10 Tips to a Sustainable Wardrobe

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.

Anne Marie Bonneau

The conscious fashion experience is highly influenced by lifestyle, geography, culture, budget, and most intimately – personal taste! There will always be areas where one cannot practice a certain eco-commandment, made up for by the spaces where we can go green with ease; which is okay, human as we are.

Personally, practicing no-spends is tough for me. I live and breathe fashion – the art of dressing impacts my work and personal life in a big way. Prolonged and absolute no-spends don’t work for everybody, and a lot of women struggle to fill the gaps in their wardrobe when a special occasion comes up or boredom strikes. “I have a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear” is a familiar exasperation, but it can’t always be solved by heading out to shop. This often signals deeper trouble; your fashion choices may not be efficient enough to prove resourceful over a long period of time, and it’s time to make your shopping style more sustainable!

As a fashion designer, blogger and stylist who advocates sustainability, I’ve developed conscious shopping hacks instead of guilt-tripping myself into banning consumerism altogether; and I haven’t berated about having nothing to wear in about five years now! Adopting the practices I’m going to talk about can transform your wardrobe in several ways – no more impulse buys that lie dormant after one use, and everything works with everything else beautifully, you’re always surprising yourself by the outfits you can come up with.

You start shopping a lot lesser, but still dressing a lot better, and your clothing lasts for several years with creative refashioning.

So, how does one go about being a conscious, mindful and smart shopaholic?

1. Shopping is not therapy

Tough truth! The first step to reducing the negative impact of consumerism on the environment (and hurting your wallet) – stop treating shopping as a feel good drug! Never head to a mall with your purse full or *guilty* scroll through retail websites while sipping on wine for entertainment. Mindless, impulsive buys that will burden you, and the landfills. Let shopping be a special activity, planned and undertaken only once in a while. This helps focus on what you truly need.

2. The Wishlist

A savvy shopper never enters a store with nothing in mind. As you go about dressing for your daily life, tiny thoughts like “I could wear this with white trousers if I had them” or “Why don’t I have black shoes?” or “I need a smaller purse for dinners” may pop up more than once. Stick a notepad inside your wardrobe, or save a memo in your phone. Thinking about a certain wardrobe addition frequently? Note it down and prioritise that when the time comes to spend money!

3. Secondhand Fashion

Once you recognize your needs, try your luck with thrift stores nearby before you hit retail. They might just have exactly what you need, and what better than buying secondhand fashion? It’s eco-friendly and full of serendipitous finds.

4. Borrowing and Swapping

Another round I practice before deciding to head out shopping is checking with friends and family for underutilised clothing. So many precious gems in my wardrobe are hand-me-downs from the tribe, and vice versa! If you need something special just for that one occasion, borrowing might be a great idea. Heading to fashion swaps in the city works great, else you could arrange to have a swap date with a friend – both of you can let go of that which doesn’t serve you well and find something more fulfilling from each other’s wardrobes!

5. Basics & Neutrals

The building blocks to a great, long-lasting, resourceful wardrobe are great basics and neutrals. I find that classic investments like a white shirt, a little black dress, good jeans, heels, sneakers, etc are utilised resourcefully for several occasions. Neutral colours – olive, grey, navy, beige, brown, black, white are great to invest in because they all match with each other as well as pair well with pops of bright colour. Try going for a neutral dress over one in the brightest yellow, in the interest of being interested in wearing it for a long period of time!

6. Memorable Fashion

There’s such a thing as pieces that are outrageously delightful at first but too ‘memorable’ to keep one delighted over the long haul. #RepeatFashion isn’t as enjoyable when one cannot wear that item different ways. Clothes that do not have scope for mix-matching or belong to a fashion fad that will retreat quickly (neon animal prints, for instance) are just the kind that will bore you in less than five wears. Excessively busy or bright prints, embroidery, frills or anything that can only be worn one particular way (for example, a printed jumpsuit or an embroidered boho maxi dress) can be foregone for more efficient choices. Understated and elegant pieces that provide fertile ground for multiple styling options are your best friend. Try keeping splurges like these to a minimum or stick to secondhand buys when it comes to memorable fashion!

7. Mixing and Matching

This is the key to having an efficient wardrobe. Whenever I come across something I fancy, I imagine at least three different ways I can wear that garment in. Would it go with several of my pants/skirts? Can it be belted, layered or made interesting with accessories each time? Is it a tunic that can be worn with pants one day, as a dress sans pants another? Is it a button down dress that can be an overlay jacket another day? Is it a top that can be tucked into trousers for work, but also a fun skirt for play? Dressed down for brunch but also dressed up for a date? If it isn’t giving you exciting ideas, it probably isn’t a good buy.

8. Accessorizing & Layering

Investing in good quality accessories makes every piece of your current wardrobe more diverse – layering with creative belts, scarves, jewelry, brooches, shrugs and enable a lot more style play. A dress can be worn with quirky bohemian beads and a sling bag one day, but elegant dainty silver and a structured purse another – two completely different aesthetics! Accessories have proven to be a lifesaver for capsule wardrobes and those who practice the #10x10Challenge (living on ten clothes for ten days).

9. Challenge Yourself

Keep experimenting with the outfits you already have. Refashioning, restyling and rewearing will help you rediscover your wardrobe in a fresh new perspective. Additionally, getting on to some DIY mending and upcycling for worn-out garments gives them a new lease of life, prolonging your current wardrobe without needing to buy more. A touch of embroidery on a boring white tee, or replacing the buttons on a denim shirt makes me excited to wear it all over again.

10. Support Ethical

This is a no-brainer. When you do head out to buy new clothing, try your best to support ethical, sustainable and/or slow fashion brands! Investing in quality pieces over quantity will make your wardrobe the best it can be.

A word from the Oorja, the author

I’m a sustainable fashion blogger and apparel designer from Bombay, India. I have a penchant for all that is handmade and artisanal, I’m always incorporating the slow fashion heritage of my homeland into my eco wardrobe journey. I’m a faculty of fashion design to high school students, and an old world soul who adores vintage aesthetics.

Did you like that article written by Oorja? You will also love her inteview with us where she explains What sustainable fashion means to her.