A guide to sustainable and clutterless fashion

Fashion

Every quarter, I publish a guide to the season’s trends. I also publish “lists” as shopping lists related to trends. As much as I want to build my wardrobe to remain season- and trend-relevant , I am more of an editor – meaning, I curate my wardrobe at least twice a year.  I also tend to stick to classics and maintain the same clothing size (well, except for pregnancy) because changing sizes means more clothing expenses. Being an editor was not exactly a conscious choice. It was more a result of circumstance – over the past 4 years, I have moved 5 times in 5 cities scattered in 4 countries. Prior to that, I had a closet the size of 2 (maybe 3) big suitcases – I should know since I also had to haul said belongings to several places.

There are advantages to constantly editing your closet
Still, as someone who enjoys fashion, it’s difficult to not be tempted by the shiny and the new. I follow several bloggers on my Instagram feed and I am as susceptible as anyone to have closet envy. But, there are several advantages to being an editor and sticking to classics:

  • Unlike the average woman who owns over $500 worth of unworn clothing, I can honestly say that within the past 5 years, all my clothes have been worn and more than once. I chalk the earlier years to not knowing my style completely and buying some items on impulse.
  • I seldom, if ever, have moments of “I have nothing to wear”; those moments being only when I was hugely pregnant. When you have fewer clothes, you take a lot of the guesswork out of dressing. It’s the paradox of choice – more options don’t necessarily mean it’s better.
  • As I get better at being an editor, packing for travel or for a move becomes less and less agonizing. It’s not just the lesser volume of clothes that I have to carry during a move. Again it’s also the fact that I have fewer choices when it comes to assembling my luggage for travel.

Having these in mind, I decided to write a piece on sustainable and clutterless fashion. I hope that you will also find it useful.

What is sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion is a sub-trend of sustainable design,

where a product is created and produced with consideration to the environmental and social impact it may have throughout its total life span, including its “carbon footprint” (emphasis added).

The total life span of a plain white t-shirt for example starts from the cotton fields – how those fields are managed, whether it’s environmental (water management, land management) or social (farmers’ rights and wages) – to the store where it is sold to the end consumer. Because every aspect of the supply chain must be rendered sustainable, eco-fashion usually ends up with a relatively high price tag. Scale is difficult to achieve. In fact, it would be antithetical to the notion of eco-fashion, where minimum consumption is encouraged. It must also be high quality if the item is supposed to be for long-term use. For a great case study of sustainable fashion, read more on one of the best and pioneers of eco-fashion, Patagonia.

Fast fashion is the opposite of sustainable fashion. Inditex’ Zara and H&M’s value proposition is that they can rapidly respond to trends and produce it in massive scale – regardless of the source – and deliver it for low prices. As scrutiny grows, companies like these are learning to be more transparent about their supply chain but the fact remains that most of the clothes they produce are disposable.

How you can shop sustainably:
Personally, I have trouble paying a high premium for eco-fashion but I do believe in and aspire to sustainable design. I believe in consuming just the right amount and I absolutely hate waste. Instead of telling you what fabrics to look for (regular cotton vs. organic cotton), I find the following to be an adequate guide:

  1. Do you really “need” it? As in, do you still think about it the next day or several days after? Does it fill a hole in your wardrobe, i.e. you “need” a coat because your old one is showing its age? If not, then it would have been an impulse buy. Impulse buys are fine if you can easily return it but most people end up keeping such purchases, either because they simply forgot or it would have been inconvenient to return.
  2. Can you wear it at least 5 different ways with items that you already own? Or if you want to be more existential, does the item fit your life?
  3. Can you wear it at least 30 times? Classics, such as a button down shirt, are great because they can withstand several seasons and trends. If you go for a trendy piece, the question to ask is if it’s something that can be reworked or reframed back into an outfit even when the trend has passed. Finally, the quality should be good enough to withstand washings or normal wear and tear.

I find the second and third question to be great ways to weed out a lot of potential purchases. I have a weakness for unique and embellished pieces – what I call the precious (and expensive). But, let’s get real. I am a full time mom who works from home. Chances are, if I get that beautiful suede shoes with gold accents, I will likely wear it three times in a year with one or two outfits. Or, if I get that soft and silky shirt with gold studs, my baby will most likely burp on it or gnaw on the studs – you get the idea.

If you’re also interested in the kind of fabrics that are considered sustainable, you can read a comprehensive guide here.

De-cluttering your closet
But, I do understand that even after warding off temptations, you might still end up with a closet that is cluttered with amassed random pieces. So, how do you deal with it?

  1. If you haven’t worn something in a year (and you actually forgot about it), chances are, you will never wear it. Look to your circle of friends for potential clothes-swapping or if you’re tech-savvy and don’t mind the time investment, you can always go to eBay or apps like Vinted and Poshmark to get rid of unwanted clothes. For higher end items, go to your local consignment shop or use the website Vaunte. Otherwise, you can drop off used clothes to the local Salvation Army store. Be mindful though, that clothes have to be usable. Plus, secondhand clothes don’t always go to the needy.
  2. Organize your closet. This is probably something we all want/plan then forget to do. If you do get around to doing it, try organizing in terms of outfits instead of categories. If you have the space, use a garment rack to display outfits. Not only will it take the stress of dressing in the morning, it can also help you get an idea of the things you already own vs. the things you think you still need. You can also try using open shelves/cupboards to avoid stashing clothes in the back of the closet. There are also smartphone apps to organize your closet if you really want to get into it.

A garment rack is a great way to organize outfits

Your closet should fit your life and not the other way around
The thing with fashion is that it can either be something you aspire to be (experimenting) or represent who/what you are. Yes, the latter sounds superficial but unless you’re a hacker whose mind is completely absorbed by problem solving, most of us really do think about how our clothes can represent us. Experimenting is well and good – especially if you’re young or have been through a major life change. In the end, though, your closet should fit you, which means purchasing things that you will actually wear and not things that you think you will eventually wear.

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