Recycle and donate unused clothes
Take a free weekend to evaluate your wardrobe. Consider what pieces you get the most use of and organize them in a way that those you value the most are at the forefront of your closet. For instance, I have a pair of green pants that make me happy every time I wear them. Those get folded at the front of my drawer, while the leggings I only wear to layer underneath in the cold get stored in the box under my bed.
Clear out any unused items, but do not throw them away. Donate, give to friends, sell online, or repurpose. There was a white sundress that I loved the fit of but fell far too short for me to ever be comfortable wearing. I took it as an opportunity to dust off my sewing machine and upcycle the dress into a blouse. No desire to pull out the needle and thread? There are a lot of clothing recycling options out there for pieces that are beyond repair or reuse. For example, Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program collects old athletic shoes from any brand that they grind up and use to create courts, fields, tracks, and playgrounds.
Reevaluate your clothing needs
Go cold turkey on buying any new items of clothing. For me, the decision to turn my back on fast fashion fell upon me in the Kohl’s clothing department. It was the tail end of summer and I was admiring a cozy sweater, thinking of fall and cooler weather. It struck me that I had three other sweaters just like this one collecting dust in my closet. Why was I about to drop $20 on another one? I left Kohl’s that day not knowing right away that I would never shop for clothes in a traditional retailer again, but looking back, that realization was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Of course, you should shop how you see fit when it comes to buying underwear, socks, and other intimates, but there is no reason to be buying brand new basics or special occasion outfits if you can easily get them secondhand or if you have a piece just like it at home already.
Care for your current closet
Take care of the clothes you do have. Read the label instructions. Hand wash or dry clean when is required and learn how different types of fabric hold up over time. My journey to forgoing fast fashion had me scrolling through forums and Wikipedia pages on how to make my pieces last as long as possible. Polyester, acrylic, spandex, and other fabrics derived from plastic have the shortest lifespan — despite the fact that they will live on in the environment for hundreds of years.
Synthetic clothing, which is made from plastic and oil byproducts, makes you stink. The fabric itself has excellent moisture-wicking abilities, but this means that the microscopic notches in the fabric that transfer sweat from inside the garment to outside leave tiny holes where bacteria thrives. Natural fibers, like cotton and wool, actively absorb the bacteria that makes sweat smell so bad.
The one downside to natural fabrics is that after multiple wears and washes with heavy detergents, they can be subject to pilling and fraying. Pilling can be easily remedied by using a fabric comb, a battery-operated fuzz remover, or a razor to gently shave pills from the surface of the garment. For frays or tears, it might be worth it to get familiar with using a sewing needle so that when an item you love does wear down, you can easily mend or patch it. Use the natural wear of clothing as an opportunity to get creative! It was from mending a hole in my jeans that I discovered my love for embroidery.
Thrift, thrift, thrift!
When you absolutely need a new item of clothing, buy secondhand first. How easy it is to thrift your clothes depends highly on where you live. I’m lucky enough to live in an area where the Goodwills price all shirts at $4 and all pants at $5, irrespective of brand. I once bought a pristine Ralph Lauren turtleneck that had an original retail value of over $300 for only $4.95. Consider online secondhand stores like Poshmark and ThredUp. The only caveat to patronizing thrift stores is that they exist at the bequest of other people’s over-consumption — but one battle at a time.
When dressing up for a unique occasion, consider renting a single-wear item or borrowing from a friend. God knows how many times I’ve raided my sister’s closet for a dress to wear once to a party or for shoes to match an outfit.
Research sustainable brands
As a third resort, invest in sustainable brands made domestically, ideally distributed by small businesses that give you direct access to the chain of supply. This means that you know where the materials for the item came from, who was making them (and how well they were compensated), and the methods with which the clothing was made. It will always be more expensive to shop smarter — but when factoring in the longevity of handmade clothing versus the hidden costs of fast fashion on our global community, it is well worth it when the need arises.
What many don’t realize, though, is that knowing how to research apparel supply chains is a skill all its own. If it’s a more widely known brand, a quick search at goodonyou.eco will give you an easy-to-digest overview of its impact on the planet, people, and animals. For less transparent brands, you can always email/call the contact source and ask the following questions to make sure you are avoiding greenwashing:
- Does this brand use sustainable fabrics and materials?
- Does this brand utilize sustainable production methods? (Is it a Certified B Corporation and/or Cradle to Cradle Certified? Are there publicly available sustainability reports each quarter?)
- Does this brand produce at a sustainable rate/scale?
- Does this brand treat and pay its workers ethically?
Ultimately, before buying anything new you should ask yourself: Do I see myself wearing this more than a couple of times in a month? How much use will I realistically get out of it? If you are honest with yourself that you won’t be reaching for the piece in your wardrobe time and time again, don’t buy. Wear and repeat what you already have — all the cool kids are doing it!
Reflect on the benefits
Anytime I’m tempted to dip my toe back into the great, polluted sea of fast fashion, I remind myself of all that I have gained since the beginning of this journey.
- I have saved hundreds (possibly thousands) of dollars over the span of two years. This has allowed me to get a head start on paying back student loans.
- I have more space in my wardrobe. There’s nothing more headache-inducing than an overstuffed closet. Now I am confident that the pieces I have are ones I will cherish and get valuable use out of.
- I have stopped caring so much about fashion trends. Fast fashion thrives on the addictive factor of shopping and quantity over quality. Freeing yourself from those pressures to keep up with an ever-changing aesthetic is an incredible boon to your self-expression.
- I have started thinking about the planet and my place in it in radical, new ways, thus developing my eco-conscious.