Shopping mindsets are changing. We’re in the age of 'mindful consumerism'. One where you can make a stylish and eco-friendly statement with your fashion. Where the carbon footprint of your clothing choices matters. Where transparency in the supply chain is not just a marketing ploy. Where fair wages for garment workers are a growing concern for the mainstream audience of leading fashion brands. The era of the sustainable wardrobe is here.
43% of Gen-Zers in McKinsey’s State of Fashion 2022 are already seeking out companies with a solid sustainability reputation. Men in the UK aged between 25 to 44 show more interest in exclusively buying from sustainable brands, while 35% of U.S. consumers are even willing to pay significantly more for clothing lines that are eco-friendly or sustainably produced.
What can you do in your individual capacity to help reverse such impacts on the environment?
Here is a look at why building a sustainable wardrobe matters, and how you can get on the wave:
Sustainable Wardrobe 101: What is it?
In a nutshell, a sustainable wardrobe is a collection of clothes that prioritizes eco-friendly and ethical pieces, which minimize the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry.
Let's split “building a sustainable wardrobe” into layers. The first layer is to select high-quality and durable fashionwear. This means going for a timeless style instead of the fast fashion trends that change on whims. That way you don’t end up filing your wardrobe with clothes you won’t need the following month.
The second layer is ensuring that the garment has been sourced from eco-friendly materials. These can promote waste reduction by being developed from renewable raw materials, reducing greenhouse emissions, and the end product being recyclable and/or biodegradable. The current impact of the fashion industry is massive. For instance, a McKinsey & Company study showed that this industry alone was responsible for about 2.1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That's 4% of the global total, beating international air and cruise ship traffic. Sustainable menswear is a necessity for gents.
The next layer is with ethical practices, where the plight of workers in the fashion industry is taken into account. Do you get your suits from a brand that meets the basic needs of employees? The brand here must play an active role in ensuring that the employees making their products – whether it’s in the continental US or the far-flung regions of Bangladesh and Cambodia – receive a decent living wage. This is for the overall good. In fact, the transition to sustainable practices by businesses will create 18 million additional jobs by 2030, according to research from the International Labour Organization (ILO).
6 Steps to Being Fashion-Savvy and Still Build a Sustainable Wardrobe
#1 Organize & Clear the Clutter
Divide up your current clothing into categories, eg., tops together (shirts, t-shirts, sweaters, hoodies). Do the same for your bottoms (jeans and shorts); outerwear (jackets, coats, and blazers), athletic wear (workout clothes, shoes, and sports accessories); loungewear (pajamas and sweatpants), etc.
Go through each pile and identify what you still use, and what is unwanted. Yes, you may have an attachment with some of the pieces, but if they are no longer being worn, they've got to go.
You can send them to a clothing recycling program, swap them out with friends or neighbors, go creative and whip up a costume for the kids, sell them online for some extra cash, repurpose them into cleaning rags, or even use them as stuffing for your pillows.
#2 Research Ethical Companies
Which companies are in line with your sustainability goals? Which companies are transparent about the raw materials and production processes of the clothing they have in stock? Do they prioritize fair wages and hold their suppliers to strict standards - and do they demonstrate these efforts?
Take Vustra tees for instance. They have been developed from certified organic cotton, which has been grown without relying on chemicals and pesticides. Moreover, the brand has partnered with the National Forest Foundation to plant a tree in the US for each t-shirt purchased. The brand works with ethical manufacturing partners whose standards align with its own. These are the likes of Raymond Ltd, the world's largest integrated fabric manufacturer. It meets ISO 9001:2008 standards and has GOTS, OCS and GRS certifications for the manufacture of organic cotton and recycled fibre fabric.
#3 A new way to shop
Don't make your credit card your therapist
Step back from just buying what you want. Buy what you need.
Step 1 above had you tossing out clothes that you no longer wear, and probably many of these were bought in the heat of the moment. Impulse buying fills your wardrobe with your excessive fashionwear that ultimately results in you generating more waste.
You don’t have to go full minimalist with your fashion choices. Simply prioritize purpose over desire. Adopt a shipping habit where every purse is justified by an actual need. Going on vacation? Summer menswear with Tropical Floral Prints will match the fun vibe of the trip. Looking for shirts for your typical workday? Then options like Vustra's Navu Amber Plaid shirt are right up your alley. Having dedicated pieces for your night hangouts, weekend trips and your daily 9 to 5 will meet your dress-up needs without you having to go on “shopping binges”.
As a welcome bonus, less 'clutter' in your wardrobe means you will spend less time deciding what to wear! That money saved can be channeled elsewhere - perhaps buying a gift for the host of that event you’re attending.
Invest in your clothes, not just shopping trips.
Buy fewer clothes, but make them count. Sure, a quality piece will save you an extra buck, but you get to save more in the long run. This is as opposed to buying multiple bargain pieces that quickly lose their purpose. Quality clothes are worth the extra investment.
Also opt for clothes that can be used for multiple events instead of "one-time wear" pieces that simply just end up being housed in the closet for the next year. e.g., you can snap up a black blazer that can be worn to work or a casual outing; khaki shorts that are suitable for beach trips and outdoor events; or a gray suit that you can go walk into a wedding with and later on use it for work. With Vustra, you have options like the colorful Sea Reef shirt which is suitable for a day out in the beach, but you can also stroll around the city in it or go picnicking. On the other hand, the Bonfire shirt is great for both the office and date night.
#4 Put it on the "Wearability Scale"
Wearability is a part of suitability. How often will you wear that shirt? How many events can you attend with that suit? Before hitting that buy button as you shop online, or pull the menswear off the rack during an in-store visit - ask yourself how many times you think you’ll wear it. You can go with the #30wearsrule which recommends that if you won’t wear an item 30 times, don’t buy it.
Here, you'll need to look at the quality of the clothing. Inspect the seams. Pull at them to see if they are tightly sewn together. What’s the condition of the buttons and zippers? Make sure that they are smooth, and not snagging or catching. Test the stretch - does the fabric revert to its original shape without losing its elasticity? Is the dye even, or are there spots and streaks? Are there loose threads? Checking these items will enable you to determine the quality of the clothes and ensure that you’re buying items that will last.
#5 Go versatile
This is where multi-seasonal fashionwear comes in. Of course, you don’t want to show up every day with the same kind of suit. However, having a set of clothes that you can mix and match will give you a different look each time. For instance, Vustra's Rainforest Jungle shirt can be paired with denim, shorts or cargos depending on whether you want it for your day or night-time look. With the modern-fit Almond Floral Print shirt, you can pair it with shorts for your city walks, or swim trunks when you're out on the beach.
#6 Eco-check: What's on the label?
For every item that picks your interest, examine its label for information on sustainable production practices. Does it use renewable, recycled or upcycled materials? Does the brand have any eco-friendly certifications? There are plenty of buzzwords that fashion brands may use. e.g.:
- Organic, showing that the fashionwear is made using organic fibers, and they are grown without relying on artificial fertilizers and pesticides
- Recycled, where the raw materials of the clothes are textile waste or plastics
- Fair trade, which looks at ethical label practices i.e., wages and safe working conditions for employees
- Carbon neutral - the clothes here are manufactured using renewable energy sources. Any carbon emissions during the production process are offset by other means, such as carbon credits. The carbon taken out of the environment can also be equal to the carbon emitted. Certainly, it's even better if a brand is "carbon negative". As of April 2023, only 328 brands are Climate Neutral Certified by the non-profit organization Climate Neutral, assessing brands from around the world.
- Closed-loop: Here the clothes are produced in a system where all the waste materials are recycled or reused.
Go beyond these phrases, and look for proof that the company is really what it says it is. One way is looking up the sustainability of the materials used for the products. Another is checking for certifications from authorized bodies. These will be a stamp of recognition, showing that the brand has met strict standards used. Examples of these include:
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification that looks at the entire supply chain (from raw materials to finished product). It was developed by the International Working Group on Global Organic Textile Standard
- EU Ecolabel from the European Commission, which recognizes products that have a reduced environmental impact throughout their lifecycle.
- OEKO-TEX Standard 100, that covers items ranging from fabrics and home textiles to furniture and other decor items to see if they are free from harmful substances.
A quick online search of the certification that is on the clothing label will enable you to ascertain if it is in line with your sustainability goals.