‘Sustainable’ Living, Starting With Your Wardrobe
As circularity gains momentum, Chlöe Hicks questions “how sustainable is ‘sustainable’?”
By now we’ve seen the word ‘sustainable’ be introduced into every sector of our lives, but lately it’s been fashions turn. And as it should be. According to TRAID, a London charity and secondhand store network aiming to stop textile waste, the UK discards 300,000 tonnes of clothing each year (Source: Traid.org). In other words, an unfathomable amount of waste.
The pandemic not only accelerated a pre-existing critique of consumerism, but also the increased importance of sustainability in purchasing decisions, and the rise of circular business models eg. resale and rental platforms. (Source: BoF and McKinsey)
However, even though creating a sustainable lifestyle for ourselves is important for the future of our planet, we must remember that just because a product claims it’s ‘sustainable’ doesn’t mean that this is the best purchase in helping you to create this positive lifestyle change.
“The sustainability world on social media is driven by consumption. It has created a monster and continues to perpetuate the incorrect belief that we have to buy our way into sustainability and we need to do so perfectly.” — Leah Thomas on High Snobiety
The word ‘sustainable’ can mean many different things depending on who you ask, and this changes even more so when you take into account how brands haphazardly describe their products as ‘sustainable’. Are they referring to the fabric dye they use, the materials, the manufacturing processes, the delivery, how their workforce are looked after..? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell.
Due to the fact that this word is bandied around so much, there’s little clarity for consumers on its true meaning and it’s difficult to know where to start the journey when it comes to your wardrobe choices.
One thing I realised later into my journey of creating a more sustainable lifestyle is that the most sustainable item is the one currently sitting in your wardrobe. Meaning, buying a product labelled ‘sustainable’ is still buying more product - it’s still adding to your eventual waste. Research actually shows that we buy more when items are labeled with words like “recycled” or “circular”, so i’ll be offering some other avenues for you to dive into in this post.
Circularity is gaining momentum with ‘the R’s’…
Below are some tips to take away for how to develop a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as wardrobe.
Refuse — make smarter purchasing decisions eg. refusing any unnecessary packaging
Reduce — use the minimum amount of material required eg. print double sided if possible
Reuse — select reusable alternatives eg. plastic straws and takeaway coffee cups
Repurpose — adapt items for a different purpose, also known as ‘up-cycling’
Recycle — collect and process materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash, and maybe turn them into new products
Repair — mend, fix or refurbish things you already own to give them a second life
“In essence, a single garment can create value repeatedly — through sale and resale, repeated rental, or being sold, repaired, returned, refurbished or recycled, and resold again to start the loop over.” — BOF x McKinsey State of Fashion 2021 Report
When I first heard about the concept of fashion rental, I was beyond confused - more specifically, thinking ‘who could rent something’? I wouldn’t want to give it back. But, with the easing of lockdowns and bigger social gatherings going ahead I now completely understand the thought process behind it.
Let’s say, I was going to a wedding - this would be a perfect opportunity to rent an item of clothing. I don’t have a wedding guest outfit hanging in my wardrobe, as I imagine not many of us do, and if I were to buy a fit for that one day you can bet it would only be worn a handful of times. Which of course, is wasteful.
Alongside giving you the flexibility to add to your wardrobe on demand, another perk of fashion rental platforms is that you can wear brands and pieces that may not normally be accessible to you.
You can see some of my favourite rentable pieces from By Rotation below. I will definitely be looking to rent any one-time event outfits from here on out.
Repair, Revamp, Re-Style
Revamping the older pieces towards the back of your wardrobe is also a great way to improve your circularity.
My favourite way to do this at the minute is to cut up old jeans. The jeans where the rips have just gone that little bit too far - just chop them at the length you prefer, fray the edge by pulling at the threads gently or flip the hem inside and sew to get a more perfect finish. This is a fun way to create unique pieces that are just for you.
Another great way to re-style forgotten items is to dig deep into the back of your wardrobe, take everything out that you’ve not worn in a while and try and create a look with things you might not have originally thought about putting together. This is so easy to do — plus, you might even find some gems you’d forgotten about or some pieces you’ve grown out of that you could sell on.
‘Set up swap-shop’
Something my friends and I have always done is swap or borrow clothes from each other — it also makes for a fun evening in with the group. I have a purple two piece and a racing jacket that quite literally everybody I know has worn at some point. Well, not far off, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When nights out were ‘a thing’, my friend and I started swapping outfits each week, so we were each wearing something that felt fresh, new, and that made us feel good, whilst also protecting the planet.
When we swap outfits, we’re increasing the products lifetime, and not wasting the plastic, water, etc. needed to create and deliver a new garment for the sake of a ‘new fit’. Although this change might seem small, it’s a step towards understanding the importance of lessening our consumption, and over the course of many months (and many nights out) it makes a difference.
Swapping and borrowing from friends and family is for sure a tried, tested and approved tip from Chlöe.
Last Thoughts …
I love buying clothes as much as the next person, but it’s about making smart decisions. Do you really need that green top? I’m pretty sure you have two at home. You ‘need’ new denim shorts you say? What about those jeans you have that you never wear?
Now, don’t take this as me saying ‘never buy anything new ever again’. Because that just isn’t maintainable for most. It’s about building a healthy balance, and introducing small positive improvements that, when adopted by many can create drastic change for people and planet.