How to Build a More “Friendly” Wardrobe
One unassuming day I turned on “The True Cost” on Netflix and everything changed. If you haven’t seen it, close down this tab and start watching it right away (ok, finish reading this blog first). It’s all about how the fashion industry affects the lives of others, the environment, and more. Up until that point, I was completely unaware of how my fashion decisions affected others. I had never considered where my clothes came from.
The truth I found was, whether I knew it or not, my style made a huge impact on others. Scary, but also inspiring. I could make a world of difference by changing my shirt? Game on! I decided it was important for me to make my closet as friendly as I could.
By “friendly” I mean building a closet that’s filled with pieces with the biggest and best social and environmental impact as possible. I like this term because it seems easier to digest and covers multiple bases. Considering factors like environmental sustainability, ethical standards, and community impact before purchasing a new addition for your wardrobe will ensure that you are doing your part to use your dollars to look good AND to do good.
Admittedly, I was enthusiastic about the project--TOO enthusiastic perhaps. I started following all of the sustainable Instagrammers, and watched even more documentaries, I read books about fashion and the environment and was ready to change everything I knew and swap my entire wardrobe overnight. It was….overwhelming.
As inspiring as a completely sustainable wardrobe may be, trying to build your personal wardrobe can also be confusing and daunting. Where do you start? How can you afford a completely sustainable wardrobe? How can you be sure that the company is sustainable or ethical in their practices?
I realized I had to get realistic and take a bite-by-bite approach to build a friendlier wardrobe. Here is what I’ve learned.
These are the 5 guidelines I use when aiming to make my closet a little friendlier.
1. Streamline Your Closet & Define Your Style
According to Business Insider, Americans only use 20% of the clothes in their closet regularly. The first step in building a sustainable wardrobe is to get rid of what you don’t actually wear. Get honest with yourself. If you need help, look to Marie Kondo’s “The Magical Art of Tidying Up” for inspiration or watch her new Netflix show that everyone is raving about. (That’s two Netflix shows I’ve already given you as homework).
Before clearing out my closet, I would spend entire weekends just doing laundry. JUST MY LAUNDRY. This is not an exaggeration. I had to get rid of the clutter. Whether you are aiming to build a more sustainable wardrobe or just get your weekends back, I encourage you to do this first step.
Streamlining your closet is also an essential first step because, if your closet is anything like mine was, it’s daunting to think about having to replace every item in your closet with something more ethically sourced. Cut yourself a break and figure out what you really love, so you know exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to finding a new item. Plus, you’ll be surprised by what you rediscover in your closet.
Streamlining your closet naturally helps you define your personal style. Once you know what you love to wear, you can look for styles that fit your taste with ease. No more buying 10 shirts because they’re all $5, and you will figure out what works when you get home. That isn’t environmentally friendly, nor is it space-saving.
Lastly, cutting down your closet to only the things you love will make you feel great about what you own. You will end up wanting to invest in more quality pieces if you know they are contributing to your closet.
Ok, have I sold you on decluttering your closet, rediscovering what you have, and defining your own style? Let’s move to the next step.
Pro-tip: Find out how you can use what you already own in a variety of ways. A piece like Sword & Plough’s Limited Edition Uniform Tote (made from donated military uniforms) can transition from a fashionable purse to a gym bag, to a reusable shopping bag. One bag, many uses. This rule can be applied to many items in your closet.
2. Repair What You Have
This idea seemed archaic to me. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I had to google how to sew a simple stitch and had to buy a needle and thread to fix my favorite jacket, but I knew that repairing my wardrobe is the key to keeping my closet intact.
Knowing how to repair your clothing will give you the confidence to invest in pieces that you will have for a lifetime.
3. Raid Your Best Friend’s Closet
The key to an environmentally friendly closet is using things that are already manufactured. Clothing swaps and thrift stores are goldmines for a new wardrobe.
Thrifting & upcycling is the smartest thing you can do for an eco-friendly (and wallet-friendly) wardrobe! By thrifting, you are using materials that are already produced, which is reducing the impact that the environment takes to make a new item of clothing. If you're looking to shop in store, check out your local Buffalo Exchange (linked). I've had great luck with online stores like Poshmark (linked) for gently used, awesome finds.
You can also opt-in for clothing rental programs like Rent The Runway if you want something trendy but returnable.
3. Shop Sustainable & Ethical
It’s more common nowadays to see a company’s “ABOUT US” story before you even see their products. This is great! This means that companies know that consumers care about who makes their items and under what conditions.
Check out a company’s story before you buy. If you can find a comparable company with better values & standards, go with them. You vote with your dollar. Make sure companies know that you care about where your clothes come from. Extra points if the company is B Corp certified.
Pro-tip: Buying Made in America products typically ensures that the items were made under the guidance U.S. labor laws and also decreases the number of emissions during the transport of your order.
4. Shop Local
Finally, you won’t always be able to shop a sustainable brand that boasts it’s moral values and green production practices, and that’s ok! Building a friendly wardrobe is about doing the best you can and making sustainable choices when you can.
Shopping small business or local ensures that your support means that your dollar is used to impact those in your immediate community.
5. Give Yourself a Break
Your closet isn’t going to be perfectly zero-footprint, and you can’t always be certain of the ethics and source of every thread you put on. However, just one of these steps can make a huge difference.
Do what you can, shop with purpose and understanding, and the world will be a little bit better for it.
Shelby Black is a passionate fan & team member at Sword & Plough. Her love for sustainable fashion started early when she realized that everyone can make a difference with something as fun as fashion. She has been honored to build the Sword & Plough community as the Community & Programs Director. @shelby.black