10 ways to be sustainable with clothing

As a responsible, caring person, being gentle with the environment is important to you.

There are so many ways to do this… and a big one is being sustainable with clothing.

It’s something we use every day, and constitutes a large part of our lives. So when we learn to be more sustainable with your clothes, you can make a huge impact on the environment. 

Here are 10 ways I’ve been able to reduce my impact on the environment through clothing, and you can too. 

1) Don’t overshop

One thing many of us struggle with is wanting to buy more (WAY more!) clothing than we actually need.

While shopping can be a very fun activity and a pleasant way to inspire yourself with new ideas or get out of the house for a bit, you should be mindful of what you actually buy. 

Notice what you actually wear from your closet, Chances are there is a significant amount of clothing you rarely pull out, if ever. In fact, there is a principle that says we wear 20% of our closet 80% of the time.

So next time you find yourself wanting to buy a new piece of clothing, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Questions like these help me keep myself in check:

  • Do I have anything similar to this already?
  • If yes, is there a good reason why I need a second item?
  • If not, is there an actual need for me to wear this often?
  • Do I often find myself wishing I had an item of clothing like this?

The environment will be sure to thank you for this — and your wallet too!

2) Research the brands

When you do decide to buy something, before you pull out your credit card take some time to research a bit about the brand.

Many brands use “sustainability” as a marketing strategy these days. But there are actually many factors that can make a brand bad for the environment:

  1. Water consumption: The production of cotton, one of the most commonly used materials in clothing, requires a large amount of water. This can lead to water scarcity in areas where water resources are already limited.
  2. Pesticide use: Cotton cultivation also involves using pesticides, which can have negative impacts on the environment and human health.
  3. Synthetic fibers: Many clothing brands use synthetic fibers such as polyester, which are made from non-renewable resources and don’t biodegrade. These fibers can also release microplastics into the environment when you wash them.
  4. Chemical dyes: The use of chemical dyes in clothing production can lead to water pollution, as these chemicals can leach into water sources and harm aquatic ecosystems.
  5. Waste generation: Clothing brands may generate a large amount of waste during the production process, such as textile scraps and leftover materials. This can contribute to landfill waste.
  6. Transport emissions: Clothing production often involves transporting materials and finished products across long distances, which can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
  7. Fast fashion: The fast fashion industry, which emphasizes frequent production and turnover of clothing styles, can lead to overconsumption and waste generation, as well as poor working conditions for garment workers.

Here it’s important to resist the urge to make a snap purchase and the feeling of “I must have this NOW.” I often found myself struggling with this when there was a flash sale.

But I made a commitment to only buy from brands once I’ve done some rudimentary research. This also helps me avoid overshopping, as it forces me to wait some time before buying something.

It’s even happened a few times that by the time I’m done with research, I realize I don’t really want the item after all!

3) Buy clothes that you can wear in many different ways

I’ve been delighted to see many brands coming up with styles that are flexible and can be worn in several different ways.

In a way, you’re buying several outfits in one — which can keep your wardrobe feeling fun and stylish while saving space, money, and of course your impact on the environment.

Here are some examples I’ve come across:

  • Swimsuits and tops with removable straps
  • Clothes with removable or adjustable decorations
  • Reversible clothes so you have 2 colors in one
  • Sandals with removable clip-on “toppings”

Even if clothes aren’t adjustable in some way, you can still go for items that you can mix and match in different styles.

For example, I have tops that I’m able to wear with a skirt for a night out, or a blazer for a more professional look. 

I also like to go for clothes I can easily layer on and off for different temperature and weather, so I can wear them all-year round. 

4) Buy second hand

Shopping second-hand may not sound like the most appealing option to some people, myself included. I used to think second-hand shopping meant buying old-fashioned or worn-out clothes.

But I was surprised at the very unique and interesting pieces I found the first time I stepped into a second-hand shop.

The great thing about this for you personally is that you can find clothes that aren’t necessarily following “the latest trends,” so you may feel less pressure to keep buying the latest fashions. 

You can also donate or sell your own clothes to second-hand shops. Planning for this encourages you to take better care of your clothing, giving them a longer life.

5) Quality over quantity

It can be tempting to buy a wide range of cheap pieces so that you can dress differently for various occasions. I too have bought the same piece in different colors when it was on sale, just to have more to choose from. 

But ultimately, if you care about being sustainable with clothing, you must prioritize quality over quantity. And there are actually many benefits to doing this too.

Since I started shopping only with quality brands, I feel much better about myself when I wear them. This helps me feel more confident and positive in my clothes, and encourages me to wear them more often — which also reduces my need to buy new clothes.

They also last much longer than cheap fast-fashion brands, meaning I can enjoy the items for years and years.

The fact that they tend to be more expensive (quality comes with a price!) also makes me take better care of them, which further extends their life cycle. 

And finally, as the items are pricier, I think more carefully before buying them, and only make a purchase if I’m sure I will have a good use for it. 

6) Wash clothing sustainably

Did you know the way you wash clothes has a big impact on the environment too? 

It’s not just about the chemicals in the detergents you use — though of course that’s a big thing to consider.

There’s also the factor of microfibers to consider. These are tiny synthetic fibers that shed from clothing during the washing process. They’re so small that they can’t be captured by wastewater treatment plants, and often end up polluting waterways and oceans.

Here are concrete steps you can take to be more sustainable in how you wash your clothing:

  1. Use a washing bag or filter: Laundry bags and filters can be used to capture microfibers before they enter the wastewater system. These bags are designed to trap microfibers during the washing process, preventing them from entering waterways and oceans.
  2. Wash less frequently: Washing clothing less frequently can reduce the amount of microfibers shed during the washing process. Instead of washing after every wear, consider wearing clothing items multiple times before washing.
  3. Wash on a cold and gentle cycle: Microfibers are more likely to shed during hot and vigorous washing cycles. Washing clothing on a cold and gentle cycle can reduce microfiber shedding.
  4. Use eco-friendly laundry detergents: Some laundry detergents contain harmful chemicals that can contribute to microfiber shedding. Choosing eco-friendly and biodegradable detergents can minimize environmental impact.
  5. Invest in high-quality clothing: Clothing made from high-quality materials and construction is less likely to shed microfibers during washing. Investing in quality clothing items can reduce the need to constantly replace clothing items, which can also be more sustainable.
  6. Choose natural fibers: Clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool are less likely to shed microfibers than synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon. Choosing clothing made from natural fibers can be a more sustainable choice.

7) Organize a clothing exchange with friends

Donating clothes is a great option when you have clothes you no longer need.

But a clothing exchange can be an equally great way to be sustainable with your clothing.

The reason I say this is because it impacts those close to you. By organizing something like this, you are showing them that there are ways to reduce how much clothing you throw out, and that there are plenty of options already around you so that you don’t need to shop more.

friends talking 10 ways to be sustainable with clothing

It’s also a great way to foster collaboration and sharing, which leads people to help each other (and the environment) more. 

When your friends see you coming up with creative ways to reduce your impact on the environment, they can be inspired to do the same, and your impact will keep growing.

As a cherry on top, after the clothing exchange, you can agree to donate any clothing that is left over to a charity together. 

8) Borrow or rent clothes for rare occasions rather than shopping

Have you ever gone out to buy a dress or a suit for a specific event or formal dinner? Just to have it sit in the back of your closet, gathering dust and wrinkles for years to come?

Well, there’s a much better solution for this.

Many cities have shops that allow you to borrow fancy clothing for a couple days, and a much lower price than if you had to buy the outfit.

If there isn’t such an option around you, see if you can ask your friends if they have something they might let you borrow and that might fit you.

9) Repair items when you can

Seam coming apart? A hole in a very visible place? A stubborn stain that just won’t come out?

Though it might seem like this is the end for a particular piece of clothing, you can give it a second life with some simple mending.

If you’re not very good with a needle and thread yourself, you can take it to a professional seamstress who can fix it for you. Or you might have a friend who has a talent for sewing you didn’t know about — just ask around!

Even if you think an item of clothing is beyond repair, don’t be shy to ask. I once had a dress I accidentally ruined by melting a giant hole into the skirt with my iron. A friend suggested sewing a design patch on top to cover up the hole, and I ended up with a very stylish and unique item that I get many compliments on every time I wear it. 

You can also adapt clothing into new forms: turn pants into shorts, a dress into a skirt, or a long-sleeve top into a tank top. 

10) Repurpose clothes into other household items

If there is really no hope left to repair a piece of clothing and continue wearing it, don’t throw it into the trash just yet.

There’s a good chance that there is plenty of fabric on the garment that can still be reused. 

I’ve created some nice accessories, including scarves and scrunchies, in this way. You can also get creative and find ways to decorate your home with these items: a small centerpiece tablecloth, a bow to tie around a lamp stand, or a small decoration to add onto another piece of clothing.

If that doesn’t work, you can always create rags for dusting and cleaning from a range of materials:

  1. Microfiber: Microfiber cleaning cloths are soft, absorbent, and effective at picking up dirt and dust. They are especially good for cleaning smooth surfaces like glass, stainless steel, and tile.
  2. Cotton: Cotton rags are a versatile option for general cleaning tasks. They are absorbent and can be washed and reused multiple times.
  3. Terry Cloth: Terry cloth rags are durable and absorbent, making them ideal for heavy-duty cleaning tasks such as scrubbing floors and surfaces.
  4. Linen: Linen cleaning cloths are strong and absorbent, making them ideal for cleaning up spills and stains.
  5. Chamois: Chamois cloths are soft and gentle, making them ideal for cleaning delicate surfaces like car exteriors and windows.

Final thoughts

Now you know 10 ways to start being more sustainable with clothing and reduce your impact on the environment. 

Do you have any more tips that have worked for you or others around you? Share your wisdom and help others be kinder to mother nature by putting them in the comments below!

Picture of Silvia Adamyova

Silvia Adamyova

Born in Slovakia, raised in Canada, with a translation degree from University of Ottawa and an editing certificate from Simon Fraser University. Now based back in Slovakia (if you’re wondering why - have you seen Canadian winters?). Full-time freelance English teacher, translator, editor, and copywriter. Part-time avid reader, self-development junkie, and cake addict. I hope my writing inspires you in some way — if it does, find me on LinkedIn or Instagram and let me know!

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