Stack of three knitted jumpers neutral pastels

Is green your colour? How to create an environmentally friendly wardrobe

“Can you have a stylish wardrobe and still be environmentally conscious?”

Can fashion ever be green? Fast fashion produces 10% of all of humanity’s carbon emissions. It’s also one of the largest contributors of micro plastics to the oceans and is the second-largest consumer of water on the planet.

With all that in mind, and knowing that 85% of textiles produced each year get thrown away (not recycled), can you have a stylish wardrobe and still be environmentally conscious?

The good news is, yes you can. Read on for the first easy steps in greening your wardrobe and how to start shopping, and styling, sustainably.

Take stock

The first step is to conduct an audit of what’s currently in your wardrobe. This way you can see what you have, what might go with what (it’s easy to forget) and what you’re likely to need over the next year.

Conducting a wardrobe audit is also a great chance for you to interrogate each piece of clothing you own and assess whether it still has a place in your wardrobe. If you’re not comfortable in it, if it doesn’t match anything else, if it’s broken or doesn’t fit, then it’s time to consider if you’re better off without it.

DON’T THROW ANYTHING AWAY! Any clothing that’s in good condition can be laundered and taken to a charity shop. Most broken things can be fixed (see below) and everything else can be recycled at your nearest textile recycling point.
Man sits in front of his wardrobe holding up t-shirt

Fix it up

If there’s anything in your wardrobe that needs fixing, then it’s time to get your sewing machine, needle, thread and iron out. By learning basic fixing techniques, your clothes will last much longer.

Hems can easily be sewn back up or ironed into place with press-on tape. Buttons can be resewn by hand. For tears, patches, darts and anything else, there are plenty of articles and videos on our blog, social media and the internet.

We have a blog post explaining the basic mending skills that everyone should know here.

Shop second-hand

To cut down on the amount of clothing waste being sent to landfill or burned (currently equivalent to one full garbage truck a second), buying second-hand (or pre-worn) clothing is a great way to shop consciously.

If you can’t find anything in your style or size, don’t worry, you can upcycle! Upcycling is a way of updating, refreshing, or refashioning textiles into a new garment. Fans of the Great British Sewing Bee will be familiar with the upcycling challenge, but there are plenty of blogs, videos and social media accounts dedicated to this growing trend.

For inspiration you can even check out our video on how to upcycle a man’s shirt into a cute top here.

If there are no second-hand shops close to you, then there are plenty of places online – from auction sites, to pre-loved boutiques and clothing rental providers.

Second-hand clothing is usually much cheaper (unless you’re buying good quality vintage, rare or couture pieces) – saving both the environment and your wallet in the process!

Check it out

Whilst we can aspire to buying everything second-hand, we know that’s not possible. For example, no one wants to wear someone else’s undergarments. And sometimes we need an exact item, like a black pair of trousers for work, that we just can’t find.

If you want to try and buy new clothes as sustainably as possible there are some things you can do each time you shop:

  • Check how it’s made – check how tight the stitching is, how well made the hems are and if there’s a lining. Better made clothes last longer and can be repaired more easily.
  • Swap materials – washing clothes releases billions of micro plastic threads into our waterways each year. Choose a natural fabric (organic cotton, bamboo, linen, hemp, modal, Lyocell etc), over a plastic based one (nylon, polyester, spandex, Lycra etc). Natural fabrics are also breathable: you’ll stay cooler and they’re less likely to go smelly over time.
  • Go organic – choosing organic cotton is a must. Cotton is one of the most water hungry crops on the planet, and takes a lot of pesticides to grow. Organic cotton minimises both water and pesticide use. If organic cotton is outside of your budget range, try hemp or bamboo clothing instead.
  • Brand homework – some brands are actively trying to reduce the amount of plastics, chemicals and waste in their supply chains. Some brands support fair trade, so the people making your garments have access to a living wage, education and other support.
  • Spend more, buy less – usually better made clothes are more expensive. However, it’s better to buy one pair of well-made trousers that will last a few years, than something that will wear through after one season of washing and wearing.
  • Try it on – if you don’t feel comfortable in it, don’t buy it. Clothing is an investment into your personal identity. If you don’t feel right in something, then the likelihood is you won’t wear it.

 

Revitalise

Bored of that black jumper that’s been languishing in the back of the cupboard? Instead of throwing it out, why not personalise it to give it a new look?

Whether it’s sewing on beads and buttons, embroidering with an image or motto, adding appliqué or adding a bit of sparkle with diamante, personalising will give you a new and totally unique look.

Swap

Bored of what’s in your wardrobe, but love something your best friend has? I bet they’ve grown tired of what’s in their closet too! Why not host a clothes swap with your friends or local community? It’s also a good excuse to get together and make some new friends.

three women hold up a pink sequined dress

Make it yourself

Many fast-fashion companies outsource their garment making to countries with cheaper labour costs, and less restrictive worker and environmental legislation. This means their production costs are cheaper, so they can offer us more clothing for less. However, it can also mean that workers and the environment suffer for our addiction to shopping.
a woman holds up a brown dress she has sewn
To have more control over this process, and to build a tailored, totally bespoke wardrobe, why not get out your sewing machine and make it yourself? While this may seem daunting to new sewists, there are many patterns made with the beginner in mind. There’s also a thriving online sewing community offering tips, tricks and help to those just starting out.

Like when buying new clothes, it’s worth buying fabrics that are made of natural, recycled or environmentally safe fabrics and from organic and fair trade suppliers.

No matter how often you change your style, there are many ways to make sure looking good doesn’t have to cost the earth.

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