How to create a sustainable wardrobe

Sustainability in fashion has become a real buzzword. Reportedly the world’s second most polluting industry after oil is the ‘quick trend’ culture which is now one of the most environmentally crippling industries on the planet.

Did you know for example, that it takes 20,000 litres of water to produce the equivalent of one pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Many argue that it’s a problem for the brands and manufacturing process, but we all have our part to play however small that part may be.

Let’s be honest, it can be a confusing, limiting and expensive quest to search for sustainable clothes. What does the term even mean and if I buy ‘ethical’ clothes is that the same as ‘sustainable’? In an attempt to untangle the subject matter, Melissa Murrell, Top Stylist looks at the most effective and achievable ways in which we can all help, but at the very core of it it’s a simple concept; Buy less, wash less, recycle and repeat!

Understanding the terms!

Sustainable fashion: refers to the effects of the production of clothing on the environment

Ethical fashion: refers to the way in which the clothes are made (from the treatment of workers to animal welfare).

The two concepts are clearly linked and whilst it’s still incredibly hard to find brands that are truly sustainable and ethical from start to finish, there are a number of brands acknowledging the issues and adapting their businesses to create change.

Choose your brands carefully

  • Stella McCartneys brand is probably the most well known champion of sustainable, and ethical designer clothes with their ‘No compromises’ slogan at the forefront of every trend led collection. It’s not cheap though! For many it would be a very considered purchase and I’d recommend only buying key foundation timeless pieces from the range.

  • JPL Atelier is the London-based sustainable womenswear brand that launched itself on it’s devotion to “women alongside (their) muse, Mother Earth”. Producing responsible luxury for the modern woman means the price tag is high but so is their commitment to sustainability.

  • At the high street level, Zara’s parent company, Inditex and H&M encourages shoppers to drop-off their used garments for recycling and reuse and Zara’s ‘Join Life’ initiative and H&M’s Conscious Exclusive Collection provides an affordable range of sustainably created pieces that rival anything you’d find in designer boutiques. H&M’s current A/W20 collection features innovative fabrics made from agricultural waste, post-consumer carpets and industrial packaging but I’d challenge anyone to spot a carpet thread on these gorgeous and unique pieces!

Shop online

22% of a garments environmental impact comes from the process of a consumer driving to and from the shops. Whilst walking, cycling and using public transport is an obvious answer, it’s often not a practical one – especially when you buy as much as I do for my job! But what about all the plastic packaging it comes in? Remember that the items you see in the stores also arrived in plastic packaging – you just didn’t see it. Shopping online is less impulsive and allows you to research brands.

Create a capsule wardrobe

This is a no brainer. Most of us only wear 20% of our wardrobe anyway (and believe me, that statistic is bordering on generous). If you follow the basic capsule wardrobe guidelines of buying key foundation pieces in 3-4 colourways and a few trend pieces in an accent colour then you’ll buy less, have more wearable combinations and it’ll make getting dressed in the mornings a lot less stressful! The following key 15 pieces will make upwards of 60 outfit combinations

1.Classic Knits in key foundation colours (neutrals, grey, beige)

  1. Staple Jeans

  2. Timeless coats – you need at least 3 versions; a lightweight, heavier smarter and a practical version

  3. Classic blazer

  4. Plain white/cream/neutral tops

  5. Striped tee

  6. 2 handbags – day and evening

  7. Timeless jewellery

  8. Smart heels

  9. Practical boots

  10. White Trainers

  11. Neutral Summer sandals

  12. A co-ordinating scarf and hat

  13. Statement ‘going out’ blouse/top

  14. Leather jacket

Rent your occasion clothes

This way of borrowing clothes slows down production lines and in turn requires far less material than if we all brought the item new. And, if that wasn’t enough, they allow us to wear high-end, could-only-dream-of-owning outfits for a fraction of the cost – everyone’s a winner! Try Cocoon for luxury bags and Rotaro for fashion forward pieces. My Wardrobe HQ offers a try before you buy offering (with no hidden costs) and Hirestreet UK offers high street rentals for a fraction of the price.


Re-selling pre-loved items is another no brainer when it comes to sustainable fashion. One lady that does this particularly well with her ‘Circular Service’ is Clare Nall-Smith, founder of Invest In Style and one of the most talented stylists I’ve ever trained. As Clare says:

“Rotation helps reduce our consumption of new, keeps clothes in circulation longer and allows us to refresh our wardrobe guilt free whilst seeing some return on our initial investment”.

For a £10 fee, which is refundable if the item doesn’t sell, Clare will promote your pre-loved items to her Instagram followers. She also sells pre-loved pieces that she’s sourced at a fraction of the price.

Charity shops can also unearth some little gems of pre-loved clothes but the sector has suffered greatly this year with the effects of store closures which is why it’s amazing that ASOS have introduced five new charity boutiques onto their online marketplace; Save the Children, Oxfam Festival Shop, Cancer Research UK, Royal Trinity Hospice and British Red Cross. Check out ASOS market place for those one-off finds whilst supporting great causes at the same time.

Wash less, repair, cycle and repeat!

It may not sound like the most hygienic suggestion but many of us wash our clothes unnecessarily without thinking of the effects – heavy water and heat consumption, wear and tear etc. Next time your jeans lose their shape but they’re not dirty, try simply hanging them up to air (the most eco-friendly solution) or if they need a bit more, spray some Febreze and pop them in the dryer for 10 minutes – they’ll come out feeling as fresh and tight as the day you brought them!

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