When I first started building my sustainable closet, I didn’t actually know that I was building one. I knew that I loved to thrift and saving money was great. It just so happened that I found out about saving clothing from the landfill around the same time, which made me amp up my habit and stock my closet with only secondhand finds. It wasn’t until I downsized my closet, focused on fabrics, and decided to stock up on items that I knew would last that I decided to invest in some sustainable items. And, yes, let’s just get this out of the way now, sustainable clothing is expensive.
Sustainably made items are priced higher for a few reasons, but that topic is for a different post. (If you’d like to dive into the price, this Live Planted podcast episode is a great start!) My point is that jumping into building a sustainable wardrobe is intimidating. It’s a huge task that can seem daunting. But there are three ways to start building your sustainable closet that are completely free. You won’t have to buy any fancy brands or throw everything out and start over. Because the truth is that building a sustainable wardrobe is all about focussing on what you already have.
Sustainable fashion is a spectrum. There is no one way to build a sustainable closet, and not everyone does it the same. It’s important to know that before you start. There’s also not a check-list of how to be sustainable. You don’t get a new colored belt for reaching a new level or receive an award. Building a sustainable closet is a personal journey. It’s about keeping yourself accountable and staying true to your beliefs, while also helping the world and the people in it in the process.
1. Know Your “Why”
You will not succeed at building a sustainable closet if you don’t know why you’re doing it. That goes for just about anything in life. You need to know your reason why and you need to believe it. We all have our own reasons for going sustainable. Whether it’s to help the world, contribute to living wages around the world, or just to save money, there is no wrong or right reason. You just have to really, truly believe it.
If you’re unsure of where to start, the documentaries The True Cost (available free on Netflix), River Blue (buy a digital download), and Sweatshop: Deadly Fashion (available on YouTube). These are great films to watch and even rewatch no matter where you are on your sustainable journey to remember why you’re on this journey.
I find that keeping a fashion journal of brands I love, outfits that have become my favorite, and my little findings that I want to keep in mind. If you’d like to see how I do my fashion journal, I can definitely do a post about it.
2. Stop Buying (Just For A Few Weeks)
One of the best ways to go sustainable is to stop buying clothing for a period of time. I recommend starting with a week, or trying for two if you’re feeling ambitious. This gives you a chance to see what you’re thinking about on a daily basis. You might be surprised at how much you think about fashion. But the opposite of buying fast fashion doesn’t have to be buying from slow fashion brands. It can be simply taking a break from buying anything at all.
I’m not saying that you should stop shopping forever. This is just a way to take a little break from buying any items and see what you think about on a daily basis. By slowing down your spending and shopping habits, you can focus on what you already own. It gives you a chance to see what your personal style is and what your closet could really benefit from when you’re ready to start buying again.
3. Wear What You Own
Contrary to what Instagram makes you believe, you don’t need a closet full of slow fashion brands to call yourself sustainable. You just need to get the most wear out of what you already have in your closet. It’s hard to appreciate the clothing that you have when you’re constantly adding new items to your closet. Take a step back, look at what you have, and celebrate the items that you own. Heck, you never know what you’ll find in the back of your closet.
This is also a great way to nail down your personal style and take inventory of what you have. You bought the items in your closet for a reason. The best way to figure out your personal style is to look at what you already own and work your way from there. You can also downsize the closet that you own, donate items that you know you’re not wearing, and have a better grip of your closet if you do decide to add to it. You know, instead of just buying more hangers and shoving items in.
4. Change The Way You Wash
This tip is so simple that you might not even realize it’s a way to go sustainable. But by stepping back, reading labels and changing your washing habits, you can truly become more sustainable without spending any money at all.
First of all, read your labels. Taking the extra time to look at how your items need to be washed will prevent them from shrinking, tearing, or stretching out. You won’t have to buy new items, because you’re taking care of the items that you already have.
Wash on cold. It’s so simple and so effective. Lower temperatures protect the dyes and prevent items from shrinking. While we’re here, you can also try skipping the dryer by air-drying some of your clothing. It saves energy and helps your clothing hold up better.
Lastly, wash your clothing in like-colors. You know, darks with darks, lights with lights, colors with colors. This helps the colors keep their hue. You won’t have to worry about your whites turning pink or getting rid of clothing because they get beat up in the wash.
5. Borrow From A Friend
Okay, so you stopped shopping, looked at what you own, and are still feeling the need to shop. Instead of shopping at the store, shop your friend’s closet. Borrow isn’t just sustainable, it’s really freaking fun. This is the perfect opportunity to “try on” a style that you’ve been dying to. And it comes at no cost to you or the environment.
Let’s be honest, your friend will probably be flattered that you asked. Plus it’ll be fun to get together and explore each other’s closet. Just make sure that you’re taking care of the item(s) that you borrow and give them back in a timely manner. If you end up liking the item enough, you can start looking for it at the thrift store or invest in the item from a sustainable brand.
There is no right or wrong way to go sustainable. This is your journey, so do what’s right for you and make your own rules. The only wrong way to go sustainable is to do nothing at all.