Looking for more sustainable clothing options is a great way to reduce your waste and environmental impact on the world.

How to Have More Sustainable Clothes

Ever wondered how to have more sustainable clothes? There is a lot of talk these days about quitting fast fashion, but choosing sustainable clothes is more than just avoiding the big box stores.

A few years ago I made the switch to only buying natural fibre items that were made under transparent conditions. I didn't have a lot of extra income at the time, but I learned some tricks to make having a more sustainable wardrobe easy and accessible.

The most important thing you need to learn when it comes to sustainable clothes is that you need to change your mindset and unlearn everything that you have been taught. Simply put:

  • You don't need to own much clothing. Just a few key items you can combine in multiple ways.
  • You don't need to buy the latest fashion trend but instead buy classic shapes that will pass the test of time.
  • Your clothes should last multiple seasons and years— they should not be disposable or fall apart.
  • New clothes shouldn't be inexpensive—think of them as an investment.
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Basket filled with clothes and laundry soap

Like all pyramids and hierarchies, the graph below is to be read so that the bottom is the most important and the best practice (the one that should happen the most), while the top is the least sustainable practice that should occur less often.

Sustainable clothing pyramid.

Use What You Have, Mend

The simplest way to consume more sustainably, is simply not to consume! While that might seem very simple, it has taken me a while to learn to live with what I have and not be a slave to fashion trends. Over time, learning to embracing imperfections in my clothes has actually turned into loving the flaws and holes.

Learning to patch holes, dye over stains, and get the most life out of your garments is truly a satisfying thing.

Mending can be fun and pretty—some visible mending techniques I love come from makers like Julie O'Rourke, Arounna, and Shelly Zetuni. There are lots of tutorial videos online which teach people how to mend, even if they can't already sew.

As well as mending, you can take stained clothing and give them new life though natural dying. Maggie Pate has a great book on this and loads of inspiration, as do my friends at Maiwa.

Women sitting the sun in a garden in her underwear

Borrow, Share, Swap

The next most effective way to choose sustainable fashion is too widen your options without having to buy anything. If you are bored of what you have, try to swap, borrow, and share with friends. Host a clothing swap with a few of your besties and all of a sudden you'll all have a new wardrobe.

There are also lots of apps now where you can offer trades and swaps, so check out the ones in your area.

Women in a white outfit sitting on a blanket on a beach pouring coffee from a thermos.

Thrift

While buying used or vintage is a great way to repurpose already existing items, there are a few precautions to note.

Firstly, the rise and trendiness of hipsters buying vintage has driven up the price of goods, making it harder and less affordable for the people who's only option is used. This being said, if you can afford other options, try to limit how much or what type of items you buy second hand (and maybe avoid the local neighbourhood charity shop).

Another trend that has taken off recently is the repurposing of large size vintage items into smaller clothing pieces. While this may seem like a good idea, it is problematic as it increases demand for larger clothing items which are already harder to come by, and robs an population of accessible clothing.

Secondly, cutting up and resewing plus size clothing socially reinforces the idea that larger sizes are not desirable or need to be fixed. There are lots of articles on this topic that go into it in more depth and it's fatfobic nature.

Finally, when buying used and vintage, think about the quality of the clothes you are buying, who made them and under what conditions. Even though you may be buying something that has already had a life, are you still partaking in conspicuous consumption? How will washing them (if they are synthetic) affect wastewater, etc. Buying lots of items and buying often isn't sustainable, even if they are used.

Clothing hanging up on a line against a blue sky

Make

I love to make my own clothes—either knitting or sewing (in the image below I made my entire outfit!). While you can control the conditions under where the clothes are made and their quality, you still need to consider how the fabric or textiles used where made and under what conditions. Are they synthetic, will then shed micro fibres, what are they dyed with?

To make creating your own items more sustainable, look to repurposing existing fabric, or items you have, or choose second hand fabric and deadstock fabric. Old table cloths, sheets, and even quilts can be used to make new items.

A few favourite makers include DIY Daisy, The Essentials Club, and Natalie Ebaugh.

Buy—Shop Transparent + Sustainably

I love shopping for new clothes, but a few years ago I set up some boundaries that work for me. Obviously, the first was "no fast fashion"—even for socks and underwear.

When thinking about sustainable clothes we often think about not buying clothing from oversees because we assume locally made clothing must be made under better conditions. In reality is this a lie. There are plenty of mismanaged factories in North America that rely on underpaid, often undocumented, POC to produce goods in appalling conditions. That being said, there are also well managed factories in Asia where workers are paid a fair wage. Instead of assuming how sustainable a item is, based on where it is made, look for companies that share about their manufacturing and production process.

The second was to avoid big businesses that parade themselves as sustainable, but are producing so much clothing and styles annually, with such a turn around, there is no way that can be sustainable (eg, the green washers of the world like Everlane, etc).

The last rules I made for myself was to buy clothing made by people I know, always out of natural fibres, and to change my behaviour so that I only bought a few items a year. Buying things that last means that in a few years I had a fully functioning and sustainable wardrobe build on foundational pieces.

A few tricks I have to make buying sustainable clothing more affordable—look for sales! Some small companies offer Boxing Day or Black Friday sales, and discounts on old stock or out of season items (just save them for next year!)

Local Brands I Love

Women all in white standing with a basket in amongst autumn leaves

Sustainable Fashion Influencers to Follow

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