10 Tips to a Sustainable Wardrobe

Sustainable clothing requires awareness. About the sustainable use of fashion and the possibilities to realise it.

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Bild: AdobeStock

1. Get an overview

Before you start thinking about what to be aware of when buying new clothes, you should first of all get a idea of the status quo. A look in the wardrobe is the first step towards sustainability, because only those who know exactly what is in their wardrobe can make sustainable buying decisions. This is probably also the first step towards realising how many items of clothing you have – including items that spend their lives in bed drawers and basement compartments. It’s astonishing what accumulates here over the years, isn’t it? The three W-questions are important here:

  • What do I still wear?
  • What am I (currently) not wearing, but want to keep?
  • What can definitely go?                                                                                                                                                    

2. Sorting out regularly

Well, are you still sure you don’t have anything to wear? For the “Sustainable Wardrobe” project, it is essential to get rid of things as well. That’s why you should separate your clothes – into pieces that you like to wear often and into items that only live a shadowy existence in your closet. Your favourite pieces will go back into the wardrobe (sorted!), for all other pieces, think critically which of them can be mucked out. It’s not so much about getting rid of old things to have more room for new fashion items, but rather about becoming more aware of how much you already own. And clothes that you no longer wear not only take up a lot of space in your wardrobe, but also cost you money, because you often buy things twice without knowing it. Therefore you should sort out in regular intervals. Items of clothing that you no longer wear, do not simply throw away, please, donate or resell them.

3. Buy and sell second hand

The most sustainable way of shopping is and will remain the second-hand shopping. Because if you don’t buy everything new, you protect the environment, as no new product has to be produced and processed. This saves resources and energy. Another nice side effect: you save money! Because unusual individual pieces and designer items can not only be found in noble boutiques but also in second-hand shops. In most cities there are numerous second-hand shops, which also lure with designer clothes and vintage pieces. In so-called “PICKNWEIGHT stores”, the clothes are not paid by label but by weight. But you can also find them online, e.g. at “Vestiaire Collective” or “Rebelle”, items from high street and popular streetwear labels can be found at “Kleiderkreisel“, “Fyt-vintage“, or “Mädchenflohmarkt“. Especially for mothers (and fathers!) there is “Mamikreisel“. On platforms like these you can also make money from your own discarded clothes and sell or exchange used clothes. Just give it a try and you’ll see, it’s really fun to search for hidden treasures at flea markets, vintage shops or online platforms.

Barely used and well-preserved clothes can find new owners through Second-Hand shops.
Bild: AdobeStock | ilyashapovalov
Barely used and well-preserved clothes can find new owners through Second-Hand shops.

4. Avoid spontaneous buying & borrow instead of buying

Whether it’s a pompous ball gown for your best friend’s wedding, a chic tuxedo for a festive gala or a colourful 80s trash outfit for the next motto party, the maxim is: never invest your savings in clothes that you will only wear for very special occasions. For special occasions, it is better to borrow something from friends or from special online shops. This makes sense especially if the outfit for the special occasion will only be worn once or twice.

To avoid impulse buying, it is helpful to think carefully about what you really need before you go shopping. You should not buy jeans, a suit or a new pair of shoes spontaneously, always think carefully. Often we buy clothes without thinking about it, e.g. when there is a season sale in shops. And after the euphoria of the successful “clothing hunt” a few days later usually follows the disillusionment and we notice that the new sequined shirt does not look as good as we thought. Then we have to admit to ourselves that it was just another unnecessary impulse purchase.

A new survey, commissioned by Greenpeace, of the shopping habits of people in Europe and Asia finds that regularly buying too many clothes, shoes, bags and accessories has become an international phenomenon.

With a precise shopping list – matched to the current wardrobe – such spontaneous fashion purchases no longer stand a chance. So if you are still missing a red sweater to go with your black trousers, then note “red sweater” on your shopping list. This way you can resist tempting special offers while strolling around and don’t blindly follow any fashion trends. In most cases, you can create new outfit combinations with just a few pieces anyway. And once you’ve found your own style, it’s much easier to stay consistent with it and you won’t even think about buying new short-lived trend pieces all the time.

5. Investing in timeless quality

Will I wear this garment at least 30 times? You should ask this question critically before every purchase of a new item – and keep your hands off it if the answer is “no”. Livia Firth, producer of the documentary “The True Cost” has already launched the so-called “#30wears-challenge” in 2017, with which she appelles to a more conscious shopping behaviour – because on average a T-shirt is only worn four times before it gets thrown away. Every fifth item of clothing in our cupboard is hardly ever worn. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood also finds clear words for this: “Buy less, choose well, make it last”. So instead of buying the next cheap shirt, which loses its shape after only two launderings, it’s better to invest in a higher-quality (and preferably fairly produced) piece that will give you long-term pleasure. If you also focus more on classic garments and simple fashion basics, you can wear them all year round without being at the mercy of seasonal fashion trends. Fairly and environmentally friendly produced items may cost more money to purchase than fast fashion, but they pay off in the long run – for people and the environment. So it’s better to buy less, but better and therefore more durable quality.

Fast Fashion als Problem für nachhaltige Kleidung
Bild: Bleed
Functional jacket of the brand Bleed with sustainable SympaTex fibres.

6. Take proper care of your clothes

A careful handling of clothes is essential – it extends the life of clothes, which is good for the environment and saves resources. Good care starts with proper storage in the wardrobe: fold everything neatly and hang the clothes up properly. Also the correct and not too frequent laundering of textiles or the correct cleaning and caring of shoes play an important role. Generally speaking, every time you clean an item of clothing, it loses quality and wears out. So maybe air the garment instead of washing it immediately – this saves water, detergent and electricity, and is gentle on nature and the textile fibres. And if you also invest in an ecologically degradable detergent, the water cycle is protected from harmful surfactants.

7. Repairing instead of new-consuming

Clothing is not a disposable commodity. All textiles contain valuable resources and hard work. So before torn jeans, worn shoes or a broken shirt are thrown away, you should try to repair them. And even if you haven’t (yet) discovered the talent of sewing for yourself: there are usually tailors everywhere who can mend holes, sew zippers or shorten (or lengthen) garments. The same applies to shoes: a new sole or holes in the shoes can often be easily repaired by a shoemaker.

Or you can follow the upcycling trend and design new things from old materials: With just a few simple steps, you can easily transform some of your favourite items. Thus unique pieces are created that no one else has. Numerous inspirations and instructions are available, for example, on platforms such as Pinterest or on creative DIY blogs.

8. Focus on sustainable labels with certified seals

If you want to shop sustainably, you should definitely focus on fair fashion labels. Because fair fashion brands use sustainable materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester when selecting fabrics and ensure that fair working conditions are maintained. In this context, make sure to look for internationally approved seals of quality. These confirm that the growing and/or production conditions are truly environmentally friendly or fair and not a greenwashing attempt by the marketing department. Well-known and trustworthy seals are, for example, the iVN seal of the International Association of the Natural Textile Industry and the GOTS seal (Global Organic Textile Standard) for cotton. The bluesign label or that of the Fair Wear Foundation as well as PETA approved vegan, which certifies production without animal products, also guarantee a minimum ecological standard. However, as all seals have different criteria and requirements for producers, it is best to find out more before buying online. Greenpeace’s environmentally friendly and fair shopping guide also offers a good overview of the somewhat confusing and often opaque jungle of seals. A brand new feature is the state-run Grüner Knopf über-label – it is intended to make transparent what standards lie behind a product and in which country it was produced. It currently includes 26 social and ecological product criteria and 20 corporate criteria. Websites like treeday.net also help you to find sustainable shops and companies in your area.

Quelle: Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung

9. Mindset questions

Perhaps now is also a good time to rethink your previous purchase or consumption decisions. Are there alternative ways of where and how often you can buy clothes? What is the reason why you are always buying something new? Does it function as a reward? So is it more because of emotional reasons? Boredom or stress? On closer inspection, you will probably find that many purchasing decisions are a kind of “coping mechanism” for something completely different. But does a new garment really help when you are sad or frustrated? Wouldn’t an intense conversation with friends be more helpful in this case? And if you want to do self-care, isn’t it better to really take care of yourself instead of distracting yourself with material goods? 

10. Following the right trends

Finally, a tip that does not directly lead to a sustainable wardrobe, but can still help to permanently change one’s buying behaviour: social media detox. Don’t worry, it’s not about logging yourself off from the various social media platforms, but about avoiding people who promote problematic buying behaviour and senseless mass consumption. Instead, you should fill your feed with people who promote fair and sustainable consumption. These so-called “sense-fluencers” often give helpful tips, inspiration and food for thought instead of just promoting cheap nonsense products with discount codes. It is also helpful to delete all shopping apps and fashion newsletters. This way you are not constantly tempted to consume by push messages.

What tips do you have for a sustainable wardrobe? Write it in the comments!

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