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Leading a zero waste lifestyle is one of the trickier aspects of sustainability to incorporate into our daily lives. From electronics with the broken screens to tiny gum wrappers, waste seems to be all around us. This can make reducing the amount of waste we produce difficult to track and even trickier to correct. The fact is even small changes can reduce how much we throw away. An easy place to start is in our own closets.

Millions of tons of clothing exist on this planet, and will continue to exist for hundreds of years. Textiles live in landfills for much of their lives, taking copious amounts of time to decompose. Not only does the landfill model squander precious land for trash , but it also compromises clean air. The packed nature of landfills creates a vacuum of sorts, allowing decomposition to proceed without oxygen. This environment serves two-fold in increasing the decomposition time significantly as well as releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

What’s even more alarming is the message we send when we toss textiles. When we dump functional and/or mendable garments, we cast a vote for the fast fashion industry. Companies like Forever 21, Zara, and SheIn thrive in this atmosphere when consumers increase clothing demand and encourage “new arrivals!” almost every week of the year.

Fashion, style, and self-expression are all unique and important aspects of the human experience. Zero waste and sustainable fashion simply takes this a step further by asking what our outfits truly represent. What clothing says about us goes far past aesthetics. The footprint of our garments can showcase our internal state of compassion, responsibility, and consciousness.

Changing our mindsets surrounding our closets is the first step. Too often does consumerism blind us to the wasteful nature of fast fashion. A zero waste wardrobe can represent our stylistic expression, compassion, and growth all in one with thoughtful curation. Incorporate these 5 zero waste wardrobe tips to work towards your waste free wardrobe!

  • Always use what you have 

    One of the simplest ways to reduce your waste is to avoid throwing things away! This concept obviously cannot be easily applied to every aspect of life, but it is undeniably a sustainable fashion tip. There are a surprising number of ways to upcycle unwanted clothing.

    Altering clothing, like turning pants into shorts or a regular tee into a cropped one, can be done at home by leaving a trendy raw hem. Or for a more polished look, try bringing your projects to be finished professionally by a tailor. Tailors can do much more than hem pants or crop a shirt. Complete transformations like turning skirts into tube tops or creating a patchwork dress are fun custom projects that you can discuss with your tailor! Top online tailors make it even more convenient to update your wardrobe- if you want alterations from the comfort of your home, this option is for you.

    Further, clothing doesn’t have to stay clothing! Old tee shirts and other soft materials can be cut into strips and woven into a rug. Produce bags are another fun way to upcycle a basic tee. Old clothes of any material can also make a stylish pillow- satin shirts can translate into beautiful decor details.

  • Look for natural materials

  • When washed, all textiles shed tiny microscopic fibers from the fabric. Cotton, wool, silk, linen, hemp, jute are all natural materials that shed biodegradable fibers. This means the fibers are harmless to the environment and will break down quickly.  

    Unfortunately synthetic materials, like nylon, polyester, and spandex are often derived from plastic, and thus shed microplastics into our water systems. These physical pieces of debris break down into microscopic nanoplastics, which pollute on a chemical level. When washing synthetics try using a guppy washing bag. This mesh bag filters microplastics, keeping them from water sources. While this doesn’t eliminate waste, it provides the option to discard the microfibers in a more controlled, responsible way.

  • Buy second hand

  • Buying second hand is a trend that we hope is here to stay. More and more people are realizing just how many garments exist combined with how many are still being created, sourced, dyed, and shipped. This number may be enough to convince us that there are enough pre-existing clothes to fulfill each individual’s stylistic needs, while discontinuing fast fashion altogether.

    There are so many fun ways to acquire or buy clothing second hand. The obvious place to start is your local thrift store. When you thrift, you’re reducing the amount of textiles sent to landfills, as this is where unpurchased materials go. Vintage shops, estate sales, trading clothes with friends, or perusing a family member’s “donate” pile are all surprising ways to score a unique, sustainable closet staple or statement piece!

  • Mindfulness

  • Asking yourself some questions before you purchase clothing is a helpful checkpoint. Fabric material, quality of construction, and the style of the garment are thoughtful factors to consider. All of these influences contribute to the lifespan of our clothes and how long they stay in our closets before being discarded to a landfill.

    It’s easy to over-accumulate, resulting in the inevitable and wasteful closet cleanout. Try doing some research on your style if you’re not sure. What outfits do you like? How do you want your clothes to compliment your body? What type of lifestyle do you lead? Be realistic and purposeful in creating a wardrobe for YOUR life and the things YOU like to do.

  • Get some help!

  • Building a zero waste wardrobe can be very overwhelming. From the expense to the hours of style and brand research, sometimes there’s not a lot of energy left over for excitement and creativity. The great news? There are stylists for that!

    Sustainable stylists, like Hanna Lee based in Chicago, specialize in building you a wardrobe based on your existing wardrobe. Services like these provide tips and advice on how to style well-loved pieces in new, creative ways as well as guidance to maintain your closet. If this seems a little luxurious, think about money and stress spent on impulse buys that may not have happened with some style guidance. Investing in professional help often costs less in the end because we pay for unbounded information instead of a depreciating product. 

    A zero waste wardrobe can sound tedious to procure. But maintaining a zero waste closet is rewarding and sustainable all while remaining fashionable and expressive. By incorporating these 5 tips into your closet, we hope reducing the waste in your closet comes with ease and enjoyment! 

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