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!

How to make your laundry routine more sustainable

Not only is washing your clothes in a good way beneficial to the clothes, but also to the planet! How we wash our clothes is the biggest difference in the impact we can do after we buy a product (except for keeping and wearing them longer). Taking care of your clothes in the best way possible means they last longer, and that means less need for buying new clothes and less clothes being sent off to landfill.

If you are like me, you have experienced what it feels like to take that cute white top out of the washing machine, only to realize it has become pink. Or realized that wool sweater you thought would be okay machine washing come out with holes in it. Well, no more!

Sometimes what is best for the garment can be the opposite of an eco-friendly laundry practice. That is the case for many delicate fabrics that might require dry cleaning (which uses heavy chemicals), but most of the time the two combine pretty well. So keep on reading for the tips and tricks of a sustainable laundry routine!

Wash less

This is the first rule in the book. Most of us are washing just out of habit instead of assessing whether the item actually needs to be cleaned. If it doesn’t smell or is dirty, it’s fine for another wear (underpants not included). If there is just the odd stain but otherwise fine you should just spot clean it. If you want to freshen up the garment between washes either air them or spritz them with a clothing mist.

Wash in lower temps

If washing less is rule number one, decreasing the temperature is number two. Not only is this kinder to your clothes, but it also requires less energy as the water doesn’t need to be heated up as much. And you don’t have to worry, most detergents today work in low temperatures so make 30 degrees your new standard!

Air dry

Tumble drying less and air drying more means less strain on the clothes and less energy used. Some items are best dried hanging and some laying flat. This is sometimes indicated on the label, but as a general rule, don’t hang knits. For delicate items like silk and wool you can lay them flat of a clean towel, then carefully roll it up to push out any excess water.

Fill it up

Fill up the washing machine as this saves on water and washes. Don’t wash only one pair of pants, but also don’t overload the washer. The clothes need to be able to circulate!

Wash similar colors

This might seem like an obvious thing to many, but after 8+ years of communal laundry rooms I can tell you that it is not. Or maybe it is obvious and people just don’t care enough. Either way, I advice you to not mix colors. You risk ending up with clothes coming out in a different shade or color and if that is not your intent, it’s not going to be fun.

Use laundry bags for delicates

Delicate items should always be in a laundry bag to protect them from ripping och tearing. I use laundry bags for any bras, for knits and silks (if I machine wash them). Many delicate natural fabrics can actually be washed by machine if you have a delicate or hand wash program, but it’s best to still put it in a bag first!

Use a Guppyfriend bag for synthetics

You might have heard that synthetic fabrics release micro-plastics when washed. Instead of throwing out all you polyester dresses (we don’t need more clothes in landfill!!) get yourself a Guppyfriend bag!

It’s a laundry bag that collects all the micro-plastics so you can throw them in the trash instead of them spilling out into the ocean.

Use an eco-friendly detergent

Also, be mindful that you might need a special detergent for more delicate items made of wool and silk. No matter if you wash them by hand or machine

Skip the softener

Softeners are not great for the fabric. In some fabrics it can even interfere with the properties of the fabric (like for workout clothes!). Both our health and the planet, especially the marine life, risks reacting negatively to fabric softeners, so it’s best to just skip it. White vinegar is often used instead of softener if you are looking for a replacement.

Do you have any more tips to add to the list?

How to know a garment is of good quality

The longer we use a garment, the better for the environment. But no matter how well you treat an item, if they are not of good quality, they won’t last long.

Quality will always costs more than a fast fashion item, so if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. This is not to say the price is an immediate indicator of quality, because oftentimes it is not. There are very few brands and designers that are not mass-producing in big factories today, so the best way of being sure you are buying quality is to learn how to recognise what to look for!

Many think of the material when they think of quality, but there are many more factors to take into account when looking at the quality of a garment. So how do you know what to look for?

What to look for

Material

The first thing to look at is the material. And I don’t only mean to check the label for what type of fiber it is made of. Though I like to always start with this as I tend to prefer natural or regenerated fabrics. I try to stay away from synthetic fabrics as they make me feel sweaty and cling to my body.

How is the hand of the fabric? When you touch it, how does it feel? Does it feel itchy or coarse to the skin or is it smooth and comfortable?

How does the fabric look? Is it opaque and sturdy or rather see-through? A thinner fabric risks breaking more easily. Is there any pilling or threads pulled? If I find that already at the store I don’t even bother, as it is only a sign of what’s to come.

How is the fabric made? Is it nicely woven or knitted? A sweater that is loosely knit might be pretty and in style, but there is a bigger risk of getting stuck in things an pulling threads. This is worth thinking about.

Sewing

How is the construction of the garment? Are there seems and threads unraveling or loose? Have the edges been left raw (this is a quite normal way to save money)? Has the hem been finished by hand (by invisible seem) or has it been done by machine (which will make it visible on the outside)? How does the inside of the garment look? Does it look like something you made in middle school or is the finish rather refined and clean?

The construction will together with the material determine how long the item can last. Poor construction will lead to the garment breaking sooner or later and you having to mend it or leave it to a seamstress. If you want to save the time and money that requires, do you check before buying. Look at the seems, pull them slightly to see if they hold up well. For a jersey or knit you will want there to be a bit of elasticity to it. Otherwise it will break.

Details

Is the zipper of good quality or do you struggle to zip it? Are the buttons sewn on properly or are they already falling off? Are there any prints on the garment? Do they risk bleeding or tearing off when washing?

These might seem like small things and they are, but they also tell you something about the overall quality of the garment. You don’t want to get stuck in your dress the first time you use it just because the they’ve used a cheap zipper. And sewing on buttons are not that hard, but a good quality item will have them sewn on properly from the beginning. Cheap details are often a tell tale sign of lesser overall quality.

Questions to ask yourself before a purchase

So when you are at the store examining a garment, ask yourself this:

  • How does it feel?
  • How does it look?
  • Does it hold up when I pull it slightly?
  • Are the buttons loose?
  • Is the zipper running smoothly?
How to know a garment is of good quality

How to store your clothes properly

Garments hanging on a clothing rack

Using what you already own and making those things last as long as possible is the first rule of sustainable fashion. So how do you store your clothes in the best way to make them last longer?

General rules

Good hangers are vital for storing your clothes well. Avoid the slim metal ones you get at the dry cleaners and invest in wooden or fabric ones. Talking about dry cleaners, you should not leave your clothes in the plastic bags they cover them in. It suffocates the garment.

Natural fibers risk getting infested with moth or other pests. If you live in an older house or you have experienced problems with pests you do best in storing your clothes covered, either in boxes or clothing bags.

The same applies for storing clothes out of season. They need to be kept dry and safe from pests and dirt. If storage space is an issue (when is it not?), vacuum bags are perfect for saving space while also keeping the clothes safe.

Some fabrics are more delicate than others. One of the more delicate ones is linen, which risks breakage if folded too many times in the same place. So if you are folding linen items, avoid folding them too tight and try to either hang them or roll them to avoid edges.

Jackets

I would guess most of you store your jackets hanging? Which is the best way if you want them to last! Jackets should be hanging as to keep their shape and preferably they should have broad hangers that fill out the shoulders, none of those thin metal ones you get from the dry cleaner. Rather wooden hangers than plastic, as well, as those are sturdier.

Knits

Knits should never be hung up, it stretches them out. Instead, you do best in storing them folded or rolled up on a shelf or in a drawer. Natural fibers and synthetic knits can be stored the same way, except if there is a problem with pests and fungi, then natural fibers do best in closed boxes or bags that keep them isolated from the outside.

Shirts

Shirts and blouses do best hanging up. If you are lazy like me you can hang up shirts straight after laundry and let them air dry on the hanger and you might be able to skip the ironing! For delicate fabrics its preferable to use a padded fabric hanger so you don’t risk damaging the fabric.

Dresses & skirts

It depends on the fabric of the garment. Knits and jerseys risk getting stretched out hanging up, but in general dresses and skirts do best hanging. Skirts should have hangers with clasps and not be hanging from the strings at the sides.

Pants

Pants could be stored either hanging or folded. It depends on what type of pants and fabric. Lighter pants made of cotton or blends, like chinos and other casual pants, can be stored folded while suit pants and slacks do better on hangers.

T-shirts

Best stored folded or rolled on shelves or in drawers (or folded Konmari style if you prefer that). Just like with knits t-shirts risk getting stretched out if they are hanging, so this is not advisable.

Shoes

Are best stored in a box, protected. A cheap way of storing shoes is to keep the box they come in. Using shoe blocks are great for keeping the shape. If you don’t own any, stuffing the shoe with paper can work. Higher boots keep best hanging up in boot hangers or laying down stuffed with paper than fill them out to keep the shape.

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

October Challenge: Slow Fashion

October Challenge: Slow Fashion

October month will be all about slow fashion and sustainable fashion here on the blog. I will share my best tips on how to build a more long-lasting closet and how to slow down your fashion cycle, as well as which materials are the most sustainable and how you properly take care of your clothes.

There are so many ways you can be mindful with your closet, but it can be a jungle of information and certifications and whatnot for the normal consumer. It’s hard to be a conscious consumer and most companies are not making it any easier. Hopefully, governments will take the responsibility off of the consumers’ shoulders in the future by implementing stricter environmental and labor laws and be tougher on companies that greenwash, but until then it is free for companies to do as they please. So the only way to get around it, for now, is to do your research, and hope to be of help there!

So what will I practically do this month?

  • Obviously not buy anything since I’m on a shopping ban (this is probably the most efficient way of slowing down your closet!)
  • Mend any items that need mending (even though I think my mom recently fixed most of mine)
  • Fix any garments that aren’t working (like cropping pants that are too long or tailoring things that don’t fit well)
  • Sell any items not being used enough (because why should they take up space in my closet and mind?)
  • Do a care day for garments (get rid of any lint or spots on my garments, take care of my leather bags and shoes)

Do you have any questions or problems on the topic of slow or sustainable fashion you would like me to bring up this month?

Slow fashion challenge