I know you read the title of this post and thought...she is kidding, or well that sounds pretty great! So let's just set the record straight, I'm not kidding, and yes it is great!
When I first started to bring more sustainable practices into how I shopped for clothes I honestly felt really overwhelmed and like there was no way for me to create a sustainable wardrobe in a way that I could afford.
At first, this was kind of disheartening, but the more I started to research sustainable/slow fashion, the more I began to realize that creating a sustainable wardrobe can look different for each person, and it can 100% be just as affordable, if not more affordable than your current shopping habit.
what is sustainable fashion?
Before we get into how you can create a sustainable wardrobe, why don't we first talk about what sustainable fashion is in the first place. Like all industries, there are a lot of terms when it comes to the sustainable fashion movement and they can sometimes be confusing if you don't know what they are specifically referring to so I am just going to go ahead and break it down for you.
Slow fashion is the exact opposite of fast-fashion, meaning that it is referring to slowing the process of making, purchasing, wearing, and eventually discarding our clothing down. We used to live in a world where there were four fashion seasons, now there are 52. Yes, 52 "seasons" where clothing manufacturers are making clothing to encourage you to purchase something new if you would like every single week of the year. No wonder you always feel like you need something new!
Slow fashion is about increasing the life of our clothing and purchasing from companies who make clothes in smaller batches, with a focus on quality and longevity over quantity and fleeting trends.
Eco-fashion refers to the garments impact on the environment, and the carbon footprint associated with that item. It prioritizes the planet. This is where you may be looking more into the kind of materials being used, the water and other resources used, and the effect that the making, packaging, and transportation of that item has on the planet.
Ethical fashion is looking into the fair treatment of garment workers, and the health and well-being of the communities, which may be affected by the making of a particular garment. It is looking into occupational health standards, workers rights, child-labor laws, safety standards, and the effect the garment factory/company has on the community it is a part of.
Ethical fashion may also include the ethical treatment of animals, which could mean that no animal products were used to make a particular item of clothing.
The overarching term and concept that I will typically be using when I talk about fashion because sustainable fashion encompasses all of the above terms. It also is a living, breathing concept that can, and should change with time. What may be sustainable today, may not be in the next year or five years from now. It is a concept that has many interpretations and standards, but for me and the purpose of how I use it, it encompasses all of the above terms.
common misconceptions when it comes to creating a sustainable wardrobe
Probably the most common misconception I felt, and I have heard when it comes to creating a sustainable wardrobe is that every article of clothing you own that was NOT made ethically and in a sustainable manner has to go.
But if we think back to those definitions I listed above, how would throwing out or even donating all of your clothes make your closet more sustainable? Once an item is in your home the damage has been done in terms of how the garment was made, the ethics behind its making, and its carbon footprint. All that is left is the part of the cycle where you can either choose to extend the life of that article of clothing (meaning you keep and wear it for a long time, ideally years and years) or you throw that item of clothing away, further contributing to its negative environmental footprint where most likely it will take decades to literally hundreds of years to decompose.
The next obvious solution for folks is to just grab a giant trash bag and fill it with their unwanted clothes and head for your closest good will, or salvation army. While in theory this really does sound great, in practice less than 10% of clothing items are actually purchased at these second hand stores, with the vast majority of your clothing items being shipped overseas in what is considered "global aid dumping" or some clothing may be sent to a textile recycler.
The international used clothing market is one that is filled with lots of complex economic issues, and controversy. Ideally there would be much more regulation around the quantity of clothing being sent to developing countries, and also economic/public health programs put in place to help the local community build a strong self-sustaining textile industry of their own.
So with this in mind, if you are choosing to donate to good will or salvation army, my best piece of advice is to do so very mindfully, and in small quantities. Only donate items that have been lightly worn, and you could honestly envision someone purchasing.
So where does that leave You?
You want to create a sustainable wardrobe but now you are stuck with a closet full of clothes that you #1 don't really like and #2 are pretty horrified by how they got to your home in the first place.
Girl (or guy! Hey boys!) I 100% understand what you are feeling, and it kind of sucks, but I promise that it will get better. When I first transitioned to focusing on sustainable fashion I had a closet full of clothes, very few I actually wore frequently, and virtually all of which had been made in some unethical fast-fashion supply chain.
Once I understood what that meant in terms of the negative impact my clothes had had all I wanted was to get rid of them all and start fresh. But that wasn't an option because #1 it would be the exact opposite of being sustainable, #2 it would be like all of that negative impact now really was for nothing, and #3 I didn't have the money to buy a whole new wardrobe...nor would that have been something I could have done with very much intention.
So I decided to push through those feelings, and instead figured out how I could turn my current wardrobe into a sustainable wardrobe. I started by taking everything out of my drawers and closet, and making five piles.
Pile 1: Absolutely keep, I wear this item all the time
This pile is going to be filled with the clothes the you wear on a weekly basis. What was amazing once I created this pile was I realized just how small it was compared to everything else. How was I actually using such a small quantity of the clothes I owned?
Pile 2: I'll think about it
This pile is for those clothes that you wear occasionally or rarely but you aren't quite sure you are ready to part with them. These clothes are going to go back into your wardrobe, but are going to be consistently revisited every few months for the next year until they are moved into one of the other piles. This pile is a transient pile, not a permanent resting place.
After you have created pile 1 and pile 2 you now have the clothing that is going to go back into your wardrobe. Everything else is staying out and will be separated into three more piles.
Pile 3: Suitable for donation
These are the pieces of clothing that are relevant to the season you are in and ideally the style that is currently trending. While we all love some good vintage, most clothes that are very much out of style would not be the best to donate.
My favorite things to donate are jeans, lightly used shoes, and jackets. Especially here in New England lightly used jackets are a great item to donate.
Since I am someone who works in global health, the issues associated with the international export and excessive dumping of used clothing is something that really does matter a lot to me. While it starts with the best intentions it can have detrimental effects on the local economy and local textile workers. It also creates a system where developing countries are dependent on international aid/secondhand textiles, which isn't the most sustainable model. While this issue is complex and many policies and programs who need to be put in place before local textile receiving communities could support their textile needs internally, it is something that we here in the USA and other textile export nations should be thinking more about. The issue is how much we consume when it comes to textiles and that is what we should be working to change, which in turn would encourage a change throughout the whole system.
Pile 4: Repurpose or recycle
Next there are the clothes that are just in bad condition. They are stained or ripped or have holes in them and are not suitable for donating, but cannot stay in your wardrobe. The first thing I will do with these clothes is repurpose them into rags for cleaning, or I will repurpose some into bags.
For those items that really cant be repurposed one of the best things you can do is look into a clothing recycler in your area. Store the clothing you are looking to recycle in a bag, and when the bag is full bring it to a clothing recycler in your area.
Pile 5: Sell
Now we get to the part that you all may have opened this article to better understand in the first place. How did I save and make thousands of dollars when I stopped shopping fast fashion? Let's get into it below.
Once I had made the above four piles of clothing I now was left with clothes that were in good enough condition to sell, but I no longer had a need for.
The best part of selling your clothes is that it truly is a win-win all around. You are extending the life of your clothing, ensuring that it is going to a person who values it enough to pay for it, and ideally wear for an extended period of time. This means that you are keeping it out of landfills or from being exported internationally.
You also get to make money on the clothes you don't even want. Once I started selling my clothes I couldn't believe how easy and motivating it was to make some hard edits in my closet. I would think is this piece of clothing worth keeping when I could sell it for $20-150 dollars (depending on what the article of clothing was). More often than not I would choose to sell it, and honestly would never miss it.
how to start selling your clothes
My favorite online sources for selling your clothes (and purchasing second-hand clothes) are:
I am sure that there are other sites as well, but these are the ones I have had the best luck with. Poshmark was also the site that I made the most on over the past year coming in at $2500 dollars for this past year!
I will mention though that most of the clothing I made the most money re-selling were items that had some kind of "designer" name to them. The most common brands I resold were Lululemon, Madewell, J.crew, Kate Spade, J.Brand, Paige Jeans, and North Face.
Occasionally I will have some luck selling old Forever 21 or H&M clothes, but you usually wont get very much for these items just FYI.
My other piece of advice when selling your clothes online, particularly on Poshmark is you do need to re-share your listings somewhat frequently to get people to see them, and want to buy. On most of these sites buyers can also put in an offer (and most do) so I would give yourself some wiggle room when it comes to what you list your item, and what you are actually willing to sell it for.
So that is it, how I made $3000 dollars while creating a sustainable wardrobe I love without creating any waste. I now have lots of room (and money from the clothes I sold) to start prioritizing sustainably made clothing items for new purchases. Now I really take the time to see whether I want sometime new, and typically am only purchasing ~3-5 new clothing items each season. These items definitely have higher price tags but because I shop so little I have saved a ton of money compared to what I used to spend on fast-fashion.
I also will occasionally buy something second hand from one of the sites I mentioned if I cant find, or afford a sustainably made new item. This is my opinion is 100% in line with creating a sustainable wardrobe and supporting sustainable practices as you are continuing to extend the life of that article of clothing. As a rule of thumb I love to use the graphic below as a reminder of how our textile shopping habits should look.