At the turn of the century, the seminal show Sex and the City popularized the fantasy of a large walk-in closet stuffed with rows of high heels and sparkly dresses. For a while, owning more clothes than we could possibly wear was every woman’s dream.
Those days are long gone.
Our conception of how we consume, own, and enjoy fashion is shifting to something more sustainable, more nourishing to our spirit…
Now, instead of wanting to be like Carrie, we want to be like Marie — Marie Kondo that is, the internationally famous Japanese professional organizer, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and host of a similarly-named organizational show. In the last few years, she has won the devotion of millions of Americans, simply by helping them purge their anxiety-inducing closets and replace the chaos with tidy rows of folded and hanging clothing.
Our conception of how we consume, own, and enjoy fashion is shifting to something more sustainable, more nourishing to our spirit, and yet just as affordable as the fast-fashion alternative. It’s called the Circular Fashion Economy.
There’s a lot to learn in this new world, so we’re going to break it down for you and explain what you need to know to join in on this movement, and how to do it with flair.
What is the circular fashion economy?
When we invented synthetic materials, synthetic dyes, and chemical finishes, fashion became linear. Create it, buy it, wear it, maybe donate it, but sooner rather than later, it ends up in the landfill. As fashion trends have sped up and clothing got cheaper, we’re putting more and more fashion in the trash. The average consumer bought 60% more clothing in 2014 than in 2000 but kept each garment half as long, and the EPA estimates we send 80 pounds of textiles to the landfill per year per person.
We can’t go back to the way things were before. Give up our bathing suits, fashion with flattering and forgiving stretch, our lightweight workout gear, the rainbow of patterns and colors? Probably not. Go back to wearing the same thing every other day for years? That’s a stretch.
The new Circular Fashion Economy seeks out innovation and practices that will slow down our fashion consumption, keep our fashion out of the landfill, and recycle it into new fashion, all while allowing us to still have fun with our wardrobe.
The new Circular Fashion Economy seeks out innovation and practices that will slow down our fashion consumption…
In other words, don’t worry. You don’t need to wear hemp. You just need to follow these tips to be an innovative and eco-friendly fashion consumer.
1. Edit your closet down to a Capsule Wardrobe.
A Capsule Wardrobe is a minimal collection of the basics of fashion that you can mix and match to create flattering outfits. A Capsule Wardrobe saves you time getting dressed, tamps down on closet-induced anxiety, and saves you money by preventing regretful fashion purchases.
It doesn’t have to be the aesthetic popularized by Instagram: all neutrals like black, white, grey, and beige. A good Capsule Wardrobe is about knowing your favorite colors, whether it’s jewel tones or primary colors or earth tones, gold or silver jewelry, knowing your most flattering fits, knowing your overall style vibe, and sticking with that — instead of chasing every trend.
One trick to nail down your personal style is to create a style board, either digitally on Pinterest or physically using magazine cutouts in a scrapbook. Add in outfits that speak to you, and eventually, you’ll see themes emerge.
Yes, I am telling you to clean out your closet… with intention. Marie Kondo was right! You should only keep things that spark joy when you put them on. Then figure out why. What is it about the cut, about the style, about the colors that make you feel great? Note that down. And get rid of anything that doesn’t fit into that. What good is an expensive sweater you got on sale if it doesn’t make you feel good and doesn’t match anything else you own?
For things that are close but not quite right, take them to a tailor to get them fitted or changed. I’ve had a tailor change jeans that were great for my butt but were awkwardly flared at the bottom, and asked him to slim the calves. Now they’re perfect.
2. Take care of your clothing.
The most sustainable thing you can do is keep your clothing that you love for longer. Work on getting stains out of your clothing, and mending them at home or getting them mended at the tailor. Hang them up instead of throwing them on the floor to let them air out after wearing, and only wash them (in cold water) when they’re actually dirty or smell, then hang them up to dry. It’s what the Europeans do, and trust me: it works to keep your clothing looking luxurious for longer. For more on this, check out Elizabeth Stilwell’s book Conscious Closet.
3. Don’t throw out your clothing!
While we are still five to ten years away from end-to-end recycling of fabrics like blended polyester and cotton, you would be surprised at how many accessories can be put to another use after you’re done with them: almost all of it can. And more and more brands are taking back old clothing to do the responsible recycling for you.
Items in good condition can be donated to charity or sent in to online resale sites like ThredUp, Poshmark, and The RealReal. Eileen Fisher will take back any of its unwanted clothing to clean and resell, upcycle into fresh designs, or recycle it. Patagonia will mend and even buy back its items from you for resale. Old sneakers can be given to Nike to be turned into athletic fields. Old jeans can be brought to Levi’s or Madewell stores to be made into eco-friendly home insulation. Used (but clean!) underwear and socks can be sent to the sustainable underwear brand Knickeys for recycling. Torn and stained clothing from any brand can be dropped off at H&M stores.
Really, there is a place for almost anything you don’t want anymore. No need to rely on your rubbish bin!
4. Rent your experimental fashion.
Bored with your Capsule Wardrobe and itching for something new? Don’t succumb to the siren call of a brand-new on-trend item that you may only wear once. Rent it instead! Tulurie lets you rent high-end fashion from other women’s closets. Rent the Runway not only rents formal dresses, they offer a subscription service for everyday wear as well. Armoire and Le Tote also offer rental subscriptions, in which you choose items, wear them, and send them back in exchange for different items the next week. For Days offers a subscription service just for white t-shirts. Even Bloomingdale’s is launching a rental service soon. If you wear something and you really love it, you can buy it at a discount. That way you know you love it before you shell out.
5. Buy secondhand.
The dirty secret of the fashion industry (well, one) is that we get rid of so much fashion so fast that we can only resell 20% of it in America; the rest is downcycled or shipped abroad. That’s a huge opportunity for you to get sustainable and high-quality fashion from your favorite brands at a discount.
If you love the thrill of the hunt, by all means, check out your local thrift store. But if you have something specific in mind, The Realreal, ThredUp, and Poshmark all let you sort by size, style, color, and brand to find the perfect thing at a steep discount. As a bonus, I have a list of eco-friendly and ethical brands that you can find secondhand online for you here, for a double whammy of planet-friendly vibes.
6. Tell brands you want them to take responsibility for their clothes.
We’re seeing more and more brands invest in recycling technology, opt to take back old clothes, design for longevity, and just generally take responsibility for making sure their stuff doesn’t end up in landfills. Is your favorite brand ready for the Circular Economy? Ask them! They are eager for clues on how to keep you as a loyal customer — every consumer who nudges them in that direction is getting us closer to a world without fashion waste.