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How to Build a Closet of Sustainable Styles

There is no denying the surge of online retailers in the past decade. Consumers’ options are endless, but this convenience comes with a cost. Fast fashion is the rapid production and turnover of inexpensively-made clothing by mass-market retailers, often in response to the latest trends. The goal? Spot trends and get them out onto the market as soon as possible, which can contribute to the exploitation of employees and environmental distress. Although it’s more comfortable to purchase from the brands that are most familiar to us, there is a growing number of retailers actively switching things up to help you become mindful shoppers.

It’s difficult to avoid the hype, styles, and affordability of fast fashion retailers such as Forever 21, Zara, Nasty Gal, and SHEIN. These brands appeal to the general consumer through the most sought-after trends, and social media helps to spread the word through constants advertisements. According to Business Insider, Zara’s designers are “at the core of its business model, which is centered on newness and speed.” Zara lists new products on its website multiple times a week, demonstrating just how quickly fast fashion companies work.

Our goal is to help you make smarter shopping decisions that are beneficial to your wallet and the planet. Don’t worry, you can still shop at your favorite brands, but remember to mix it up.

The items we purchase here in the United States are more often than not manufactured in a foreign country such as Bangladesh or China. Many fast fashion brands use unethical methods of production, to say the least. Overseas production enables companies to maximize profit by paying little to nothing for labor and generating high turnaround on products.

This process works because we, the consumers, want what we want when we want it, to be frank. As we all become more conscious of the food we consume to the products we clean with, it’s clear that we’re getting to the point of a more sustainable closet and beauty stand mindset.

Ethical production includes everything from fair treatment for employees to careful use of resources, as well as the company’s means to source its materials. One brand that focuses on ethical production is Miakoda, an active and loungewear company that uses organic plant materials and eco-friendly packaging. Their products are locally created in New York City. There are various small clothing retailers that you can shop all while supporting a larger cause.

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, due to the massive amount of fabric that is needed to create new clothing, according to Business Insider. Greenhouse gases are emitted when factories use energy to meet production demands. The World Wildlife Fund states that it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton T-shirt. Moreover, approximately 85% of clothes end up in landfills every year, with microplastics left in the ocean. A large amount of these clothes are made of polyester, a type of plastic, which does not break down naturally. tonlé, a casual wear brand, is committed to a zero-waste production process by using leftover and recycled materials.

Environmentally-friendly methods gained recognition through “slow fashion,” the counter-movement to fast fashion. Slow fashion practices intentional production methods and environmental awareness with the goal of longevity for clothing. Reformation, a women’s clothing brand, is certified as carbon-neutral by Climate Neutral, which is an organization that verifies companies that achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

Reformation states “water input, energy, land use, eco-toxicity, greenhouse gas emissions, human toxicity, availability and price” is considered when it selects materials to make their clothing. Each item listed on the brand’s site includes information on its environmental impact within the product’s lifecycle. Reformation is an exemplification of the slow fashion movement because it allows consumers to make informed decisions on new pieces for their wardrobe.

Thrift stores are another great option for sustainable shopping because you are not directly supporting fast fashion yet you get to enjoy styles of popular retailers and luxury brands. The recent popularity of shopping secondhand is largely due to a cultural shift in attitudes about climate change, sustainability, and individuality. In 2015, Goodwill stores in New Jersey and New York received 85.7 million pounds of donations. There are also several online thrift stores, such as Depop, Poshmark, and Thredup, making it easier for consumers to shop secondhand.

Another way to introduce suitability into your fashion lifestyle is by creating a capsule wardrobe, a downsized wardrobe made up of versatile pieces. Capsule wardrobes consist of limited, carefully-selected pieces that pair well together. It allows you to be more aware of the clothing you purchase by minimizing the pieces you own. Think durability of the material and how the color pairs with other pieces when making your purchases.

This fashion lifestyle prevents the purchase of trendy items that will be disposed of after it’s out of season. You’ll find yourself making investments in high-quality clothing, as pieces will be worn repeatedly.

It is imperative to be a mindful shopper in today’s fast-paced society. Combat fast fashion purchases by expanding your knowledge of sustainable clothing brands. Shopping from these retailers provide a conscious way to consume fashion and ultimately help against the rapid growth of the fast fashion industry.


Featured photo by Arturo Rey

Andrea Yu

Andrea Yu, writer at Young Hot & Modern