Fashion is a big part of our culture, but it’s taking a toll on the environment. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it can take up to 3,781 liters of water just to make a single pair of jeans, taking into account the production until the final delivery of the product. And it’s not just the waste of water, other factors are having a negative impact on the environment. The new concept of “fast fashion”, for instance, which encourages low cost clothing and new styles weekly has resulted in the overproduction of clothes that will ultimately end up in a landfill. Our love affair with capitalism also encourages purchasing cheaply made, new clothes in place of durable, sustainable options. There are ways to combat these problems and live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Here are 10 tips to green-up your closet.
1.) Shop Resale
With the exception of socks and underwear, I strive to buy all of my clothing from resale shops. Used clothing is less expensive and requires no further production, Not to mention you’re supporting the local economy instead of a major chain by buying used clothing. Opting to buy clothes that have already been made instead of new ones can also help curb the harmful working conditions abroad often found textile factories. Human rights violations in the clothing industry depend largely on supply and demand. Human Rights Watch and other organizations are working to advocate for better wages and conditions for employees abroad. Ending the demand of clothes produced abroad can help curb these violations.
As an enormous advocate for minimalism, I must admit it’s hard not to buy new clothing especially when I’m shopping resale. However, you don’t need a huge closet full of clothing to make a fashion statement. With the right types of accessories, you can individualize any outfit even if you’re wearing the same blouse and pants. Cleaning out the closet is also beneficial to one’s peace of mind. Having less junk to take care of is an enormous weight off of my shoulders. Whenever I clean out my closet, I divide my clothes into three categories, those to sell, those to donate, and those to repair.
3.) Sell or Donate
After cleaning out my closet and making my piles, I sell and donate clothing that is in good condition. Even as a minimalist, I was shocked to see just how much I had to get rid of. However, clothes must be disposed of sustainably otherwise they’ll end up in the landfill. It’s so easy to just throw it away, but there are plenty of people out there who might want your old clothes. I’ve tried selling some, but oftentimes the clothes I have to sell are either not in style or not in good enough condition. Therefore, I often donate my gently used clothing. Remember, if it’s not in good condition, don’t dump it on non-profit organizations like Goodwill or in my hometown, YOTO. Clothes that cannot be sold or donated can be put in the repair pile or used for various projects.
In today’s waste-encouraging society, it’s so much easier just to go out and buy a new pair of clothing instead of mending that tear or sewing on that button. Sadder still is the fact that my generation often lacks the necessary skills to repair old clothing. I have fond memories of my grandmother teaching me how to sew a button on a piece of fabric. My mother is also quite the seamstress and taught us how to mend tears. I’m not as good as them and you can often see my stitching, but nonetheless, I’m determined to repair my damaged clothes instead of just throwing them away, and I’m learning new skills in the process! It feels good.
5.) Upcycle Old Clothing
If a piece of clothing cannot be sold, donated, or is beyond repair, try to refrain from chucking it in the waste bin. Instead consider what projects you could use that scrap of clothing for. Socks are actually really handy dusters when pulled over your hand. Any piece of fabric could be used as an old rag for staining wood, cleaning surfaces, etc. If you have a friend who is artsy or uses fabric for various purposes consider giving them your clothing scraps. Anything can have a use before it gets discarded. Check Pinterest for ideas on how to upcycle your old clothes.
6.) Buy Sustainable Fabrics
Natural clothing is not only more environmentally friendly, it’s actually healthier for you too. Natural plant fibers like cotton, hemp, and others allow the skin to breathe, are more durable, and much more economical than synthetic fibers. And while not all of my clothes are 100% cotton, bamboo, linen, or wool, I’ve taken to looking at the tags when shopping for clothes.
7.) Buy From Green Companies
There are a number of clothing industries striving to produce eco-friendly apparel. Supporting these industries instead of the major chains that crank out cheaply made clothes can have an enormous impact on the environment and the well-being of garment industry employees. Many of the stores upcycle old fabrics or only produce clothing from the sustainable materials mentioned above. They are also more likely to be fair trade and advocate for human rights. Here are some links listing eco-friendly clothing industries to consider next time you go shopping:
8.) Buy Durable
One year I went shopping for hiking boots. I was torn between two pairs of boots which looked about the same. One of them was $79 and the other was $150. “What’s the difference?” I asked the attendee. She said to me, “You just have to try them on and see.” I’m very frugal with my money and was leaning towards the cheaper pair until I tried them on and walked around in them. The higher priced boots made such a difference and even after 10 years I still have that very same pair of hiking boots. Sometimes spending a little extra money on an item that’s better made will save you a lot of money in the long run. I’m so glad I chose the more durable pair of boots and I follow the same philosophy when shopping for socks, bras, and other clothing items I need to last a long time. Cheaper is not always better.
9.) Wash and Dry Sustainably
How you handle your clothing can also have an impact on the environment. Did you know most people use more detergent than is necessary to get their clothing clean? Only a small amount of soap is needed, not to mention there are plenty of earth-friendly detergents out there that don’t have the same harmful chemicals as your name brand options. Also consider skipping the dryer and line-drying your clothes instead. Line-drying is not only better for the environment, but it takes less of a toll on your delicate clothing items. I personally love drying my clothes outdoors.
10.) Take Care
Finally, take care of your clothes. By making your clothes last as long as possible you can avoid having to buy new ones. Having less to maintain makes it easier to take care of the items you have (hence my constantly promoting minimalism). Make sure you mend any holes before they turn into big ones, take care of your shoes and other clothing items, and follow the instructions for cleaning and maintaining. For more information on greening-up your closet, check out some of these websites: