The First Step to Building a Sustainable Wardrobe
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
As some of you may know, I am currently working hard on my post-quarantine “Glow Up” plan. My goal is to leave this pandemic looking like a new, confident, stylish version of myself.
One of the central parts of my plan... is upgrading my wardrobe!
However I want to ensure that this Glow Up of mine happens with integrity. In other words, I am committed to creating my dream wardrobe in a way that aligns with my personal values of sustainability and ethicality.
What is a sustainable wardrobe?
So that leads to the question, what exactly is a sustainable wardrobe? What does that mean?
Although I am admittedly not a sustainability expert, after following enough brilliant sustainable fashion leaders, I have formed a pretty solid idea.
To me, a sustainable wardrobe is one that is created with the intention and commitment to last a REALLY long time— meaning decades and decades (barring body changes of course).
always attempting to repair damaged items before buying new ones.
only buying what our bodies need most and our hearts most desire.
purchasing new items from secondhand or ethical fashion brands whenever possible. (ethical = fair treatment of workers in terms of safety and wages, no animals harmed, minimal impact to the environment etc.!)
swapping or selling clothes that no longer serve us and if that’s not possible, responsibly donating them.
Most importantly it means committing to buying WAY less in the present and even less in the future.
Overall, I want to create a long lasting relationship with my clothes. I want to get to know them, and to plan to keep them in my life for the long-term.
The only tool you'll need to get started (other than your clothing!)
So first, I had to answer the question:
What is already in my closet??
After all, the most sustainable clothing is that which is already in your closet!
Making good use of the clothing we have helps us limit our new purchases. The clothes we get rid of, whether through donations or through discarding them, nearly always harm both the environment and the communities that become burdened with our trash.
In order to do this, I used an app called Stylebook to catalog and organize (almost) all of the fashion items I own.
*Please note that Stylebook is currently only available for iOS devices.* Smart Closet is the closest thing I've found so far on Android. (Definitely let me know if you know of others!)
I chose this app for a few reasons.
Woman of color owned!
Originally, I planned to start with one season of clothing. But as I got going I realized that I wanted to get this process over with! I still need to complete my accessories but have decided to save that for another day.
I am not going to lie to you...although I am so grateful for the final result, this process was LONG and sometimes tedious!
At the end of this article I will outline a faster alternative if you feel like this is just way too much for you!
Here is a step-by-step guide to using Stylebook to catalog your closet!
1. Download the Stylebook app for only $3.99!
I promise it’s worth it.
2. Decide if you want to catalog your entire collection or just for that season.
If you have a ton of clothing, seasonal is probably your best bet or else you might burn out!
3. Take a photo of your closet before this process!
Something I wish I had done...
4. Begin taking photos! And crop...oh the cropping.
This was hard. Make sure you choose a background with an opposing color. Multi-colored materials can be an extra challenge and may require additional cropping, yay!
IMPORTANT! I recommend taking photos directly in the Stylebook app. That way you can ensure that your photos will be more easily croppable.
5. Add categories as needed!
Don’t limit yourself to the defaults. Think deeply about the role these articles play in your life.
6. Reflect on the history of each of your items and put that in the app.
I’m sure your closet is way more interesting than you thought!
7. Take breaks! And do this over multiple days.
Have a show on while you do this. Have a glass of water and maybe a glass of wine.
Take your time. You don’t want to burn yourself out.
This is a lot of work! But you have just created a foundation in your life that you’ll have forever. You are now solidly on your way to the sustainable wardrobe of your dreams! Be proud of yourself.
My Biggest Takeaways
1. Mental catalog of my fashion-related belongings
I am no longer thinking, do I still have that blazer?? I know which blazers I have!
2. My entire wardrobe in my pocket
If my memory is failing me I can just pull out my Stylebook app and see which color t-shirt would be a great addition to my wardrobe.
3. Clear categories for each article of clothing
Sometimes I felt guilty lounging around in certain clothes because they were "supposed" to be fancy. But I continued to do it anyway. In this process I realized that actually, I get to decide which clothes are what. I WANT those items to be my lounge clothes so now they are. I don’t need to get rid of my very comfy stretched out sweater with a couple of holes, but it can become a lounge sweater! Knowing how to categorize my clothing was huge for me.
4. Helped me get clear on which clothing I really don’t want anymore.
I will talk more about this next week, but knowing which articles of clothing I no longer wear has also been a real gift.
Overall this was an extremely rewarding experience and I think a 100% necessary one for anyone serious about creating a sustainable wardrobe.
Here's a photo of my closet at the end of the process.
The Short Cut
As I mentioned, photographing and cropping every single item you own takes a long time.
So, if you aren’t able to do that, but you are still committed to this process, here is what I would recommend.
1. Create categories for your apparel
You can do this in a Google Doc or whatever you use. I suggest finding a sample category list somewhere on the interwebs or simply using Stylebook's as a base.
2. Physically group your clothing by categories. Do one category at a time!
You can start with bottoms, for example. Get all of your bottoms together.
3. Name each of your items and add them to your doc.
I know this may sound totally weird, but trust me it works! If you’re like me, you already have names in your head for each of your items. Like for instance “jean jacket” since I only have one or “pink blazer”. Don’t forget, this is about building deep relationships with your clothes! So giving them names is only natural.
4. Continue building your list even when you’re away from your closet.
Next time you’re waiting for that food you ordered, pull out your list and keep adding items. Have you added “red dress from that spot in LA”?
You have way more in your mind than you know.
Then, like with Stylebook, you will have a digital reference of each of your articles of clothing.
Sure, you won’t have the actual photo but I don’t believe that’s always necessary.
Most importantly, celebrate all progress.
You deserve it :-).
Follow me on Instagram @integritywardrobe to know when I release my next blog post!