Tips for creating a sustainable wardrobe:
The terms “sustainable” and “ethical” can be a little daunting since there are a variety of definitions and interpretations. For me, sustainable fashion equates to slow fashion – maintaining a collection of timeless pieces worn until no longer usable or passed on for others to enjoy in the future. Purchasing items made with sustainable practices can be more expensive up-front, but don’t let the price tag deter you -- these pieces are made to last with high-quality craftsmanship and are often in styles that outlast fast-fashion trends. The tips I’m including below will help you create a budget-friendly approach, allowing you to invest in items as needed.
- Create a plan. Start by assessing your current wardrobe and make a list of any items you need to add long term. This proactive approach is key to shopping with intention. I like to keep the list on my phone for easy reference - it also helps me avoid impulse buys!
- Think seasonally. Plan your clothes around seasons and the main activities in your life. Try selecting items that work together from one season to the next: a summer weight shirt layered under a fall cardigan, then paired with a heavier winter sweater. Thinking seasonally also helps to counter the temptation to purchase fast-fashion trends that may have limited functionality or use.
- Design cohesive collections. Start by selecting colors, textures, and timeless elements in ways that complement each other. Creating cohesion allows pieces in your wardrobe to work for multiple seasons and decreases the number of items you need to buy long term.
- Start with what you own. Try to use what you have first before purchasing a new item. Building a more sustainable wardrobe is a journey, not a rush! Don’t feel pressure to switch out what you already have with something new just to make sure it was created sustainably.
- Seek quality over quantity. Sustainably produced clothes are typically more expensive but because they last longer you end up needing fewer pieces over time! The shopping list you made in #1 will allow you to keep track of what you need and help you purchase items when the store has a sale.
- Consider gently used options. Buying new clothes from companies that lean toward sustainability is not the only way to build a slow-fashion wardrobe! There are often locally owned resale stores that stock gently used clothes, sometimes never-used with the tags still on. Also, several large brands now facilitate returns for quality, gently used items and then resell them at significantly discounted prices. I’ve included a few examples below.
In complete transparency, my own wardrobe is a work in progress! I try to think of my clothes as lovely and functional - this keeps the focus on what is truly needed yet gives me the freedom to be creative. I don’t have exclusively sustainable or ethically-sourced clothes yet, but I will continue to slowly work toward that goal over the next several years.
For this article, I chose brands that focus on slower living by making pieces intended to last for years: high quality, timeless and seasonal instead of trendy. I included some more expensive brands at the end mainly to show styles and fabrics as inspiration since that price-point certainly isn’t attainable for most of us!
I think we are called to care for others and steward well what we are given (including the earth and its resources), and so I look for brands that share these values. From what I’ve found, companies are at different points in their sustainable journey, some further along than others. The brands I include here vary in their sustainable and ethical practices but all are making an effort toward transparency and deliberate action.
H&M now has a “conscious” line which uses at least 50% sustainably sourced materials. While they have a way to go on source materials, it is definitely a more budget friendly choice! H&M’s sustainability plan focuses on transparency, responsible purchasing practices and includes a page dedicated to helping your clothes last longer.
& Other Stories
& Other Stories designs around three recurring styles: Paris, Stockholm, & Los Angeles. It uses mostly sustainable materials and has a goal to use fully recycled fabrics by 2030. Their cardigans are so cute and whimsical I had to include a section solely dedicated to them!
Pact exclusively uses organic cotton and partners with Fair Trade Certified Factories. It has a smaller inventory of more affordable, comfortable basics and is made in the US!
Athleta is a certified B corporation which means they place high value on people and the planet, not just profit. Every item I purchase from Athleta is well made, comfortable and designed for functionality. I’ve got the Studio Barre Sweatshirt and Elation Straight Legged Pants in my cart right now, waiting for a sale!
One of my close friends told me about Patagonia’s used clothing resale shop: Worn Wear. It has previously worn items in excellent condition and fully functional for significant discounts – most items I looked at were 50% the full retail price. If you are looking for high quality outdoor gear or clothes this is a great option!
Madewell carries a unique collection of sustainable fabrics and also facilitates gently used clothes through Madewell Forever by Thredup. I think their puffer jacket below is so cute!
Boden’s statement on sustainability and ethics is one of the most practical. They have a simple philosophy of making items that last, mending clothes instead of throwing them away and, ultimately, passing them on for others to enjoy. One of my favorite things about Boden is the simultaneously unique and timeless detailing: from prints to collars and trims.
Eileen Fisher has one of the best, clear perspectives on sustainability and ethics in fashion – creating with intention each step of the way. They started on the sustainable fashion path before it even became popular! This is a brand with a higher price-point but is reputable and items will be long-lasting. I like that they give tips on building a consistent, timeless wardrobe. Eileen Fisher also has a rewear storefront called Renew. Customers can send their gently used items for resale – and you can shop for long lasting clothes at a discount!
Ralph Lauren is an example of a large, established brand that has taken steps to address ethics and sustainability across their supply chain in recent years. They highlight their core mission as slower fashion - to create clothes that last through timeless pieces.
Effortlessly elegant yet cozy and comfortable at the same time – Jenni Kayne’s collection is what sweater dreams are made of… except these come with a heftier price tag! I would definitely call these investment pieces. It is worth the look for inspiration and maybe a select item on sale. They really are such beautifully dreamy clothes.
The company started with slow fashion in mind and has made some deliberate improvements in recent years. You can read more about Jenni Kayne’s sustainability practices here.
Do you have a favorite sustainable fashion brand? We would love to hear about what you like. Send us an email or tag us on social media! Looking for more fall inspiration? You’ll enjoy Christen’s article on Transitioning from Summer to Fall!