Fashion isn’t typically synonymized with sustainability. To understand why, we need to understand where and how consumers are purchasing apparel and fashion accessories. Apparel retailers with the highest volume of clothing sales in 2020 were Inditex (Zara), Hennes and Mauritz (H&M), and Fast Retailing (Uniqulo). Combined, these retailers reported just over 66 billion U.S. dollars in sales in 2020.
The manufacturing processes of the largest apparel retailers can take a design concept from prototype to shelf in under one month; hence: fast fashion. China is a global leader in textile exports, accounting for 43.5 percent of the world’s leading textile exporters. Textile manufacturing processes in less regulated countries can be both environmentally taxing and low-wage worker dependent.
Some large apparel brands utilize conscious clothing lines to denote apparel created from more sustainable manufacturing processes, as a response to increased consumer awareness. As a consumer, it can still be challenging to balance quality, availability, price, and style — all while shopping sustainably. Here are a few thoughts to help support your intention to style more sustainably.
Avoid Trending Items
What’s trending now can change thanks to one celebrity Instagram picture. Choosing items that can be worn over multiple years or seasons makes them more of an investment than a commodity piece. Unique shapes, bold patterns and unique hues may catch your eye while browsing, but may prove challenging to integrate into a regular wear cycle.
Be Picky About Material
Quality material should hold its intended shape and wear comfortably. For the bulk of my apparel items, I also look for fabrics that won’t easily winkle and can be washed and dried with minimal effort. Look for fabrics like denim, spandex, polyester and rayon. They tend to be machine washable — and when crafted with longevity in mind — won’t fade, tear, or fray after a few wears.
Shop Quality Brands, Pre-Loved
Online used apparel sites like ThreadUp and The Real Real are becoming more popular and price accessible. To browse through the large selection of items, add filters that refine by: condition (tags attached, like-new), materials (silk, cashmere), or classic colors (black, white, beige). If there is a fit or style you love from a retailer, you can filter by specific brands and sizes, and even refine by specialty sizes (petite, plus, tall).
Less is More
Capsule wardrobes are a fantastic option for paring down your closet collection, while still showcasing your personal style. These collections align with a minimalist aesthetic and were intended to transcend seasons and trends by being functional. There are custom guides and resources online to help build out your base capsule. Most will include classic staples like basic tees, jeans, tanks, a neutral dress, skirt, blouse and trousers.
Here’s to shopping and styling with a sustainable mindset! If you’d like to continue learning about sustainable fashion, here are a few resources to continue your journey:
The True Cost (Documentary)