Eco Fashion

5 Steps to a More Sustainable Closet

Create a Sustainable Closet with These 5 Steps

Illustration via: Elizabeth Stilwell

The word “sustainable” gets thrown around a lot these days.

Though we usually use it to describe food, it’s increasingly being applied to clothing as well. But what exactly does a sustainable closet look like?

This is where the conversation gets convoluted because different people use different factors to define sustainable clothing. So it’s important to decide what matters to you first. Maybe you’re looking to buy clothing made in an ethically-run factory, or maybe you care more about the environmental impact of its fabric.

The social and environmental degradation of the fashion industry is getting worse with the amount of cheap clothing we consume that only last after several wears. Have you ever thought how it was possible to buy $10 jeans? In order to keep up with demand, the fast fashion industry has cut corners in garment production in the form of wages, unsafe working conditions, chemical laden fabrics and toxic waste pollution.

Once you determine the level of sustainability you prioritize, block aside 2 hours this weekend to prep before creating a wardrobe that reflects your preferences with these five steps:

  1. Take stock of your wardrobe

Do you find yourself repeatedly wishing you had one particular piece when getting ready in the mornings? Those clothes you wish you had over and over again are the items you need, and it’s easy to confuse them with the ones you want. Make sure the holes in your closet are foundation pieces that timeless, not trendy. The first step in creating a sustainable closet is to hone in on your style so that you only buy pieces that spark joy and will be wearable for years to come.

  1. Streamline your closet

Creating a sustainable closet doesn’t mean you have to throw away all of your fast-fashion pieces right away. In fact, doing so is actually inherently unsustainable, since you’re just polluting landfills with synthetic clothes that take decades to decompose.

So instead, streamline your closet by separating your clothing into four piles: clothing you love, clothing you may wear soon, clothing you’d like more if it fit better and clothing you know you won’t ever wear again. After creating the piles, keep the first three in your closet and place the other one aside.

I give myself two months to decide if I want to anything from piles two and three before I donate them to charity or a thrift store along with my fourth pile.

  1. Mend your clothing

Remember that clothing pile with the items you’d wear if it fit better? Well, here’s your chance to ask yourself if you love it enough to spend money on alterations. If your answer is yes, have it fixed by a tailor! It’s time we see our clothing as indispensable items that should be taken care of instead of thrown away after one wear.

Like I said, throwing everything out isn’t a sustainable solution, so see if you can give an item a second life first by repurposing into household goods or upcycling into a different clothing item. You can cut old shirts into cleaning rags, braid scraps into dog chew toys or make reusable bulk bags for the grocery store. If you aren’t scared of a DIY project, you can turn a dress into a shirt, make beanies with old sweaters, or sew baby clothes. If you need more ideas, you can see my Pinterest page for upcycling inspiration.

  1. Less Really IS More

Buying clothing with intention is the secret to understanding the less is more philosophy. When you know why you are buying clothing and how you’ll wear it, you can make smarter shopping decisions. We sometimes get distracted by what is trendy without realizing that the cool fur vest everyone is wearing doesn’t really match our style or other clothes. Buying out of impulse usually leaves us with cluttered closets that will eventually make its way to a thrift store.

Once you’ve taken stock of your wardrobe and steamlined your closet, you can see the obvious holes in your closet, which are the items you wished you had while getting ready in the mornings. Be sure to know if the item is something you need and want by asking yourself if it will spark joy. After realizing what those items are, think of 3 different outfits with the clothing you already own. Determine which colors work best with your wardrobe and lifestyle before you start shopping!

  1. Shop Ethical/Eco-Friendly Brands and Retailers

If you’ve made it through steps 1 through 4, congratulations! You’ve honed in on your style, streamlined your closet, shifted your relationship with clothing, and learned how to buy with intention. You are now ready to make purchases from sustainable companies who deserve your hard earned money.

If you are more concerned with the ethics of your clothing’s production, look for brands that are transparent about their labor policies and pay fair living wages to their employees. Be sure to also look at the country of origin on the product description or tag. A good rule of thumb is to buy from countries with strict labor laws such as the United States or the United Kingdom.

If you are more worried about the environmental impacts of fabric production, clothing made with natural fibers like organic cotton, tencel and hemp, or recycled materials are better since they are produced using less water, resources and chemicals.

These companies are making a significant effort in shifting the dialogue away from fast fashion by being transparent about their working conditions and fabric choices. Check them out in your hunt for new pieces, and remember: less is more!

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