Buying clothes consciously – how we can protect the environment with sustainable fashion

There are many ways to actively do something for the environment. An important aspect is your own consumer behavior, especially when buying clothes. In fact, many people buy more clothes than they need and often do not wear them once.

A lot stays in the closet

Statistical surveys by the Federal Environment Agency have shown that in Germany everyone buys an average of 60 pieces of clothing per year. 40 percent of these are never worn, or at most very rarely. That would be 24 of the 60 pieces of clothing that went into the wardrobe.

Try not to buy “fast fashion”

Fast-moving cheap fashion that often doesn’t even last a whole season is called “fast fashion”. It is particularly harmful to the environment, as low standards often prevail in production – not only with regard to the use of highly toxic chemicals, but also with regard to working conditions in the textile factories. Nevertheless, the share of cheap goods on the textile market has more than doubled since 2000. Low sales prices mean that their share continues to rise.

As a consumer, you can actively help protect the environment or fight against exploitation if you shop for your clothes consciously. After all, you still decide for yourself what you spend your money on and what you wear. Conscious fashion buying means: more quality and less quantity. If you buy fewer clothes, but they are better made and made of high quality fabrics, they will last longer and you will produce less garbage. You may be spending more money at the beginning than on the same amount of cheap goods, but that becomes relative over time. You just wear your things longer. If you also have a rather timeless taste, you don’t have to constantly chase after new fashion trends and live much more relaxed.

How do I know whether fashion has been produced sustainably?

Textile seals are a good guide when looking for environmentally friendly and fairly produced fashion. When you buy clothes with a recommended seal , you help ensure that higher wages are paid, that working conditions are bearable and that the environment is less polluted. Unfortunately there is a large number of different textile seals. This is why it is often not that easy to see what it actually stands for or what properties the product has to meet for the corresponding seal.
The best thing to do with cotton clothing is first to ensure that it is made from organic cotton. Organic cotton products are now also available from large retail chains.You can recognize it by the addition of “organic cotton” or the information on the laundry slip: “Made from …% organically grown cotton”.
The “Siegelklarheit” portal provides a good overview of other recommended clothing seals and rates credibility, environmental friendliness and social compatibility. Recommendable seals include “The Blue Angel”, “EU Ecolabel”, “Fairtrade”, “Global Organic Textile Standard”, “Naturland” and “The Green Button”.

Allow textiles a “second life”

Used clothing is an alternative to buying new. You can usually find a large selection in thrift stores and flea markets. There you can both buy clothes for you and get rid of what you no longer wear from your closet. At the clothing bazaars in daycare centers, there is a large selection of used things for your children and mostly at very reasonable prices.
Second-hand purchases protect the environment because fewer goods have to be produced. For you, that’s no more expensive than buying cheap products. You will find cheap branded clothing and great vintage pieces that the textile discounter cannot offer you. And let’s be honest: It’s much more exciting to rummage in the flea market than in a fashion store.If second-hand shops and flea markets are not your thing, you can also buy or sell used clothing via second-hand fashion portals on the Internet.
What you no longer like, friends or colleagues may still like. You can easily swap clothes with them. In many cities there are now also public clothing swap fairs or someone is holding a private clothing swap party. You will meet nice people there.

Why buy when you can also rent?

For special or one-off occasions you would like to have something extraordinary that you know beforehand that you will never wear it again afterwards. These include, for example, wedding dresses, wedding suits or dresses for prom. Buying something like this extra is really worth it. If you are faced with this decision, you should consider whether someone in your circle of friends might not have a similar item in your size in their closet. Alternatively, you can rent festive clothing.
This is no longer only possible on site in the rental shop, but also online. If you want to borrow clothes more often, some portals even offer a membership so that you can borrow cheaper.

Do-it-yourself and upcycling or just repair and change

In earlier times, when things like “fast fashion” did not yet exist and clothing was made exclusively by hand, it was relatively more expensive than it is today. It was of course applied and then worked up or repaired by the tailor or shoemaker. But even today, really good textiles can easily be repaired with minor damage. In addition, used clothing does not always have to be thrown away when it no longer fits. A lot can be changed by simply sewing it around.

Most clothes can also be remodeled or repurposed. This upcycling is very trendy. Perhaps you’ve already sewn a dress from a T-shirt and a skirt yourself or made a bag out of an old jacket. If you haven’t dared, you can find tons of tutorials and tips for DIY fashion on the internet. Even heavily worn things that are only suitable as cleaning rags may still have nice buttons or working zippers that can be used for upcycling.
If you do not have a knack for tailoring, you can also fall back on the service of tailoring. Many offer all kinds of services from shortening to complete sewing.In doing so, you also support small shops in your area.

Donate rejected parts

If secondhand, repair or upcycling are not an issue for you because you prefer to only buy new things, you can still do something for the environment. Items of clothing in good condition that you no longer wear can also be given to non-profit organizations. They are gladly accepted in social department stores or clothing stores and find grateful new porters. You should be very careful not to support illegal clothes collectors who have set up their used clothes containers without permission. 

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Just like the collectors who put baskets in front of the front door without being asked, these are commercial recyclers who dispose of most of the clothes and only keep textiles that they can sell at a profit.
Collection containers that you can use without hesitation can be found, for example, through the organization “FairWwertung e. V. “. This is an association of non-profit collectors of used clothes who have their own seal for their containers. You can also get information from your municipality where approved collection containers are located.

Four tips for sustainable fashion consumption

1. Keep your closet small
If you search your closet regularly, you can see what you have and what you really need more quickly. Radical mucking out of unworn clothing creates space and liberates. At least once a year you should take a critical look at your wardrobe. After that you will only buy what you actually need. Ideally, you will have a few, but timeless and easily combinable items of clothing that you really like.
You can find suggestions for putting together a minimalist wardrobe on the Internet under the term “Capsule Wardrobe”.

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2. Wash laundry wisely
Wash your favorite items only as often as necessary and follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. Frequent washing damages the fibers and the colors and results in pale and deformed textiles. Less is more, then you can enjoy your wardrobe for longer.

3. Know your size when
you buy clothes online, the shipping costs the environment. Arriving if you have ordered individual parts in different sizes and send them back. In addition, many mail order companies destroy their returns as rejects instead of offering them again.

4. Buy fair and ecological
It is best to buy new clothes only from fashion brands that rely exclusively on fair and ecological clothing . You can find information on who this applies to on the Internet, for example under “Get Changed” or “Utopia”.

Closing Notes

A sustainable wardrobe is not that difficult to realize if you pay attention to a few things. The environment will thank you!

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Raushan Kumar
A Cook, Software analyst & Blogger.

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