Where Can I Get Sustainable Clothing?

rack of clothes in a clothing store

For people that are looking to reduce their environmental impact, sustainable clothing is a must.  Clothes, fabric and fashion have an extraordinary impact on the environment and factory workers and local communities where clothing is being produced. 

The fashion industry is a top polluter.  Small fibers make their way into the ocean when garments are washed, eventually ending up in the food chain.  The chemicals used during production seep into soil and water during wastewater disposal.  Growing cotton and producing garments is a water-intense process.  The demand for materials leads to deforestation and producing and shipping clothing emits loads of greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.  And only about 15% of clothes get donated or recycled, meaning a huge chunk of clothing ends up in landfills after only 3 years of use.

2 fashionable men on street

I’ve found that fast fashion is a really difficult thing for guilty granolas to give up.  The problem is, in developed countries, and the age of Instagram and social media, clothing and fashion is a way to wear your worth on your sleeve.  We recognize trendy and give it respect.  We bow to fast fashion because it shows wealth and style.  But the system is created to be fast and ever changing, and in turn is a major polluter and environmental disaster. 

so how do you get sustainable clothing?

How can you have an ethical wardrobe that you love and don’t feel guilty about?

closet of clothes

use what you already own

I know.  You didn’t come here to be told “just keep what you have and move on”. That’s no fun. But here are a few tips to making some pieces in your existing wardrobe into things you like again.  And it’s free!  Both cash and guilt-wise. 

Firstly, repair things you love.  Stitch holes, patch rips, sew on new buttons.  Or have a friend do it if you don’t feel capable, but try, try, try to repair what you already own and love. 

Or go the opposite direction.  Love that pair of jeans but they’re too short now or have paint splattered across the shin?  Turn them into cutoff shorts!  Have t-shirts from runs or events but they are too tight on the armpits?  Turn them into muscle shirts for workouts.  Sometimes a good snipping is just what things need.  (So scary and final though, isn’t it?!)  Ask yourself why you always steer away from it when getting dressed, and see if you can change what’s preventing you from wearing it. If you aren’t wearing it anyway, messing up a ‘fix’ is okay. Play around and see if you can cut it, sew it, dye it, patch it, embroider it, turn it into something new and useful before you replace it. 

Also, try to accessorize.  If you are bored with a top, try a new scarf, jacket or necklace with it.  Play dress up and see if anything changes its personality before you toss it.  I’ve been surprised by this.  I’m no fashionista, to be very clear, but trying things that you haven’t put together before can bring out the fun in what you already own.  So before you throw, put on a show!  (so lame, I know.  Oh man… and the rhyming doesn’t stop!)

clothing hanging on a rack
grey and white clothing hanging on a rack

buy secondhand

I love this one.  It’s so much fun, you guys!  If you haven’t done this, you are missing out on the Freedom of Thrift! Completely guilt free, cheap, and you don’t have to limit yourself to brands here.  Anything second hand is ethical. (well…granted it wasn’t stolen and sold to you…. but you get my point.)  There is a myriad of places that sell secondhand.  You might be thinking church thrift stores are the only option, but not anymore!  There are plenty of brick and mortar options these days: Thrift stores, consignment shops, secondhand shops like Buffalo Exchange or Plato’s Closet. And these places may take your used clothing, shoes, and accessories as well, in exchange for cash or a credit at their store.  Win win!

The opportunities to shop online are endless: Poshmark, Mercari, ThredUp, Ebay, local facebook groups, LetGo.  There are so many resale options it can be overwhelming.  But there is a market for it, and technology has kept up with it, which pleases me.  And if you have clothes you are getting rid of, try to make a few bucks on these apps.  If you can’t, you can always donate to a GoodWill, local thrift stores or places that accept clothing for underprivileged families.  A lot of churches have this system set up.

lookingthrough clothing on a rack

exchange with your friends

Special Occasion: Isn’t it ridiculous that the items we wear the LEAST are the most expensive?  If you need something for a special occasion (a wedding, Halloween costume, prom, black and white party), ask your friends!  You don’t have to buy something new every time you have to get dressed up.  Save some dough, save the environment and give your friend’s dress a chance to be worn a second time. 

In person party exchange:  Grab some wine and cheese and some clothes you want to get rid of and meet up with friends that are doing the same.  Go through each other’s clothes and leave with what you like!  This is a super fun means of getting sustainable clothing.

The Bin Exchange:  My friends and I are doing this right now.  It started because we couldn’t get together with COVID, but I think it’s better than an in-person exchange because people can try the clothes at their own pace and with access to their closet.  I went through my clothes and selected the items I just wasn’t wearing any more.  I put them in a bin and gave it to one of my friends.  She’s going through it, will take what she wants, and then add her items that she doesn’t want.  Then she will take that to another one of our friends.  Eventually I’ll get the bin back with new items!  You can do a more formal version of this with a schedule and ordered transfers or if it’s a small group of close friends, you can keep it pretty casual.

You could expand and start a local Facebook group to include people you don’t know, too.  Fresh fashion!

select pieces that are long lasting, high quality and classic

Fast fashion is all about going out of style.  That’s literally the goal.  That’s why the newest thing is always a little weird.  People want the newest thing to stay on trend, since you can tell what season the style came from.  We’re being told what’s trendy by the people selling us the trends, that change the trend monthly.  Well, I decry that. There are some pieces that have a classy look to them, that can be worn through seasons, years and even decades.  (And, by the way, it all comes back.  We’re just not that creative.)  So, pick pieces that you think you will want to wear next season, next year, and will be proud in 15 years to say “I bought this when…”  Think classy black tops and solid colors, and high-quality materials. Try to avoid the ‘weird’ that you weren’t sure of- because you might love it now, but you won’t in 3 months.

buy new, but ethical clothing

Sometimes there are circumstances where you will need to purchase new clothes.  In that case, look for brands that focus on organic cotton, sustainable materials, fair trade, ethical policies, and if possible, are local and sustainably packaged.  A lot of sustainable clothing brands also have a philanthropic side, giving back to local communities or the environment.  So, if you are buying new, try to avoid fast fashion, look for classic pieces, and purchase from responsible brands.

Let me know if you try any of these tips for getting sustainable clothing.  I’d also love to know what you do that I’ve missed!  Feel free to share in the comments below.

Interested in creating a more environmentally friendly lifestyle?  Learn a quick process for creating more sustainable habits here.  

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