My three steps to a sustainable wardrobe

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If someone had told me three years ago that I would no longer go on regular and intense shopping sprees today, I would have considered this person completely crazy. I just liked going on shopping trips to London or Paris too much. During these trips I usually bought new eye-catchers and clothes for the office – from brands that I couldn’t get in Frankfurt. That was neither cheap fashion nor high fashion, but somewhere in between. Good workmanship and timeless design were important to me, so that I could wear the clothes for a long time. But by no means were these new pieces fairly produced or made of environmentally friendly materials. After all, I did not know anything about the exploitative, destructive side of the fashion industry, nor did I know any alternatives at the time.

And today? I still love chic fashion and cool styles! However, over the past three years I’ve gone through a process that started with the movie “The True Cost” and that completely changed my shopping behavior to this day. I will share below how exactly I got my wardrobe sustainable. Just one thing in advance: If I have managed that as a former confessed power shopper, you can too!

Three years…

Three years may sound too long for some of you, but for me, good things take a while. Some decide to start with a six- or twelve-month shopping ban. And that’s fantastic! But for me as a Shopaholic, such a cold turkey approach would have been too radical at the time. I also think that it’s not about doing everything perfect immediately. The most important thing is to finally start and then find the right path for yourself. Therefore, as a first step, I chose to focus my shopping addiction on eco-fair fashion alternatives. Because to not longer support the exploitation and pollution in the fashion industry was the most important to me.

That’s also why on my blog I present chic styles with clothes that have been produced in a responsible way. I do not want to fuel unnecessary consumption, but show that we do not need conventionally made clothes (the same applies of course to food, cosmetics, etc.) because there are so many fantastic alternatives. In my Eco-Fair Fashion Guide you will find many ethical and environment-friendly fashion labels at a glance. And I’m sure that those who are more and more frequently buying sustainable fashion instead of fast fashion will sooner or later also want to buy less. At least, that’s what happened to me.

…and three steps to a more sustainable wardrobe

Step # 1 – Away from Fast Fashion to Eco-Fair Fashion: When I watched “The True Cost” movie back in 2016, I gradually started to switch to eco-fair fashion. That meant that I decided to add only ethical fashion to the conventional clothes in my wardrobe. In 2016, I was not completely consistent. In 2017, I bought only one single fast fashion piece and in 2018 none at all. In terms of quantity though, not much changed in the beginning. I continued to buy a lot, just now in eco.

Step # 2 – Trying out alternatives to new clothes: Even though I supported fantastic fair fashion labels with my purchases from 2016 onwards – with each new item, new resources are being used up. But there are many different types of sustainable fashion that I did not try before, for example clothes for rent. If you feel like it, check out Sarah Lazarovic’s “Buyerarchy of Needs” chart. Inspired by this, in 2017 I first tried out some (previously unattractive) alternatives to new clothes, such as secondhand, vintage and clothes swapping.

Step # 3 – Less is more: Although I shopped more consciously and less than before, at the end of 2017 I was startled by the amount of garments that had entered my closet since I switched to fair fashion. Therefore, starting in 2018, for the first time, I tried to drastically reduce the number of garments I bought within one year.

Less is more: That’s how it went with my shopping resolution 2018

If you have not read my article “With Vintage into the New Year” from January 2018 – that’s what I had planned:

A maximum of one new garment per month in 2018! In addition, these twelve new pieces should primarily be vintage / second hand or consist entirely of recycled materials.

I excluded accessories, shoes and underwear from my shopping resolution for 2018. The reason: With more than (I can not believe it myself that I write this now) forty newly purchased fair fashion pieces in 2017, a limit of twelve garments for 2018 was more than an ambitious affair for me.

And those clothes got into my wardrobe last year:

  • 2 blazers (both Vintage)
  • 2 coats (both Vintage)
  • 1 short sleeve sweater (Vintage)
  • 1 poncho (new from eco-fair fashion label Ekyog)
  • 6 t-shirts (all new from the eco-fair fashion labels Hessnatur, Dedicated and 3Friends / Mit Ecken und Kanten
  • 1 culotte (new from the fair fashion label KOKOworld)

With thirteen pieces of clothing, I missed my goal. But I’m still super happy with this result! Because that puts me far below the number of new garments that I got in 2017.

What went well and what was difficult?

Shopping Limit: Buying one piece of clothing a month does not work for me. Sometimes I did not buy anything for a few months. But when I went into a store or when it “clicked” online, I bought three or four pieces in one go. In order not to lose track and to stick to my annual limit, from June onwards I wrote down what I had bought in which month. By this, it was easy to keep track of how much of my contingent was left. The most important thing: I kept away from stores and online shops more often. This, of course, had a positive effect on my bank account. And even better: On city trips (formerly my favorite occasion for shopping) I now had much more time to enjoy the city instead of checking out countless fashion stores.

Vintage / Secondhand: Of the 13 purchased garments in 2018, I found five in vintage stores. So that worked quite well. However, such purchases are really unpredictable. Vintage shopping is a matter of luck and it helps to know a few good addresses. I bought at the vintage store Jana Blume in Mainz and at the high fashion vintage store Seconata in Hamburg. My attempt to find fine vintage pieces in London wasn’t successful. Because the two visited vintage stores were not my thing despite previous research. Besides, my companion and I had better things to do in London anyway (see above 🙂 ).

Recycling / Upcyling: This point was harder to implement than expected. In fact, none of the garments I bought in 2018 are made entirely from recycled materials. In October, I was flirting with a winter jacket by Ecoalf, made from recycled ‘Ocean Plastic’. In the end, I decided against it, because my two winter jackets / coats will last at least one or two more winters.

What’s left of 2018 and what’s new? My shopping resolution for 2019

That’s what this year is all about for me: to resist the desire for new clothes when I do not really need anything. Okay, that may not always work and then it’s just like that. But I have learnt that it really is a matter of habit to resist a “wanna-have-flash”. And after the “training” last year it now isn’t a big deal for me anymore.

The number twelve is my “magic number” now and therefore will remain in 2019. This year, however, I will intensify my resolution even further. Because I would like a maximum of twelve new parts to move into my closet – including jewelry, bags, shoes or underwear. If it works? No idea. But so far the year is going well: February is pretty much over and I have not bought anything yet. Vintage / second-hand and recycling / upcycling should also continue to play a role in my purchasing decisions.

Less is more: These questions help to shop less

In 2019 I will continue what I started last year, except that I would like to shop even less. Rather than buying several clothing of the same category (even though they’re all great – did I really need six new t-shirts last year?), I’d like to think more carefully now before deciding on a new piece!

#1 Do I really need the garment? Or am I just in a shopping mood?

#2 Can I combine the garment with the pieces in my wardrobe? How many different combinations can I think of spontaneously?

#3 Does the garment meet a short-term trend? Or will it meet my fashion taste for several years?

#4 Do I feel comfortable in the piece all around and would I love to keep it on? Are the color and the cut flattering?

#5 (… and for me now a basic requirement!) Is the garment made of sustainable materials and was it produced under fair conditions? Or is it secondhand so that no new resources were used for it?

In this sense:

Buy less, choose well, make it last.

Vivienne Westwood

So, now I’m really interested about your thoughts. How sustainable is your wardrobe? What is particularly easy or difficult for you in this regard? And how do you find the questions to shop more consciously?

All the best, Mary

Photos: Mary Schmidt


2 thoughts on “My three steps to a sustainable wardrobe

  1. Thank you for this great article! I am relieved that others also struggle during the change, I am still in the middle of it.
    I was never a real shopoholic, but every once in a while I do enjoy shopping. Still I have always tried to buy only what I really needed and kept asking mysellf if I would come back to the store to buy it – only then would I buy it. The questions are a perfect addition to my pre-buy thought process, thank you!

    1. Thank you very much for your comment. It seems that, most of us women are “together in the same boat” when it comes to shopping temptations. 🙂 I think the most important thing is to come to the awareness that less is more and I’m sure conscious shopping behavior will follow over time. I’m glad that my questions will help you in that process. All the best for you, Mary

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