(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?
This is exactly how I was brought up, last century;). The joy in one’s wardrobe is much more durable in this mode. The purchase may be the worst part of the experience – paying more is tough in the moment. But the investment pays off every time you take the piece out of your closet. Natural fibers smell better, quality garments fit better, look better. The piece of mind that comes from a limited set of excellent choices can’t be underestimated. Great post Grechen, may it resonate with many, many people.
Lisa´s last blog post ..If I Were Stopping By J. Crew Today
Grechen Reiter says
when i was young, my mother made a lot of our clothes, and when we bought things she was always very particular about buying from designers she knew to be of higher quality, and construction. we didn’t talk about it much, and i probably didn’t realize it at the time, but this way of shopping, etc., instilled in me a desire for quality above all.
thank you lisa, for your thoughtful comment. and for re-pinning 🙂
Glad to hear you’re reading Paris to Go (after I’ve spammed you about it in the comments!).
I’ve been putting time aside to air out and press my clothes…and just making sure that what I have is ready to go makes it easier to get dressed, and avoid the “I have nothing to wear” syndrome. Handling and caring for my things makes me more appreciative of them too.
However, I would LOVE to get a full-sized clothing steamer–I don’t love ironing. Probably just a hand-held version would do just fine though.
Kim Stark says
Thank you for this thoughtful post! The graphic is lovely.
I am a new follower of your blog. I don’t spend much time thinking about my clothing choices and I spend practically no time in stores, but I very much want to look my best and want a simple, easy to wear and maintain wardrobe.
I have been influenced by your blog in many ways – I placed an Everlane order not long ago, and spent some time at the mall finding the right leggings and long (knee length) sweater. I am working now on not over-washing my jeans!
Thanks for featuring me Grechen and Jen!! I’m honored 🙂
Ariana´s last blog post ..The Perfect Linen T-Shirt
I love what you said about buying what you can afford, majority cotton etc. also being sustainable. I think people make the mistake of thinking a conscientious closet is an expensive one, or that quality costs more. I’ve owned tank tops from Forever 21 that lasted for years (which is a terrible example, due to their manufacturing principles, but I bought them at a thrift store, I think for more than they went for in an actual mall!). My sister is still wearing them and they look good as new despite being over ten years old. It’s more sustainable to focus less on the brand and instead focus on shopping only when you really need to, wearing only what you have, and taking care of things so they last.
Ariana´s last blog post ..The Perfect Linen T-Shirt
I did a huge selling/purging in February (90 items) and bought 12 new items since then to fill some wardrobe gaps. 10 of those new items are from smaller independent labels and I’ve been more conscientious about where my wardrobe is being made. (Lurdes Bergada, Rundholz and Peter Non) To find out info about where and how the materials are sourced by the companies is rather difficult. I know Lurdes Bergada manufactures everything in Spain and the majority of Rundholz are made in Germany & Poland. Peter Non makes his shoes on-site in Italy and I assume the leather is also from Italy or Spain. I now have 58 clothing items and 6 pairs of footwear and intend for those numbers to continually go down and not up again. My biggest problem is hand washing things. I usually don’t buy anything that requires hand washing but certain items like bras and delicate knits do need to be taken care of for them to last. My second big problem is turning off the ‘want something new’ machine in my head. I’ll probably be fine until the fall when the new shinny things starts to arrive. That is where the real test is going to be.
In celebration of Earth day, This article I just read came in timely for this post.
I’m doing well, but struggling with the visible evidence of over-spending, lots of items with tags still on them…especially pants. As you’ve said, “Sunk costs are sunk costs,” and that doesn’t feel so great. But I’m learning from this, and I feel it’s just a beginning.
One thing I’ve been doing to keep my “kept and loved” items sustainable is to clean them as I go before storing Winter clothes. (In the Northeast, it’s really a requirement to have separate items to deal with the cold!) I don’t want to find moth damage or stains, so CARE is my M.O.
Your diagram is the perfect summary of my thoughts on the subject. Thank you. And it feels so good to think we are not alone 🙂
I agree on every thing on this lista I have found that even items from “fast fashion” companies, hold very well if chosen well and treated well. I realize I treat the same way both very expensive and very cheap clothes (i.e. handwash, lay flat to dry, iron carefully etc.), and they serve me for quite long!
I’m really enjoying thinking through my closet “consciously”. I have ethical instincts, but this exercise has helped me see the gaps in my thinking and my practices. And it has helped me become more aware of the choices I am making, which I think is the key for me. If I am going to make a ‘harmful’ choice, I should at least own it!
I notice that when I come across an unknown — like company practices — I usually don’t push too hard for information. I do pretty well with my shoe choices because designer shoemakers are much more likely to be transparent compared to other kinds of fashion houses. Even Nike has instilled a level of accountability due to consumer demand. I haven’t demanded this of my other clothing choices. I have chosen some american companies (Vince, Inhabit), but haven’t spent much time thinking about where they manufacture, how they get their fabrics, etc.
I also realize that I negotiate with myself on certain things. I’m willing to choose an ethical company even if it is located in a different country because my lifestyle has a fairly low carbon footprint.
I have become aware that I don’t think a lot about fabric choices. I’d like to find some alternatives to leather, and admit this is VERY hard when it comes to shoes and bags. I’m also going to look into buying more linen. Like you mentioned earlier, cotton uses a crazy amount of pesticides and water.
I like the idea of waiting to invest in the best I can afford. This definitely involves some delayed gratification. It makes me realize that it is okay to save up for Coclico and Rachel Comey shoes.
I also think I should make the effort to try on some more James Perse and Emerson Fry, even if it means ordering a few things I know I am going to return. I may even check with them first and see if that is okay…I would feel less guilty. I am much more comfortable once I get a sense of how a brand fits me, and much more likely to go to them in the future.
What have I learned? Four years ago I joined a growing community of women and men committed to reducing the amount of clothes we buy and wear. My goal to cultivate a small wardrobe filled only with items I love and wear regularly has taught me that I don’t need nearly as much as I once thought I did.
Gretchen, thank you for your comment over at Debbie’s blog. I’m a long-time reader here, and I’m coming out of the shadows to let you know I enjoy your blog. Often I find myself nodding my head, yes, yes, while reading your words and reader comments.
Terra´s last blog post ..Pacific Beachlife
WOW, this graphic is noticably biting the graphic design style of Anushka from into-mind. Like… embarassingly so, especially considering you lack her sense of proportion and balance and your short captions are not really written with clarity.
I enjoy your blog, and I know there is a lot of cross pollination between minimalist blogs, but please do your OWN thing!
Wow, a bit of a strange comment. This graphic style has been around a lot longer and more broadly than the lovely Anushka. https://www.behance.net/gallery/19497853/Ad
I agree, Christina! And I checked out Anushka’s blog and it’s very, very different. I had never heard of her!