My 6 Favorite Materials for a Sustainable Closet

I always say that the first rules of sustainable fashion are to use what you already have and to buy less. Still, at one point or another you might find yourself at a point where you need to get something new and while you also have the great option of finding something second hand, not everyone is comfortable nor able to do so. So if you are to buy something new, it can be very good to know what fabrics to look for.

So which fabrics are more sustainable?

First of all let me just say that this is my list of sustainable fabrics. There is no one size fits all when it comes to fabrics and while some fabrics are generally less impactful they all have negative impacts on our planet. So I advise you to give up on the idea of a perfect fabric and to make friends with the “least bad” ones.

My first priority is to go for natural fabrics whenever possible, as the are made from renewable resources that are biodegradable. Natural fabrics are fabrics that have not been manufactured by humans. Some (often brands themselves) are going to champion recycled polyester, and while it is good to use resources that already exist, this is not a long term solution and I believe we should not rely too much on fabrics made from non-renewable resources like plastic.

Organic cotton

The most used natural fiber is cotton. While cotton is a great fabric that is comfortable and breathable the production of conventional cotton relies heavily on water and pesticides. Not only does this impact the planet but also the people who live and work around the cotton farms where lack of water and disease is common.

Still, cotton is a very good material, so if you want to buy cotton go for organic. Organic cotton is grown without toxic pesticides and uses less water. I usually look for GOTS which is a certification that ensure organic farming as well as good working conditions for the workers.

Linen

Linen is a fabric made from flax and it’s one of the oldest fibers known. It’s a very durable and strong fabric and due to good heat conductivity it’s an excellent fabric for warm days. Though if you don’t like ironing or having wrinkled clothes it might not be the best choice for you.

Flax grows with little water and does not need a lot of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. However there are significant amounts of water and chemicals being used in the processing of the fabric.

Hemp

Hemp is another old fabric and one that is very similar to linen both in terms of aesthetics and feel. The market for hemp has been very small in the past decades. Mostly due to drug regulations, as hemp is a close relative of marijuana.

Hemp grows exceptionally fast and produces 2.5 times more fiber than cotton on the same area. It does not require pesticides and it’s roots help minimise soil erosion.

Wool

Wool is made of the hair of animals such as sheep, goat and llama. While the different kinds of wool have a different impact they all have some traits in common and that is that they are durable, great at keeping you warm (even when wet) and does not soil easily or need much cleaning.

While wool is a renewable resource and a great material there are some concerns around it. Such as the act of mulesing, where the sheep have an area around their tail cut off to avoid infection. So always make sure you buy mulesing free wool. If you want to be sure that the wool you are buying has the lowest possible impact, go for either organic wool, where pesticides are not used and feed is organic, or recycled wool.

There are also some types of wool that are more environmentally friendly than others. Wool from llamas and alpacas are better than sheep wool or cashmere as they are less likely to overgraze the areas they are on. Overgrazing can lead to soil erosion, which is in no way sustainable.

Silk

Silk is a fabric made out of the fiber spun by the silk worm. Silk is incredibly smooth and has a beautiful luster. It’s comfortable to wear and breathes well. However, it is not a great everyday fabric as it needs proper care to last, but if you are willing to put in the effort it will be in your closet for a long time.

In the production of silk the silk worms are fed mulberry leaves. Mulberry trees is able to grow in poorer soil and can help prevent soil erosion in areas that might not be usable for growing other things. In the making of the silk the silk worms are killed so it is not considered vegan. There are however types of wild silk and peace silk where the cocoon is not used until the worm has left it.

Lyocell

Lyocell is the only fabric on this list that is not a natural fabric. It’s a regenerated fiber (sometimes called semi-synthetic) which means it is man-made but from a natural source. It’s made from 100% cellulose, eucalyptus tree pulp, and processed through a closed loop system to make a smooth and comfortable viscose fabric.

The chemicals used to processed the fabric are less harmful than the ones used in the process of making other regenerated fibers and the closed loop system ensures that 99.5% of the solvents are recovered and recycled. Eucalyptus is also a very fast-growing tree which makes the product more sustainable. It is also biodegradable. Tencel is the most known trade name for Lyocell and it is made by the company Lenzing.

Remember, some fabrics are better than others, but the BEST thing is to buy less and to buy second hand when possible!

5 Common Struggles with Sustainable Fashion

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Understanding that fast fashion is not sustainable is easy. Knowing how and where to find better alternatives is slightly harder. Even when you start looking into the subject there are a few common problems that might arise.

Style

Are oversized hemp pants and batik tunics the picture that comes to mind when you think of sustainable fashion? Sure, there are loads of that out there but today there are alternatives available that offer a wider range of styles.

Finding sustainable clothes that fit your personal style can be hard. You’ve probably spent years cultivating your style and finding stores that correspond to this. You probably know where to go if you want a good white tee and where to go for a party dress. So when you start looking for sustainable options you might find yourself back at zero, having to go through the process of finding your sustainable favorites.

So how can you make the process of finding your sustainable style a bit easier? Firstly, find sustainable influencers whose style you like. They will surely be sharing their favorite brands on their channels so be there and snap it up. Additionally, you could start following your favorite brands on resale apps. It’s still possible to shop your favorite high street favorites, as long as you purchase them second hand. By shopping second hand you save clothes from going to landfills, as well as avoiding using new resources.

Size

Finding clothes that fit is hard enough, to begin with, but if you are plus size the selection of sustainable brands that cater to you will be very slim. Many sustainable brands start very small, meaning only size S-L which leaves most women out. There are however brands that are working hard on being size-inclusive, so don’t think that you have to skip sustainable fashion because of your size!

Some great resources for finding size-inclusive brands:

Marielle Elizabeth’s full list of plus size sustainable brands

The Good Trade’s list of 15 plus-size brands

Ecocult’s list of size-inclusive ethical and sustainable brands

Price

The price point is definitely higher for sustainable fashion than for fast fashion. This is because better materials cost more, and so does paying a fairer wage for workers.

The best ways to get around the price issue is to rethink how you value and spend money. From fast fashion, we have gotten the view that clothes are cheap and disposable and that it’s okay if a shirt breaks after 4 wears because it only cost us 4€. But the resources behind that shirt was way more expensive than those 4€ and we should strive to extend the life of our garments. So instead of buying five 4€ shirts that last us a total of 20 wears, we should instead invest those 20€ in one shirt that will last us 20+ times. Investing in quality rather than quantity.

Shopping second hand is also a great solution for an affordable and sustainable closet. The prices are cheaper and allow you to stretch your money further than buying new. There are no new resources being used for second-hand items and at the same time, you might be saving an item from ending up in the landfill. Pretty neat, huh?

Accessibility

If you don’t live in a bigger city, chances are there are no physical stores near you that sell sustainable fashion. Thankfully today there are loads of brands that are available for you to shop online!

One issue with shopping online is finding the right size and fit, so to avoid sizing issues, invest in measuring tape to make sure you order the right size. Also, don’t be afraid to contact the shops or brands for sizing help, they want you to find the best fit as well. There is the problem with shipping when shopping online. And while it might feel like a big issue, shipping usually has a small impact on the lifecycle of a garment.

If you don’t feel like shopping online, it’s wise to go for smaller local businesses that produce quality products that will last. Investing in smaller businesses keeps your money from the big corporations, destroying the planet with unethical practices, and benefits the local area.

Knowledge

Knowing which materials, brands or certifications are best takes time and lots of research. Even researchers seem to be unable to say what’s the best choice (except maybe less consumption of newly produced products, I think that one is pretty clear), so how is it possible for us consumers to know?

Once again, I would champion finding stores, influencers, and brands that you can trust and follow their lead. Unless you want to do all the work yourself. Just spending a little time reading up on which fabrics are most eco-friendly can make shopping feel easier. And never feel bad for making a decision based on what you thought was the best at the time. Choose progress over perfection and be kind to yourself.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

5 common struggles with sustainable fashion

Simple plastic-free swaps at home

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It can be tempting to switch out every single plastic item in your home when you see organized Instagram pics of nice pantries and bathrooms, but my first rule of sustainability: Use what you have. Don’t spend your money and time on switching out every plastic product in your home thinking it’s the most sustainable thing, because it’s not. Buying new will always require new resources and production.

The best way of transitioning to a more plastic-free lifestyle is slowly over time. Only replace your old plastic products when they are no longer fit for use or when you have found a way to mindfully dispose of it (I’m not talking recycling here, but rather gifting it to someone who loves plastic Tupperware and has no problem using it…).

Therefore, the simplest swaps are going to be those kinds of products that you need to switch every few months or so:

Dish brush

Instead of buying another plastic one, next time you need a new one, opt for a plastic-free version. I really like this kind that has detachable heads you can switch out.

Sponge

Instead of a regular sponge to wash dishes or clean around the house, you can upgrade to a loofa. There are also other alternatives made from coconut, cotton and similar fibers.

Glass containers

Switching out all your plastic containers for glass ones might seem like something of a must when you scroll through Pinterest, but there is no need for that. Just start by saving the glass jars you buy jam and stuff in. Wash them and peel off the labels and soon enough you’ll have a great selection of glass containers without having to pay anything extra for it!

Solid bars

Solid hand soap and dish soap are easy swaps. The only thing it requires is a good soap dish (I just have a thin slice of loofa) so that it dries off in between use and doesn’t go bad. Today you can find solid bars for almost anything so if you want to go full out you could also go for laundry bars, shampoo bars, and conditioner bars.

Do you have any favorite simple swaps for a more plastic-free home?