Are you a sustainable fashion rookie? Or actually an expert on the topic? Whether you have just learnt about the unsustainable and unethical practices of the fashion industry or you have been aware for years, the hype is real right now. 2019 was named “The Year of Sustainability in Fashion” with many brands taking ownership and focusing on improving their supply chains and product credentials. Big sustainability campaigns kicked off, new departments were created to help companies reach ambitious targets and for months the fashion media was chasing which is the next company to join the movement. Fashion Revolution gained even larger following and more support by consumers. Amplified by the lockdown and the ongoing issues with workers’ rights, Fashion Revolution Week 2020 was potentially the strongest one yet.
However, all this focus on brands and organisations can sometimes make you and I – the individual consumers, feel that ethical fashion is out of our control and that we are limited in the impact we can have. This couldn’t be more incorrect – consumers really have all the power! Especially in fashion as it is such a competitive industry.
The conversation on eco fashion often omits a very important detail – 50% of the resource usage happens after the customer buys the garment. Yes, it’s true – so much of the environmental impact is actually directly influenceable by the individual consumer. This percentage even goes up if consumers would be willing to put the effort to research who they buy from and what they are actually buying. So, if you are a fashion lover longing for a sustainable wardrobe, you can already start making the change today! Below are my recommendations on the best 5 ways to make your business wardrobe more sustainable.
1. Take good care of the clothes you already have
One of the most sustainable things everyone can do is actually utilise better what we already own. This counts for everything in our lives and is especially true for our clothing. Here are my tips on how to take better care of the clothes in your business wardrobe.
Wash only when necessary – evaluating whether we can wear a piece of clothing again before we throw it in the laundry basket could save a lot of resources – in terms of energy and water used by the washing machine and money that we would have to pay for using these resources. Even more importantly, less washing helps preserve the new look and feel of our garments for longer.
Wash cold – when possible, it is actually recommendable to wash cold or at low temperature. This preserves electricity and the density of colour of our garments.
Line dry – always, always line dry. Tumble drying is one of most unsustainable parts of the garment’s lifetime because of the amount of energy used. And it often damages elastic and delicate materials.
Green dry cleaning – a lot of our business clothing, e.g. blazers, is dry-clean only. However, dry cleaning is not dry. The clothes are soaked in a chemical called perchloroethylene – perc, for short. This chemical is toxic to humans who work with it and the environment.
Green dry cleaning is an alternative method of dry cleaning that doesn’t use perc. There are a number of alternatives but the safest two options are wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide. You can simply ask your dry cleaner what method she is using or google for wet cleaners nearby you to make the switch.
2. Shop from sustainable & transparent brands
Diverse sustainable fashion choices are becoming more and more accessible. A couple of years back there were two distinct categories in the sustainable clothing market – sustainable basics and expensive eco-friendly designer outfits. Nowadays things are very different. There’s complete offering of sustainable designs from underwear to outerwear, from casual designs to beautiful business suits.
However, it’s really important to recognise which brands are authentic in their effort and which brands are trying to greenwash the consumer – meaning that they use sustainability only as a marketing tool rather than truly follow the practice. To make sure you are shopping from an authentic brand:
Look for in-depth detail on the brand’s website
Authentic ethical brands would make sure to include in-depth information on their website – from transparency about where they made their clothes and who actually made the garments, through information about the textiles used and the packaging all the way through offsetting their carbon emissions. Slow fashion companies will give you locations, people’s names, project names. On the other side – high-level information, lack of detail and ambiguous promises are something to be very cautious about.
If something is not clear or you’d like to get more detail – always ask. Every sustainable brand would be happy to answer your questions and dive in more detail about the work they are doing as this is part of their mission as a business.
Read the labels
Very important! Always read the labels. That’s where you can learn the truth about what a garment is made of. Fashion brands are obliged by law to have contents label attached to each garment and be truthful about the composition of that garment. Look for recycled and up-cycled fabrics and for natural textiles over synthetic ones.
3. Buy outfits, not items
This is one of the most fun parts of turning a wardrobe sustainable because it includes shopping for beautiful clothes in a way that can save a lot of “Hmm, what would I wear today?” time in the mornings. By looking for complete outfits, rather than single items that we like, we can make sure that there are no odd items that don’t match with anything in our closet. We all have these few garments that we loved when we saw in the store – and we still really like, but no day seems right to wear them, right?
Creating a minimalist wardrobe with planned outfits takes away this problem. Daria Andronescu from Wonder Wardrobe has made it her mission to support women in the process of creating an ethical capsule wardrobe and has a ton of sustainable fashion brand recommendations, classes and tools available for eager fashionistas. As shown in the picture above, Wonder Wardrobe is all about creating as many outfits as possible from the fewest amount of items.
4. Go for quality over quantity
It is easy to fall in the trap of ‘OMG, this blazer is so cheap, if I buy it, I can buy many other things with my budget’. However, very often cheaper things don’t turn out to be cheaper in the long run. Searching for high-quality pieces that will last longer is the more sustainable and, and often, cheaper option. There are many slow fashion companies and independent designers that offer high-quality, affordable garments. You can often find them on independent designers’ marketplaces, fashion collectives and in collaborative pop-up stores.
Next to this, it is often a good idea to get in touch with a company and ask about their quality guarantees before purchasing. Companies that pride themselves with offering good-quality, durable designs will be happy to offer longer guarantees and repair and exchange items if the customer is not satisfied with the quality post the 30-day return period.
5. Dispose responsibly
The last step of a garment’s life. And a very important one. Here’s why. More than 1 garbage truck of garments is disposed in landfills every second! In the UK alone, more than 1 million tonnes of textiles are sent to the landfill every year. This is really a shame since so much can be done to extend the life of the fibres that make up our clothes. Here are my top 3 ways to dispose of no longer garments:
There are a number of international and local platforms like depop where individuals can sell the items they no longer want. This option is great for both finding a new home for your unwanted clothes as well as making some extra cash.
Charity/thrift shops will be happy to take many of the preserved but no longer wanted items. This is another way to find a new owner for your old items.
Many cities have dedicated textile recycling bins now. Usually information on where to find these bins is available on your municipality’s recycling page.
While this is a rather long list, it is definitely not exhaustive. Everything you can do to reduce resource usage and waste is actually a step towards a more conscious and sustainable lifestyle. And if you take just one thing from this article, that is still important progress!