Sustainable Wardrobe - How to Avoid Buying New Clothes?

It's been over a year now since I bought clothes - any kind of clothes. Over the past 1.5 years I've not only given up on buying fast fashion, but also second hand products and sustainable brands. It might sound radical, but it has actually been surprisingly easy. When I quit clothes I wasn't signing up for a year without buying new clothes challenge. It wasn't even a conscious decision I made. At one point I simply realized that it wasn't something I needed to do as I already had everything I needed and what I didn't have, I could easily access outside the capitalist system. 

Having a sustainable wardrobe doesn't have to mean that your wardrobe never changes or that you would never have something new to wear. It doesn't even have to mean that you give up on sustainable brands and shopping second hand. You can simply start by becoming more conscious about your needs and who your money supports.
If you do however, decide to take your sustainable wardrobe on a next level, here are my top tips on how to avoid buying new clothes!


1. Change the way you think about needing new clothes

Capitalism makes us believe that we need to buy things. We’re expected to follow the latest trends and have a new outfit for every occasion. In reality, we don’t. Many of us have wardrobes that would last decades if not our lifetimes without buying a single new piece of clothing. But we’ve grown up in an environment where shopping is marketed as a fun hobby or even a response to emotional struggles like stress and sadness. We need to stop normalizing this. It’s destructive to the planet and there are much better ways to spend your time and deal with your emotions than pouring your money to companies that support modern slavery. 

I talk a lot about “getting something new” in this article, but I don’t mean that you should get something new just for the sake of it. You should really only buy what you need. The pressure of the society to consume can feel enormous, but there is so much more to life than fast fashion 

2. Dig through your family’s wardrobe

If you’re family is anything like mine, they never throw anything away. I got my mom’s jean jacket from the eighties, my uncles old jeans and my dad’s shirts from his youth. I believe I got few shirts from my grandparents as well. The fact that they’re your parents clothes doesn’t automatically make them boring. In fact, in most cases nobody would even be able tell that my clothes are 40 years old as people wear similar stuff nowadays! 

The best place to start are your attic, or your grandparents place. The likelihood that your parents have used your grandparents house as a place to store their old clothes is high, especially if your grandparents haven’t moved around. If your family members hoard clothes and never seem to throw anything away, you can also just ask if you could take a look at their actual wardrobe to see if you can find something interesting. 

3. Swap clothes from your friends

If your not inspired by your family’s style, the next easy stop is your friend’s wardrobe. I’d like to think that most people in my generation take their unused clothes to charity shops or sell them second hand, but this unfortunately isn’t always the case. Go through your wardrobes together with your friend! The clothes you swap don’t even have to be something that you never wear – a piece that you only use once or twice a year has a better home with someone who wears it once a week! 

Note: If you don’t want to give up on your clothes completely, another option is to simply borrow clothes from your friends! Are you going to someone’s wedding and don’t have anything to wear? Do you need outdoor kit just for one weekend? I’m sure you know someone who could borrow these to you! 

4. Swap shops

Swap shops are not only a great way to get rid of your unused clothes, but also get something new to wear without any financial contributions. It’s a form of sharing economy that is based on exchange: you bring something and you take something in return. In some places you’re even allowed to take goods without contributing the the shop yourself. 

The advantage of swap shops in comparison to swapping with your friends and family is that you’re not limited to your social network when seeking for clothes, but you can access wider community. They’re however, not available everywhere. Good places to start looking could be your local university (mine had a brilliant one), or your local social and community centers. You can also find contemporary swap shops in eco-friendly events! 

5. Social media marketplaces

Online platforms like Facebook marketplace are amazing when it comes to second hand clothes. The content in the market place naturally depends on where you live, but believe me, you can find some really good stuff there if you're lucky!

One of my favorite things about online marketplaces is that besides the obvious shopping function, many people also give stuff away for free. Yes, you heard me right! For many people, it's simply not worth the hassle to take pictures of dozens of clothes when they're selling them for a euro or two. Of course I'm not encouraging you to hoard tons of clothes just because they're free, but this can be useful if you're moving abroad, your clothing size has changed, or you have children.

6. Rent clothes 

When somebody talks about renting clothes the first idea that comes to your mind might be renting a ball gown or a tuxedo for a fancy event, but did you know that you can nowadays rent everyday clothes as well? The idea behind renting everyday clothes is that you can have a fun and diverse wardrobe without purchasing every product individually. It saves both natural resources but also money, as many products available in these rental services tend to be ethically produced and somewhat local design. 
How does it work? The rental systems vary place to place but most places offer different kind of memberships that define how many pieces of clothing you can rent at once. The cheapest memberships usually allow you to borrow few basic pieces of clothing or accessories, while the more expensive ones extend to evening gowns as well. Usually there are no time limits – you can keep a shirt for few days or few weeks and then return them to be able to rent something different.

7. Buy second hand 

If you need something more specific than a new jacket, second hand shops are a good place to start. Second hand shops can be charity shops or local second hand markets. You can even check your local Facebook market place to see what they have on offer. The key is to start local and explore what options you have available near you. 
Buying second hand clothes online is easy but be cautious about the environmental footprint you’re causing when you’re ordering items across the country. It’s certainly still better than buying new clothes, but always attempt to buy local before looking options outside your region or even abroad. 

8. Use ethical brands 

As much as you’d like to get everything you use second hand, it’s not always possible. The products might not be available, not suitable for your needs or there might be concerns related to, for instance hygiene. I still buy all of my underwear and most of my shoes new, as I really struggle with the idea of wearing someone’s old panties. The problem that I’ve discovered with shoes is that they adapt to the shape of your foot, meaning that most pre-loved shoes that come in right size have been shaped for completely types of feet. 
If you can’t swap, borrow or buy second hand, make sure that your clothes come from ethical sources and are made from sustainable materials. Avoid clothes with plastic and mixed fibers in general, as these are difficult to recycle. Also skip brands that use virgin materials such as cotton, as cotton is extremely resource heavy to produce.

What are your go-to tips to avoid buying fast fashion?

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