Sustainable fashion is pricey.
If you Google “sustainable clothing,” you’ll find lots of options. T-shirts made from 100% organic cotton, leggings made from recycled plastic bottles, fair trade scarves… and so on.
But most of those items are around $100 a piece. They may be a better option for the planet, but not so much for your wallet.
If you’re looking to invest in some more sustainable options, but you’re not tryna break the bank, I gotchu. Me too.
I’ve come up with a few tips to dress more sustainably, and I’ve listed some brands I feel good about giving my dollars to.
THE MOST SUSTAINABLE OUTFIT IS THE ONE YOU ALREADY OWN
This is probably not the answer you’re looking for, but it’s true.
A study conducted by Jenny Hall, an anthropologist studying the environmental effects of fast fashion, found that for the average household in the UK, around 30% of clothing goes unworn over the course of a year.
That might seem like a high percentage, but I know for me, I have a handful of outfits I wear regularly… and the others are articles of clothing I wear on occasion, or ones I tell myself I’ll eventually have the confidence to wear. But I never actually take them off the hanger.
I think that’s probably the case for many of us. It’s the “what if there’s an occasion I’ll need it!” or “one day I’ll lose enough weight to fit into those pants again!” mentality that keeps our dressers overstuffed with outfits we haven’t worn in years.
When going through your clothes, check in with the status of some of your dusty outfits. Have you worn it in the last year? Why or why not? If it doesn’t fit, don’t keep it!
(Perhaps the topic of another article, but in my experience, keeping your “skinny” pants that you hardly fit into anymore isn’t good for you. It’s a pair of pants… it’s not your identity. Let it go and find a different pair that fit you beautifully. You’ll look like a million bucks and you’ll feel cool as heck.)
If you’re having a hard time parting with some of your clothes, put them in a bag and set them somewhere you won’t see them. Keep them there for a month. If you haven’t thought about them during that time, either donate them, give them away or try to sell them online.
We need to normalize rewearing outfits, too. I remember in high school I was petrified of wearing the same shirt more than once a week. Now, I’ve gotten rid of so many of my clothes that I rewear the same shirts in the same week all of the time. There’s nothing wrong with rewearing clothes! Pair your black T-shirt with a jean jacket one day. Then the next day wear a scarf. Maybe the day after that wear a blazer with it and tuck in your shirt. There are tons of ways to rewear your clothes while making you feel fresh with each wear.
SECONDHAND OPTIONS CAN BE CHEAP, UNIQUE, AND MORE SUSTAINABLE
Quality jeans, 100% cotton T-shirts, quirky jackets and some other general clothing staples are usually fairly easy to thrift.
If you’ve been to your local thrift stores, like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and you swear you can’t find anything that fits your style. I get it. I’ve been there.
I’m a pretty avid thrifter. The vast majority of my clothes are thrifted, but I still leave SalVal empty handed now and again.
Here are a few tips for what to look for when you go thrifting.
- Know what you’re looking for. If can be really difficult to find something if you don’t know what you’re looking for. If you need a cute jacket, go to the thrift store with that in mind. Look through Pinterest for some inspiration of what you’re looking for. Keep in mind the shape of the jacket, or the general pattern, and have an open mind when you walk down the aisles.
- Try stuff on. I’ve grabbed a dress that I thought was hideous and then tried it on and fell in love. You never know how something will fit your body until you try it on!
- Step out of your comfort zone. While you can find some basics at a thrift store, sometimes the most fun is when you find the most obscure looking shirt and then when you try it on, it’s your new favorite item. You never know what you’ll find.
- Shop for basics. A black T-shirt, a nice pair of Levi jeans, a leather jacket… all of these things are usually easy to come by at the thrift store. You may not think to go there for a replacement to your favorite T, but give it a shot. They may have the brand you like there for half the price!
OTHER SECONDHAND OPTIONS
Here is a list of some online secondhand stores that might be easier to shop during the pandemic:
ECO-FRIENDLY BRANDS I DIG
Full disclosure, I’ve never purchased clothing from a sustainable company. I usually go the secondhand route.
Here is a list of companies that are quality sustainable brands. Some are more reasonably priced, while others are ridiculously expensive. I’d love to eventually purchase a few items from these shops, but I just haven’t had the money. If you do purchase something from one of these places, please let me know what you think!
This list isn’t exhaustive. There are countless sustainable brands out there. However, I wanted to list companies that I know to be quality. Again, I haven’t purchased from most of these, but I’ve heard only good things. Most of these are a bit pricey, so if price is a concern, maybe stick with secondhand stores. Or, buy one or two staples from one of these sustainable stores.
OPT FOR CLOTHING YOU’LL USE ALL THE TIME
Buying clothes from a brand like Target or Walmart isn’t bad. Don’t feel shame about it! If you find an article of clothing that you really love, that fits you well, you feel confident in and you haven’t been able to find a more sustainable, inexpensive or secondhand version of, go for it.
If I’m being honest, everything I’m wearing in that photo above is secondhand –– except for my overalls!
They’re from Target. I got them several months ago when I was looking everywhere for secondhand overalls. I looked all over the place and didn’t find any that fit, or that I liked. When I went to Target and spotted these bad boys, I fell in love. They fit great and I felt really confident in them.
So I bought them. And then I felt such guilt for buying something that wasn’t “sustainable” enough.
But I told that thought to get the heck out of here, and I’ve enjoyed wearing my overalls ever since. They’re a staple in my closet that get lots of use.
Like I said before, it’s not wrong to buy something because it makes you feel good and gives you a much needed confidence boost. But when you can reasonably make a more sustainable choice, always try to go the more sustainable route.
LOOK FOR “ORGANIC” MATERIALS
*Not necessarily certified organic materials… I’m talking materials that are plastic-free and can break down more easily in nature.
100% cotton, linen, wool, hemp, silk, jute, flax, etc. are less likely to contain microplastics, which end up in our waterways. When you’re thrift shopping, or shopping anywhere, look at the tag!
THE PROBLEM WITH MICROPLASTICS
There’s been lots of research conducted regarding microplastics that come off of clothing — especially clothing made from plastic such as polyester and acrylic.
Here are a few articles talking about the problem with microplastics:
Vox wrote an article based on a few different studies, with this one looking at how fish ingest microplastics, and this one looking at how microplastics are released from clothing.
The study “Release of synthetic microplastic plastic fibres from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing conditions” conducted by Imogen E. Napper and Richard C. Thompson found that in a typical washer, over 700,000 fibers could be released from a 6kg (or around 13 pound) load of acrylic fabric laundry. From their study, they found some microplastics can pass through water treatment plants. They believe this could be a large reason microplastics are found in aquatic habitats.
Even “organic” clothes produce microfibers in the water system. However, more natural fibers can more easily breakdown.
While there isn’t a total consensus on whether or not fiber catchers are the best option, some studies have found that they lessen the amount of microplastics and fiber that go into waterways.
There are a few different options for these fiber catchers, but the easier one to use appears to be the Cora Ball.
The Cora Ball is a laundry ball that you toss into your load of laundry. It supposedly catches the microplastics and fibers!
The GuppyFriend is a laundry bag that does the same thing. You toss your clothes in the bag, throw the bag into the wash, and the bag supposedly catches the microplastics.
I haven’t personally used a fiber catcher before, but I would like to buy one at some point to at the very least use when I wash my polyester/plastic clothing.
I’m not sure which one is better, as I haven’t used either one. But check out reviews on both and do some research to see if you think it’s worth it!
If you don’t want to get one of those fiber catchers, here are a few other options to lessen the likelihood of microplastics getting into the waterways.
- Wash your clothes less often. This is simple enough!
- Wash your clothing in cold water. Not ideal for certain articles of clothing, but could be helpful!
- Buy better quality clothes that are less likely to shed significant microfibers and microplastics.
- Buy clothes made from cotton and other natural options. While 100% natural fibers are the best route, the study conducted by Napper and Thompson showed that even fabrics with a blend of 50-50 polyester and cotton shed significantly fewer microplastics when compared to a fully polyester or acrylic option.
- Buy fewer clothes.
Overall, as I always say, give yourself grace. Buy sustainably when you can. Opt for secondhand when it works for you. Remember that the most sustainable outfit is the one you already own. And most important of all, be kind to yourself and to others –– we’re all doing our best out here! 🙂
Grace and peace to you, my friends.