How to Create a Sustainable Wardrobe: The 10-Step Guide

By Olivia Mitchell of The Pearl Source

With pollution ever on the rise, eco-consciousness is becoming increasingly urgent.

Driving less and turning off the lights when you leave the room are a couple of ways to cut down on your carbon footprint, but did you ever consider how much emissions the clothes inside your closet create? Textile waste is a significant cause of pollution. The fashion industry pumps out upwards of 92 million tons of carbon annually. Americans are responsible for about 75 pounds of textile waste per person per year.

If that doesn’t sound like much, think again. It’s an increase of more than 750% since 1960! Investing in slow fashion is something you personally can do to help reduce waste and carbon output. Read our 10-step guide to learn how to create your own sustainable wardrobe.

Sustainable Wardrobe signs like less new = less co2

10 Steps to Create a Sustainable Wardrobe

  1. Stick With the Classics

One of the smartest things you can do to develop a sustainable wardrobe is to choose timeless pieces. Certain items like dress trousers, button-down shirts and pearls will always be in style, meaning you’ll get a lot of use out of them. For maximum versatility, stick to neutral tones like black, white, tan, and navy, and select classic shapes including straight-leg pants, V-neck tops and A-line skirts. When all your clothes work together, you need less. Take a pass on the trendy stuff and stick with foundational pieces that mix and match easily. Keep this in mind when purchasing gifts for others as well.

Wardrobe Basics:

  • Little black dress
  • Silk blouse
  • A-line skirt
  • Dress trousers
  • Cardigan
  • Blazer
  • Trench coat
  • Jeans
  • Leggings
  • White short sleeve tee shirt
  • White long sleeve tee
  • Cami/Tank top
  • Scarf
  • Low heels
  • Flats
  • Leather boots
  • Leather tote
  • Pearls
  • Diamond studs
  • Bracelet watch
  1. Quality Over Quantity

Your wardrobe essentials are meant to last so you’ll want to invest in pieces that will continue to look good through many washes and wears. The initial investment will be more than you’ll spend on a cheap knock-off, but fast fashion costs more in the long run because the items fall apart quickly. Also, when your clothes are high-quality, the risk of discovering a frayed hem, lost button, or broken zipper go way down. Sustainable clothing reduces stress.

vintage clothes on a rack
  1. Organize

Be honest, how many times have you gone out and bought a new top only to discover you had a similar item hanging in your closet at home? How often do you find yourself saying, ‘I know that shirt/skirt/pair of pants is in here somewhere!’? Another key step to creating a sustainable wardrobe is knowing what you already own. Organizing your closet saves brain space, time, and frustration. An all-around win.

  1. Research

Sustainable brands are receiving a lot of attention these days. But unfortunately a lot of the environmental claims are false.

‘Greenwashing’ is the practice of making a product sound more eco-friendly than it actually is. So do your research. Really investigate a brand’s credentials. Organic fibers are best as they cut down on water and pesticide use. Look for labels like GOTS and Oeko-Tex. Recycled fibers are good too. They keep more clothes out of landfill for longer.

The ethics of fast fashion production are another important consideration. Many employees in the industry are poorly paid and work in hazardous conditions. Too many children in developing nations work rather than attend school, limiting their future options.

  1. Rethink Your Habits

Do you use ‘retail therapy’ to give yourself a lift? Are you easily influenced by what you see online? Do you cringe when you look in your closet? How often do you say to yourself, ‘What was I thinking when I bought that?’

If any of these sound like you, it’s time to work on changing your shopping behaviors. It isn’t smart to go food shopping when you’re hungry. Ditto for clothes shopping, and add to that when you’re feeling depressed or otherwise low in self-confidence. Once you determine you really need something, make a list and stick to it. If you’re not sure if the piece is right, close the window or walk away. You can always come back later.

  1. Be Choosy

It’s important to have discipline when you shop. But let’s get real. Everyone likes to have a little fun once in a while.

When you’re in the mood for a splurge, make it worthwhile. If you’re not going to wear an item more than once or twice (such as an evening gown for a special event), shop consignment, rent, or ask around. Many designer brands are available for rent.

You can also find top brands at significant discounts on consignment sites like The RealReal. Alternatively, one of your friends might have the perfect thing you can borrow for free. (And you can undoubtedly return the favor one day.) If you decide to treat yourself to the occasional trendy item, make sure it is reasonably well-made. Check stitching, buttons, zippers and the like to determine that the piece won’t fall apart the first time you wear it. Do your best to minimize single-use purchases.

Always aim for 30 wears for everything you buy. This goes for accessories too. No matter how cheap, costume jewelry that turns your skin green is never a bargain.

  1. Read Labels

More things to scrutinize: content and cleaning labels. Not only do synthetics like polyester use non-renewable petroleum and create a lot of pollution in their production, they also don’t break down for hundreds of years. Synthetics are also much harder to recycle than natural fibers. Even small amounts of synthetics can make it impossible to recycle a garment, so look closely at the fiber content. As for the care instructions, think twice before buying anything that can’t be washed. The chemicals used in dry cleaning are bad for the environment and bad for you. Then there’s all those throwaway hangers and plastic wrap. The planet and your lungs will thank you for steering clear of dry clean-only clothes.

  1. Take Care

Washing your clothes correctly is yet another way to extend their life and make your wardrobe more sustainable.

Turn clothes right side out (or inside out if you need to protect a delicate feature like embroidery) before washing. Don’t chuck your pants into the machine with one leg inside out. This puts stress on the seams and causes them to wear out faster. Follow all of the instructions on the label. If it says ‘cold water wash,’ don’t cook your clothes in hot.

Drying your clothes on a line can help lengthen their lifespan and reduce energy use as well. If you only wear an item for an hour, you can probably wear it again before laundering. The way your clothes are washed is one aspect of care, but there are plenty more. Namely, treating your belongings with respect. Don’t toss your clothes on the floor when you take them off. Hang them up. Employ the Golden Rule toward everything you encounter.

  1. Repair, Repurpose, Recycle

Like most things, clothes will wear out eventually.

But you can slow the process by mastering a few basic sewing skills. Learn how to attach a button and sew a seam. Who knows, you may even discover a whole new hobby to enjoy. You can transform old clothes into new ones and create other crafts with them too, like turning an old pair of jeans into a tote bag or dog toy. Worn-out tee shirts can be braided into a rug. And just about any old piece of clothing can be used as a rag. Crafting is relaxing and rewarding, and acquiring new skills boosts self-esteem. Think creatively about all of your possessions before tossing them into the trash.

Crafting Ideas to Repurpose Old Clothes

Socks —> sock monkey, leg warmers, boot cuffs, coffee cozy

Tee shirts —> hair band, baby bib, child’s dress, scarf, quilt, braided bracelet

Jeans —> shorts, tote bag, pot holder, coaster, book cover

Sweaters —> fingerless gloves, slippers, beanie, pillow cover

  1. Love What You Own

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to reduce fashion waste is to wear what you already own. Most of us have more than enough (see tip #5). By ‘shopping’ inside your closet, you automatically reduce waste. Love your clothes, take care of them and, above all, wear them with pride! Donating is always an option, but much of what is donated still ends up in landfill. To share the love, consider creating a swap meet with friends and family so your less-worn pieces can be useful toward someone else.

buy less choose well make it last

In Conclusion

Using the tips above, you can stay fashionable while reducing your impact on the environment.

To recap: select your clothing and accessories carefully. Shop around. Think twice. Resist the urge to ‘buy now.’ Make ‘quality’ and ‘versatility’ your watch words. Scope out the secondhand shops first, and borrow or rent for special occasions. Read labels. Do your homework. Support brands that pay fair wages and use environmental practices. Take good care of your clothes. Once you’ve loved them to death, think about new ways to repurpose them. Devising rules about your actions sparks creativity.

Practice makes perfect, and your commitment to sustainability may well inspire others to join you in building a happier, healthier planet!