How can we help women (and girls) care about their clothes?

How many articles of clothing from your wardrobe have you left untouched in the past week? The past month?

If you’re like me, you probably have more clothes than you can wear on a regular basis. Many sit on the hangers, untouched, or end up on the floor after a hope of being worn — only for me to opt for a different piece before rushing out the door. I’ve been in the process of reducing my wardrobe, an attempt to get down to the bare essentials. But it’s incredibly daunting. With my favorite fashion companies having sales a dozen times a season and with trends shifting at a breakneck pace, I feel compelled to keep up.

As a result of this excess of clothing, we often neglect our garments. We treat them as disposable; we wear a garment once and then decide to pass it on (or worse, throw it away). We opt for an outfit envied from an Instagram post only to realize there are not enough occasions to wear it. We allow unworn items to continue taking up space in our lives in case there is that one opportunity we can wear it. We notice a rip or missing button in a well-worn top, and we discard the item without thinking twice. After all, it was only $5. We can easily pick up another at the nearest Forever 21.

This mindset has more repercussions than just on one’s personal finances. Unbeknownst to many, the fashion industry is actually one of the most polluting industries to exist. Women tend to discard so much clothing that the world’s supply of used women’s clothing is seven times that of men’s used clothing. Our textile waste has extremely damaging consequences on the planet, from the energy that goes into producing synthetic materials to the amount of time that they sit in landfills, emitting toxins to the earth and air. It’s astounding that many of us eschew plastic products like plastic water bottles and plastic bags, but we don’t pay attention to how much plastic is in our actual clothing, and how readily we discard those items.

With this in mind, we should be making efforts to reduce our textile waste in addition to taking other measures to collectively improve the planet. But that’s often easier said than done, especially when it comes to fashion. How can we make ethical decisions each time we need to purchase clothing?

Below, I’ve put together an infographic (originally posted on Instagram) outlining some of the ways we can make better decisions when it comes to fashion. It doesn’t have to be difficult, confusing, or troublesome to care for our clothes. While these only scratch the surface, I hope it serves as a starting point for many other women to begin a more fashionably conscientious lifestyle. We should do our part to care for our own clothes, and to help other women do the same.

Shop local

Rather than going to the nearest fashion chain store, choose to support local stores. If you’re shopping on a budget, thrift and secondhand stores are often your best bet. Local boutiques are often a good option if you are looking to support smaller-scale designers, but be careful of boutiques who sell cheap garments for an inflated cost. Ultimately, you want to aim for companies/vendors who utilize local factories, where the labor laws are more likely to protect workers. (Research is key in this step!)

Know your fabrics

While there are pros and cons to both natural and synthetic materials, synthetics often deal much greater damage on the planet. Not only do they have a short life span, resulting in clothing being poor quality, but they are chemically- and environmentally-intensive in their production and afterlife. Always check the label for what materials are used in a garment, and opt for environmentally-friendly fabrics whenever possible.

Upkeep your items

For many of the other things you own, you probably wouldn’t choose to throw them away when they break. With clothing, the repair options are limitless and often very inexpensive. Learning how to sew will allow you to fix many simple problems, or you can utilize your local tailor for any repairs you would rather have done professionally. Even for non-damaged items, such as jeans that don’t fit around the waist or pants that are too long, your tailor can revitalize your garment that would otherwise look sloppy and/or end up in the trash.

Opt for expensive

We’re conditioned to believe that the cheaper the clothing is, the better. But as it turns out, cheap clothing is often not created with the customer’s best interests in mind. Cheap clothing is always the result of a company cutting costs where they matter the most — whether they’re using poor quality materials, exploiting factory workers, or any of the other possibilities of skimping on expenses. While pricey clothing is not an option for everyone, you should opt for expensive clothing if you’re financially capable. (However, keep in mind that expensive does not always mean better quality. Research the brand and look at the materials to use your best judgment.)

Pass on

For the clothes you find yourself not getting the most use from, always pass them on to a local center. This could be a charitable organization or local thrift store. Use your best judgment when donating to chains; often they only sell a fraction of their donations, and the rest is discarded or sold overseas.

Shop smart

There’s no all-inclusive guide to shopping ethically, as the industry is changing every day. Rather than confining yourself to a narrow realm of brands, you can equip yourself with the tools needed to shop smart as a citizen, rather than a consumer. In practicing wise shopping decisions for each of our needs, especially with clothing, we can take steps toward becoming more responsible for our clothing, our community, and our world.