If you've been thinking about how you can take a more sustainable approach to what you wear, we share five easy tips you can implement immediately.
Have you ever been to Wembley Stadium? Huge, isn’t it? Now imagine it full, not with people, but with clothes – t-shirt on top of t-shirt, right up to the roof.
Hard to imagine that many clothes, isn’t it?
That’s how much the UK sends to landfill every single year (suffolkrecycling.org.uk). In fact, when you look at the numbers around clothes waste and recycling, the sheer volume is hard to imagine. As a nation we recycle and donate enough clothing annually to fill 459 Olympic sized swimming pools (clothesaid.co.uk). That kind of volume just blows my mind!
It’s becoming more and more evident that we have too many clothes; in production, in the supply chain, in shops, in our wardrobes at home, in the second-hand system, and then sadly in landfill or an incinerator.
If like me the thought of Wembley Stadium full of clothes regarded as rubbish sends a shiver down your spine, then you might be wondering what we can do about it. When it comes to sustainable fashion, as consumers our influence starts with 3 things; where and how we shop, how we treat the clothes we have at home, and what we do with them when we don’t want them anymore.
So, if you’d like to start thinking about a more sustainable approach to your clothes, here’s five things you can do now:
1. Buy less new clothes
We don’t always buy new clothes because we need them, there’s lots of reasons we feel compelled to shop for something new, but that compulsion can sometimes develop into a habit. If you’ve been buying new clothes on a regular basis then now might just be a perfect time to break the cycle.
For 30 days, set yourself a challenge not to buy one new thing. I did this for 12 months back in 2014, and it really opened my eyes to what I needed versus what I wanted, what I already had, and what I could find second hand. Changing habits is hard at first, but make it fun – perhaps set up a group of friends and do it together? You can make your own decisions of how long you want the challenge to last and what the rules are. If it’s longer than 30 days, you might need to make allowances if you do need new things such as underwear, night wear, or swim wear, and set your own parameters on the rest (t-shirts? Leggings? Sportswear? Shoes?). In our online course we set a challenge to not buy new things for 90 days, which is the perfect length of time to break a habit, so if you can get to 90 days, you might find the desire to regularly shop has gone.
2. Wear more of what you already own
Did you know that most of us only wear about 20% of the clothes in our wardrobes? That means 80% of what we own hardly ever comes out to play! Why is that?
Well, sometimes they don’t fit, they’re not a style we love any more, they’re broken or stained, we’ve forgotten about them, or there’s something just not quite right about them that means instead we reach for our few trusty favourites.
By wearing more of your own clothes, you’re getting value out of your hard earned investment, you’re extending the life of those clothes (which even if you extend their life by 9 months you can reduce the waste, water and carbon footprint of those clothes by as much as 30%).
Set yourself a style challenge to wear something you haven’t worn for a while. Try it with a different combination, add a scarf, change the shoes and get creative to see if you can find a new way to love it and wear it more often.
3. Get clear on your style and your colour palette
Many times when I ask a client why they don’t wear something, they’ll say the colour doesn’t go with anything in the wardrobe, they never felt it suited them, or they bought it on a whim (or on the advice of a well-meaning friend or sales assistant) but it never felt quite right.
Often these things still have the original price tags on, but we find it hard to part with them – instead they are left hanging in the wardrobe and can make us feel guilty every time we look at them. Buying something you consider a mistake is a hard pill to swallow. These items need to go from your life immediately (if you want to recoup some of your investment, try selling them on eBay or other online resale sites).
To avoid this in future, make it your mission to learn all you can about the styles, shapes and colours that suit you. You can look online for ideas, scour Pinterest, try lots on and learn by experimenting, consult a personal stylist, or read books and articles. Understanding what works and what doesn’t (for you) is pivotal to creating a wardrobe you love, you feel good in, that works together, and that you will wear, over and over again!
4. Repair, reuse, refashion and recycle
When you do decide to let something go from your wardrobe, understand what the options are available to you to do with it. Most things can be bagged up and taken to your local charity shop, and some charity shops will even take items that have holes or stains as they can sell it on for recycling.
Some local authorities will take textiles for recycling from the kerbside collections, and there are often the large green textile recycling bins dotted around. Your items don’t have to be in good condition but they do have to be clean and dry (otherwise they have to go in landfill). You can also sell second hand clothes online on sites like eBay or Thrift.
Often an item just needs a repair or renovation so if you’re not wearing something, is it because a button needs sewing on? Taking the time to do these small jobs means you instantly have created something wearable (try loveyourclothes.org for good how to advice). And if you’re really creative, can you refashion or use the fabric to create something else? One client of mine took three dresses to a local seamstress and had them all turned into lovely wearable skirts. For ideas, check out Pinterest, or love your clothes, or tune into the Great British Sewing Bee – that’s bound to get the ideas flowing!
5. Buy second hand or explore sustainable brands and fabrics
I’m often asked what’s the most sustainable thing you can wear? And the truth is the most sustainable thing you can wear is what’s already hanging in your own wardrobe. After that, it’s second hand clothes. Shopping second hand is a fun way to keep exciting things coming into the wardrobe and out of landfill. After my year of no new clothes in 2014 I wrote a book called ‘In The Jumble’, all about my discoveries of how to find treasure second hand – and treasure there is!
If the idea of second hand shopping doesn’t appeal to you, then you can create a sustainable approach to new clothes by actively looking for and opting for sustainable options. More and more brands and fabrics are coming to the fore – even the simple act of choosing natural fabrics over synthetic is often the simplest sustainable option over the life of that piece of clothing. Another strategy is to buy like our grandmothers did; less items, but buy the best quality you can afford, made to last pieces in classic styles that stand the test of time, because the longer we own and wear something, the most value we take from the production of that item, and ultimately the more sustainable it is.
So, to re-cap, the actions you could take today:
1. Set up a challenge with a group of friends to not buy new clothes for 30, 60 or 90 days
2. Create a new outfit from something you haven’t worn in the wardrobe recently
3. Take time to research shapes, colours and styles that might suit you, and start to build a style board on Pinterest of looks you love
4. Take a few unworn things from your wardrobe, and decide if they can be repaired, refashioned, reused or recycled.
5. Go online to eBay or Thrift, type in your favourite brand and explore what you can find second hand.
A sustainable wardrobe of course doesn't materialise overnight, but following these tips and making changes over time will help you create a more sustainable wardrobe, and a wardrobe you love. In our online course, sustainable style studio, we make one change every week over 12 weeks to not only redefine our wardrobes sustainably, but to rediscover the styles we most love and want to wear.
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If you’d like to learn to love your wardrobe again and want some help, we’re running Sustainable Style Studio for the next 12 weeks – with weekly challenges and bitesized learning, you’ll discover the forgotten treasures in your wardrobe, learn how to easily put outfits together, and re-discover your authentic style that you love.