How to create a sustainable wardrobe

You walk by H&M and see that its new spring collection has just been released. The thin mannequins are draped in flowing skirts, striped tops and high-rise jeans. Within 15 minutes, you exit the store adorned with shopping bags and a wallet that is $60 lighter.

While this impulsive buy could be just what you want for the new season, it raises a question: have you stopped to think about the long-term effects of your purchase?

Buying clothing from a retail giant like H&M can be a relatively cheap and easy shopping trip, but it contributes to the growing concern of fast fashion in today’s society.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion, cheaply made clothing that often does not last long, tends to be inexpensive and must be replaced fairly regularly.

According to the Recycling Council of Ontario’s website, “In Canada, the average person throws out 81 pounds of textiles annually.”

Students can make their wardrobe more sustainable by ensuring they are not buying just for the sake of buying but instead buying for necessity, said sustainability specialist Devon Fernandes.

Fernades, who works for Humber College’s office of sustainability, explained second-hand shopping, often referred to as thrift shopping, is another good way for students to create an eco-friendly closet.

“The fact that it’s already gone through one life cycle and you’re able to upcycle those clothes, that’s an awesome opportunity to make sure that doesn’t end up in a landfill,” Fernandes said.

Spotted at the Black Market

GH360 took to the The Black Market, a thrift store located on Queen Street West, to see why people were shopping second hand.

Megan: "I like wearing stuff that isn't as new because it's been ruined, you can ruin in, you don't have to keep it nice and new"
Jill: "A lot of the clothes have character. If you're trying to mimic a decade it's easy to do"
Jenny: "I find it helps you find your personal style better, because with fast fashion stuff they don't give you the chance to find your own fashion styles"
Maddy: "Why not save a penny if you can. Sometimes these stores have better fashion sometimes. Like depending on what kind of fashion you’re into, they can give you that vintage look or the other look you’re looking for"

Although thrift shopping can help alleviate the amount of waste ending up in landfills, a poll conducted by GH360 showed that many university and college aged students prefer to buy new clothing over thrifting.

Second hand vs buying new

  • Buying new
  • Thrifting

Have you "DIYed" an outfit?

  • Yes
  • No

It takes 700 gallons of water to make a t-shirt and 1800 gallons to create a pair of jeans, explains the Recycling Council of Ontario on its website.

Where is your clothing sourced?

People need to think more about where their clothing is coming from when they buy brand new, as not everything is sourced where consumers live, explained sustainability expert at Plant Life Apparel, Ashnie Badal.

“We source it from other parts of the world,” Badal said. “It’s cheaper because unfortunately we don’t have to pay as much as we do here.”

She also said that being sustainable in the millennial generation means considering whether or not you really need that new t-shirt or leggings.

Emily Alfred, a senior campaigner with the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), is dedicated to examining what is happening in the world of waste as well as being a watchdog at city hall.

Like Badal, Alfred explained that consumers don’t see the whole picture when it comes to shopping because making textiles is usually outsourced to developing countries in which people are treated poorly and underpaid for the work that they do.

“We don’t account for the real cost of consuming things,” she said.

According to Alfred, people should be moving away from a culture of buying clothing and then getting rid of it when it is no longer in style or fits nicely, into one of a circular system of recycling and reusing to create a more sustainable industry.

Buying new vs. Thrifting

Many people assume that thrift shopping comes with a hefty price tag, but that is not always the case, explains Badal. GH360 compared two similar outfits from fast fashion retailers and a thrift store to see which one was more expensive. The t-shirt on the left, from Rw&Co, costs $25.90 and the jeans, from American Eagle, retail for $59.90. In the outfit on the right, the t-shirt found at Value Village is an H&M basic t-shirt that was priced at $2.64. The jeans purchased at Value Village were priced at $4.99 from an unknown brand.

The problem with thrifting

When clothing is donated to thrift stores, some of it will have to be rejected if there are noticeable stains or holes. These are items that cannot be sold, said Badal.

Instead, the clothing that is rejected from being sold at second-hand stores is sent to a factory where it will be wrapped in plastic crates. There is no sorting of the clothes.

It is simply a matter of “stuffing as much clothing as possible into the boxes,” she said.

Once the crates are ready, they are sent out to third-world countries, such as Haiti and other parts of Africa.

The back lot of Value Village, a second hand store. (Amanda Naccarato/GH360)

“That’s not fair for us to sort of give that burden off to developing countries because it’s a problem that we’re creating,” Badal said.

There are other options to consider when creating a sustainable wardrobe. Badal said that taking old clothing and repurposing or redesigning them is a better option to thrift shopping.

Staining articles of clothing with flowers to make your attire more personal is a good way to repurpose clothing rather than throwing them out or even donating them, said Badal. For more of Badal’s interview, click here.

How to DIY old clothing

How to turn a t-shirt into a bag

How to turn a t-shirt into a pillow case

From old to new

Do you have any old clothes laying around after they’ve went out of style? Try giving them a second life by using fabric paint to add your own personal touch. A little colour can make an old shirt or a jean jacket trendy again. This old outfit got the pop culture treatment with artwork referencing Stephen King’s hit movie It.

How to turn scraps into a scrunchie

The next time you pass by a giant fast fashion retail store think about the entire impact before you buy, and remember you have other options.