How to Hack Your Wardrobe: 5 Steps To Changing Your Mindset
Did you know…
Australia is the second-largest consumer of new textiles, with each person buying an average of 27kg of new textiles (Textile Beat, 2016).
Over half of these items are kept for half as long as they used to be 15 years ago (Greenpeace. 2017), so it’s time to make a change. It’s in our hands, and time is running out. The fashion industry is largely ignored in the climate crisis discussions, despite the fact that the global industry accounts for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions (Quantis, 2018). Luckily, clothing is one simple way for individuals to make an impact.
You may have looked into making your wardrobe a bit more sustainable or are wanting to get started, but it can be overwhelming when you see different categories such as “ethical”, “sustainable”, “Fair Trade”, and “organic materials”. It can seem impossible to cover all bases, so I’ve outlined a few beginning steps. Feel free to tweak these as you like and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will hopefully get you thinking about how you can change your buying habits and become a more active consumer.
STEP 1: MAKE USE OF WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
The most sustainable wardrobe is the one that you already own!
Take a look at all of the pieces that you already have in your wardrobe. Assess whether there are any gaps needing to be filled, and how many outfit combinations you have. A great way to visualise your closet is by doing a Closet Mass Index – cataloguing all of your existing garments and combinations will help you to see how much you already have available and what you might need to replace down the track. The CMI Categorises your items that are “New”, “Secondhand”, “Gifts”, and any other categories that are relevant to your wardrobe.
You might find that you stumble across new outfit pairings in the process, and you may discover long-lost favourites. Don’t be afraid of outfit repeating or trying out bold new combinations.
STEP 2: “CARE FOR YOUR CLOTHES, LIKE THE GOOD FRIENDS THEY ARE”
Joan Crawford’s famous words still ring true today, and they are more important now than ever. If you love your clothes and mend them when they break, you may find that you subconsciously purchase less down the track. According to Fashion Revolution, your clothing has the most environmental impact in the post-consumer stage: that is, after the item has been bought and has gone home with you. Keep this in mind when you wash your clothes, and take note of the care instructions - they exist for a reason. This Business Insider article has a great explanation of common care symbols. Be realistic about how much care you are willing to put into a garment and don’t buy delicate fabrics or “Dry Clean Only” garments if you don’t have the means to do so.
Before you go shopping for clothing, take notice of what you love about the clothes you have at home. Do you really love the fit? Is the fabric comfortable and breathable? Do you look great in that colour? Work on developing your own style rather than following trends, and sticking to these standards of your existing wardrobe will set a benchmark for anything new that you want to introduce. Putting an item on hold for even a few hours can sometimes help, so you can spend more time thinking about the item and avoiding impulse buys.
STEP 3: SHOP SECONDHAND
If you do need to purchase, opt for secondhand first. Your local op-shops and charity shops are bound to have some hidden gems, and often they are cheap as chips. Secondhand shopping does require a bit more patience than its retail store counterpart, but it’s worth the hunt to have something uniquely yours. A tip to avoid impulse buys is to keep a shopping list - after you’ve gone through your existing wardrobe, you might find that there are some gaps that need filling. Keep this list handy for shopping trips to make sure that you aren’t falling into old habits and purchasing garments that won’t be worn.
If you are looking for something a little more upmarket, try vintage stores and luxury consignment. These stores typically have a wider range of good quality and often designer goods. They tend to fetch a higher price than the op shops, but might be a better option if you are on the hunt for something specific (and they are still cheaper than full price!).
Clothing swaps and sharing with friends are also a great way to refresh your wardrobe on the cheap, and can emulate the social aspect of shopping minus the guilt factor. Get a group of your best mates together, bring a few items of clothing each, and swap to your heart's content (wine optional).
For events, consider clothing rentals! A large concern with secondhand and conscious shopping is the fear of not finding appropriate outfits for formal events in a short space of time. Renting an outfit gives you more options and can be significantly cheaper than buying a new outfit.
STEP 4: SHOP CONSCIOUSLY
When you do decide to buy new, keep in mind where the company stands on the sustainable and ethical fronts. If you do need to shop for new for whatever reason, consider doing some research on brands you are interested in before heading to the shops. A great app for this is Good On You, it rates brands on three categories: Environment, Labour, and Animal Welfare. The database is updated frequently and is Australian-based, so you can be sure that the brands are relevant to you. There are also options to search for particular items, and filter by price point.
Consider also your “cost-per-wear”, or your value for money. CPW is often the reason that you’ll find ethical shoppers spending upwards of $35 for a plain t-shirt - with clothing, very often you get what you pay for. My plain white T-shirt could have cost $35, but if I take care of it properly, it will last a lot longer than the Kmart tops that fall apart after a wash or two. There is also the ethical factor to think about, and when taking into account living wages for workers and safe working conditions, spending more for your clothing makes a lot more sense. This conscious approach is much more wallet-friendly in the long term, too!
STEP 5: REMEMBER, THIS IS A JOURNEY
Finally, remember that you are trying your best and that is the first hurdle! If you happen to slip up and buy a garment without researching first, don’t be too hard on yourself. Curating a sustainable wardrobe is a process, and it takes time. If you purchase something from a fast fashion chain but it lasts, it’s worth it. One of my favourite shirts in my wardrobe is from Kmart over five years ago. Be conscious and mindful of your impact, and when you are tempted to buy clothing, assess whether it is something you truly need or can go without.
You are more important than you think, and your choices can make a difference. The most important step towards making a shift is changing your mindset; after a while it will become second nature and you won’t even have to try. And when in doubt, remember the wise words of Vivian Westwood: “Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last”.