You may already live the eco-life, but you may just be starting out on your journey to become more sustainable.
We all know we need to cut down on waste, and lead lives that have a lower impact on the planet, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.
Here at My Little Green Wardrobe, we’re starting with kids fashion - and like you, we’re still learning.
The first thing to note is that you don’t need to feel guilty if you spontaneously decide to buy something from a high street chain, or if you forget your carrier bags at the supermarket checkout.
You’re not failing at sustainability if your bathroom cabinet consists of more than a wooden toothbrush and a small glass pot of tooth powder.
Fantastic work if you’re vegan, all your clothes are made from recovered hemp, and your Instagram feed has more than 10k followers because of your #ecolifestyle - but seeing sustainability in such an inaccessible way can provide a barrier to entry for many.
There’s no point being too intimidated to try - everyone can start somewhere.
So to help you on your journey this is our beginners guide to a more sustainable - or greener - wardrobe.
Why start with clothes?
“At every level clothes are implicated with the climate emergency,” says sustainability expert Anna Fitzpatrick.
The Ph.D. student and project coordinator at the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion has been working in this field for the past 14 years.
“What the clothes are made from, who’s involved with the farming, where they come from. There are various issues to do with land use, water use, chemical use, toxic effluence, pollution...” she lists.
“The lower the amount of pesticides used in the production of a fabric, the better but these aren’t the only issues at play.
“We shouldn’t be making clothes out of virgin polyester,” the 37-year old states matter of factly.
In fact, a recent report by the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce found that around half of clothes sold by large online fashion chains like Asos, Boohoo and Missguided were made entirely from virgin oil.
Here are four ways you can have a greener wardrobe today:
1. Love your wardrobe
While it’s great to become more conscious about how clothes are produced, there’s no point throwing out your whole wardrobe in disgust because the items weren't sustainably made.
“Rather than starting with materials, you should start with yourself... what you need and what you don’t need,” suggests Anna.
This is the first - and possibly most important - of the three Rs from the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra. After all, nothing is more eco-friendly than the wardrobe you already have.
Do you really need it, and do you really want it? What is it you are looking for when buying an item? How are you feeling? Is this actually an emotional purchase?
If a purchase is necessary, only then does it matter where the garment comes from and what it’s made from.
Only buy items you or your child loves - and buy quality items that won’t break down after a handful of wears.
“Think about what each item of clothing is going to do,” says Anna, “what is its role in the wardrobe?
“Sports kits and PE kits may be a great thing to have made out of recycled polyester. The fabric makes them really washable and easy to care for. And they can be passed on to other kids in the family or at school.
“Aside from that, generally I would suggest organic cotton, because it’s got fewer nasty things in it, which will be next to your children’s skin.
“Next, I think about how often I’m washing things,” says Anna, who has a 4-year old daughter.
“You want to be buying clothes that are as long-lasting as possible and I think, as a parent, the washability factor plays a huge role. I don’t want hand-wash only things.
2. Care for your Wardrobe
“While we need to think carefully about the manufacturing phase, and how garments have been produced, we also need to consider the use phase,” says Fitzpatrick – once it belongs to the consumer.
According to some studies, in the life cycle of a t-shirt, as much as 70% of the energy is consumed and carbon emissions released after the manufacturing phase.
Think about the energy it takes to wash clothes - particularly on high temperatures. And tumble drying and ironing use additional resources.
Consequently, looking after the clothes you have properly and prolonging their life is the next step towards acting more sustainably when it comes to clothing.
“There’s something so nice about buying children’s clothes,” says Anna, “and you want to pass them on in a lovely condition too – not with stains down them.”
Follow the care instructions on the label, try not to wash above 40 degrees, let your clothes air dry, and - this might be a hard one for parents to hear - don’t wash clothes too frequently.
“This is a difficult thing for many people as it plays into ideas of hygiene and cleanliness,” suggests Anna.
“And it’s a particularly difficult thing with children’s clothes as they do get dirty. People shouldn’t feel guilty about caring for their kids' clothes and putting them through the washing machine, whereas adult clothes can be cared for in many ways.
“For wool you can hang it up while you’re having a shower, or other fabrics you can spray and air them, or just spot clean them,” Anna recommends.
3. Mend your Wardrobe
If you frequently mend clothes, you are among the growing numbers of people taking up the old adage, make-do and mend. There are now even repair cafes popping up around the country to fix items that would otherwise get thrown away.
However, if you’re not partial to a needle and thread, an easy win could be as simple as buying iron-on patches for joggers that have gone through at the knee, but are fine everywhere else. You’ve just more than likely doubled their life-span!
But fret not - even sustainability expert, Anna, says mending clothes is something she doesn’t have time for.
“It’s called a mending pile for a reason,” she laughs. “It’s too easy to say mothers should be darning and sewing, but we’re not in the same situation as our mothers and grandmothers.
“People can look at this sort of thing in a very nostalgic way, but society - and women’s role in it - has changed.”
If mending isn’t for you how about “demoting” clothes to painting, messy play or gardening clothes?
“Then you’ve got a whole set of new clothes for those activities!” says Anna.
Everyone is on their own journey and this underscores the very idea that sustainability is progression not perfection. Do the things that you can fit into your life.
4. Share / Repurpose your Wardrobe
According to a 2017 report by WRAP, around 300,000 tons of clothes are thrown away and burned or buried in the UK every year.
If you’ve loved a garment, don’t let it go to waste! Sell it, pass it on to friends or family, or give it to charity.
Children’s garments are often still in excellent condition and can survive many more wears after their initial owner has outgrown them.
And if they are beyond wearing Anna says:
You can break down some of them into household cloths, or for cleaning the car, or use them in the garden – I just used a load of old socks in a planter to help with drainage.
“And after that you can think about putting them in clothes recycling bins for the fibres to be recovered.”
And in an ideal world that would see the full circularity of garments being made into something else, and living a whole new life!
Head of Wardrobe Final Thought:
Yes there’s a lot to take in, but if you nail the basics you’ll soon be on your way to a greener wardrobe.
Love the wardrobe you have, look after your things, and when you need to buy, make sure it’s quality not quantity, and made in an ethical way.
Join us on our sustainability journey and together we’ll aim for progression not perfection.