How to Have a Sustainable Wardrobe

sustainable |səˈsteɪnəb(ə)l|
adjective

1 able to be maintained at a certain rate or level:

  • conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources

2 able to be upheld or defended

  • capable of being sustained

 

In 2003, I was a teenager with bad taste in ugly clothes. My best friend Jenny moved across town from me and when we hung out every few weeks, we went shopping for aforementioned ugly clothes. It's 2016 and those same stores sell clothes now for exactly the same prices they sold them all those years ago, while the cost for everything else has only gone up.

It's not a miracle and it's not a steal, it's frightening and depressing. 

Watch The True Cost, read Overdressed, google the Rana Plaza tragedy (Cliff's notes version: over 1100 people were killed when a factory in Bangladesh collapsed), get acquainted with the dark side of the fashion industry and know this -

When shoppers aren't paying the price for clothes, it only means somebody down the fashion supply chain is. It's nearly always the people that make those clothes and an industry that does not afford basic human rights to its makers and sustain their livelihood is simply not sustainable. 

The fashion industry has a severe sustainability problem. 

Fashion also comes at a high cost to the environment. After mining and oil, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. Additionally, it's a thirsty industry. Each garment requires thousands of litres of water to produce, more than an individual would require to drink in two or three years, terrifying for a country that is facing a severe water crisis. The fashion industry also requires packaging and transportation and utilises countless fast depleting natural  resources. 

It's not enough to just know this. As consumers, we vote with our wallets and changing our relationship with clothes is the biggest fuck you to an unethical and irresponsible industry that should really be doing better. Wearing clothing that is both socially and ecologically conscious should be everybody's goal. In fact, it should be the bare minimum so sustainable fashion can stop being a buzzword and be the norm.  

Here are some ways to make your wardrobe more sustainable:

 

Go Local:

Support local and independent designers and dressmakers that engage in sustainable practises. Not only will purchasing locally produced clothing help reduce your carbon footprint, you will be supporting a small business.

 

Buy better:

Buying better means spending more and buying less. Buying less means less resources, less waste, less opportunities for exploitation.

Embrace slow fashion. Connect with the labels you like and endorse. Are they responsible? Do they value their supply chain? Choose fair-trade labels that are transparent about their labour practices. Transparency leads to accountability. That means fair and liveable wages, worker rights and suitable working conditions. 

 

Recognise green washing:

Fast fashion labels which are notorious for cashing in on overconsumption are often guilty of greenwashing - PR spin that deceives the consumer into believing they are being environmentally friendly or offsetting their environmental impact. 

H&M's newest 'recycling' initiative is one such example. If brands really cared they'd make fewer and better quality clothes. Not push new releases onto shop floors every week. Certainly not incentivize recycling by offering discounts on more clothes.

 

Love your clothes:

This seems like a no-brainer but too often people shop only for instant gratification, and after the thrill of the buy and the #ootd dies down, they are almost always apathetic about their purchase.

This video is a good example of how people shop and then treat the clothing they buy and why that is problematic.

 

Stop reading fashion blogs:

Unless they're good. There is some fantastic fashion media out there (stylelikeu, wearabout, borderandfall); blogs, channels and websites with intelligent reporting, a strong focus on design and craft, or those that showcase actual creativity and clever personal styling.

Sadly, most of the time you could give a mannequin a wordpress account and you'd get a fashion blog. All these do is promote a consumerist attitude and the false perception of new clothes as a necessity.  

 

Stop being trendy:

'Our culture’s obsession with ever-changing fashion trends are an artificial pursuit manufactured by those who benefit from it.' I read this quote once and I'll never forget it.

The fast fashion industry deliberately makes cheap, gimmicky clothes that will look tacky in a few months. You wouldn't need to overhaul your wardrobe every season if it didn't date so easily and was filled only with well made, quality clothing. 

 

Get mileage:

One way to get use out of your clothes is by adopting a kind of uniform, whatever that means for your own personal style. It is okay to wear the same outfits over and over, you are not Rihanna. (Though if you are - Hi RiRi, thanks for reading!)

Figure out what looks good on you, what you like and what suits your body so you can get real mileage from each garment - over 50, 100, 500 wears.

Get mileage between washes too - if you didn't sweat, it doesn't smell and it isn't stained, give it sunlight and air (instead of water and detergent) and wear it again.

 

Wear natural fibres:

Once you know the difference between natural and synthetic materials (things with the word poly- aka plastic are generally made from non-renewable fuels), there is generally no going back to the latter. Look out for organic, sustainably-farmed cotton. Invest in quality weaves, they are worth the extra expenditure. Find out not only who made your clothes but who grew them.

 

Shop on the street:

If you're too tempted by trends, you can easily buy clothes bearing high street labels on the street and in markets in India. My hope is that this surplus stock and factory seconds are being diverted from landfill and or not simply (and deliberately) created in excess. 

 

Reuse:

Reuse clothing that already exists in the world. Go thrift shopping. Pick charity shops, vintage stores and flea markets over malls always. There are actually several opportunities to shop second-hand in India. In smaller towns in the North East and Tamil Nadu, stores and stalls selling pre-loved clothing are quite commonplace. In Bombay, I shop at the Gone for Good sale, Oh-So-Famous Celebrity Charity Garage Sale and Back Alley Thrift Shop. The clothes are great, the money from most (if not all) of them is donated to good causes from rehabilitating rescued children to funding animal shelters, and there are genuine bargains to be had. 

(In Lover's upcoming directory section, we are going to make an effort to include second hand stores.)

 

Repurpose:

Alter, customise, DIY and upcycle your existing wardrobe. Alterations and custom tailoring are some of the few luxuries of living in India. Take in seams, add length, turn clothes into other clothes or look out for labels that do. Doodlage is one that repurposes second-hand clothing and industrial waste into one-of-a-kind designer garb.  

 

Speak out:

Most people don't care about where their clothes come from because they simply don't know. Spark a conversation about sustainable fashion online and offline, ask the labels you love who made your clothes and make your voice heard to brands that are opaque or engaging in unethical or environmentally unsound practises.

 

Don't shop: 

You probably have enough stuff already. Wear what you've got. 

 

 

Artwork by Pallavi Sen. Check out her work at pallavi-sen.com and follow her on Instagram at @superfeministgirl