How to Be a Sustainable Fashionista Without Spending Lots of Money

It’s tempting not to spring clean your wardrobe with glorious sun rays just a footstep away.

But before you do, you should consider not throwing away last season’s wardrobe.

As Care2 members, you are probably already conscious about how much food you throw away (even when you eat out), but have you ever thought about how much clothing you throw away? Citing the EPA Office of Waste, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains, “Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year.”

Fashion designers are out to create timeless icon looks that will stand the test of time, but very few looks, trends and fabrics make the cut. Those that don’t usually end up in landfills.

Some brands are trying. H&M is making headlines with the launch of its new eco-friendly and sustainable clothing line. But before you go out to buy the next eco and sustainable trendy item, you can be eco-friendly and sustainable with the items that you have now. Honestly, a few new sustainable threads aren’t going to cut the pile of a problem that we have.

You can ditch waste couture without sacrificing haute couture if you follow a few fashion-friendly and eco-friendly dos.

Clothing Industry Making its Environmental Mark

The fashion world is about leaving a mark. Yet, very few fashionistas consider the environmental mark that their designer duds leave.

  • As reported in TriplePundit, the garment industry is right behind the oil industry in contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • As covered in the NCBI, fabrics leave a huge pollutant footprint. For instance, polyster is made from petroleum. Even a natural fiber like cotton isn’t eco-friendly since cotton “accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States.”
  • As discussed in TriplePundit, the garment industry is second only to the agriculture sector in polluting waterways.

The Environmentally Expensive Side of Luxury

You might think that these environmental fashion don’ts are only in low-end and low-quality pieces. Think again.

As reported in The Street, Greenpeace found that fancy-schmancy luxury brands also commit fashion crimes with real environmental consequences. Greenpeace tested environmental hazards in Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Trussardi and Versace.

The items definitely gave users more bang for their buck — more nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), phthalates, polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) or antimony. The biggest NPEs offender was an innocent looking pair of Louis Vuitton ballerina shoes, and an uber-chic Versace jacket contained the most PFCs.

While you probably don’t want these chemicals to make direct contact with your skin because of their reported “hormone-disrupting properties,” they are also no good for the environment. The toxic chemicals “leach into the environment from clothing factories or from the clothes themselves when they’re washed, accumulating in the world’s waterways.”

The only luxury brands that have committed to eventually ending their toxic waste discharge are Burberry and Valentino.

How to Be a (Fashionable) Conscious Consumer

Luckily, there are no real fashion gods, even though there are some serious slaves to fashion. As BBC spotlights, a fashion slave buys the latest clothing trends just to be trendy, even if it’s not the most flattering.

Reclaim your fashion sense and good conscience with these easy fashion tips:

  • Wear, wash and repeat: Lucky for you that there are no tabloid photographers out to capture your Outfit of the Day (OOTD). Don’t be ashamed to wear the same garment more than once. Eventually, your pieces will become vintage anyway, so don’t part with them anytime soon.
  • Accessorize and revitalize: The right accessories transform an outfit consisting of staple pieces. Plus, playing with accessories unlocks your inner creative fashionista. Fashion is art, after all.
  • Swap with friends and family: Swapping clothes is a fun and great bonding activity to do with loved ones.
  • Sew/clean it up: A hole or a stain doesn’t always have to be the end of a garment’s life. As described in the NCBI, conspicuous consumption wasn’t always the norm. During World War I, clothing was “repaired, mended, or tailored to fit other family members, or recycled within the home as rags or quilts.” Because the government supported this repair mentality, there was about 10 percent less trash produced.

And when you absolutely have to buy:

  • Look for ethical transparency: Yes, sometimes it is just a marketing strategy. But it doesn’t always have to be about marketing, and it’s usually a good place to start. Brands that make it a point to include extra information about their materials, the sources and how they produce their pieces are worth investigating. Hangtags, website product descriptions, company backstory and mission, and the actual labels are places to check out.
  • Research and ask lots of questions: A quick internet search will produce a wealth of information. Searching for the brand name with key terms like ‘sustainable,’ ‘ethical’ and ‘fair’ can help you make a more informed decision.
  • Approach the stores that you frequent and ask them for more information. You can ask about materials, their code of conduct and if they stand behind the Bangladesh safety accord.
  • Buy organic: When you buy organic, there’ll be less toxic NPEs and PFCs flowing down the waterways.
  • Buy locally: Buying locally, and even domestically, can help cut down transportation distance and carbon emissions. As covered in the Daily Life, “the average t-shirts travels about 15,000km’s before” touching your skin.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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Pamela Allenson
Pamela A.6 months ago

Very informative. I never realized the impact clothing has on the planet

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brown7 months ago

thanks for sharing :)

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

I am so far out of style; I will be back in style soon enough!

Right now, I'm comfortable!

Beth Wilkerson
Beth Wilkerson1 years ago

Interesting article and comments.

Ernest Roth
Ernest R.1 years ago

@ Loran W. "Most organic cotton isn't".There are also ethical problems with cotton, from the slave labor in harvesting to the manufacture in Bangladeshi sweat shops. There are similar problems including animal cruelty with wool, leather and silk. Synthetics made from oil are even more destructive. People and their maintenance are destructive with or without greed and there are too many people.

Marianne B.
MARIA B.1 years ago

love the comments. If you give them to charities, please check them out first. you'll be shocked at what the CEO's make.( go to charity Red Cross & Salvation Army are reputable. recycle/donate please.

Carole R.
Carole R.1 years ago

Good tips.

Nimue P.
Nimue Pendragon1 years ago

I instigated a fashion trend here in Australia when I was young, simply by altering my mother's clothes and wearing them. It caught on. I was thrilled of course. Recycling is the way to go, always :)

Gloria H.
Gloria H.1 years ago

wander into the malls....a lot of "fashion" is distressed jeans, and old crackled looking tees. The only difference between that and the thrift shop is the price tag.
Sew on a fabric rose (lots of how-to makes) on the internet, pretty buttons from the button box, or use a bleach pen to remove black (turns brown from bleach) and you've got a customized tee.
Check out "Cut out and Keep" on the web for hundreds of easy, cheap ideas and how to's.

Neela Nelson
Neela Nelson1 years ago

I luv this article. I had thought, before reading the comments, that I was just an oddball cause I truly don't care about whats called 'fashion'.
If it fits and I like it (clean and pressed) I wear it. It's that simple. Most of whats passed off as FASHION I wouldn't wear to empty the garbage.
Its so good to read so many others have such common sense