But the majority of millennials are reckless consumers, buying cheap trendy disposable clothes and accessories from big box retailers like ASOS, Zara, H&M, Missguided, and Forever 21 as either a casual way to be social, a stress-relieving leisure activity during lunch breaks, or as a less expensive alternative to booking an appointment with a therapist.
So where is the disconnect? How do we explain the steady rise of the fast fashion market?
Keeping up with the Joneses… using social media.
Our interest in preserving the planet simply can’t rival our obsession with social media. We value social approval and online social status tremendously, probably more than we’d admit to or even realize. Because it’s vital to always have something new to show off and pimp in our various feeds, we feel the need to constantly buy more and more stuff. It doesn’t help that top fashion bloggers, YouTube stars, and other online influencers shop like it’s a sport and are constantly sharing their latest non-sustainable fashion purchases via an #OOTD post or haul video.
If sustainable fashion was “in” it would be a different story. Instead of compulsive updating social media with our latest purchases, we might begin to have in depth discussions about the sustainability aspect of each stylish outfit. We might even start to wear our outfits over and over again, not caring about how it will look.
But that’s way down the line. We still have to overcome the most common misconception about sustainable fashion – that it’s ugly and uninspiring. Or that in order to be a part of the movement you’ll have to start wearing hemp, Birkenstocks, and itchy shapeless dresses that are two sizes too big.
There are stylish eco fashion brands doing the cause justice, from Reformation – if Zara and socially responsibly-made clothes had a cool baby it would be Reformation – through to luxury sustainable brands like Maiyet.
Now we can be chic, and sustainable; they are no longer mutually exclusive concepts. But then there’s the other issue: affordability. Why are is ethically made fashion and accessories crazy effing expensive? We all want to do good and be a part of a positive movement that could potentially save the earth but who can afford $98 Eileen Fisher tees and $340 RE/DONE denim when the government is breathing down our necks about paying back our astronomical student loans and we’re already snacking on cheap soda-and-ramen diets?
Having stared this challenge head on myself, I’ve devised an 8-step practical strategy to help you embrace the new world of sustainable fashion.
1. Dump fast fashion for sustainable fashion.
Constantly replacing cheap, trendy clothes gets expensive not only for you, but for our planet. When you buy clothes that cost less than a decent meal, you don’t thoughtfully consider whether they are pieces that are going to work to improve the function of your wardrobe, that you’re going to keep on constant rotation.
Consuming fast fashion is all about instant gratification, that high you get after you swipe your card or get your parcel in the mail. The low prices alter your judgment, so you end up with a closet full of junk that can’t be mixed and matched. Essentially, you buy, buy, buy yet never have anything to wear. Sound familiar? It’s a never ending circle of needing something to wear because the cheap stuff falls apart after a wash or two and is irrelevant after one season, two at most.
We buy more and have less, which means over time we’re wasting a lot of money and mindlessly contributing to landfills. If you switch over to buying well-made, classic pieces that cost more, but stay on rotation in your closet for years, you will be doing your bank account and the planet a favor.
2. Buy organic when shopping at big box stores like Zara.
If you simply can’t quit fast fashion, then consume fast fashion smarter. Did you even know you can buy t-shirts and trousers from Zara that are made with 100% organic cotton? I was shocked too until I did a search on the website and a decent amount of options came up in the feed. I was even more shocked (and quite impressed) that the price of the organic pieces weren’t much steeper than their non-organic counterparts.
3. Embrace a minimalist wardrobe.
This is the concept of thoughtfully curating a wardrobe that is sans excess, not a pared down style aesthetic consisting of clean lines and a neutral color palette. Your wardrobe should be specifically tailored to two things: your lifestyle and your personal aesthetic, or what appeals to you visually, stylistically. It’s been noted again and again – we only wear 20% of our closets 80% of the time. This is because we’re buying stuff that’s not practical for our daily activities or purchasing stuff that doesn’t fit our personal style, but likely a combination of both.
Take a minute to analyze your life and create a uniform, or a basic outfit that is appropriate for the main activities that make up your typical week. The majority of what’s taking up space in your closet should be able to be mixed and matched to create slight variations of the general look that will work for the bulk of your daily agenda. Anything else is excess and nothing more than clutter with labels sewn inside.
The same goes for aesthetics. In order to curate a fully functional wardrobe where you love and wear everything, you need to have a razor-sharp concept or theme behind it that will serve as a guideline come purchase time. If you’d like a step-by-step guide on refining your style into a clear, coherent concept, definitely sign up for “Your Ideal Wardrobe,” our free 10-day master class that walks you through the essential principles to curating a versatile, dependable wardrobe.
4. Buy with durability in mind.
The more clothes and accessories you buy that are constructed with good craftsmanship and designed to endure wear and tear, the less you will have to replace pieces that’ll just end up in landfill somewhere. Fast fashion culture has us mindlessly scrolling through our favorite brand’s “Just In” and “What’s New” pages during our lunch breaks or before bed, thoughtlessly adding things we don’t need, and sometimes only half-like, to our virtual shopping carts.
Shopping has become a bad habit for most of us, and an addiction for some. It’s our way of staying relevant and cool, which is nothing new — this is the purpose fashion has always served. The difference is fashion is cheaper and more accessible than ever. Impulse buying is a thing. We’re no longer building versatile, functional wardrobes. We’re consuming excessively without much, if any, thought.
We’re not taking into consideration the longevity of a piece for two reasons:
- the style will likely go out of fashion in a couple months;
- we only paid a few bucks for it so who cares?
Durability doesn’t even come into play because we buy clothes with the notion that it’s disposable. And because we’re busy keeping up appearances on social media, we always need to be seen in something new. So the logic is, Why spend $200 on a jacket when I can buy 10 for the same amount?
Millennials are a generation that puts quantity on a pedestal, but if you want to be a more conscious consumer, buying clothes that are made to last is a great way to do your part in the sustainable fashion movement.
5. View every purchase as an investment.
It’s a concept that’s almost alien to modern consumers – purchasing with purpose, with the intent to strengthen the function of your wardrobe, to increase the utility of your closet as a whole. We get invited to a wedding so we go out and buy a super cute dress accepting that there’s a slim-to-none chance we will even wear again.
We see a pair of Gucci loafers blowing up in our Instagram and Pinterest feeds and head to Net-A-Porter to snag a pair even though we know there’s a strong chance that they’ll be deemed as so last season in a couple months.
The sustainable way is to view every piece as an investment towards a better, more functional wardrobe. It’s smarter and more economical to exclusively add in pieces that will increase the versatility of your closet which will make it easier to create outfits, making your wardrobe a dependable asset versus a stress-inducing money pit.
6. Buy vintage or up cycled clothes
Thanks to RE/DONE, Vestiaire Collective, and the like, wearing pre-owned and reworked fashion has never been cooler or more glamorous. These two companies are singlehandedly revamping the vintage landscape and taking away the weird, old, stinky, or even low brow stigma that’s often associated with wearing clothes that are not brand new.
While RE/DONE takes scraps of vintage Levi’s to create new pairs with modern cuts and silhouettes, Vestiaire Collective sells pre-loved luxury items, and it’s the good stuff like a classic Chanel Double Flap handbag or a pair of Saint Laurent western booties. Because you’re purchasing something that’s new to you, but not brand spanking new, it means you’re keeping something that was destined to a landfill out of there.
7. Classic styling is never boring.
One thing about anything classic: it’s always relevant. Even when there are legions of bloggers, influencers, and starlets hopping on a particular trend, dressing up in a classic look (think a basic white tee and really good jeans or an LBD that fits immaculately) is always in vogue.
While following trends can certainly be fun and exciting, they have nothing to do with looking stylish or looking your best. Even if you invest in the latest Gucci, Celine, or Chloe bag where the quality is transcendent, if the design/style is fleeting, you’ll shove it in the back of your closet and buy the newest trend come the start of next season.
If we start with the very basic, classic pieces first we may just be able to reduce the 2.5 billion pounds of clothes that end up in landfill every year.
8. Sustainable fashion is wary of sales.
Bargain hunting can often lead to impulse buying or purchasing pieces that you don’t really love, need, or are useful to your current wardrobe. You make concessions for pieces because they’re discounted. This is why it’s best to avoid shopping sales racks. Unless you know what you want and have the discipline to disregard anything that doesn’t fit your style aesthetic or isn’t pragmatic to the unique demands of your lifestyle.
A smart way to shop sales is to go into them knowing the specific pieces you need ahead of time. Almost every retailer does end-of-the-season and some even holiday sales. So if you keep tabs on what you like when it’s full-priced, then your judgment won’t be altered when the prices are slashed.
The only hard part in using this technique is that you have to be patient as you run the risk of quantities being out of stock by the time it goes on sale. If there’s a special piece that you see extremely beneficial to your wardrobe, then instead of waiting for a sale, save up and invest in it. It will be worth it.
Bonus tip: When shopping sales, remember to never pay 75%, 50%, or even 10% of the full price for something that didn’t/wouldn’t have caught your eye when it was being sold for full retail price.
Many people get discouraged when they hear sustainable fashion, taking it way too literally. Each of the above strategies is designed to help you question your relationship to the garments in your wardrobe, and help you consume fashion much more sustainably.
To shop ethical and sustainable brands, check out our comprehensive resource list here.
You should also check out the in-depth eBook 6 Steps to a Sustainable Wardrobe that also comes with an accompanying workbook.