How to Start a Green and Ethical Wardrobe

by - Sunday, October 28, 2018

how to start a green and ethical wardrobe

How do you Start an Environmentally-Friendly Closet?

There is so much talk out there about slow fashion, ethical fashion, capsule wardrobes, and more that it can be really confusing where to start. How does one actually create a green wardrobe? How do you break the cycle of fast fashion?

The Boy and I really loved shopping for clothes. I think in our mid-twenties, we decided we actually wanted to look a bit better, so we started watching our diets and we invested in clothes that fit. It was fun, and it felt like we were getting things figured out. Three years ago, when I told my husband that I only wanted to buy American-made or Fair-trade clothes, I don’t think he was exactly excited. But he got on board (and did lots of research on Made in America men’s clothes), and now both our wardrobes only have items that are either ethical or older than our resolution.

 Want to have a more positive effect on the environment but not sure where to start? Start with the clothes on your back! Here is a straightforward guide to switching up your approach to clothes and shopping that will limit your emissions, support ethical labor, and have you feeling amazing! It's easier than you would think, and even if you can't do EVERYTHING on the list, you can definitely do something. Let's do this! 


1. Do Nothing


The greenest things in your closet are the ones you already own. As Vivienne Westwood once said “buy less, choose well, and make it last”

The first big trap of fast fashion is to get too connected to trends, so we see our clothes as out of date or unusable way before they actually are. So if you really want to make a positive impact with your wardrobe, don’t buy anything. Just use what you already have.

Your newfound skills at doing nothing can be applied to shopping. Wherever you tend to buy clothes, whether it be online or in person, just stop going there. Take a shopping vacation for a month or two.

If you have a thought for something you “need,” ask around to borrow it or write it down on a list you can revisit when your hiatus is over. It can feel weird at first, but now I don’t really miss the mall. 

So you aren’t being lazy, you are being environmentally-conscious! Decide that what you are and what you have is already enough, and then take it as a fun challenge to bring new life into what you own.


2. Ask What You Really Need

Odds are good that you have more clothes in your closet than you actually need. Lots of environmentally-minded people now use minimalist or capsule wardrobes, which means dramatically minimizing the number of pieces in your wardrobe.

Even if this doesn’t sound like you, you can still probably cut way down. When your closet is too full, it can be hard to see what you have and to use it! We are partially wasteful because it can be easier to get something new. Overfilled closets tend to be messier, create more waste, and add to the general chaos of your life. And we now know that clutter actually makes people more depressed. Your closet is stealing your happiness! So, it may be time to downsize.

 I have a few good tricks for this:

First, you can count how many things you use in the time between laundry. If you are a laundry every week person, you need less than a laundry every two weeks person. But the next time you do laundry, take stock of what all is in there, and what is still hanging in your closet. That’s the easiest way to start figuring out the actual number you need. If you have more than half your wardrobe still sitting on the shelf, it is time to downsize.

Second, flip your hangers. Turn all of your hangers towards the back of your closet. Every time you put something away, turn the hanger to the front. After a month, notice all the things you didn’t turn around. If that doesn’t feel like enough time, give it an extra month. Anything that didn’t get turned around is probably ready for somebody else.

3. Donate!

This is really important: NEVER throw away clothes. The average American throws away 65 pounds of textiles every year. So imagine each of us has a checked bag of clothing, and we all throw it in the same heap. That’s a lot.

The craziest part about this is that you can literally donate every piece offabric. Goodwill will accept all of it, because even the stuff they can’t sell in the stores can be sold to manufacturing companies to be recycled into things like car seat filler. You can read all about it here.

I am so glad you are downsizing. But do NOT throw anything away. The greenest choice you can make is to share it on Buy Nothing or donate it. If you haven't joined Buy Nothing yet, get to it; you can keep things out of landfills AND score free stuff. Did I mention don’t throw anything away?

4. Learn your Fibers


In the 70’s, polyester was all over the place, itchy, shiny, and begging for some BeeGees. It may seem like we have grown out of that sophisticated phase in fashion, but the truth is that synthetic fibers have just gotten much sneakier. These tiny plastic threads are in most anything that stretches, from yoga pants, to jeggings, to your favorite sweatshirt.

And it’s sad to say, but those leggings do a lot of harm (and not just because they are flashing your parts at everyone). When washed, synthetic fabrics break off into tiny microplastics, smaller than a piece of glitter, which flows through washing machines into water streams and out into our oceans and food sources. They now say 90% of our salt has plastic in it. Considering the links between plastic and endocrine problems, hormone changes, and cancer, this is terrible news for everyone. 

Your yoga pants could be giving everyone cancer. I mean, I know your butt looks good, but that is a high price to pay…

So if you want to make the world a better place, you HAVE to get plastic out of your wardrobe. So, the new first step to shopping is checking the tag. Here is the short and dirty on what you are looking for: 

Polyester- Oil-based, PLASTIC

Nylon- Oil-based, PLASTIC
Spandex (also known as Lycra or Elastene)- Oil-Based, PLASTIC

To be clear, STOP buying anything made with Polyester, Nylon, or Spandex. If it is another name you don't recognize, just look it up. Anything that is oil-based is literally garbage.

So are all synthetics out? No! I have good news- some synthetic fibers (and yoga pants) still have a relatively positive (and low waste) impact.

Rayon- Wood fibers, considered a "semi-synthetic"
Tencel- Made of Eucalyptus Trees, sustainable practices
Viscose- Made of Trees, larger impact then Tencel, but still pretty great
Modal- Made of beechwood trees from sustainably farmed forests. The yield is twice as high as cotton; I think modal is a fabric of the future.

If you see something you aren’t sure about, look it up! But just getting the plastic out of your wardrobe (and chatting with your friends about it) is enough to do significant good.

5. Fall in Love with Secondhand Shopping


Let’s be honest. Slow fashion is expensive. Fast fashion is cheap because they use cheap materials, cheap (and wholly unethical) labor, and cheap design. If you are going to pay someone what they deserve with materials built to last, you better believe it will be more expensive.

So unless you have a trust fund or a geese laying golden eggs, you aren’t going to be shopping like you used to. It’s an investment, and most of us can only invest in a couple of things a year.

That said, I am also in early motherhood constant weight fluctuations and unmentionable stains. So it doesn’t make much sense to spend too much money on my clothes. I have found shopping secondhand to be the PERFECT solution. It keeps clothes out of landfills, minimizes shipping waste (most secondhand clothes don’t travel far), and it stops sending companies like Old Navy and the Gap the message that they can treat workers badly and I will just look the other way. 

When I grew up, secondhand shopping seemed like a thing only really poor people did, and donating was a real act of charity.

 Now, I can see it actually helps break cycles of poverty and waste. 90% of my wardrobe is secondhand now, and I could not recommend it more. With so many places to look, I find everything I need just as easily as I did when I bought things new.

If you want more info on places to shop secondhand and rent clothes, check out this post. If you want ideas of the best things to buy secondhand, this post can help

Just remember, the no synthetic fiber rule still applies if you are buying secondhand. It’s just a matter of getting in the habit of looking, but you will notice your clothes feel better too when you get rid of synthetics.


6. When you do Have to Buy New, 

Buy Ethical and Buy Local


There are so many companies out there doing the right thing, treating their workers right, and really considering their environmental impact. This is the ethical fashion standard, and it can feel daunting at first, but trust me, you have tons of options. The lists grow more every day.

Check here if you need to find Fair Trade or Green Underwear
Check here if you need Green or Made in America Shoes
Check here if you want Fair-Trade or Green Clothes
Check here if you want Made in America Clothes

SO MANY OPTIONS. Every day, more companies commit to greener practices, making really beautiful things you will want to keep for a long time. If you are buying way less and shopping used, then you have also spent way less than you used to on clothes. That means, you can invest more in the few pieces you do buy new, just aim to buy things that you will love for a long time (nothing too trendy that will seem out in a week).

7. Green Laundering


The last green thing you can do for your clothes is change how you clean them. Some things are simple- we throw lots of things in the wash that probably aren’t dirty enough to need it. You can easily find wool dryer balls and other tools to cut down on wasteful things like dryer sheets. Wash your clothes on cold- they don’t need that hot shower! They won’t complain!
To save a lot of CO2 from going out, you can also start to line dry your clothing. Less easy as we enter winter months, but still plenty possible.

When you dry clean, you can also look into which dry cleaners near you have started using greener practices. You can read more about that here.








You can do this. I know you can, because we figured it out. There are so many resources out there now that can help you really transform your wardrobe into something great for the Earth.

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1 comments

  1. I always love your posts! Thanks so much for sharing! I am currently working on ridding our wardrobes of nasty synthetic materials (donating as much as possible). I am also making a big push to only buy new clothes that are secondhand or organic natural materials!

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