Hypothetical situation: you’re browsing through social media and you see an outfit that catches your eye. You scroll down to the caption and find out that it’s available online, is in your budget, and with just a few clicks, could be on your doorstep in a matter of days. What do you do?
For many of us, the answer is not hypothetical: the tried-and-true solution is to simply order the clothes without stopping to think about the effects of that decision.
With many fast fashion brands notoriously churning out clothing that doesn’t last very long that subsequently needs to be replaced, finding a more sustainable approach to style can not only benefit the environment, but your wallet as well.
Here are 8 steps that you can take to reduce waste in your fashion habits and sustainably extend the life of your wardrobe.
Do a no-buy
It sounds easy, but depending on your shopping habits, this challenge can be tricky. Give yourself a predetermined amount of time in which you won’t buy any new articles of clothing. During this time, you can only wear the things that you already have in your closet. Not only will this save you money, but it will give you a better sense of what articles of clothing you really need, and which ones you only thought you needed.
Go shopping in your closet
Remember that scene in the “Sex and the City” movie where Carrie tries on all of her clothes in front of her girlfriends and they vote on which items she should keep or toss? Organize a video conference with a few friends and help each other decide once and for all if you’ll really find another use for your homecoming dress from junior year, or if it’s time for it to go into the donation pile. Added bonus: you’ll find clothes you forgot you had, cutting your next shopping trip short!
Slowly clean out your closet
If you want to make space in your closet but the thought of doing a big purge seems intimidating, split up the work between your current self and your future self. Do an initial clean-out of your closet, and hang all of your clothes with the hanger facing backwards. As soon as you wear an article of clothing, you’re allowed to hang it back up with hanger facing the right way. If in a predetermined amount of time (one year if you live in a place with drastically different seasons, six months if you don’t) the hanger is still backwards, you’ll know you don’t wear that item often enough to keep it. Then, and only then, are you allowed to buy more clothes, but the purpose of this exercise is to show you that you don’t need as many clothes as you previously thought.
Extend the life of your clothing
If part of the problem is that your clothing doesn’t last long, thus creating a pattern in which you buy replacement items every few months, consider the care that your clothes need. Follow the washing instructions on your clothing labels, and if something has a stain or tear that can be fixed, take the time to remedy the problem instead of just throwing it out and buying a replacement. If you’ve never done more than sewed a button, no worries! You can find tutorials online, or if you know someone who knows how to sew, ask them to teach you.
Savvy grocery shoppers will tell you that the best way to save money at the supermarket is to pay attention to unit prices. You can take the same approach to clothing: if you are trying to decide between a $100 jacket and a $50 blazer, initially the blazer seems like the better buy. But if you know that you’re going to wear the jacket at least 50 times over the next year, but you’ll only wear the blazer ten times during that same timeframe, your cost per wear would be lower if you went with the jacket. Focus your shopping energy on quality clothing that you’ll wear a lot, instead of on cheaper clothing that you’ll only wear a few times.
Get by with a little help from your friends
If you’re desperate for new clothes but want to avoid buying new ones, reach out to a friend to see if they’d be interested in a clothing swap. You can prepare a bag of lightly-used clothing that you no longer wear that you think they’d like, they can do the same for you, and you can exchange wardrobes without spending a cent. If you’re in the market for something a little more socially-distant, you can ask your friends to style you: have a video conference and show them what clothes you already have in your closet, and have them put together outfits for you!
Make things difficult for yourself
Are you buying clothes all the time because you follow influencers on social media? Do you get e-mails from your favorite brands telling you about their latest sales? Do you have your credit card information saved on retailers’ websites? Remove the temptation, and the next time you have the urge to shop, having to look for something on a website and digging your credit card out of your wallet may discourage you from starting the process.
Use your wallet to make a statement
Did you know that less than 2% of clothing workers earn a fair living wage around the world? According to The Guardian, fashion is one of the world’s most wasteful and exploitative industries. When you do choose to purchase clothing, taking the time to do a little bit of research into the manufacturers behind your outfits can help you ensure that the people who made your clothes are working under humane working conditions. Movements like Fashion Revolution seek to make conditions in clothing factories transparent, with an ultimate goal of conserving and restoring the environment, as well as ending exploitation of workers in garment factories.