One of today’s more popular topics is the fashion industry and the problems within it – including poor working conditions overseas, toxic chemicals and dyes used to grow and maintain fabrics, and the overwhelming waste issue. Consumers are becoming aware of these issues and are looking for alternatives. Consumers, millennials especially, are pushing back and demanding transparency from the brands they buy from.
New (and old) clothing brands are learning how to keep their businesses fair, sustainable and transparent as possible and it is easier than ever to cultivate a sustainable and conscious closet. Here are a few tips for those looking to make a change for the better and curate a better closet.
1. Value and take good care of the clothes you already own
Taking care of the clothes you own is the best and most basic thing you can do to build a more ethical and conscious closet. Repair what's broken, handwash what needs to be handwashed, fold heavy sweaters instead of hanging them, and so on. Remember the dry cleaners? Yeah, take those beautiful silks to the dry cleaners to keep them smooth and luxurious. Clothes that are well-taken care of last much longer than those that aren’t cared for properly. This helps with the life of the garment which means buying less, thereby reducing waste.
A great way to make the most of what you currently have in your closet is to organize and care for your keeper items. Purging is the first step in caring for the wardrobe you already have. Clearing the clutter helps to visually see what you love wearing and in turn, gives your closet a fresh feel. Creating a closet that flows and feels inspiring helps as you are getting dressed in the morning and can change your mindset from feeling like you have nothing to wear to one of excitement to get to wear your favorite sweater.
2. Buy vintage when possible
Another great, budget-friendly alternative to buying ethical brands is to repurpose pre-worn clothes, and save them from becoming just another thing in a landfill.
Giving goods a second life cuts into the supply chain by reusing an item that would have otherwise been sent to a landfill, and by reducing the energy needed to produce it. You're also not contributing to the cycle of mass production.
There are also many companies utilizing vintage fabrics, both by revamping used clothing and sourcing deadstock materials. Re/done has had tremendous success by modernizing vintage denim. Buying vintage almost ensures a unique wardrobe and you definitely won’t be matching your bestie. You can find some really incredible and insanely affordable treasures rummaging through your local thrift and vintage stores. And finally, it gives the clothes a new life and reduces the net waste of our industry!
3. Go for clothes that are high quality
No matter the brand, buying clothes that are well-made and consist of high-quality materials is more eco-friendly than buying lower-quality pieces, because they'll last longer and need to be replaced less often. And less closet turnover means what? Exactly, less shopping overall!
Cotton and leather industries are particularly problematic, due to the toxic chemicals used to spray crops or treat materials. The good news is, there are organic mills here in the U.S. that operate with sustainable practices. Organic certification of, say, cotton includes important labor protections along with strict guidelines for growing and processing the cotton.
Besides looking for organic cottons, customers can keep their eyes out for clothing composed of more sustainable materials. Make sure to read labels and stick to materials such as tencel, linen, alpaca wool, silk and recycled fibers when shopping for new clothes.
4. Shop less, choose better: only buy pieces you love 100%
The fast fashion industry may have gotten its name from the quick rate at which catwalk designs are delivered to the masses, but it just as accurately describes the quality of those pieces. When something is created/designed and manufactured in 3 weeks (the typical turn around for fast fashion brands), the attention to detail is slim to none and quality control is nearly impossible.
Because the fashion industry is turning around new looks in such short time frames, we, in turn, are shopping more frequently than ever. We pick up new pieces here and there, because it's all so cheap and won't break the bank. The result: A closet full of so-so stuff that we are not too crazy about. And so we keep on shopping to fill that void, to replace imperfect pieces with better alternatives and to finally feel like we have enough to wear... it's a never-ending cycle. [Note from Rosie: if you haven't read Into Mind, you must.]
So how can you break that cycle? Start choosing better and thinking slow. Slow fashion is a movement gaining momentum in response to fast fashion’s cheap, disposable clothes that come at the very high cost of the rampant human rights abuses and environmental degradation. It connects with other slow living movements that ask us to slow down and live mindfully.
5. Support ethical brands
A huge way to minimize a business's carbon footprint is to keep production local. Less travel means less fuel, and therefore less carbon dioxide emission. Many local manufacturers have much lower production minimums than factories overseas, which means less material will be wasted.
Keeping manufacturing close (and domestic in general) also ensures ethical treatment of employees and fair working conditions, since — unlike many other countries where garments are produced — U.S. law demands it. While buying from brands that manufacture overseas can often be cheaper, it may come at the cost of utilizing child labor, or deadly factory fires due to unsafe conditions.
There are some amazing brands out there that are taking a stance against the demands of the fast fashion industry and thinking differently about our clothes. I am starting a brand, Two Fold, to do just that. If you are interested in in building a more ethical and conscious closet, take a moment to check out my new collection at www.twofoldclothing.com.