Can the idea of developing a more sustainable approach to fashion start from our own wardrobe? Or, as I like to call it, our ‘personal shop’! The truth is, our closets have so much to give in terms of choices and tools to help change our mindset as fashion consumers. Discover my top sustainable styling tips centred around learning what clothing empowers you, investing time and effort into the clothes you already own, and getting creative with fashion.
We all start somewhere
Following trends and thinking of them as an important part of ‘feeling and looking cool’ is a pillar of the damaging fast fashion system. I still remember myself in my twenties, queuing at the opening of one of the most popular high street brands in my hometown in Italy. As a young fashion addict, I was so excited. The amazing trends I used to see in the magazines were finally accessible for my peers and me. Such a relief!
Thinking of that girl makes me smile, as I strongly believe that the journey everyone evolves with their clothes is personal and goes through several chapters. Now, almost 20 years later, I am writing this article for Good On You, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Take the first steps to a more sustainable wardrobe
When I work with my clients, the first step of their journey often starts with acknowledging their unique body shape and learning to stop focusing on ‘the right size’. If we know our natural body shape and what our proportions look like, we can stop chasing ‘perfection’, and the journey truly begins. The result will be loving ourselves and our clothes as a perfect combination, no matter our shape. That combo leads to a unique style that makes us feel more comfortable and expressive with our fashion choices!
As we begin to shift our mindset, there are a few initial steps to take that will help build a solid foundation for a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe we love:
- Acknowledge our body shape here and now
- Track what we already own
- Get to know the cuts, colours, and pieces that flatter us and make us feel good
- Restyle our wardrobe: adding accessories, finding new combinations, and getting creative
This mindset will stop us from wasting our money, time, energy, and space in our closets, fostering a more sustainable approach to fashion.
Sustainable brands have a crucial role in this scenario, too. If we own our style and our wardrobe’s needs, we can buy those pieces that fill the exact gaps in our wardrobes. One step to being a more ethical consumer means shopping only when we need to and with a purpose, instead of simply getting something new to spice up our day and thinking that this will make us happy in the long run.
Now, let’s round up my top 5 styling tips on creating a more sustainable wardrobe!
1. Learn the ropes
Get in touch with professionals who work behind the sustainable fashion scenes, such as stylists, designers, education parties, and communities. Listening to their stories will help break some sustainable fashion stereotypes, too. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure of anything! The Good On You Journal, brand ratings Directory, and Instagram are also great resources to build up your knowledge and get involved in the movement.
2. Invest in trans-seasonal clothes
Try to buy items that work for more than one season. Jeans, t-shirts, dresses, coats, jackets, and blazers will make any wardrobe more sustainable. Layering is also a fantastic way to reinvigorate our wardrobe without any extra expense. Although people fear layering as it may make them look or feel ‘frumpy’, choosing the right thickness of the pieces while playing with different levels and patterns is vital. As a start, I always suggest layering a monochrome outfit. Choose a colour you love and have fun!
3. Look after your clothes
Make an effort to care for your clothes so they last longer. And of course, if we buy higher-quality clothes in the first place, they are likely to last longer as we are also more likely to treat them more carefully because they cost more. Let’s look after everything that is sitting in our wardrobe. Even that $5 t-shirt bought in last year’s sales deserves to be treated carefully. After all, we spent our money buying it, and it took time out of our lives to choose it. Finally, chances are it travelled through at least four different countries before we brought it home! How many hands have touched that $5 t-shirt? How many stories has it been involved in? It’s worth cherishing along with everything else in your wardrobe, no matter the origin.
4. Stop waiting for a ‘special occasion’
Make every day a special occasion and wear what makes you happy here and now. I have seen so many beautiful pieces, even with labels still attached, waiting for “that special occasion”, “the perfect date”, etc. that might not transpire the way we have dreamed. I still remember one of my styling sessions some years ago. I was having a full wardrobe declutter with my client, and she showed me so many beautiful dresses “ready for potential future special occasions”. “Why don’t we try to make them accessible to any occasion, instead?” I said.
Layering underneath and on top of them, pairing them with chunky cardigans or jumpers, adding funky boots, playing with different bold colours and accessories. If you like sequins, for instance, don’t wear them only at Christmas. Sequins are joyful, and we always deserve joy in our lives, even outside of the party season! Also, they are not very eco-friendly as they are often made from PVC and can be used in huge numbers—sometimes more than 200,000 on one garment. Finding different outfit ideas from daytime to evening looks will get the most out of them, which is the main purpose of an ethical and sustainable wardrobe, right?
5. Make your wardrobe more circular
Open your wardrobe to the circular fashion movement. In other words: swap, choose vintage, rent, and donate or gift your unworn clothes.
Clothing swap events and apps are gaining more momentum recently; fun physical and virtual places to swap unworn clothes for pieces that will have an extended life in a different closet. Trading what we already have and no longer love instead of letting it make its way into landfills is one of the most sustainable moves we can make with our fashion.
Go for vintage! I used to ‘steal’ my mum’s handbags, belts, and earrings from the ’70s and ’80s. I’ve started mixing and matching them with contemporary outfits to great effect. Authentic vintage items will have been made at least 20 years ago, which is one of the main reasons vintage clothes have a role in the sustainable fashion world. Also, one way to make sure our fashion choices are sustainable is by investing in garments that can stand the test of time, as vintage clothing from the pre-fast fashion era can be of a higher quality.
Finally, renting clothes sustainably fosters a sharing environment and makes designer pieces accessible that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy. While the rental industry is still finding its feet in the eco movement, it is a promising up-and-coming option for you to consider.
Sustainable fashion is a challenge for all of us. Society constantly pushes us to buy new and often and dump what we don’t like anymore. Fast fashion ‘deals’ are always very tempting, sold as amazing quick recipes to make us feel happy immediately. Education and awareness is the key! Take the time to learn more and foster an active approach to fashion. Stop thinking fashion is someone else’s business—the stylists, designers, governments. We are all consumers first, and we have this incredible power to make a positive difference in sustainable fashion by choosing if, where, and how to buy.
Author bio: Sara Ibrahim is a passionate and fun sustainable personal stylist from Italy, now based in London. A London School of Styling graduate, Ibrahim is a member of the Ethical Influencers Network and runs her own styling business called SIMA. Follow along with her styling tips and adventures over on Instagram @simastylistlondon.