8 cheap, affordable, and even free ways to make your wardrobe more sustainable and environmentally friendly

Sustainability is more of an important issue than ever, especially since the Covid pandemic. More and more people are realizing the social and environmental impact of big business and want to support smaller, more ethical clothing brands instead. However, the number one excuse I hear when it comes to giving up fast fashion for a more sustainable wardrobe is "Well sustainable clothing brands are too expensive!", which isn't entirely untrue. Many brands that claim to be sustainable & eco-friendly are indeed more costly but luckily you don't have to spend a fortune to build a more environmentally conscious closet.

1. Organize and Understand What You Own

The best way to build a more sustainable wardrobe is to start with what you already have! Let's begin by taking an inventory of your closet and getting organized. It may seem like a daunting task, but it's the most important step to figuring out what's missing in your wardrobe and what pieces are just taking up valuable space in your closet. Begin by organizing your clothing by function. You can choose whatever categories best fit your lifestyle, but I would choose categories like: 
1. Professional
2. Athletic/Workout
3. Casual, Everyday Errand Running (Grocery Store, Post Office, Etc.)
4. Socializing/"Going out" Type Clothes
5. Pajamas + Clothes I Almost Exclusively Wear at Home

When you categorize your closet this way, it's a lot easier to see where your wardrobe is lacking. For example, when I did my own clothing inventory I realized I owned so many "going out"/ dressier style items that I had nothing professional to wear to the office or just to go to the grocery store. It made me want to try and come up with more outfits that were chic yet casual and comfy.

As you're organizing, spend some time trying on your clothes and brainstorming different outfits you can create with them. Each item you own should spark joy and make you feel good while wearing it. If any of your clothes don't make you feel your best, just get rid of them. They're taking up space for items that you really love and are actually going to wear. Letting go of items we've been holding on to for too long can be quite the cathartic experience, too. Don't be surprised if you feel way lighter and refreshed after dropping off your old clothes at your local donation or recycling center. You can also host a clothing swap with your friends/family as a way to get rid of some things and use it as an eco-friendly (and pocket-friendly!) way to add some new items to your closet.

2. Buy More Natural Fibers like Cotton and Linen Instead of Polyester

cotton plant and textiles
Polyester and many other synthetic fabrics are made from nonrenewable fossil fuels which can take hundreds of years to decompose and also release harmful micro plastics into our water system when washed. Instead, try to look for clothing made of natural fibers like cotton or linen, which are much more biodegradable than synthetic fibers. 
However, if you do purchase polyester clothing, try to look for garments made of recycled polyester or buy them secondhand, which brings us to your next point...

3. Buy Second Hand if You Can

Everyone should be more open to buying gently used secondhand items, regardless of socioeconomic class. When you buy your clothing secondhand, you save it from becoming a part of the staggering 10 million tons of used clothing that's sent to landfills every year. Thrifting is always an easy, eco-friendly, and cost-effective way of adding unique, trendy pieces to your wardrobe. When I go to the thrift store, I keep an eye out for pieces that remind me of the trendiest items this season and see if I can find them secondhand instead of buying them new.
You don't even have to go to the thrift store to enjoy the thrill of a secondhand treasure hunt. Thanks to websites like Poshmark, ThreadUp, and Ebay, it's also easier than ever to shop your favorite brands at a fraction of the price right from home.
And of course, how could I forget my own personal favorite vintage brand? Here at Vanilla Vintage, we believe timeless sustainable fashion doesn't have to be boring. All of our clothing  and accessories are pre-loved. I love being able to invigorate new life into older items and add a one-of-a-kind flair to my wardrobe that no one else will have. You never have to worry about showing up to an event with the same outfit on, unlike a FashionNova dress that every other girl on Instagram will own an exact copy of. 

4. Ask Yourself: "Do I Actually Need this?" and "How Often Will I Wear it?"

The main reason why fast fashion thrives is because it drills the idea that consumers constantly need new clothes. However, once the excitement of a new purchase fades, you're left with a cheaply made garment that you'll wear a couple of times before it's out of style within a couple of months. Even if you shop at fast fashion companies, you can still use more sustainable practices by buying items that you'll get the most wear out of.

The best (and cheapest!) way to be more sustainable is to buy less. This is an eco-friendly practice you may have already been using. One survey found that 44% of consumers said they bought less clothing during the Covid pandemic, which is a habit that may continue for years to come. As a rule of thumb, before you click 'add to cart' just ask yourself if you see yourself wearing an item at least 30 times. I've found that just asking this simple question stops me from making a lot of impulse buys. And what's the point in spending money on cute clothes if they're just going to sit in your closet where no one's going to see them?
 Before you buy a new item, I challenge you to ask yourself:
- Do I REALLY need this item? Will I actually wear it?
- Do I feel good wearing this? Do I feel my best in it?
- Could I wear this in several different situations? 
- Can I mix and match this with other items currently in my wardrobe? 
- Do I already own something that's very similar?
- Do I see myself wearing this item a year from now? What about 5 years from now?

 5. Invest in Items

One of my favorite things about vintage clothing is the difference in quality compared to many of the modern fast fashion brands. It's totally worth investing in a wardrobe that can stand the test of time because there's no point in buying clothing if it's just going to fall apart after a few wears. 
Before you buy an item,
1. Examine the stitching and try gently pulling on the garment to see if it's tightly sewn. Are the seams evenly stitched? Is there anywhere the threads are coming unraveled? Be sure to the check areas with a lot of motion (armpit/shoulder area in shirts and inner thigh area of pants)
2. Does the fabric material feel like it's good quality? Or is it cheap and thin? Can you see through it?
3.Does this seem like a garment that will start to fall apart after a few washes?
It's much better investment to buy a shirt for $40 that you can wear over and over again than a top that's $10 and falls apart after a few trips to the washing machine.  

6. Take Care of Your Clothing

Ok so I'm totally guilty of ignoring the care labels on my clothing and just throwing it all in the washer or dryer and hoping for the best. But one thing I learned in fashion school is that it isn't wearing our clothes that damages them over time, it's washing and drying them. I'm definitely guilty of disregarding the care label on my clothes and throwing it all in the dryer, but it pays to follow directions. But what's the point of investing in your clothing if you're not going to take care of them? 
As a rule of thumb, It's almost always better to let your clothes hang dry instead of putting them in the dryer because heat can cause fabrics and elastic bands to warp and stretch out. It can also help reduce your electric bill and environmental impact. It's a win-win!
clothing hang drying on a clothesline

7. Repair if you Can

Did you know that if we extend the life of our garment by just 9 months its water, carbon, and waste footprint by 20-30%? So instead of throwing away items with minor damage like a torn seam or broken zipper, learn how to perform simple repairs on Youtube. I've extended the life of so many of my favorite clothes just by stitching up items instead of immediately throwing them away. You can also take them to your local tailor for more advanced repairs. While you're at the tailor, I would also suggest getting your favorite clothing altered to your body. It can make a world of difference in how your clothes fit you and how you feel in them. 
Woman in khaki pants showing Before and After tailoring clothing to be better fitting.
Photo Via: Repeller.com

8. Take a Challenge

Now that you have all these tips and tools on how to build a more sustainable wardrobe, try taking a sustainable clothing challenge like the #10x10Challenge, where you choose 10 items to create an entire month's worth of outfits. It's definitely a chance to get creative and see how versatile your closet can be.
You can also try the #SecondHandSeptember challenge this fall or just challenge yourself to stop buying clothes for a full month. It's a great way for fast fashion addicts to try more sustainable practices while saving money too.
  Which of these tips have you tried? Do you find sustainable shopping to be challenging in a world dominated by fast fashion? Be sure to let me know in the comments.
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