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7 Best Ways to Create a Conscious and Sustainable Closet

Use these tips to create a conscious closet that reflects both your style and your values.

Written by
Brightly Staff

Our everyday clothing is an exciting form of personal expression. Both necessary and artistic, timeless and of the moment, the clothes in our closet say so much about us. But the fashion industry has a dark side: it produces 10% of all global carbon emissions and consumes nearly 1.5 trillion liters of water each year. That's why it's so important to create a conscious closet that reflects both our style and our values.

The Problem With Fast Fashion

We’ve all had that moment when we see the perfect new top or the vibiest pair of jeans in a store window. Suddenly, we’re snatching up a trendy new outfit quicker than you can say “fast fashion.” 

But buying fast fashion isn’t the only problem lurking in our closets. How we treat our clothes also affects our closets' overall sustainability. Take a fast fashion shirt, for example. Once a button falls off or gets a stain, you might feel more comfortable throwing away or donating it. 

Having a conscious closet means spending a little extra time and effort to prolong your clothing’s lifecycle. Elizabeth Cline, author of The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good, says that “it's really about taking your clothes seriously, and valuing the resources and the human ingenuity and time and energy that went into them.”

How to Create a Conscious Closet

So what can we do to be both fashionable and sustainable? Creating a conscious closet is the first step.

1. Start with a closet cleanout

Elizabeth recommends a closet cleanout, where you go through each item you own and decide whether to keep, repurpose, or donate it. 

Remember that a little effort goes a long way in repairing items. Old t-shirts can be repurposed into dish rags, while other items can be donated ethically. Ensure that anything you donate is clean and in good condition—things that are dirty, torn, stained, or snagged are usually thrown away at sorting facilities. 

2. Do a wardrobe impact inventory

Evaluating the impact of your clothes can be eye-opening! Take 10-20 items of clothing and look at the labels. Knowing where your clothes are made and what fibers were used can help you “start to understand one how complex clothing really is and how it is connected to everything in every way. It's a reminder of how important what we wear really is,” says Elizabeth.

3. Go on a fashion fast

Cultivating a more conscious closet isn’t about going out and buying new, sustainable clothes. Elizabeth actually recommends taking a fashion fast—a period of time where you pause all spending on clothes. 

This fasting period gives you the space you need to think about what you truly want in your closet. “You can rebuild your relationship with your clothes and with your closet and build a wardrobe that you actually love and that you want to wear for longer,” says Elizabeth. 

4. Find closet contentment

Next, you can start thinking about what you want in your closet and how each piece will reflect your style. Creating a conscious closet means keeping and buying items that match our style and our values.

Fast fashion often makes us feel dissatisfied, untrendy, and out of date. Learning to cultivate your own style means that trends won’t affect what’s in your closet—you’ll buy pieces that fit your look, vibe, and values rather than being dictated by the next best thing. 

5. Decide on your magic wardrobe number

Elizabeth encourages each person to find the amount of clothing that works for them. Sometimes sustainability and minimalism are made out to be the same thing, but they aren’t! 

You don’t have to own just ten items of clothing to be a conscious consumer. You’re allowed to have the number of clothing items that works for you and your style. 

6. Keep your clothes in good condition

Washing machines and dryers are incredibly convenient, but they’re not exactly environmentally friendly. They also reduce the life of your clothes! 

We’ve been condition to believe that we need to wash our clothes frequently, and for some clothes that get extra sweaty—like gym clothes, underwear, and socks—that’s true. But for other items, washing and drying too much can break down the fibers and dyes rapidly. 

The easiest way to reduce your closet’s environmental impact and keep your clothes in excellent condition is to reduce your laundry schedule. 

7. Sign the PayUpFashion petition

The fashion industry was deeply affected by COVID-19, more so than most other industries. “I feel like even the cruise industry probably looks at fashion and feels sorry,” says Elizabeth. 

When quarantine first started, fashion retailers lost nearly an entire season of sales due to store shutdowns. With people staying at home and cozying up in their sweatpants, fashion demand has decreased dramatically.

Because of an instant decline in sales, fashion brands started canceling their orders with factories. Retailers don’t pay a deposit for their orders in fashion, but instead, have the factories front the money for materials and labor. Then the brands pay the factory upon receipt of the items. 

When brands canceled their orders, they weren’t canceling future work—they refused to pay for clothing that had already been produced. 

PayUpFashion is working hard to pressure brands to pay their canceled orders. Each of the 40 brands targeted by PayUpFashion withdrew at least $20 million in orders. Formed by Remake, PayUpFashion is also asking brands to commit to six other actions that will protect workers. 

The effects of canceling an unpaid order are devastating for the factories and their workers. Garment workers go unpaid, suppliers go unpaid, and the factory owner is on the hook for a massive loan that they have no way of paying back. 

Elizabeth says, “we pretty quickly saw factories laying off workers, without paying them for work they'd already done, which is a type of for slave labor. To me, that is the definition of slavery...the devastation is immediate.”

You can support garment workers by signing PayUp Fashion’s petition. Calling on brands to do right by the workers who produce their goods is the first step in fashion industry reform, and will help all of us create conscious closets in the future.

One Last Tip: Keep Working Towards Systemic Change

Even beyond our closets, there are many ways that we can be more sustainable on a more global scale. 

Elizabeth says, “The pandemic exposed the massive inequalities in our society. And even the way the pandemic impacted people was very uneven. 

So you know, you see people doing things like donating to organizations, whether it's for racial justice, or economic justice, voting in different leaders...like when it comes to ethical living, I think we all know that the writing on the wall is that we need systemic change.”

Resources We Mentioned