How to Create a Sustainable Wardrobe

Words by The Sherpa Team

April 13, 2020

How to Create a Sustainable Wardrobe

Are you looking for tips on how to be more sustainable? In a world where we need to be more eco-friendly than ever, we must acknowledge the importance of how fast fashion impacts our environment. Fast fashion is one of the causes of many immense pressures our environment is facing. To combat this, we can all do our bit by shopping sustainably.

Fast fashion creates a lot of garments; in fact, in 2014, the total number of garments produced annually was over 100 billion! With 18% of that being fast fashion, that's a lot that is destined for landfill after a short life. But you can do your bit for the environment by making your wardrobe more sustainable. It's all about the choices you make, and some small tweaks to your shopping habits can make a big difference. Here are a few ways you can create a sustainable wardrobe:

1. Quality over Quantity

There's a reason why people say, "you buy cheap, you buy twice". Quality plays a huge part in the sustainability of our wardrobe. If you opt for low-quality clothing, the garments are more likely to lose their shape, elasticity, and overall attractive aesthetic at a fast pace. A good way of getting out of this cycle is to buy less often, and when you do buy more clothing, choose something that is of higher quality. By doing this, you will get more wear out of your clothing, and you won't need to replace them as often, or at all.

A study by the Berlin think tank Hot or Cold Institute has come up with the recommendation that each person should own no more than 74 garments and 20 outfits. The study also suggests limiting new purchases to 5 new garments a year.

But don't just get rid of clothing if you are over the 74 garments! Allow them to slowly reduce and stop buying new. Getting down to 74 garments doesn't have to happen overnight and can be a slow change. Just make sure when you buy new, you buy clothing that will last.

2. Buy clothing that can be adapted for all seasons

When you do buy your new clothing of high quality, look for pieces that can be worn throughout all the seasons. This way, you'll prevent clothing from being sat at the back of your wardrobe unworn. Choose timeless pieces that can be combined in different ways to make various looks.

Ensuring you pick clothes that can be worn throughout the year will also add a sense of value to the garments you have. The more you wear them, the more money's worth you get!

3. Wear your clothes

This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but ensuring you actually wear the clothes you have can make your wardrobe more sustainable. About 30% of clothes in wardrobes haven't been worn for the last year. It's wasteful to have clothes that are unworn and unloved. So, ensure you wear all the clothes you buy. If clothes no longer fit or you don't wear them, get rid of them (but not to landfill, if possible, we'll talk about this later); if they need repairing, repair them.

The #30wears campaign challenges you to wear every item of clothing at least 30 times. So, when you are buying new clothes, ask yourself, will you wear the item 30 times? If you can't honestly say yes, you shouldn't buy it.

4. Wash your clothes sustainably

The care you give your clothes can extend or reduce their lifespan. You can make your clothes last longer by washing them less often and on a colder setting.

Washing less might sound gross, but you'll be surprised how long clothes can go without a wash. Obviously, activewear, underwear and socks need to be washed regularly, but other items don't. Jumpers, jeans and tops don't need washing as often as you think (unless you get sweaty when wearing them), so reduce how often you wash these. Levi's CEO hasn't washed his jeans for a decade! So, you really don't need to whack those jeans in the wash after every wear. In fact, according to Levi's, you should wash denim as little as possible, as washing them causes them to fade and shrink.

Washing clothes at 30°C instead of higher temperatures can save 40% of energy used each year. Not only does this help make your wardrobe more sustainable, but it'll help reduce your energy bills too. Washing at lower temperatures is better for your clothing; it will reduce color fade and help your clothes last longer, reducing your need to buy anything new. You should also avoid harsh chemicals when washing clothes. Not only are these bad for the environment, but they can damage your clothes too. Choose a gentle, eco-friendly detergent to wash your clothes with.

You should also be careful of how you wash your clothing. Check the label to see how it should be washed. Some need to be washed on cold, and some need to be hand-washed, others need dry-cleaning. Caring for them in the recommended way will help them to last longer.

5. Repair your clothes

"Throw away culture" is terrible for the environment. And just because something gets a small rip doesn't mean it should go to landfill. Instead, why not repair your clothing? Think about how happy you'll be not having to throw away your favorite top because of a rip.

Learning to repair clothes can sound daunting, but it's pretty easy to learn. There are plenty of videos on YouTube, or you could find a nearby class. You'll learn a new skill and increase the life of your clothes.

If repairing clothes yourself isn't for you, find a local tailor to do it for you. This is often much cheaper than you expect and will breathe new life into your damaged clothing. If you don't know where to find a local tailor, many dry cleaners have a repair service. Not only will this make your wardrobe more sustainable, but you'll be supporting a local business too.

6. Find sustainable brands

Be careful who you buy from when buying clothes. Be wary of shops that "greenwash" and, instead, find sustainable and ethical clothing companies to buy from. Sustainable brands will have certifications, use sustainable materials, and the clothing will be made to last. Find some favorite sustainable clothing brands and stick to them.

At Sherpa, we use sustainable materials, and each purchase provides a donation to Room to Read's Nepal Education program. Find out more about our mission and impact.

7. Choose sustainable materials

If you're choosing sustainable brands to buy from, the clothing should be made from sustainable materials. Choose natural materials over manmade, so avoid polyester, nylon and acrylic, as these are chemically intensive and result in microplastics that seep into waterways. However, buying clothes made from recycled materials is a possibility.

Look for clothing made from organic cotton, hemp and wool to ensure the materials are sustainable. These clothing materials tend to have additional benefits too. For instance, hemp is a strong fabric that is UV-resistant, anti-microbial, and abrasion-resistant, meaning clothes made from hemp are not only eco-friendly but will stand the test of time.

Shop our range of hemp clothing for men and hemp clothing for women to start building your sustainable wardrobe with clothes made from eco-friendly materials.

8. Store your clothes correctly

One mistake people often make is to store clothes incorrectly, which reduces their life. By ensuring each item of clothing is stored correctly, you will make your wardrobe more sustainable.

Don't hang heavy garments, such as jumpers, as this can cause them to lose their shape. Instead, fold these items. For clothing that you hang up, ensure you have good coat hangers. Better hangers will prevent shoulders from stretching, taking better care of your clothes when they're not being worn. Better hangers, such as wooden hangers, are a little more expensive, but the investment is worth it. Also, avoid plastic hangers, as these are bad for the environment too.

9. See clothes as an investment

A simple change of attitude can be a big step to making your wardrobe more sustainable. Avoid fast fashion by seeing clothes as an investment. This way, you'll spend a bit more on clothes that are built to last rather than buying cheap items that fall apart or fade after just a few washes.

It may cost more at the point of purchase, but your finances will thank you in the long run, as you won't have to replace your clothes as often. So, spending a little extra will save you money over time.

Be sure to only shop with intent too. Only buy clothing that you need, not when you want to, and definitely don't impulse buy clothes.

10. Have an end-of-life plan for your clothes

Clothes don't last forever; even if you buy pieces that are built to last, care for them well and repair them, eventually, they will no longer be wearable. Or clothes might just not be right for you anymore, as they may not fit. Both of these scenarios don't need to end with clothing going to landfill.

If you are purging your wardrobe to get down to that recommended number of 74 garments, or if you are getting rid of clothes that no longer fit, don't throw them away; donate clothes to charity. The clothes that you no longer wear or love could be given a new life with someone else. And giving to charity allows someone else to buy new clothes sustainably, as no new materials are used to create these clothes. If you find it hard to give clothes up, you can always allow yourself to buy some clothes from the charity shop you are donating to, to ease the pain and take part in sustainable clothes shopping.

For clothes that are beyond repair and can't be donated, you can still use these garments to do good. If you're crafty, you could use the material to make something new. Or you can give your clothes to a clothes bank. Clothes banks will reuse the clothes where they can or recycle the materials into other useful products. Many high street brands will take old clothes and fabrics and recycle them too.

Making a sustainable wardrobe

When making your wardrobe more sustainable, some small changes can make a big difference. Remember, you don't need to make all the above changes overnight; you can make changes slowly. In fact, throwing out half your wardrobe isn't sustainable! Instead, think about the clothes you have and if you should keep them. Donate any that you don't wear anymore to charity. For those that you keep, make sure you care for them correctly and repair them when needed. Lastly, only buy what you need and buy clothing made from natural fabrics from sustainable companies (or second-hand) that are of high quality. Making your wardrobe sustainable is a journey, but you can make a big difference.

For sustainable clothes that are built to last, we have women's clothing and men's clothing made from sustainable materials such as hemp, organic cotton and recycled polyester.