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Instead of buying, organize your way to a sustainable wardrobe

Fashion’s culpability as a major contributor to global warming and carbon pollution is an impossible fact to ignore. Against the backdrop of the largest global climate strike in history, Extinction Rebellion staged a fashion funeral during London Fashion Week, Gucci declared itself carbon neutral (read about the efficacy of such efforts here), Burberry followed Stella McCartney’s lead to become a brand partner with resale site The RealReal, Gabriela Hearst presented a carbon-neutral runway show at NYFW, and UK retailer, Brown’s, like Net-a-Porter’s NETSustain, launched a sustainable fashion section, The Conscious Edit. Sustainable fashion activists and consumer demand for change has been impactful, and brands recognize the potential financial risk and social humiliation of silence about the climate crisis.

These efforts fall perilously short of the reform needed from an industry that is projected to increase CO₂ emissions by more than 60 percent by 2030. However, rethinking your consumption practices comes with challenges and many joys. 

The first concern for some would-be eco-conscious shoppers is that brands are responding to customer’s demands with savvy marketing campaigns instead of necessary structural change (i.e greenwashing)—a legitimate concern. Don’t be deterred, becoming a sustainable shopper doesn’t require you to spend hours vetting brands. Before you consider product change, focus on something free and impactful that you can start doing today—habit change. Specifically, the habit of buying too much and for the wrong reasons. 

Americans discard the equivalent of 81 pounds of clothing per person per year. In the UK, a garbage truck of textiles is thrown out every second. Even if these clothes were made using eco-friendly practices, our consumption and its subsequent waste would still be a huge environmental problem. Curbing climate catastrophe demands that we need to be thoughtful about what we buy, and be responsible of what we dispose. 

The sustainable wardrobe we encourage you to cultivate is about defining your style, which is more than planet saving; it will sustain your lifestyle, budget, and style goals. It is also an ongoing practice. If you want to maintain a sustainable wardrobe, you first need to audit your closet. We recommend a closet cleanse that will declutter your wardrobe, help you to establish what your style goals are now (versus when you rocked those very short shorts ten years ago), and get real about the garments you should invest in in the future. Creating a sustainable wardrobe can be done in three simple steps:

 

What you’ll need:

  • A free weekend 
  • A good friend for support and honesty
  • A willingness to transform your relationship to fashion

 

1. Go through every item in  your wardrobe

The beginning of a new season is a great time to do a closet cleanse—a weekend during the fall or spring is a nice time to dedicate to this exercise—because the transition period in weather is useful in switching out your wardrobe—but anytime you have a free weekend will work. Invite a close friend or family member who you can give a glass of wine in exchange for honest feedback. Start by going through every item of clothing that you own including socks and underwear, trying on pieces for assessment, and divide the garments into three categories: 

Love it: Clothes that you love, wear often, and are compatible for styling. 

Not for me: Clothes that you never or rarely wear, or don’t fit into anymore.

Maybe: Clothes that are in between. These have potential. Perhaps the fit isn’t right, you haven’t figured out how or where to wear it, or it's tired looking and needs some lift. Be generous with this pile, and in the coming weeks we’ll give tips on how to transform “maybe” garments into decidedly “yes” or “no” garments.

 

2.  Start a Style Guide

The point of the closet cleanse is twofold: To declutter your closet and most importantly, we want to learn about the clothing that best suits your body, budget, aesthetic, and lifestyle to  reduce regretful impulse buys (something we have more tips on here), wasting money, and guide you on the types of clothing you should buy in the future. 

Once you’ve tried your clothing on and categorized it you are going to create a Style Guide. Your Style Guide will be a resource you can refer to before you shop to determine if you are buying a garment that you will get a lot of wear from (we’ve created a template you can download here). Looking at each category of clothes, you’ll see trends emerge around the colors, fabrics, and silhouettes that you love and don’t love. Using our Style Guide template, go through the pieces in each clothing category and take note of the colors, fabrics, and silhouettes that and wearability (i.e. every time I wear this tight t-shirt I feel uncomfortable). Once this is complete, patterns will emerge demonstrating your clothing preferences beyond “on sale”.

Here is an example of my closet cleanse Style Guide.

 

tips for creating a sustainable wardrobe

3. Reorganize your closet

Return your “yes” pieces to your closet. Store your “maybes” separately as those will need to be addressed at a later date, and set aside your “no” pieces to responsibly retire by donating, selling, upcycling, or downcycling them. 

By the end of your closet cleanse weekend you will have a wardrobe to make Marie Kondo swoon and a stylist’s eye for the clothing to avoid in the future. Already, your 81 pound trash pile has been reduced, your style is improved, and you have some outfits in your arsenal ready to go. You are on your way to building a sustainable, stylish wardrobe.

Photographer: Angela Datre

Words: Laura Jones

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