In honor of Earth Day on April 22, here a few suggestions for those who are interested in developing a more environmentally-friendly wardrobe. Each piece of your clothing has a life of its own from its production, to when you acquire, how you maintain (e.g., laundry), and discarding it at the end of its useful life. These suggestions are in three categories: Acquiring new clothes (whether you buy, make, or are given them), caring for and laundering clothing, and thoughtfully discarding those items that no longer work for you. Consider the options and choose which work best for you.
Acquiring New Clothes
Acquiring new clothes doesn’t mean just buying new clothes in a store or online. Some people make their own clothes, receive them as gifts, or buy them used. Here are a few recommendations that everyone can benefit from.
- Purchase thoughtfully: Reduce waste by acquiring only what you’ll really wear. Consider what is most appropriate for your lifestyle and goals. Learn your best colors and most flattering styles to eliminate buyer’s remorse – or that item just shoved into the back of a closet and forgotten.
- Classic styles: Investing in classic pieces makes your wardrobe go a lot further. Their timeless style will remain in fashion for years. And with proper care, these clothes can last for decades.
- Quality clothes: Frequent replacement costs you in time and money while filling up landfills unnecessarily. Buy the best quality that you can afford. Spending on quality pays back quickly.
- Natural fabrics: Cotton, wool, silk, linen, and other natural fibers, especially organic, are far more sustainable than synthetics (e.g., polyester, nylon, acrylic). Synthetics, as the name implies, are developed from chemical synthesis. Natural fabrics will always provide excellent breathability and comfort. And once they reach the end of their useful life, whether with you or with their next owner, you can be assured they will decompose naturally and fairly quickly, unlike synthetics.
- Eco-conscious brands: Some clothing brands have devoted their manufacturing ethics to environmental sustainability. When buying from these companies, you can be assured that they have already done the research on designing using clean fibers and dyes, implementing energy efficient manufacturing (maybe incorporating wind and solar power), and local production sourcing (shipping from overseas factories can use significant energy stores).
- Second-hand clothes: What no longer worked for someone else might just be the perfect fit for you! Buying pre-owned clothing used to be a stigma. Now vintage and thrift stores are flourishing with unique options. If hunting through the racks of a local consignment shop isn’t your thing, search online resellers such as eBay, thredUp, Poshmark, The Real Real, etc.
Each new piece of clothing we buy comes with the requirement of maintaining it. Before getting something new, check the care instructions to see how to launder it. Make sure how it should be cleaned fits into your value system as well as your lifestyle.
- Laundering: Most clothes not only require less laundering than we give them, but too frequent washing can reduce their life. And laundering less frequently will save you time as well as water and energy. When washing, keep in mind that modern detergents are far more soluble than older formulas, so cold water is usually fine for most loads, especially with today’s high efficiency machines. For drying, another option is to hang your clothes to dry either indoors or outdoors. Just because your grandmother dried her laundry this way doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
- Dry cleaning: Chemicals used in dry cleaning can be harsh; however, there are environmentally-friendly dry-cleaning options. Search online for options in your neighborhood. The Spruce has an article that will help you to better understand the process and considerations.
Every piece of clothing has a limited life within your wardrobe. That might be because the style is outdated, it no longer works for your body or lifestyle, or it’s no longer in good condition. Whatever the reason, there are ways that you can extend the life of the materials.
- Resell: Occasionally we all purchase items that just don’t work out as well as we’d hoped. If it’s still a current or a classic style and in good shape, consider selling. As mentioned above, you can work with both brick-and-mortar or online retailers. Make someone else happy with their new find while the new cash in your wallet will put a smile on your face. Win – Win!
- Donate: How do you get rid of a garment that’s just not working for you, is still wearable, but not quite mint condition? Donate it! A co-worker who has admired it might enjoy adding it to her closet. Or if you don’t know anyone personally interested, donate it to a local charity for a tax write-off.
- Repurpose or redesign: Sometimes there are pieces we’re too emotional and attached to even consider getting rid of. How about making something else out of it? Worn out event T-shirts, for example, can be remade into a quilt that you get to enjoy while relaxing. A lost loved one’s jeans could become a tote bag so that you can carry them close to your heart. Another win-win, as you keep the memorable item close while keeping it out of the landfill.
Thinking more purposefully about what we have and what we want leads to better outcomes for all of us in the long run. A new way of supporting the environment can also improve your wardrobe, your life, and the people around you. Do you have any other suggestions not mentioned here? Please share your ideas and questions below.