How to build a sustainable wardrobe that survives trends

·4-min read
Wolf & Badger is a retailer carrying independent, ethical brands (Kristine Elin @ WOLF & BADGER)
Wolf & Badger is a retailer carrying independent, ethical brands (Kristine Elin @ WOLF & BADGER)

Fashion is a game of give and take. It gives us perspective-shifting collections, all-important confidence boosts and pop culture moments to be treasured forever (reminder: Versace basically invented Google Images). It also has its issues.

A trend cycle made up of countless ‘cores’ that encourages us to buy more, which then contributes to an estimated £140 million worth of clothing entering landfill every year in the UK alone. Globally, that equates to a truck-full of clothing entering landfill every second. Don’t forget emission rates that would make the garment industry the world’s third-highest polluter if it were a country. It takes in a big way.

But there are things we can do to give back. Namely, taking a more sustainable approach to our wardrobes. Thrift, mend, buy mindfully — sustainable shopping is that simple, right? Wrong. Like everything else in 2023, it’s complicated. It’s hard to know your greenwashing from your genius innovations. Unless you have unlimited time, it’s tough to source unique clothing you’ll want to wear for ever— especially for plus-size people. And fixing old pieces doesn’t seem as easy as replacing them.

To disprove this, I asked three fashion experts to explain exactly how they mend, shop, source and style themselves to stay sustainable.

1. Find your personal style

“When you know exactly what you like, your wardrobe becomes more sustainable because it’s full of pieces you love and continuously wear”, says SOJO founder and CEO Josephine Philips.

Philips has taken a more mindful approach to fashion since founding SOJO, a fashion-tech platform offering emissions-free door-to-door repairs. “Understanding my own need for my wardrobe has influenced how I dress”, she remarks.

Like Philips, start your personal style search by thinking about what you want it to say about you. Then, understand the colours and shapes that work best on you — a wide-leg trouser, high waist, exposed decolletage, neutrals — play dress up at your nearest charity shop until you find favourites. They’re now your fashion foundations.

2. Question everything

For Izzy Harvey, a stylist and owner of Depop’s vintage treasure chest Fauntleroy, sustainable style is all about asking the right questions. Firstly, appraise your wardrobe to see if you actually need something before buying it — because reducing consumption is the most sustainable thing we can do. Then, she separates trend-led passing fancies — “for me, cuts, quality and interesting pieces always trump any trend” — from forever love by asking three questions: does the piece truly excite me? Can it elevate five looks I already own? Will I be wearing it in five, 10, or even 50 years? Answer “yes” three times and it’s sure to be a piece you’ll love for ever.

Depop’s vintage treasure chest Fauntleroy (Fauntleroy)
Depop’s vintage treasure chest Fauntleroy (Fauntleroy)

3. Do your research

“No brand or product is perfect, but transparency is key in making an informed decision”, says Henry Graham, creative director and co-founder of Wolf & Badger, a retailer carrying independent, ethical brands.

Make a checklist: are materials clearly shown? Does the company have certifications or evidence of vetting for ethical practices, as seen with Wolf & Badger’s B-corp certification? Plus, as Graham puts it: “where possible, look for natural materials and items that are made with a high attention to detail and impeccable finish.” That way you’ll still be wearing your piece when the trend cycle swings towards it again.

To start you on the right track, Graham recommends brands such as Other, Julia Allert and Femponiq.

4. Shop from yourself

Shopping sustainably can be expensive, which is why Philips’ next tip is so wonderful. Enter: “the great seasonal switchover!” Section your wardrobe into seasons and pack away anything that you won’t wear at that time, then switch everything over when temperatures change. “There’s so much joy in rediscovering clothing you haven’t seen in six months, whether it’s your favourite cashmere jumper or a sexy summer dress”, says Philips. It indulges that desire for newness without you needing to consume anything. Your wardrobe will soon become your favourite place to shop.

Make do and mend: SOJO (Daphne Milner)
Make do and mend: SOJO (Daphne Milner)

5. Handle with care

The less you’re buying, the better. So it’s important to make your clothing last. Follow simple steps such as washing them at 30°C, air drying them and hanging or folding them correctly. Then find a tailor.

“A great tailor is worth its weight in gold”, Harvey tells me. They’ll help your thrifted finds feel like they were made for you, thus upping the re-wear factor, and work their magic to fix any holes, broken zips or other issues. Philips says repairing can add up to three years on to a garment’s life. With innovations such as SOJO, alterations are easier than ever.