Eco-Friendly Fashion: How to Build a Sustainable Wardrobe

Let us guess: you’ve decided that you want to be more environmentally conscious when it comes to your clothing choices, but you don’t know where to start.

We get it. The idea of curating an eco-friendly closet from scratch can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, getting started on your sustainable journey isn’t nearly as difficult as you may think!

Today, we’re going to help you learn how to build a stainable wardrobe without the stress. But first, let’s take a deeper look at why sustainable fashion matters.

What is Sustainable / Ethical Fashion?

As people become more aware of the impact that fast fashion has on the environment, there continues to be a significant increase in sustainable fashion efforts across the globe. But exactly what is sustainable and ethical fashion?

To begin, it’s important to note that the fashion industry has a sizable carbon footprint. In 2018, the sector was responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, which is about 4% of the global total. Although 4% doesn’t seem like much, it equates to about the same amount of GHGs that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom produce each year—combined.

The fashion industry also largely contributes to landfill waste, water pollution, and water consumption. It produces 17-20% of global industrial water pollution and uses approximately 93 billion metric tons of clean water annually.

Additionally, because consumers buy an average of 60% more clothing items than they did in 2000, the heightened manufacturing demand has led to increased instances of employee mistreatment across the industry.

With these ramifications in mind, eco-focused consumers have called for clothing companies to adopt sustainable processes that reduce their environmental impact, including:

  • Using sustainably-sourced materials that require less resource consumption.
  • Partnering with suppliers who work within responsible supply chains.
  • Using organic, recycled fabrics and natural dyes.
  • Creating high-quality, long-lasting garments.
  • Utilizing renewable energy sources.
  • Implementing fair labor practices.
  • Disposing of waste responsibly.

These ethical efforts have gained a lot of traction over the past few years, and the sustainable fashion industry is growing. In fact, the global ethical fashion market is projected to grow 6.8% annually, reaching $8.2 billion in 2023.

Protester holding cardboard sign that says "We need a change."

Why Does Sustainable Fashion Matter?

Every action we take to reduce GHG emissions, use our resources responsibly, and treat the Earth and each other with respect makes a difference. By supporting sustainable fashion (instead of fast fashion), you’re doing your part to lessen the adverse effects that the industry has on our planet.

What Are Some Advantages of Switching to Sustainable Clothing?

Building a sustainable wardrobe doesn’t just serve the environment; it benefits you as the consumer as well! Here are three main benefits of sustainable fashion:

  • Having superior quality pieces that are made to last.
  • Not needing to replace garments as frequently.
  • Feeling good about where your money is going.

Now that we’ve discussed what ethical fashion is and the advantages of switching to sustainable clothing, let’s tackle how to build a sustainable wardrobe.

How to Build a Sustainable Wardrobe in 7 Steps

Building a sustainable wardrobe doesn’t just happen overnight. Rather, it happens by making consistent, intentional choices over time. Follow these seven sustainable wardrobe tips to create a more eco-friendly closet.

1. Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

Many people are intimidated by switching to sustainable fashion because of the cost. And while that’s a valid concern, it’s also a fairly easy one to dismiss.

Sure, the prices for sustainable clothing are notably higher than fast fashion garments. That said, sustainable clothing is made with a higher standard of quality than the alternatives. So, while you’re paying more upfront for better quality fabrics that will last, you’ll likely end up saving money in the long run not having to replace those pieces.

Before you purchase a new item, be sure to perform a quality check by:

  • Testing all functional pieces (like buttons and zippers)
  • Gently pulling at seams to verify that they’re sewn tightly
  • Inspecting garment labels for fiber content and country of origin
  • Assessing the weight and sheerness of the fabric
  • Stretching the fabric out slightly to see if it retains its shape

If the garment passes the quality test, then it’s probably a good investment. Buying a few higher-quality pieces instead of several cheaper, non-eco-friendly items does take some discipline, but it’s worth it.

2. Opt for Timeless Over Trendy

Trends come and go quickly. While building a sustainable wardrobe, it’s best to avoid trendy pieces and invest in classic, everyday items that can be worn over and over instead.

That’s not to say that you can’t occasionally splurge on sustainable, on-trend items. However, we suggest spending the bulk of your clothing budget on versatile pieces that can be styled a number of ways and remain in rotation. You should also prioritize trans-seasonal pieces that you can wear year-round, such as a timeless dress, T-shirt, pair of jeans, or jacket.

The 30 wears test is a good way to determine whether an article will withstand the test of time. Before buying, ask yourself, “will I wear this a minimum of 30 times?” If the answer is no, you’re better off not buying it.

Rack of six classic articles of clothing.

3. Do Research

It’s an unavoidable reality that every new piece of clothing has an environmental impact. However, as we mentioned above, some companies put forth the extra effort to keep their footprint small.

These brands aren’t simply considered sustainable because they use organic cotton in their products, but rather because they have high sustainability standards in all aspects of their business—from supply chain to shipping and everything in between.

But how do you know if a company is ethical and sustainable? Well, you can start by investigating your favorite brands! Check each company’s website for a list of values or a code of ethics. Sustainable brands tend to be very transparent. As a general rule of thumb, if their stance is difficult to find, chances are they aren’t very eco-focused.

You should also note that many companies use greenwashing techniques to curate a false image of sustainability, but actually exploit resources and workers. To combat this, be sure to read labels carefully and look for organic or ecological fibers, rather than synthetic micro-fibers.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions if something seems unclear or suspicious. Reach out to companies directly to ask about their stance on sustainability. If you don’t like what you find, then it’s time to support some new brands whose values align with yours.

4. Change Your Buying Practices

Building a sustainable wardrobe doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are several affordable ways that you can reduce your fashion footprint. If you’re wondering how to build a sustainable wardrobe without breaking the bank, we recommend that you change your buying practices.

Only Buy What You Need

In the last 15 years, the number of times that a garment is worn has decreased by 36%. Audit your closet to see what you already have, then try to only buy new items when it’s necessary, not just desired.

Buy Secondhand

Purchasing clothes secondhand is a very cost-effective way to keep your wardrobe updated. It also helps promote a circular economy by keeping unwanted items out of landfills.

Good news for you: Lancaster County has amazing vintage, thrift, and consignment stores that are full of gently-used treasures just waiting to be discovered!

Rent Formal Attire

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to buy a new outfit for every occasion. That belief perpetuates a linear economy, rather than a circular one.

Instead of buying another dress each time you’re invited to a wedding, consider renting one instead! That way, you’re reusing what’s already been made and not spending a fortune on something you’d only wear a handful of times (if that).

5. Take Care of Your Clothes

It may seem like this should go without saying, but be honest: When was the last time you read the care instructions on a shirt label? That’s what we thought.

Those instructions are there for a reason—to prolong the life of the shirt. And when you care for your clothing properly, you won’t have to replace items as often (which is great for the environment and your wallet).

To ensure that your clothing looks its best longer, we suggest the following care tactics:

  • Following suggested washing machine settings
  • Washing less frequently so colors don’t fade
  • Cleaning delicate fabrics by hand
  • Washing denim inside out
  • Dry cleaning as needed
  • Hanging items to dry

Another way to maximize the longevity of your pieces is to fix them when they get a hole or rip, instead of throwing them away. Investing money to have your clothes tailored or taking the time to learn basic mending skills makes a big difference when it comes to living more sustainably.

Cardboard box full of clothing to recycle.

6. Repurpose, Recycle, and Revive Unwanted Items

Sustainable fashion doesn’t just account for the making of a product, but rather its full lifecycle—from where the materials originate to where it ultimately ends up (often in landfills).

Discarded clothing is the main source of textiles in municipal solid waste. In 2018 alone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the total generation of clothing and footwear was 13 million tons. Of that, 9 million tons ended up in landfills, while only 1.7 million were recycled. This has serious implications on the environment.

So, next time you have a pile of clothes to get rid of, think before you throw them out. Here are a few ways that you can give new life to your unwanted clothing:

  • Turn it into something new (e.g., cut holey jeans into shorts or make a T-shirt blanket).
  • Donate gently used clothing to a good cause.
  • Sell your unwanted items at a consignment shop or on social media.
  • Take damaged items to a textile recycling center.
  • Host a clothing swap party with friends.

Finding a new purpose for your unused pieces supports circular economics and sustainability efforts because it helps us make the most of what’s already available.

7. Only Buy What You Really Like

It doesn’t matter how sustainably made a clothing item is if it just ends up sitting in your closet.

Let yourself be overly critical when building a sustainable wardrobe. Before you buy something, whether new or secondhand, you need to make sure that you like it.

  • Does it fit well?
  • Do you like the way it feels?
  • Does it make you smile when you look in the mirror?

If not, pass on it. Dust collectors aren’t sustainable.

How to Build a Sustainable Wardrobe: Adjust Your Mindset

Many people assume that sustainable clothing is boring and ugly. That’s just not true! You don’t need to compromise on style for your values — you just need to change your mindset.

The sustainable fashion industry is growing, and more brands are creating stunning, stylish clothing with an environmental focus. Sure, opting for sustainable options may not always be as easy or cheap as fast fashion, but it’s a worthwhile investment with sizable returns for you and the planet.

At Foxduck, our team is committed to minimizing our environmental impact, and we’re constantly evaluating our processes to do better. We know that growth comes from introspection and hard conversations, which is why we welcome all questions regarding our sustainability standards.

Find more information about our business and values on our About Page and explore our collections of custom, eco-friendly attire.