As we joyously bid farewell to 2020 and ring in a New Year full of possibility, the time has come for the yearly ritual of imagining our goals and resolutions for 2021. For anyone thinking about sustainability and efforts to be more eco-conscious, I have put together a short list of small, easy changes you can make in your fashion habits. Sustainability is not black and white, and every decision we make has some sort of impact on our world. Each piece of clothing we wear has a journey to get from the source of its fabrics to its sewers to you - and some journeys are more harmful to our planet than others. It can be overwhelming to think about a full overhaul of all of your habits, but I find solace in the knowledge that we are better off having more people live consciously imperfectly than having fewer people do it flawlessly. Rather than stressing about the overwhelming scale of the issues effecting the fashion industry, I think it can be helpful, and more impactful, to look at it on a micro level, and see what small shifts we can each do to favor better practices.
1. Recycle clothing you don't wear.
When I take a look at my closet and start to do my seasonal clean-out, it is easy to feel guilty realizing the number of pieces I have stopped wearing or lost interest in. On some level, it's natural for fashion lovers to have some pieces that no longer spark joy, or to feel that a look has run its course in your life. Hopefully this happens after a garment has had a full life of making you look fabulous, but the truth is that every so often this even happens for a piece that you have only worn a handful of times. There's no use in feeling guilty, but there are ways you can make it right! First, throw all of your cast offs in the wash and make sure they are good and clean (yes, even the pieces with rips, runs, and stains)! Then, sort the clothing into three groups - good condition, poor condition, and undergarments.
Your good condition items should have no significant damage, stains, or signs of wear, and they have a great second chance at life! If you have someone in your life that you think would enjoy these pieces, the best thing you can do is gift them so that they can be worn. Do you have a sister (or friend) always borrowing your clothes? A younger niece who thinks everything you wear is cool? If no one wants your hand-me-downs, the next step is to donate or sell what is left. The ugly truth about donations is that it is very difficult to get your clothing into the hands of people who need or want it - and most places that make you feel good about dropping off (like Goodwill, Planet Aid, and the Salvation Army) sell your goods for a profit and discard rejected items so that they end up in the landfill. If you are willing to go the extra mile, call around to local women's shelters and wellness organizations to ask if there are items they need - certain categories like winter coats and gloves are usually in demand, but many pieces that you may be donating are not. For majority of pieces you are discarding, selling may actually be the best way to ensure the piece gets into someone's closet who will wear it! If you don't mind managing the sales yourself, Poshmark is a great way to keep the most profit on your sales. If you would rather a send it and forget it approach, order Thred Up Clean Out Bags. They do all the heavy lifting for you by selling the pieces they believe to be valuable, recycling the rest, and direct depositing your percentage of the profits as things sell!
Your poor condition items are perfect for recycling so they can go on to have new life as new garments (or insulation, or rags)! Remember that these items have to be cleaned before they are sent off to be recycled, but that they can be in any condition of disrepair. For all clean clothing in any condition, I order a Take Back Bag from For Days. For just $10, they send you a bag with a pre-paid return label that you can fill with your discarded clothing, and they will take care of the recycling with a promise that no garment will end up in the landfill. For your undergarments, Knickey's Recycling Program will do the same thing, and your old intimates will be recycled and repurposed into insulation, rug pads, and rags. As an added bonus, you'll get a coupon for a new pair of undies from Knickey as a reward for being green!
The main takeaway here is that your unworn clothing is doing nothing for you or anyone else just hanging in your closet, and unfortunately if you have been dumping your closet clean outs in donation boxes, they may have eventually ended up in landfills. But this year, you can take this knowledge to more consciously upcycle your clothing, whether that means giving it as a hand-me-down, selling it to a new home, or recycling it to become something new.
2. Read your labels, do some research.
A big step in being aware of what is in your closet and what you are buying is learning to read the labels on everything you wear. The two important pieces of information on the tag are the fabric content and where the garment is made. The more you are aware of this, the more you will start to recognize the names of different fibers, and understand the differences. For example, any fabric with the word Poly in it, is synthetic and basically a type of a plastic. Nylon, acrylic, and spandex are some other common synthetics. On the other hand, cotton, linen, rayon, modal, and lyocell (also called tencel) are common natural fabrics. As a rule, natural fabrics are generally considered more eco-friendly, but the scale of how sustainable they are really depends on how the fibers are sourced and made into fabric. Some manufacturers of natural fabrics use chemicals or irresponsible forest clearing practices that are arguably just as harmful as the process of creating synthetic fabrics, while other companies source the natural fibers responsibly, using methods that are non toxic and highly renewable. To put it lightly, there are many shades of grey when talking about which fabrics are the most sustainable and least harmful. That being said, recycled synthetic fabrics are much better all around than newly created synthetics, while natural fibers are biodegradable in a way that no synthetics can be.
I found that the more I read and more research I did about fabrics, the more committed I became to making an effort to buy clothing made from cleanly and responsibly sourced materials, and that led me to finding amazing brands committed to sustainability. You can start small - I did! Start just looking at the label when you try on a new cute clothing item. Or google search for alternatives when you're shopping for a new necessity (I found a company that makes socks out of renewable bamboo, and they are so soft)! Sometimes you love a piece that's made from less than ideal materials, and that's okay, no need to feel bad about it! I think just being mindful for future purchases, and knowing what you are buying is so important. It makes the decision conscious - if you adore the design, sometimes the sacrifice on fabric is worth it, because you know you'll wear it time and time again. If it's nothing special, you can usually find a greener, more sustainable alternative that is actually better quality and you enjoy more!
3. Wash your synthetics in a Guppy Bag.
Speaking of synthetic fabrics, once of the biggest problems for the environment is that they shed microplastics in your washing machine, which then leach into our waterways - ugh! I know that is close to impossible to rid all synthetic garments from our life, so while I've tried to limit buying and wearing synthetics as much as I can, I also try to mitigate the harm from the pieces I do have in my closet. This is as easy as purchasing a Guppyfriend Bag and a Cora Ball. When I just have a few synthetic pieces in my laundry, I place them in my Guppyfriend bag, and that bag captures most of the microplastics that would have been shed in the wash! As an added bonus, the bag protects delicates as they go through your wash cycle. If you have a larger load with many synthetic pieces, the Cora Ball will be a better choice. Just throw it in with your laundry and it will catch an average of 26% of the shedded microfibers. This solution certainly helps and with minimal effort!
4. Consider vegan next time you are shopping for leather goods.
Some of the most treasured luxury items in the fashion world are made of the leather. Sustainability and leather is a deep and complicated issue - this article is a great start if you want a brief overview of the environmental dilemmas of the livestock and tanning industries. While most understand the ethical and environmental arguments against using livestock for meat, what is unique about leather is the added complexities of the chemical tanning processes. While some people argue that leather and wool are natural fibers, they ignore the fact that most of these products are treated and processed to prevent them from biodegrading, and to give them favorable colors and textures. These chemicals are not only harmful to the environment, but also carcinogenic and toxic to tannery workers. Because of all of these factors, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index actually favors synthetic alternatives to leather (like polyurethane), giving it better scores for both global warming and pollution. Unfortunately, polyurethane is synthetic and not biodegradable, so it is not a perfect solution. More sustainable solutions are in development with many companies, and there is hope that we may be able to create leather alternatives out of natural plant sources.
So what does this mean for you and your bag and shoe shopping in 2021? Keep an eye out for vegan leather, wool, and shearling! Vegan leather almost always wears better and has a longer life, and is often less expensive. If you need convincing, look at Stella McCartney - forgoing leather has not stopped these bags from standing up against their counterparts in the luxury market! For the luxury leather goods you aspire to have - consider purchasing second hand and giving that amazing Chanel bag new life with you. For the leather pieces you already have or work your butt off to buy new - treat them as precious so they have a long, long life in your closet.
5. Make shopping a special event.
The best thing you can do to make your wardrobe more sustainable is to make sure you truly love each piece you buy, so you treasure it and give it a long life of many wears. Shopping is one of my favorite activities, and clothing gives me joy unique to any other pleasure in life. I don't think we should have to give that up to become more conscious! Instead, I have transitioned to being more selective when I do shop. I may buy fewer things, just because I try to resist impulse buys and only swipe my card when I know I'm buying something I don't want to live without. I also try to put my dollars into supporting companies that are doing things to make the industry more sustainable, and the world a better place. The secret is this actually makes shopping even more fun! When you are picky about what you buy, buyers remorse does not follow a shopping spree. When you are unsure if you want something, chances are you probably don't love it that much, and if you do, you're that much more excited to come back to buy it the next day. In my opinion, slow fashion is the best thing to happen to my shopping habit. Now, each thing I buy is special in its own way, and feels like a small celebration when I take it home.
I hope these tips helped get you thinking about resolutions you want to implement, and even inspired you to work toward a more sustainable wardrobe in 2021. Making fashion more sustainable (even just by changing your own habits and educating yourself) is a rewarding cause, and we hope you will join us in taking it a little further this year. We also put together a Sustainability Focused collection filled with brands that are going above and beyond to reduce the environmental and social impact of their clothing. If you want to add to your sustainable closet, this is a great place to start! Happy New Year!