4 Smart Ways to Create a More Sustainable Closet

published Feb 14, 2022
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When you think of ways to make your home more eco-friendly, you likely focus on the kitchen — things like recycling takeout containers, avoiding single-use plastics, and buying reusable straws. Those are all great! But if you’re looking for more ways to reduce your carbon footprint, another good area of your home to tackle is your closet.

The fashion industry is the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. Fast fashion — aka inexpensive clothing produced rapidly due to ever-changing trends — can have particularly detrimental effects on the environment. In an effort to reduce my own carbon footprint, I’ve decided that 2022 is the year I create a sustainable closet. I talked with sustainable fashion experts for their best tips on how to get started.

Wear what you already own.

Building a sustainable closet doesn’t mean getting rid of all the fast fashion in your closet — it starts with wearing what you already have. This includes really taking stock of the pieces you love and shopping your closet first before buying anything new. Flexing your creative muscles to create new outfits from the clothing you already have is a fun challenge, and taking inventory of what you have is also a good way to determine what else you really need, if anything.

Richelle Navales-Yau is the founder and owner of Dancing Kind, an online vintage and in-house clothing shop, and if giving up shopping is especially difficult, she suggests trying a no-buy month. “This pushes you to get creative with what you already have in your closet,” Navales-Yau says. “You never know! You might just rekindle romances with older pieces you own.”

Shop secondhand and vintage.

A great way to build a sustainable wardrobe is to stop buying anything brand-new and to shop places like Poshmark, thredUP, and thrift stores before looking elsewhere.

Avid thrifter Lauren Lukacek shares sustainable swaps on her Instagram and TikTok, and the majority of her wardrobe is made up of one-of-a-kind vintage pieces.“When you buy secondhand, you are saving those clothes from the landfill, giving them a second life, and voting for cleaner air with your dollars,” Lukacek says. “And, even better, vintage clothes were made to last a long time.”

Navales-Yau curates vintage collections for her shop, and the uniqueness and charm certain pieces evoke is why she loves vintage in the first place. “Many vintage garments are not only better constructed and made to last, but they are so unique and so fun,” she says. “They carry stories. They are pieces of history. “

It’s easy to go to a big-box store or click a link an influencer shares, but shopping secondhand requires a little bit more thought and intention. Both Lukacek and Navales-Yau suggest creating a vision board with styles and silhouettes you’re drawn to and create a list of your wardrobe needs. “Make sure you list items that will serve you and your lifestyle well,” Navales-Yau says. “Garments you’ll wear on repeat and pair with things you already own. Pull out that list, and stick to it while thrifting. This has helped me to be more intentional while shopping rather than mindlessly consuming.” 

Lukacek also suggests knowing your measurements to help you find the perfect fit, as sizing has changed over the years.

Shop sustainable brands.

In addition to shopping secondhand, you can find companies that use recycled materials, are up-front about their production process, and are transparent about how they treat their employees. It can be tricky to determine which brands are truly sustainable and which are greenwashing, but Lukacek has a few recommendations.

“I usually buy everything I wear secondhand, except my unmentionables. I buy my bras from Harper Wilde, I get my gym socks from Teddy Locks, and I love the company Girlfriend Collective for underwear! All of these companies use recyclable or compostable packaging, pay their employees a fair wage, and are very transparent about every step of their production process.” 

Navales-Yau recently took the leap from vintage curator to designer, and now sells her own handmade designs made from deadstock fabric, which refers to material left unsold by a fabric mill that would otherwise be destined for the landfill.

Take excellent care of the pieces you already own.

Preserve the items you already own by handling them with a little more love and care, as opposed to tossing everything in the laundry after a single wear. “Wash them as LITTLE as possible,” Navales-Yau says. “Typically, I wear my clothing a good amount of times before washing, especially denim. If you get really dirty one day, sure! However, over-washing is a garment life-sucker. If you do choose to wash more often, hand-wash or wash on delicate. Pick a gentle detergent. Do not tumble dry; hang your clothes to dry instead.”

Taking care of pieces also goes beyond just laundering them. Having a sustainable closet means mending your well-loved pieces instead of buying something new as soon as there’s a hole or a tear. “I’m not a great seamstress, but I know how to mend a hole, sew on buttons, and I have a great steamer that I use to keep my vintage dresses wrinkle-free!” Lukacek says.