landfill," founder Josephine Philips reminds us.
8. Go for quality over quantity
It's all about planning. Buying better quality, more sustainable pieces is likely to cost you more money than buying a cheap high-street product that doesn't tick the right boxes. However, it's all about changing your mindset. Yes, it costs more, but you're likely to have it for longer and will be buying less per season overall. Buying just a few high-quality items a year, rather than lots of cheaper, less eco-friendly pieces, will dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. Basically, save up, invest and buy less.
9. Adjust how you spend your money
Change what you splurge on. Instead of spending your savings on a dress for a wedding or a pair of shoes that you'll only wear for special occasions, spend your 'investment' cash on the things you wear every day. Stop thinking, 'I would never spend that much on a pair of jeans'. Instead, consider that you are only going to buy one pair of jeans this year, or one item this month – and make it that. After a few seasons, you will have a high-quality, sustainable wardrobe to be proud of.
10. Change your perspective
"I don't think that 'eco' should be a word that immediately conjures up images of oatmeal-coloured garments or garments that are oversized or lacking in any sort of luxury or beauty or detailing or desirability," says Stella McCartney. "I don't think that things have to look ugly because they're organic; why can't they be beautiful as well? You can't ask a consumer to compromise. I don't think you can say, 'Here is this jacket that looks terrible but it's organic, and here is a really beautiful jacket that's cheaper but don't buy it because it's not organic'."
With more and more brands seeing the importance of an environmental focus, dressing sustainably no longer means compromising – so stop thinking it does.
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