With this article, I want you to change your attitude towards clothes & shopping for clothes. I want you to think about it. I want you to learn to shop smart and consciously. Why?
I’ve organized enough workshops in my shop&education center Minimum Waste, talked to many interesting people from the fashion industry, read an interesting book and saw some interesting movies to be able to write about a “minimum waste wardrobe.” Nevertheless, this is just my humble opinion, based on what I’ve heard, saw or read. I’m not a fashion coach or anything. Anyway, I feel confident enough to write about the topic of sustainable fashion and enthusiastic to share my knowledge with you.
Let’s admit it. Until recently, I’ve been struggling with my closet. In the sense that it’s overloaded with clothes (I literally lack space for clothes, so I have to store some in my parent’s house, lol) and yet I would often panic because “I have nothing to wear!” or “I look like an idiot!” In the sense that my closet contains too many uncomfortable jeans, crop tops, way too tight dresses, sweaters that are too big and sweaters that are too small. In the sense that there are so many low quality t-shirts from H&M and Zara that can be trashed after a couple of usages, tops from polyester that tend to smell, jeans from polyester that get too stretched or sweaters from acrylic that don’t make me warm in winter. In other words, clothes that makes me rather angry more than anything else. Being a minimum waste girl, I felt that there was a disconnect between my values and the clothes I wear.
How did I achieve a minimum waste wardrobe?
You might think that the first thing that I did was that I threw half of my clothes away. Well, not really. I did some sorting, but the important thing here is to focus on what you want to keep instead of what you want to get rid of.
I threw away some stuff and start focusing on 3 important things.
I’ve always found it strange that we are so interested in what we eat (= what we put into our body), but so little in what we wear (= what we put on our body). It touches our skin, people! Every material has different characteristics and affects how we feel in it and how functional it is (or isn’t). In terms of functionality, I would like to praise all natural materials.
Cotton – breaths, absorbent (doesn’t get smelly, doesn’t make you sweat), cooling in summer
Wool, cashmere, mohair – make you feel warm, work as a barrier against the cold temperature
Hemp – absorbent, strong, cooling in summer
Linen – airy, allows the skin to breathe, strong, cooling in summer
Leather – works as a barrier against wind and cold temperature
…and, on the other hand, to criticize the synthetic ones.
Polyester – doesn’t absorb sweat = tends to smell, doesn’t cool you down in summer, doesn’t warm you up in winter
Acrylic – doesn’t absorb sweat = tends to smell, doesn’t make you warm in winter (which is quite ridiculous considering that most sweaters are made from acrylic)
Nylon – doens’t absorb sweat = tends to smell
Unfortunately, most clothes are currently being made from these materials (especially polyester). Simply because their production is cheap. But these materials are no good for your body nor for the environment – they don’t biodegrade and thus stay on the landfill (where they usually end up) for hundreds of years, releasing methane – a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2.
In terms of sustainability and eco-friendliness, it’s a bit complicated. Cotton is usually considered as the most eco-frienldy material, which is not quite right. Cotton has to be grown somewhere, meaning that it requires land, lots of water and even more pesticides. Organic cotton should be pesticides-free (I say should, because who knows these days, right?) but there’s still the land and water. Regarding this, some say that the group of synthetic-manmade materials can be considered as the most sustainable. They have a natural base (usually cellulose) which is chemically modified, sometimes referred to as “regenerated cellulosis fibers.” These are:
They have all the good characteristics similar to those of natural materials, thanks to their natural base. From the environmental point of view, lyocell (especially Tencel™️) seems to be the star. It is usually made from eucalyptus wood, which is a fast-growing tree that doesn’t require much water, and the chemical process is closed-loop. You can read more about this material here.
This might help you to understand better why certain clothes make you feel the way you feel. I guarantee you that you will examine thoroughly the inner label next time you go shopping after reading this article. 🙂
This has a lot to do with the concept of fast fashion, which started at such a mass scale as we know it today with clothing chains like H&M and Zara (but they are not the only ones to blame!). They established the model of changing the collections more than two times a year, making people buy things as often as possible for a very low price. When you need to produce maximum quantities for minimum prices, you logically shift your production somewhere where the labour is cheap. India, Bangladesh, Cambodia. And where there are no limits or requirements on the use of chemical substances to dye the clothes, brighten the colors or make them looked ironed. These substances are often banned in Europe or the US because they are harmful to both human health and the environment. But there are no such bans in India or Bangladesh and therefore the factory employees often work in a toxic environment.
One thing is the unethical and unecological aspect of the production, which I don’t want to support and another is that the clothes are generally of a very low quality (faster they wear off, faster you will need to buy something new) and as such become waste way too fast. And as a minimum waste girl, this bothers me a lot!
What to do?
Now, I’m not telling you to put all the fast fashion chains on the blacklist right now and never set your foot in there anymore. I think that it’s nearly impossible. I still buy clothes in chains, too, because in certain cases it seems to be the only option. But if you do happen to buy things in fast fashion chains, shop smart. Search for good materials and buy things that are likely to last long, so that you don’t have to replace them with a new piece after 6 months. Otherwise, search for smaller and/or local brands. Don’t be scared to invest in a piece of clothing if you know that the money will fairly pay for the work that it took to make it and the quality of the material.
A minimum waste wardrobe is a stable wardrobe. It means that you have already found your style and therefore it’s much easier for you to know which pieces are going to work for you and which not. If you are still searching for your proper style or don’t know what suits you best and makes you feel good, then you most probably end up shopping random pieces of clothes that don’t combine together. That kind of clothes that you buy only to find out that in order to wear it, you would need a matching bag, shoes, trousers…or the one that you liked so much in the store but then you only wear it once or twice and that’s it.
How to find your style?
Honestly, I don’t really know. As I said before, I’m not a stylist. What I do know, is that don’t look at what’s trendy, in or hot. Don’t look too much into women magazines. Use them for inspiration, but don’t copy anyone. I believe, that your style is what you feel good in & look good in. These two are the two sides of one coin – if you look good in something (remember those outfits that your colleagues or friends comment with “wow, you look nice today!”), you feel good, too (who wouldn’t feel good after a compliment, right?!). And vice versa, the inner beauty – feeling good about yourself – makes you look good on the outside.
For example, I know that I really don’t feel myself in business casual clothes. I literally hate shirts. Although the inner princess in me would want to have a feminine, elegant style, I have to admit that my style is rather casual, girlie and playful (or something like that).
Anyway, analyse your wardrobe, think about what are your favourite pieces and why. Think about when was the last time someone said you looked nice. What were you wearing? It will help you to define the pieces of clothes (and eventually the style) that suits you best. And once you know that, you will be more likely to buy smart next time you go shopping.
In the beginning, I said that with this article, I want you to change your attitude towards clothes and shopping for clothes. That I want you to think about it and that I want you to learn to shop smart and consciously. I want you to choose clothes that you will happily wear for years, until they rip apart. Why? Because only that way you will waste less. And because like that, together we will show the brands that we want a sustainable approach to fashion.
My personal tips:
Currently, I buy most things second-hand, which is a good approach to your wardrobe. Why throwing the clothes in the trash bin when someone else can still wear it?! Not talking about the cool benefit of thrift shopping – you can find original and stylish pieces of clothes that no one else has. Also, second-hand clothes has already been washed and thus doesn’t contain all the chemical substances as new clothes.
My top second hand picks:
Second-hand mohair sweater from Juicy Couture
Second-hand Levi’s oversized denim jacket
Second-hand leather slip-ons from Toms
Second hand suede bag from Pepe jeans
My personal tips for brands:
Cambridge satchel Co.
English brand making handcrafted genuine leather bags. All bags are made in Leicester, UK, supporting local craftsmanship.
The cornerstones of my wardrobe:
The pieces that create the base of my closet might not be from sustainable brands (as most of my wardrobe still isn’t), but to me, they are sustainable in the way that they were chosen according to my style, I wear them basically all the time and I know that they will last in my closet until they rip apart. These are not pieces of clothes that would go quickly “out” or that I would dislike after a while. Here’s a small selection:
Btw, this is a good source of “how sustainable brands are”: https://directory.goodonyou.ecohttps://directory.goodonyou.eco
Until next time!