It’s time to pack away your coats and knitwear, there’s warm weather ahead. But while it might be tempting to grab an armful of 10-buck tees and head to the nearest body of water, creating a sustainable wardrobe instead will serve you well beyond the spring–summer season – and save you money in the long run.
Rosie Dalton is the fashion editor of Well Made Clothes, an online ethical shopping platform that connects conscious consumers with – as its name suggests – clothes that are well made.
“Although shopping responsibly can seem like more of an investment upfront, it is important to think about the bigger picture here,” she says, pointing out that fast-fashion is now the second most polluting industry in the world after fossil fuels.
Our fast-fashion footprint is growing too; every 10 minutes Australians throw out around 6000 kilograms of fashion and textile waste, and it can take up to 2700 litres of water to make a single, cheap cotton T-shirt.
“Responsibly made garments cause less environmental harm in the pre-consumer phase,” Dalton explains. “And if you care for your garments properly – and wear them lots – you can extend their lifecycle and reduce your cost per wear over time. After all, a $10 T-shirt that you only wear once is still more expensive than a $50 T-shirt you wear every day.”
Well Made Clothes stocks more than 50 brands (from Patagonia, Teva and Levi’s Waterless, to local independent labels such as Kowtow, Dress Up, Limb and Kuwaii), and each meets at least one of eight values: handcrafted, transparent, fair, local, sustainable, minimal waste, vegan, gender equality.
This means the clothes are either made by hand; under known, safe conditions; by workers who are fairly paid; locally; with organic, recycled or upcycled materials; without animal products; or by companies which employ, upskill and support women.
Here’s her advice for spring-cleaning your wardrobe sustainably, without compromising on style.
Step one: set the mood
The first step is figuring out your look. This, Dalton says, can be harder than it sounds.
“Often I will spot something on Instagram and think it’s ‘me’, only to later work out it doesn’t reflect my personal lifestyle,” she says.
Think about your day-to-day; what makes you feel comfortable, confident and, well, cool? Take a look around at the brands you like, the fashion icons who inspire you and even at your well-dressed friends (or strangers on the street).
If you’re so inclined, “This is where a mood board can be great in helping you to work out what you want from your wardrobe,” Dalton says. “By visually compiling the style references you keep coming back to, I find you can really get to the heart of your personal style.”
Step two: take stock
Once you’ve settled on your look, it’s time to delve deep into your wardrobe and do a stocktake.
“Work out which pieces you wear a lot of and separate them out from those that sit at the back of your closet gathering dust,” says Dalton.
“Now that you know what is serving you well, you can go through the little-worn pile and consider if any of those garments could be given new life – through tailoring, for example – or if they may somehow serve you in the future. If so, they can become your ‘maybes’.”
Bid farewell to the rest.
Step three: review, repair, recycle
You should now have three distinct piles of clothing: yes, no and maybe. Set aside the first two, and tend to the third.
“Can [the maybes] be transformed with a new wash of colour, or a change in hemline? If so, do your research on good local dye houses or tailors,” says Dalton. “If not, perhaps they could be sold on to someone else, or passed along to a friend or relative.”
Either option will “extend the lifecycle of those pieces, which ultimately makes them more sustainable,” she says. “As a last resort, you can add them to the ‘no’ pile and donate to a local charity or a textile recycling facility.”
Unfortunately, things that can’t be sold or donated will have to be thrown out (if donated clothes aren’t in good nick, they’ll wind up in landfill anyway).
Step four: mind the gaps
“Now you have stripped your wardrobe back to the bare essentials, you can begin to visualise how you want your sustainable wardrobe to look as a whole,” says Dalton.
It’s time for your mood board to shine. Compare your initial vision with what’s in front of you, and identify what’s missing.
“Don’t feel pressure to buy new things just for the sake of it, but do start to think about restocking your closet with sustainability, longevity and utility in mind,” she says. “As a test, I like to visualise how a potential new purchase might pair with multiple other garments I own already.”
Step five: shop, sustainably
Dalton says a sustainable wardrobe is one full of clothes you actually wear.
“The pieces you love, and live in, count here too, so once you work out what those are, you can supplement them with ethical fashion pieces to fill in any gaps.”
She suggests looking at specialist websites, such as Well Made Clothes, buying directly from ethically made brands, or hunting through your local op shops.
“Either way,” she says, “the most important thing to ask yourself when building a sustainable wardrobe is: will I actually wear this?”
When in doubt, sleep on it. And if you still want it the next day, it’s unlikely you’ll suffer buyer’s remorse.
Step six: make it last
“Extending the lifecycle of your garments isn’t just about buying well and wearing your garments more,” says Dalton. “It is also about caring for those pieces well. After all, quality clothing deserves to be cared for.”
For her, this means following care instructions and washing some things (such as denim) less, and handwashing delicates wherever possible. Fold your knitwear instead of hanging it and invest in environmentally friendly hangers instead of plastic ones, she says.
“If we can extend the lifecycle of our garments, then we can radically reduce our impact long-term,” Dalton says.
Want more tips? Read the rest of the spring-cleaning series here, including “How to Spring Clean Your House”. We spoke to a KonMari expert and asked her how to ditch the mess and make your home a spotless sanctuary.