8 Steps to Building a More Sustainable Wardrobe

8 Steps to Building a More Sustainable Wardrobe
Photo by David Stuck

Jess Carpenter, Instagram influencer and owner of Hampden’s Carpenter Studio boutique, shares her tips for making your closet more eco-friendly and creating a more sustainable wardrobe.

  1. Don’t begin by throwing everything away.

A closet full of Zara, H&M and other fast fashion brands might feel the opposite of eco-friendly, but it’ll only become moreso if you dump them all in a landfill. “Start off slow, work with what you have and figure out what you really need,” says Carpenter, who suggests taking an afternoon to try on everything in your closet. Keep the things you love; resell the things you don’t.

  1. Embrace fixes and alterations.

The most eco-friendly thing you can do is prolong the life of the garments you already own. For many of us, this means small fixes such as sewing on missing buttons and finally getting the pants you never wear hemmed. “Make time for the wardrobe you already have first, and you’ll be surprised how much you have to work with,” Carpenter says.

  1. Create a wish list—then see what you have that’s already on it.

A cream sweater, for example, might feel like a must-buy—until you clean out your drawers and realize you already have six you hardly wear.

  1. Shop for the life you live, not the life you want.

“When I started Jess with Less, I found I had a bunch of fancy shoes, but I worked at a grocery store. I couldn’t wear any of them there,” she says. Aim to balance the things you love and pieces that’ll support what your life actually looks like, and you’ll be more likely to make use of everything in your closet.

  1. Be wary of green-washing.

Once your wardrobe is ready for new pieces, fill it out with more sustainable fashion when possible. On her Jess with Less website, Carpenter has a great list to get you started. As you investigate brands on your own, though, know that transparency is key. “If a brand is making vague blanket statements about being green or eco-friendly, go to the ‘about’ page,” says Carpenter. “If you can’t find any info on where they manufacture their goods, they’re most likely not (being transparent).”

  1. Pay attention to fabrics.

Natural fibers—silk, cotton, wool and linen—are, more often than not, going to be better for the environment than synthetics, but it still pays to do your research. “Cotton, for example, can be heavily sprayed with pesticides,” Carpenter says. “It’s better if a brand uses recycled or organic.” When it comes to polyester, a necessary component of underwear, swimsuits and workout clothes, she tries to purchase from brands that use recycled plastic polyester.

  1. Buy secondhand when possible.

Because it’s often more consciously produced in smaller batches, sustainable fashion tends to be more expensive than mall brands. Purchasing these pieces secondhand not only helps you save money, but it’s also the most eco-friendly way to shop, period.

  1. Be realistic.

“No brand is going to be 100 percent sustainable,” Carpenter says. “Business itself creates resources.” To that end, the best way to make an impact is to figure out what matters most to you—employee safety, reduced carbon emissions or recycling—and shop with brands whose priorities align with yours.


Jess’s Sustainable Holiday Gift Ideas

If you’re looking for ways to shop sustainably this holiday, Carpenter has a few eco-conscious gift suggestions.

  1. Thinx period underwear.
    “It’s a zero-waste thing.”
  2. A reusable safety razor. “It’s an old technology that didn’t really need improving, in my opinion.”
  3. A meal plan. “There’s a local guy, @adam_can_cook, that does insane meals you can pick up on Sunday. He used to work for McCormick & Schmick’s and so many other restaurants.”
  4. Care/of Vitamins. “I’m so busy, so I appreciate anything that can help me save time. These are prepacked, so you don’t have to think about it.”
  5. Experiences. “Give them your time—even if it’s just going for a walk.”
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