(join the Conscious Closet Challenge!!)
Consumption is a double-edged sword: we as consumers have the power to influence and shape the fashion industry by speaking with our dollars, by choosing NOT to buy fast fashion, or from companies who are not transparent, but on the flip side, consumption will not change everything. Buying the newest eco-friendly product on the market is not the only way to influence environmental sustainability, and in fact, it may not even be the BEST way.
As is often the case, small changes lead to bigger ones, and ultimately, we can only change ourselves. We can make a commitment to being more conscious and sustainable in our own closets, right now, regardless of what the industry as a whole does, and that small step, if enough of us do it, can add up to real progress. And it doesn’t have to cost a thing.
The key to sustainability in my opinion, is managing waste; creating and using things in a less impactful, less wasteful way. Yes, I love Zady’s new organic cotton tee, and Everlane’s supply-chain transparency as much as the next girl, but the truth is, you can make your closet more sustainable without spending ANY money at all, starting right now, by just wearing what you have, and from this moment forward, making sure your closet is full of things you actually WEAR and LOVE.
It’s nice if you’re in the position to replace some of your wardrobe right now, and can do it with more eco-friendly fibers, organic cotton, and clothing from smaller, independent designers local to you, but the truth is, making your closet more sustainable is also about wearing what you have and taking care of it so it lasts as long as possible; while your items are USEFUL and serving their purpose in your wardrobe, then they ARE environmentally friendly and your closet is more sustainable.
When you do buy, buy the best quality you can afford and actually WEAR it until you no longer can. If all you can afford is Old Navy, then buy the best quality you can afford there (majority cotton, fewer embellishments, will last longer), only what you need, and wear it until you can’t any more. That is also sustainable.
It is only when our closets are full to bursting with clothes (cheap or not) we don’t wear, when we have no idea why we buy what we do, no cohesive wardrobe, no meaningful clothes, and “nothing” to wear, that our wardrobes are NOT sustainable. All of those clothes are wasted – the work that went into them, all for naught – they take up space in our closets and in our lives where other things could grow.
How to make your closet more sustainable right now:
Buy/Keep only what you Need, Love & Wear : don’t be wasteful, avoid stockpiling and buying multiples, and keep in your closet only those things you love AND that are practical for your current lifestyle/body. Do not save things for special occasions – WEAR THEM – and do not keep your “fat” or “skinny” clothes around for the day when you can wear them. Love your body and respect yourself now by dressing it in clothes that fit and that make you feel good when you put them on.
Buy the Highest Quality you can afford: no matter where you shop, look at a garment’s construction, fabric content and where it’s made. Try to buy cotton, silk, linen or wool over synthetic fabrics (with the exception of workout clothes in some cases) and look for simple but sturdy construction.
If you prefer to shop second-hand, even better, because if a garment’s made it to consignment, it’s probably been worn some and has held up well, and in the case of vintage items, has stood the test of MANY years’ wear. When you buy higher quality, you’re making an investment, not only in yourself by purchasing high-quality items to wear, but you’re ensuring that your items will have some value to others when you’re through with them, provided you don’t wear them out and have taken care of them.
Take care of your clothes – treat them with respect: wear things as often as possible before washing them, and when you do, wash in cold water, and think twice about using the dryer. I’ve found over the years, that even “cheap” items will last longer if they’re not dried; you can extend the life of your clothes by years by avoiding heat as much as possible. Also, hand wash in the sink bras & panties, and other things that need frequent washing. (I’ve gotten sucked into Paris To Go and her ideas on zero waste, and taking care of clothing – she inspired me to start doing this)
By taking care of your clothes in this way, you’re not only making your CLOSET more sustainable, you’re being more environmentally sustainable as well. Laundry uses up a lot of water & electricity, when in reality, we could probably go much longer between washings than we think. Try it…
Don’t be afraid to let go: don’t hold on to items you don’t wear because you feel guilty about how much money you spent on them, or just in case you’ll wear them “someday.” Sunk costs are always sunk – you’ll never get that money back, and keeping those items around you already wasted money on is another waste, keeping them from someone else who would appreciate them. Let go, but be mindful of what you’re letting go of and why so you don’t repeat your mistakes. Learn from what you wear and don’t wear, so that when you buy, you know what you should avoid, and what you need to make your closet more sustainable.
More than anything Marie Kondo’s book helped me to realize that things have meaning, and a purpose. When they’ve served that purpose – taught us what they were meant to (maybe that we shouldn’t buy that style of dress, or color pants) – we can let them go and thank them for their lesson. It is freedom to let go…
I have written extensively about all of these ideas in my Minimal Closet series. I’ve linked to some posts above, but take a look at the series home for even more articles and to learn more about my journey towards wardrobe minimalism and a more conscious closet.
How are you doing on your Conscious Closet Challenge? What can you do now (without spending any money) to make your closet more sustainable?