Sustainability is trending right now. Posts and articles about how to live more sustainably are everywhere on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, and they even make their way to professional development platforms like LinkedIn. The truth is that people care about the planet, which is why sustainability isn’t likely to stop trending.   

Whether it’s reusable shopping bags, metal straws, buying in bulk, or composting, people are finding ways to take better care of the planet. We are collectively realizing that we need to take better care of our planet. But for some reason, fashion isn’t one of the categories too many people think about when they think about sustainability. It’s often left out of conversations about how to live more sustainably, and it doesn’t get nearly enough media attention as it should.    

So many of the clothes we wear fall into the category of “fast fashion.” They’re made from cotton that’s been sprayed with pesticides and fertilizers, they’re made in factories where workers aren’t treated well and don’t make a living wage, and they aren’t made to last. That shirt you bought from H&M might fit in with spring trends, but it’s likely to go out of style, wear down quickly, and get thrown out within a year.   

Fast fashion is great for companies that make money from it, but it isn’t so great for workers, the environment, or the individuals who wear the clothes. The resources that go into producing clothes are astounding. Growing plants to make clothes, dying textiles, and shaping them into clothing can waste so much water and contribute enormous amounts of Co2 to the atmosphere. Producing one pair of denim jeans can waste up to 1,000 gallons of water, and almost 20% of industrial water pollution comes from dyeing textiles.  

Despite all this, there are so many people and companies out there that are trying to make the fashion industry a better and more sustainable place. Your decisions and buying power can make a difference too. Here are some ways to make your wardrobe as sustainable as possible:  

Rethink what your clothing’s made of  
Fast fashion clothing doesn’t just impact the environment or the people who make it. The pesticides sprayed on cotton used to make clothing can make their way into the outfits we wear. The skin absorbs everything we put onto it. This can even include absorbing chemicals used to dye denim jeans, underwear, dresses, or blouses. 

This doesn’t mean you need to throw everything in your closet away, but being more mindful of  what the next item you buy is made from can make a big difference. As Anette Cantagello, design and sustainability director of ASK SCANDINAVIA says, “It’s important to look for certified materials such as GOTS cotton, OEKO-TEX for non-toxic skin-friendly end products, and Bluesign for responsible manufacturing. Choose natural or bio-based over synthetics made from non-renewable fossil fuels such as polyester or nylon.” 

Synthetic materials support the fossil fuel industry, and they release tiny microfibers into the water system that end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans. While some companies like Patagonia have started making washing bags that help prevent this from happening, this won’t entirely solve the problem.  

Fabrics made from things like organic cotton don’t release harmful substances into the environment when they’re washed, and they don’t have harsh chemicals in them that seep into the skin. Here’s a longer list of eco-friendly fabrics to look for when buying new clothes: 

  • Flax
  • Hemp
  • Bamboo
  • Lyocell
  • Lenpur
  • Soysilk
  • Microsilk
  • Kombucha leather  

Re-wear what’s in your closet over and over again
One of the best ways to make sure your wardrobe is sustainable is to re-wear what you already have. If you’re buying something “on trend” and then throwing it away after wearing it a handful of times, you aren’t being as kind to the planet as you could be. Clothes that end up in landfills take years and years to decompose, and many of the toxic dyes and chemicals used to make cheap clothes will eventually end up in the soil where they don’t belong.

Only buy something if you really love it, and find creative ways to mix and match your outfits. A graphic tee can be dressed up with a leather pencil skirt, or dressed down with a pair of jeans. There are even apps that can help you come up with new outfit ideas so that you’re using what you have for as long as possible. 

Upcycle your old clothing
When it’s finally time to let a piece of clothing go, try not to throw it straight into the trash bin. Donate old items to second-hand stores or homeless shelters, and if your clothes are in really good shape, you can try selling them to consignment stores or online through sites like Poshmark. Whatever you can do to make sure your unwanted items stay out of a landfill is important. You might not want that old pair of jeans anymore, but someone else might love them.        

If you’re feeling crafty, you can even find ways to turn old clothes into something new. Try making reusable makeup remover pads from old T-shirts. Or maybe a patch quilt is more your style? There are so many options; a quick google search can give you lots of ideas. 

Another way to upcycle your clothes is to look for a clothing swap to be a part of. Clothing swaps are becoming more popular as people realize how great trading one clothing item for another can be. The founder of Fashion Revolution, Orsola de Castro, put on a large-scale clothing swap during London’s Fashion Week, and the company continues to advocate for more clothing swaps globally. You don’t have to wait for a big event like Fashion Week though. Try doing a fashion swap with some friends or family members, and if you’re feeling ambitious, try hosting one for your neighborhood or city. When people swap clothes, this keeps textiles out of landfills and gives them a second chance at life.    

When it’s time to buy something new, buy ethically and sustainably made items 
There’s nothing wrong with loving fashion or wanting to present yourself in the best way possible. Self-expression through fashion is one of the best ways we can show the world who we are. Living sustainably doesn’t have to mean wearing a recycled paper bag. When you’re ready to buy something new, try to look for sustainable and ethical companies that are working to reduce their environmental and human tolls. Here are some brands that treat and pay their workers well, all the while trying to have the smallest impact on the environment as possible: 

These are just a few examples of sustainable brands. A google search will come up with so many more options, and there are even sites like Good On You that can do the sorting for you.    

Buying sustainably made clothing tends to be more expensive, but it’s this way for a reason. You’re paying for higher quality materials that contain less chemicals, you’re paying for an item that impacted the environment less when it was made, and you’re paying the people who made that item a decent living wage. This is the power that our buying choices have. Quality beats quantity in the world of sustainable fashion, and as consumer demands for sustainably made products go up, this only makes them more accessible to everyone.    

Jessy Humann