The world of sustainable fashion can be quite confusing. There is a lot to take in and it can be hard to navigate. That being said, a lot of the information tends to focus on how to purchase sustainably. There isn’t so much information about how to be sustainable with your clothing past the purchasing stage, and so I wanted to create this guide to show how you can make the entire lifecycle of your clothing sustainable. This is especially important considering the usage phase of clothing is actually much more energy intensive than the manufacturing of the garment. So this post gives you a step by step guide through all parts of the clothing lifecycle and how to go about each of them in a sustainable way.
You might have been expecting this guide to start with how to purchase sustainable fashion, however I think it’s very important to say that the most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe. The absolute best thing you can do is simply buy less. That means that no new garments are being created, and there is no negative environmental or social effect. I have written this blog post about how to learn to love the clothes that you already have in your wardrobe, because this is truly the most important thing you can do.
For a lot of us, we already have much more clothing in our wardrobe than we actually need. There are probably 100’s of new combinations you could try out using the clothing you already own. It’s a good idea to take a look through your wardrobe in order to actually remember what you have, because its not uncommon to forget about a few of your items.
You probably have a lot of clothing in your wardrobe that is still in good condition and could be worn for many more years yet, before considering making a new purchase be absolutely sure that you don’t have something in your wardrobe already that will fulfil the purpose of the new item.
Make Good Purchases:
Even though the best thing you can do is buy less, there are situations in which you will end up needing to buy new clothes. In this case there are a number of steps you can take to make sure you’re making the best purchase you possibly can in terms of ethics and sustainability.
Second Hand First:
If it’s possible to get the item you need second hand, then do this first. By buying an item second hand you’re not placing more demand for new garments to be made. You’re using something that was already in existence and probably giving it a second life (even though you might be surprised how many items in charity shops still have the tags on).
There are a number of ways you can shop second hand. You can go and check out your local charity shops if in-person shopping is your thing. That way you can browse through the clothes and you have the option to try on if you want too. I also find that purchasing in charity shops is definitely the cheapest way to buy second hand. I’ve bought a few top’s in charity shops for just £1.
Another option is using online platforms such as eBay and Depop. These prove particularly popular because you have the ability to search for the specific items, you’re after. They also have a much wider range on offer than if you were to go into charity shops. Depop has the liking function so you can like an item and take a bit of time to think about if you actually want to make the purchase.
Getting clothing from friends and family is also a great option. For a start, it’s free! Your family and friends will probably be glad you’re willing to take their old clothes off their hands as it saves them having to donate them themselves. You’ll also find that if you let people know you’re willing to take their old clothes then they will automatically come to you – I’ve got a new pair of Levi’s jeans out of this!
Clothing rental is quite a new phenomenon and not something I have tried personally. It hasn’t quite made it into the mainstream yet, but it is popular among those looking for special occasion wear. It makes a lot of sense, as most people only wear things to special occasions once or twice, so why not rent it? This newsletter from Ruth MacGlip talks a bit more in-depth about rental fashion and also lists a number of rental services you can use.
A couple of other options to find clothes second hand is to go to vintage fairs; these seem to happen quite often at universities or in university towns, so if you’re a student this could be a good option for you. The only disadvantage here is that I find they tend to be quite expensive. You could also attend clothes swaps, I see these advertised quite frequently in ethical fashion circles online, the idea is you turn up with some clothes you want to donate and you exchange these for clothes someone else has bought.
Sometimes you might not be able to find the item you want second hand, or you may be looking for an item that isn’t available second hand. In this case you may want to consider buying new, but from an ethical brand.
The good thing is that ethical brands are springing up everywhere. The bad thing is that it can actually be quite hard to determine if a brand is truly ethical. If you take a brands word for it then Boohoo, H&M and Primark are all ‘ethical brands’ but this is not the case. I have only ever made one purchase from an ethical brand, which was a pair of black leggings from People Tree. There are a lot of other similar brands out there, in fact there are far too many to list on this blog post. So my advice would be to download the app ‘Good on You’ you can search a particular item you are looking for and it will give you a list of brands that have high ethics, sustainability and animal credentials. Alternatively, if you’ve found a brand that seems ethical but you’re not sure, you can look it up on Good on You and see what rating they give it.
I would also recommend just getting involved with ethical fashion circles online as there will often be posts about ethical brands!
As I said at the beginning of this post, most of the energy is actually used after the purchase of an item of clothing, so it’s really important to maintain your clothing and make it last as long as possible, with as little energy as possible.
The most important thing you can do here is read the label on your clothing. If it says hand wash, then hand wash it! Washing a piece of clothing incorrectly is a fast way to destroy it. Secondly, wash on low temperatures 40c or below – this is a really simple way to save energy, and unless you have some really dirty clothing, there is no need to wash at a higher temperature. It’s also important to pick a good detergent. There are a number of eco-friendly options on the market. Personally I use cruelty-free powder detergent in a cardboard box from Tesco. I have also heard a lot of good things about the eco-egg which is a skin-friendly, eco-friendly, vegan alternative to your traditional laundry detergent. I went to twitter to ask about more eco-friendly detergent options and the eco-egg was mentioned several times. Other than that cleaning brand Ecover’s detergent was mentioned as well as a suggestion to go to your local package-free shop and see what’s on offer. This post on Sustainable and Social also has a number of recommendations for detergent, and check out this post on Pink’s Charming for a more in-depth guide on eco-friendly laundry.
Another important thing to take into account in your laundry is micro-fibres. Most of us have clothing that is made out of plastic, in fact it is likely that the majority of your wardrobe is made out of plastic. This means that when you wash those clothes, bits of the plastic break off and end up entering our water system. The effects of both animal life and human life aren’t fully understood yet, but it’s looking as though this could be seriously harmful. I have a whole blog post here which has much more in-depth information about microfibres. In that post I recommend either purchasing a Guppy Friend washing bag or a Cora Ball, both of which are devices that will capture some of the microfibres and prevent them from entering our water system.
A really important part of extending the life of clothing is to repair them. Unfortunately, a lot of us will just abandon clothing the second it gets a rip or hole. This mindset has come about with the rise of fashion that’s so cheap we feel okay with throwing it away the second there’s a problem with it.
It’s really easy to learn the basics of sewing and that way you can fix any little holes or rips you get in your clothing. YouTube has thousands of videos on how to fix and repair pretty much any item of clothing you can think of. If you need something done that seems a little more complex, don’t forget that tailors are still a thing. A quick google search of ‘Tailor (location you live)’ will bring up tailors near you that will be able to do more complex fixes.
The idea of upcycling can also fit into this category. If something is broken, you could just turn it into a totally new garment. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be broken – it might just be something you’re not sure you like anymore, upcycling is a great way to make it into something new and exciting that you do like. Again, YouTube is a great place for this, there are so many fun and creative tutorials teaching you how to make your old clothes into something new.
Even at the end of a garment’s life, care should be taken to make sure it’s disposed of sustainably. If your clothing is still in good condition, there are a number of ways to get rid of it. The simplest is probably to donate them to charity. I find that most charity shops are more than happy to take donations of clothes. Alternatively, if any of your friends or family want your old clothes, that’s a super easy way to get rid of them.
You can also sell your clothes on Depop or eBay. I know this is a really popular option and one thing that’s great about selling your clothes is that you can be sure that it’s going to someone who will use it and hopefully give it a good second life. I have sold a few things on Depop but found that it can take several months for items to actually sell, so be patient!
If your clothes aren’t in good enough condition to be donated or sold, then consider recycling or upcycling the old fabrics. A quick search for ‘upcycling fabrics’ on Pinterest brings up a lot of fun ways to re-use your old fabrics. If you don’t feel like getting creative, there may be a textile recycling bank near you where you can drop off your textiles and the council will decide how to reuse them. Check out this website to find your nearest textile recycling bank.
A Small Note:
In this guide I have tried to cover absolutely everything, and it could be a little overwhelming. But I want to say that it can take years to get to the stage where you are doing everything on this list. Even though I’ve written the guide, I don’t do everything in it perfectly. That being said, it is something I am continually working on. But I want to say that in life there are often money or time constraints that may make some of these a lot harder to do. If you are constrained by certain factors, don’t feel bad. Any action you take is appreciated and will go a long way. It should also be said that some of the best things you can do are also some of the easiest – buying less, washing your clothes properly and disposing responsibly.
Is there anything you think I missed and should add to the guide? Let me know in the comments!