Making changes to how we produce, buy, use and discard our clothing is fundamental to our global battle to reduce emissions and protect the environment. After all, according to Greenpeace " Global emissions from textile production annually are more than the carbon footprint of international flights and shipping combined." (2019). As individuals, we can collectively make change happen by adopting new habits, sharing our ideas and using our decisions to effect change on a bigger scale.
If you're on the cusp of making changes towards a more sustainable wardrobe, here's our rundown of five simple things you can do to achieve it in 2023.
1. Wear more of what I already own.
This is a deceptively simple idea, but by extending the life of the clothing we already own by just 9 months, we can reduce the waste, water and carbon footprint of those items by as much as 30%.
As a personal stylist and having seen inside so many wardrobes, I can say that most of us wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time, and so 80% of our clothes do not get used very often. By exploring what that 20% is, we can start to understand more about what we love and wear a lot, and figure out why we don't wear the rest. Start by measuring your wears, either by turning around the hanger once you've worn something, or by hanging a piece of ribbon on your rail and using that as a marker between what you've worn and what you haven't. Over time you can start to get a sense of your most loved items, and then play around with what you don't wear. In our online course Sustainable Style Studio, we set challenges to create new outfits from our not worn section to see if we can incorporate it into our outfit choices more often.
I also know that many of us have way more clothes than we have space for, and if you're in a rush in the mornings, you're more likely to grab what you can see than start rummaging through what you can't. In our free Facebook Group, we run a wardrobe revival week twice a year where we pack away out of season clothes and hang and organise everything else so it's easy to see and access.
2. Repair and upcycle old clothing.
Often we don't wear something because a button has come off, or it needs the hem tacking back up, or it just needs some minor alteration to make it a better shape or fit. Getting good at these repairs will help keep your clothes wearable for longer. If you're not skilled with a needle and thread, you can find lots of helpful tutorial videos on YouTube or on Love Your Clothes.
You might find that great fun can be had upcycling old pieces of clothing to make something new. Try Love Your Clothes or ideas on Pinterest to get started.
3. Stick to my style and colour palette.
When we wear clothes that we feel good in, that really reflect who we are and how we want to express ourselves, then we are much more likely to wear those clothes more often. In my dress agency I am often given clothes to sell that have never been worn either because they were a mistaken sale purchase (where the buying decision was more about price than about likeability) or it was a gift from someone else and it's has never felt quite right for the recipient.
Understanding our unique style can help stop mistaken purchases that don't get worn, and knowing which palette of colours best suits our individual tones means that more things in the wardrobe will go together. It's well worth investing some time and funds into understanding more about this so that buying decisions are more closely aligned to what we know we love and to what suits us best.
4. Buy less new and pick made to last pieces in natural fabrics.
If you're cutting down your spending on new clothing, it's a good idea to start with a list of what you actually need. As part of our wardrobe revival weeks, we always create a list of what is needed for the coming season.
When you're at the shop changing rooms trying something on, ask yourself these key questions:
Do I need it?
Can I think of at least three occasions when I might wear it?
Are there at least two other items in my wardrobe at home that this will go with?
Does it fit me well and is it comfortable?
Do I love it?
If you answer no to any of the above then it's not likely to make the cut as a coveted piece in your wardrobe and so might be better left in the shop.
If you are at the shops buying something new, it's worth checking the label to see what it is made of. Polyester and other man made fabrics take far longer to decompose that natural materials, so look out for cottons (organic if possible), linens and wool fabrics. If you can, go for the best you can afford on the assumption that made to last pieces in classic styles will last a long time (and therefore have less carbon impact overall), rather than two or three cheaper items that won't see in next year.
If you're going to commit to less new clothing, start by challenging yourself to no new clothes for a period of time. In Secondhand September, Oxfam encourage us to do it for 30 days. In Sustainable Style Studio we do it for 3 months. Work out your own rules or check out our blog on not buying new for a while. If you have reluctant teenagers in the house, a good approach to adopt that seems to work is to say 'Secondhand First'. That way if anyone wants say a new pair of jeans, set a challenge to find it secondhand first before resorting to a new pair if you can't find them.
5. Buy second-hand whenever possible.
Secondhand shopping is (in my humble opinion) the ultimate win-win shopping experience. We're keeping clothes in the use cycle for longer, clearing clutter from one persons wardrobe, and delivering a much loved bargain addition to someone else's. We all still need a new sense of our identity as we grow and evolve through life, but that only has to be new to us. Secondhand clothes can be found in excellent quality, at great prices, and come with less of a fashion dictation meaning more freedom for you the buyer to pick colours and styles you love. And when you're buying pieces across different brands and decades, you are more likely to create an interesting and individual wardrobe for yourself, whilst helping various charities, individuals and recycling companies along the way!
If you've never done it before, check out a local dress agency or start by typing your favourite brands and your size into the search bar on eBay. There's lots of places to shop for preloved treasure online, or head down to your local charity shop. My book In the Jumble explores lots of different places to find amazing secondhand clothes.
By adopting one or all of these ideas, you can be working towards a much more sustainable wardrobe in 2023!
Have you got other ideas to help with creating a more sustainable wardrobe? If so, add it to the comments below and please do share this with someone who you think might benefit from it.
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- Tags: Buy Less New, Charity Shops, Colour Analysis, Preloved Clothes, Recycling, Second Hand Clothes, Second Hand Clothes Shopping Online, secondhand clothes shopping, Slow Fashion, Sustainable Fashion, Wardrobes