Sustainability is a topic that’s on just about everyone’s mind these days.
It encompasses every aspect of our lives: what we eat, what we drive, the clothes we wear, and so on.
If you’ve looked into sustainable or slow fashion, you may have noticed that ‘green’ clothing doesn’t necessarily come cheap.
Because fair wages and eco-friendly practices reflect the true cost of producing a garment, that almost always means higher prices.
But never fear. Absolutely everyone out there can find a way to build a sustainable wardrobe on a budget. Read on to discover how.
Image source: unsplash.com
Invest in Classics For A Sustainable Capsule Wardrobe
One of the best ways to care for the planet is to only purchase items that you love and want to wear again and again. This goes for accessories too. Rather than hop on the latest fad of, say, insect-inspired earrings, go with classics, like pearls.
Tried-and-True Pieces That Are Always In Style
- Black dress pants
- Black blazer
- Silk blouse
- White button-down shirt
- Basic cardigan
- A-line skirt
- Solid color dress
- LBD (Little Black Dress)
- Tan trench coat
- Wool overcoat
- Silk scarf
- Black pumps
- White sneakers
- Leather tote
- Pearl strand
- Diamond stud earrings
- Gold bangle
For the timeless pieces you plan to wear for years or even decades, you want quality. Skip the polyester and invest in natural fibers like wool, silk, cotton and cashmere, which will not only hold up over time, but are also much more comfortable to wear against your skin.
Recycled, all including:
- Natural Rubber
New, Responsibly-Farmed Animal-Based:
Semi-Synthetics with Less Environmental Impact:
- Sustainable Viscose
- Pineapple Fiber
- Orange Fiber
Fibers To Be Avoided
Polyester & Nylon
Why? Polyester and nylon are made from petroleum, a non-renewable precious resource. Because these synthetics are cheap to produce, the fast fashion industry uses them a lot. Some fast fashion brands release new lines continuously.
This overproduction leads to a lot of waste as consumers buy the next new thing and discard the old. Polyester and nylon are also difficult to recycle and they are not biodegradable. Meaning these wasted textiles will continue to shed toxic microfibers in landfills for hundreds of years to come.
Why? Although bamboo grows quickly and does not require intensive cultivation methods, most textiles made from it are not eco-friendly or ethically produced. To make bamboo fiber soft enough to be worn, it must be soaked in water mixed with poisonous chemicals like carbon disulfide.
Carbon disulfide is extremely toxic and can endanger the lives of the workers who handle it, as well as anyone or anything living in the local environment. That said, some bamboo processors use closed systems in which the water and chemicals are recycled, reducing environmental impact.
Why? Rayon, viscose and Modal are all made from wood pulp. These are known as semi-synthetics because it takes a lot of processing to turn them into soft, wearable fibers.
As with bamboo, toxic gas is emitted during production which is harmful to the air, soil and water as well as the plants, animals, and humans of the surrounding ecosystem.
Why? If hard-to-process fibers like bamboo and rayon are bad, shouldn’t a fiber like cotton that is naturally easy to spin into thread be good? What should be simple and straightforward, isn’t.
Ordinary cotton sucks up tremendous amounts of water, particularly when it is grown in habitats where it wouldn’t naturally live. The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world, but it has now all but vanished, primarily due to cotton cultivation. Non-organic cotton uses 90% more water than its organic counterpart.
Why? Killing animals for their skin is considered by many to be unnecessarily cruel and unsustainable, so it seems like vegan leather should be a better alternative. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.
Vegan leather is usually made from plastic, although some kinds are made from more natural materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, and apple peels. Carbon emissions may be lower with vegan leather, but it is less durable than animal leather, which means it can wind up in the dump quicker, further adding to the plastic pollution problem.
Why? As mentioned above, animal welfare is a concern for the environmentally conscious consumer. Wool seems like an ethical fiber: the sheep need a haircut in the spring and we turn the fur into cozy clothing.
But sheep raised for their wool are frequently slaughtered after their wool quality starts to degrade, meaning they only get 5 or 6 years of life although they could easily live 12 years or more. Other cruel practices include castration and tail docking which are often performed without any pain relief.
Winter lambing is yet another practice that makes sense economically, despite the fact that almost some 15 million lambs die in the first 2 days of life due to exposure, neglect, and starvation.
As for cashmere goats, shearing too early in the season means they can freeze to death. The increased demand for cashmere has also led to overgrazing, creating desert wastelands where there were once lush grasslands.
Unethically harvested down feathers are collected while the birds are still alive.
Shrink Your Footprint
Reducing carbon emissions is an important reason many people are choosing to create a sustainable wardrobe. The manufacture of polyesters creates more carbon emissions than natural fibers, like cotton. That said, cotton still causes a lot of pollution.
To make your footprint that much smaller, look for organic labels, including GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards), OTA (Organic Trade Association), and Oeko-Tex.
Another great way to get more life out of clothes and keep them out of landfills is to buy from secondhand shops.
Thrift stores and consignment boutiques are a fabulous way to get deep discounts on everyday and high-end fashion brands.
When it comes to fancy clothes including wedding gowns, it’s all too common to only wear an item once. What a waste!
Do your part for the planet without breaking the bank by giving gently used clothes a second chance. Image source: pixabay.com
Revisit Your Closet
Clothing consumption has skyrocketed over the last 20 years. The average American buys 66 pieces of clothing per year, or one new item every 5 1/2 days. We each throw away an average of 81 lbs. of textiles each year, adding 63,000 tons of textiles to landfills every year.
Besides that, a truckload of textiles gets incinerated every second. Be honest: if you had to guess how many shirts you own, would you have any idea?
Take a long, hard look at what you already have in your closet. You’ll likely rediscover oldies that are still goodies. Rather than buy more, wear the stuff you have.
And remember, fast fashion items that don’t get worn are a double whammy. You’ve already bought them, and if you don’t wear them and toss them out because they’re ‘bad’, they’re just adding to overflowing landfills.
Donating doesn’t always mean they end up getting worn. Currently, less than 1% of discarded clothing gets recycled. If everyone wore their clothes just a few months longer, waste and carbon emissions would drop significantly.
Throwing away clothing prematurely wastes money and landfill space too. Aim to wear each piece a minimum of 30 times.
Sustainability should not depend on your paycheck, your body shape, or your friends’ opinions. It shouldn’t be dictated by random strangers on Instagram either.
One fun thing about having rules to follow, is that it fires up your creativity. A loose thread is not an excuse to toss a piece of clothing. (FYI, fast fashion makers intentionally use substandard sewing techniques to get you to buy more.)
Learn basic sewing techniques, like hemming and reattaching buttons to extend the life of your clothes. Kick things up a notch and learn how to do a few embroidery stitches so you can embellish your clothes and turn them into one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Image source: pixabay.com
Expand your repertoire further and learn to knit and crochet and your wardrobe will become that much more unique. You’ll feel good knowing that your scarf wasn’t produced in a sweatshop. Udemy has several courses to learn how to knit, sew and crochet.
Hold a Swap Meet
Clothing production is a global business. Cotton grown in Pakistan might be transported to Africa or China to be turned into apparel before being shipped to the US.
The textile industry creates about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The impact of transportation on the environment is no small consideration when you’re thinking about sustainability.
Another way you can save big time and reduce your carbon emissions is to hold a swap meet to trade items you don’t wear anymore. Ask friends, family members and even coworkers to take part.
This has the added bonus of decluttering your closet, making it an all-around win. And who knows where the pieces for your sustainable capsule wardrobe came from?
Image source: unsplash.com
The manufacturing and dyeing processes of the fashion industry create a lot of water pollution. About a third of the million tons of microplastics that wind up in our water supply each year come from synthetic fibers.
But manufacturers aren’t the only culprits. This shedding of microfibers happens in the home laundry cycle too. If your clothes are only lightly worn, wear them again before tossing them into the wash.
Use a Guppyfriend washbag to wash your recycled polyester clothes to catch the microfibers. And always be sure to run a full load to reduce water waste. Bonus points for line drying which also saves electricity.
Seek Out Affordable Brands
While a lot of sustainable brands have high price tags, this isn’t the case across the board. There are more than a few brands with stickers well below $100, including:
Ethical, sustainable and comfortable, Tentree plants 10 trees for every item purchased. It has planted over 67 million trees to date, and intends to hit 1 billion by the year 2030.
Tentree uses recycled fibers and organic cotton, as well as ethical manufacturing practices. Tentree is a certified B-Corporation, meaning they meet specific legal criteria regarding environmental, community, customer, and worker impact.
Warp + Weft
Jeans are a classic and a fave around the world, but the environmental track record on jeans is not great. Many countries like Pakistan produce cotton, but because the climate is not suited to the crop, it requires the use of a lot of extra water and pesticides. Thus leading to pollution, soil erosion and the potential for devastating water shortages.
To create a single pair of jeans, takes about 1,500 gallons of water. An estimated 20% of global waste water is due to textile processing, and much of it becomes so toxic it cannot be made safe for human consumption.
W+W uses less than 10 gallons of water per pair of jeans, and they recycle 98% of that. Besides jeans for women, men and children, W+W carries jackets, jumpsuits, shorts, and underwear. Inclusive sizing runs from 00-24, and they even have a maternity line.
Read more about Warp & Weft in this post 8 Best Green Denim Jeans Brands.
Australia-based Thought offers a wide-ranging product line that includes apparel for women and men, lounge wear, footwear, socks, accessories, and gifts.
Sustainability is a core value for Thought, and all of their suppliers commit to Thought’s Environmental Policy. This includes using natural, organic, renewable and/or recyclable materials; farming methods that do not cause habitat loss; and manufacturing processes which comply with local regulations and cause minimal environmental impact.
Thought uses GOTS certified organic cotton, has no plastic packaging, and all items are shipped via sea rather than air.
Boody’s bamboo-based active wear and accessories for women, men and babies is not only super soft and comfy, it’s also eco-friendly. As mentioned above, a lot of bamboo clothing is made via a harsh chemical process, but Boody’s is made from organic, toxin-free bamboo.
They do not use fertilizer or pesticides. Their bamboo is sustainable and requires much less water than cotton to grow. Boody employs a closed-loop system to recycle the water used to soften the fiber.
They also engage in zero-waste initiatives including recycled packaging that is printed with vegetable-based ink. Boody is also discussed in this post on 5 Best Men’s Eco Friendly Underwear Brands.
More Brands For Your Sustainable Capsule Wardrobe
- Nudie Jeans is an environmentally conscious Swedish fashion brand that uses organic cotton to produce sustainable denim jeans.
- Soul Flower is an Organic Boho Hippy Clothing Range that is based in Minneapolis, USA. You can respect our planet while at the same time expressing your bohemian spirit.
- PrAna is an ethical North American company that only uses sustainable fabrics and ethical practices. They do a full range of yoga, climbing, hiking, traveling and active wear for men and women.
- Oliver & Rain make eco-friendly organic cotton baby products, using sustainable and ethical practices.
Change Your Mindset
The truth is most of us have way too much stuff. KonMari your wardrobe and learn to be satisfied with less.
This means making each piece count in your sustainable capsule wardrobe. If you don’t love it, don’t buy it.
This principle alone will save you big bucks, which you can then invest in long-lasting pieces you will enjoy for years to come.
Image source: unsplash.com
Take Baby Steps
As with any major change, a sustainable wardrobe won’t appear overnight. If you slip up and can’t resist a cute $5 tee, don’t beat yourself up over it. Wear it, then repurpose it, and do better next time.
Small steps add up to big ones. By joining forces with friends and family in your quest to make a better world, you will see a difference.
If you have any suggestions or experience with building a sustainable capsule wardrobe, please leave your comments below and I will get back to you.