The fashion industry’s impact on the environment is beginning to make many people, including me, more aware of how they search for and buy clothes. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, only after the oil and gas industry. And with the emergence of fast fashion and global supply chains, this problem is only getting worse. For example, the average consumer bought 60% more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, but kept each garment half as long.
I have luckily spent most of my life thrifting with my grandma and brothers, but have also spent more than my fair share of time browsing and buying from fast fashion brands.
Maybe you are like me and you have decided you want to begin buying clothing more sustainably – but the information out there is overwhelming to start. There are three easy ways to start on your sustainable fashion journey:
- Shop your closet
Shopping your closet means you look first at the items in your closet that you own before buying new. To in put some perspective, if you own 100 items of clothing (what the average woman in the U.S. owns), then you likely have close to 10,000 different combinations to make outfits.
You can start by mixing and matching prints, colors or textures that are a little out of your comfort zone. Layering items can be an easy way to mix up the way your clothes look too. Try layering a shirt or sweater over a dress to turn it automatically into a skirt! This works amazing for slip dresses or an A-line dress with a cropped shirt or sweater.
It is also important to identify basics that are missing from your closet. Pieces like black and white t-shirts, neutral layering sweaters and flattering jeans are my closet essentials. These clothing items are a great neutral base to build with more statement pieces and accessories. If you’re missing some of those basics, keep reading to find out how to buy them sustainably!
2. Look for pre-loved first
A pre-loved item is one of the most sustainable ways to buy new clothing because there are no new resources that are needed to produce that item. Buying secondhand can be time consuming and overwhelming, but there are some simple ways to make it easier.
First, when you are online searching, take a few minutes and check out if there is a secondhand alternative to buying new. Depop, Thredup and Poshmark are all great resources to search and buy secondhand clothing items.
Next, really focus your search on buying higher quality secondhand items that are worth the price. You can tell better quality clothing pieces by:
- Brand: brands are generally an indication of the quality of the item (although not always!). Doing some research into brands that match your aesthetic and looking out for them in thrift stores is an easy way to find what you like.
- Fabrics: I typically stick to natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, wool, and cashmere. Polyester and other man-made fabrics have high carbon footprints and may not be as breathable as natural fibers.
- Other: other ways to tell whether the item is higher quality piece are the seams (high quality seams will be straight and neat), whether there is a lining (depending on the item), and whether there is other tailoring that show care in the garment (such as kick-flaps on dresses and skirts or darts for a better fit). These are indications that the item was well-made.
Finally, you don’t need to start with strangers’ clothes – start by hosting a clothing swap with friends or sign up for a rental service. These are easy ways to try new clothes without needing to buy brand new!
3. Invest in quality, timeless sustainable pieces
Investing in quality clothing items that can last a long time is one of the more sustainable ways to shop. There are a couple different methods for evaluating if a piece is worth the purchase:
- Price divided by number of expected wears: This is a great way to gauge whether an item is worth investing in. Take the price of an item and divide it by the number of times you are expected to wear it. So for me, I wear black T-shirts as either a layering piece or top probably about once a week. Although I may balk at a $100 high-quality T-shirt from a sustainable brand, if I kept that item for 4 years, my price per wear is less than $.50.
- Potential resale value: Throughout my life, I have invested in high quality pieces that have a high resale value. Certain brands and/or fabrics tend to retain value better than items from Amazon, Walmart, Zara, etc. For instance, I found a Burberry rain jacket in high school that I completely splurged on (and was on super sale!). After wearing for 5 years, I ended up selling at 75% of the price that I bought it for on Poshmark. And by putting these in demand items back into the cyclical economy, you’re helping the planet.
There are many amazing resources to explore buying high-quality sustainable and ethical pieces. Look out for blog posts in the next few weeks that explore this more!