Ethical Fashion Musings

The 5 Often Forgotten R’s of Eco-Friendly Fashion

The 5 Often Forgotten R's of Eco-Friendly Fashion
Written by Jennifer Nini

Are you going green? If you are, you’re not alone. Hordes of Australians and an increasing number of the Western world’s population have joined the green movement: eating organic food, timing their showers and becoming urban gardeners. Once relegated to peace-loving hippies, sustainability has now hit the mainstream. Although I have been writing this blog going on 5 years and there is a wealth of information available, I still get asked: what is eco-friendly fashion?

For newbies navigating the sustainable fashion maze, it can be confusing. But then it’s easy to understand why. Some ethical brands and eco fashion bloggers are just as confused and at times missing the point too! So I decided to put together a list that helps you understand what eco-friendly fashion should be about, concepts that don’t just involve buying sustainable stuff.

The 5 Forgotten R's of Eco-Friendly Fashion

Feeling lost about eco-friendly fashion? You’re not alone.

So here is the list that I like to call “The 5 Often Forgotten R’s of Eco-Friendly Fashion”:

REDUCE

Eco friendly fashion (known as sustainable fashion or ethical fashion, they are often used interchangeably) should first and foremost be about reducing fashion consumption. The 2014 Living Planet Report revealed that Australia’s eco footprint is 6.25 global hectares (gha – the area of land required to sustain consumption and waste) per person. Since the average global footprint is about 2.6 gha this is abominable. Reducing your footprint starts by being mindful of consumption and waste. This ultimately means buying less and purchasing only what you need.

REPAIR

When a garment is damaged, many women think nothing more of chucking it out and replacing it with something new. However many items can be repaired. You can sew on a new button. You can mend a seam that is coming apart. You can darn a sock or sweater (or if you don’t have time, go to a tailor). As Australia is the second most wasteful society (unsurprisingly USA takes first place) with 650 kgs of waste per person sent to landfill each year, we need to start changing the mindset of throwing fashion items away and asking ourselves: Can it be repaired? Can it be fixed? Can it be reused?

RECYCLE

Instead of throwing items that you no longer need in the trash, recycle it. There are two ways to do this. You can donate it to a charity or opportunity shop as they will recycle your goods and turn your trash into someone else’s treasure. Or you can recycle the fabrics by turning it into another garment (known as upcycling). If you’re like me and are hopeless with a sewing machine and needle and thread, you can choose to donate your second hand items to increasing numbers of designers who will happily receive and recycle your unwanted garments. Check out up-cycled fashion designer Rachael Kertes of Applique Vintage.

REPURPOSE

According to the Mirriam Webster dictionary, repurpose is defined as: “to change (something) so that it can be used for a different purpose.” Thus repurposed fashion is similar to upcycling in that it is a form of recycling. Unlike upcycling where fashion is altered to create an item with a similar purpose; repurposing involves altering it so that it is given an entirely new purpose or use. One example is turning an old linen dress into a tote bag. Another is turning a tote bag into mothballs like I did in the image below.

Repurposing: a tote bag turned into moth balls

Repurposing: a tote bag turned into moth balls

REINVENT

Reinventing your wardrobe goes hand in hand with buying less; or perhaps it is the outcome of buying less. It also involves being creative. Let’s face it – it’s easy to go shopping for an item that you want because it’ll ‘complete’ an outfit. So much more creativity is involved in looking at your existing closet and finding outfit goodness. So reinventing your closet involves creating new outfits that you may otherwise not have considered. When I completed the Buy Nothing New challenge in 2013 and in an effort to stave off style boredom, I put my creative thinking cap on and began to see combinations I hadn’t seen before. I was thinking like a stylist, or rather, a stylist with a non-existent budget!

In summary, eco friendly fashion means more than just purchasing ‘eco.’ It doesn’t solely focus on how you shop – it also encourages you to look at your existing relationship with your fashion stuff.

Thinking like a stylist and reinventing my wardrobe

With my good friend Megan in one of my more memorable outfit combinations.

Now over to you – what do you think of this list? Is there anything I’ve missed? How do you define eco-friendly fashion? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

Jennifer Nini

Jennifer Nini is a writer, activist and the founding editor of Eco Warrior Princess. In 2010, after studying Fashion Business, she began this blog to explore her interests in fashion, politics, social justice and sustainability. Jennifer is also the founder of The Social Copywriter, a digital agency harnessing the power of copywriting and content marketing to help mindful businesses reach more people. When she's not perfecting a sentence or coaching business clients, you will find her at her certified organic farm reconnecting with nature.

12 Comments

    • Thanks Nichole, glad they resonated with you. Thought I’d put it out there as so many people are focussing on what they can buy and not enough on what they can do with what they already have 🙂

  • I think this is a great guide, but I do not always agree with the mantra that an eco-fashionista should have less, I just think we need to find new ways to consume. I agree with buying less, but it can also stop some people from getting onboard, and sometimes it is used as an excuse to keep buying conventional because you buy “less and good quality”. I’m not completely on board with either.
    There are new ways of getting more “new to me” things into my wardrobe popping up all around. But yeah; as a whole the world needs less production. (i hope this comment makes some sense 😉

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Johanne. Yes its all tricky. Being an eco fashionista means different things to different people and I have seen the variety of sustainable fashion blogs interesting, sometimes inspiring, often amusing and some off target completely. I wrote this post because people focus on the ‘buying’ and not so much on what they should do with what they already have. Living a sustainable life means living that can be sustained. Most people are well aware that our planet cannot sustain this level of consumption. Imagine if all countries consumed how the West consumed? What happens to the waste and all of the stuff? What happens to the environment? To our health? So consuming less, wasting less, shopping smarter, taking good care of things you already have, trying to breathe new life in the stuff you already have is extremely important. I actually tweeted earlier today:: “there’s no way I was just born to work, consume, pay bills and die”. It’s something to be mindful of and is why so much of the minimalist life resonates with me. The focus shouldn’t be on the stuff, it’s keeping your life streamlined and focussing on whats important and what you treasure most. Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this 🙂 xx

  • Hi. Sorry it took me a while to get back to this. But somehow a little part of your comment, has been flying around in my head, and I have been constantly questioning myself about whether I blog to much about buying…
    The truth is I probably do, or at least about clothes oriented things. It is an occupational hazard from working with fashion and design (and wanting to do that from now on)
    So, what you said did resonate with me. 🙂
    I agree that many people can be slaves to work, consume, sleet repeat life. And shifting the focus can be hard.

    • Hi Johanne, no apologies necessary – ask any of my friends and they will tell you I’m shocking when it comes to timely email replies 😛 I’m so glad to connect with bloggers like yourself because it really does remind me of the beginning of my own exploration into the world of ethical fashion and sustainability. I grew up in a very ‘left’ household which probably helped prime me into these kinds of issues anyway. Like you, I love fashion. I think the way fashion has been done since the industrial revolution has not done it justice but I’m getting the feeling just from our conversation that you won’t be that kind of designer. There is an art to fashion that people forget with the current industry: cheap prices, disposability, trends, synthetics materials, lack-lustre designs has proven fashion a commodity. But it used to be something that was treasured, coveted, that we treated with respect and not thrown away to be replaced by another cheap thrill. I really look forward to seeing your designs and hearing your journey. I love fashion but I don’t think we need to ruin the planet or people’s lives for it xx

  • Nice article, love the point about mending as an ethical solution to buying new. Buying used is also an ethical approach to updating wardrobes, if its new to you, its just as good as new! You could write a whole article on the merits of buying used clothing!

    When I think about how much wear a garment get in a boutique or department store, it often gets more wear than garments in our own wardrobes. They are tried on many times before a customer settles on a purchase. If the boutique owner is active in her business, she probably sponsors fashion shows where the garments are worn for an audience, and supports an on-line boutique where the garments are worn for the photographer. A garment that has been tried on by six to ten different people/bodies is probably more worn than many garments we own in our own closets!

    Most people who discard items of clothing do so because they are not being worn for a number of reasons. They don’t fit well or comfortably or they are not as interesting as they appeared to be when purchased. For whatever the reason, many second hand clothing is mostly new, or considered ‘gently worn’. For those reasons I highly recommend shopping in second hand clothing boutiques as an effort to promote ethical shopping strategies.

    Darcy

    • Thank you so much Darcy for your thoughtful and insightful comment. I absolutely agree with you – I am a big fan of second hand shopping myself as there is so much that is near new and rarely worn – a sign of how consumerist our society is! We actually send so much of our second hand clothes to the third world, they actually buy it by the tonne for a bargain price care of many of our charities 🙂 Nevertheless as I advocate zero-waste where possible, this is definitely a great option. Where abouts are you based? Are you noticing your communities embracing second hand shopping?

  • I loved reading this article! It is good to be reminded of the steps we can take in maintaining and extending our wardrobe and before we even need to replace anything. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks so much Ella for your comment, I’m glad you found it useful. Glad to remind people of these simple steps they can take for a more sustainable lifestyle 🙂

  • It’s so true that many eco-fashion activists are focusing solely on the consumption side of things rather than the sustainment side of things.

    Being lulled into the world of fashion is like being lulled into any kind of romance. Sometimes you get wined and dined for the worst intentions.

    A dreamy photo with a flowing dress, a perfect white smile and bright lips, the perfect manicure – these are all things that entice us to buy, buy, buy!

    I’d like to see more fashion brands using this kind of romanticism to lure people into sustainability and put an end to the over-consumption that dominates our world today.

    Thanks for the article, Jennifer. It is very inspiring!

    • Glad you’ve found something to take away from this article Tashia. What you wrote in your first paragraph is in fact the reason I feel compelled to write many pieces that focus on “consumption” because I know the eco fashion community gets sidetracked LOL. Last year a blogger in our community asked me what I thought of her top 10 Christmas wish list and I politely told her I was the wrong person to ask because I supported an idea of Christmas that wasn’t about buying stuff but more about the true meaning of Christmas hahaha sometimes we just need reminding 🙂

      p.s. When I saw your comment on here I connected the dots and realise that you’re on Instagram too. I don’t ever forget a name as unique as “The Curliest Girl.” Sending a digital wave from the land down under 🙂

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