How to Build a More Sustainable Wardrobe Without Spending a Dime

If you’d love to build a more sustainable wardrobe but worry it’ll break the bank, here’s a piece of very good news: You can cut the impact of your clothes without spending a dime. No really. A sustainable wardrobe is not defined by the products you buy. You needn’t replace all your clothes with pricey organic cotton and hemp to go “sustainable.” In fact, sustainability is as much about how you wear and care for clothes, especially those you already have. Ultimately, sustainable fashion is a set of easy, everyday practices that can help you save money, save the planet, improve your style, and change your life for the better! Here, I’ve compiled six simple ways to be an eco-friendly fashion lover that are totally and completely free.

1. Take A (Brief) Break From Shopping

It might sound like deprivation, but many people, including me, who go on a brief shopping diet or just cut back on their purchases discover life-changing benefits: It can free up time and money to spend on anything from organizing your wardrobe or house, hanging out with friends or family, or even funding a more fulfilling hobby. Shopping less can be one of the easiest and cheapest ways to be more sustainable. By skipping a new pair of jeans, you’ve saved the planet 1,800 gallons of water, the amount each American drinks in THIRTY YEARS! By skipping a pair of leather shoes, you are cutting your carbon impact by 10 kgs, the same as NOT burning ten pounds of coal. A little bit of restraint goes a long way. For more tips on going on a Fashion Fast, pick up a copy of my book, The Conscious Closet.

2. Get More Use Out of Your Clothes

Don’t sweat it if your closet isn’t full of Fair Trade and organic cotton finds. The greenest fashion is fashion already own and want to keep wearing for seasons to come! Consumer surveys show that we’re only wearing our clothes a mere 7 timeson average before considering them dated… and moving on to the next new thing. What’s more, only 20% of what’s in our closets is being worn at all. Getting more use out of the clothes we already own is an easy and free way to be sustainable. Rather than banishing pieces to the back of the closet, keep clothes current by imagining new ways to style them. Wear them with a different pair of pants or shoes or accessory for example. Or simply take a break and look at the item with fresh eyes in a few weeks or months. I highly recommend using a smartphone app like Stylebook or my personal favorite Cladwell to keep up with what’s in your closet and to help with outfit inspiration. For more tips on building a wardrobe, pick up a copy of my book, The Conscious Closet.

3. Donate, Don’t Throw Away Clothes

We all get that impulse to clear out our closets, purge everything and start anew. A closet clean-out can be transformative, but it can also be terribly unsustainable if you throw those unwanted items into the trash. Textiles and clothes are almost 100% reusable or recyclable. And yet the volumes of textiles going into landfills has increased 40% in one decade. Donate or recycle all items of clothing instead of trashing them. You can donate items to a local charity. If they won’t accept the worn out items for recycling (ask, as some of them do!), take those items to one of the growing list of fashion brands that have in-store clothing recycling. In the U.S., they include H&M, & Other Stories, The North FaceLevi’s, and American Eagle. Just look for the collection boxes in any retail location and inquire about discounts on new purchases. Eileen Fisherrecycles its own clothes, as does PatagoniaMadewell accepts their jeans for recycling. For more tips on how to mindfully recycle and donate clothes, pick up a copy of my book The Conscious Closet.

4. Wash Your Clothes Less

We’re taught to wash clothes between each and every wear. This idea was surely dreamed up by the appliance and detergent companies because washing so often damages fiber and fades dyes. It’s bad for clothes! But is It unclean to skip a few laundry days? Here’s a study that shows jeans that have gone unwashed for an entire year have no harmful bacteria. And there’s no need to be extreme. According to the UN, we can consume up to five times less energy by merely wearing clothes three times before washing, as well as by washing them in cold water, and skipping the dryer and hang drying instead. Washing less isn’t just free, it’s a huge cost saver in terms of energy and water bills. For more tips on how to reduce the impact of your laundry routine, pick up a copy of my book, The Conscious Closet.

5. Let Brands Know You Care About Sustainable Fashion!

Activism, unlike shopping, is free! One of the most powerful things you can do as a sustainable fashion lover is let the brands you love know that you care about the environment and human rights. Take a few minutes to look up your favorite fashion companies on Good On You or Rankabrand and, if you find they’re not doing enough to help the environment and their workers, drop them a line and tell them to step it up! You can use Twitter, Instagram, email or a customer service phone line to get in touch. Use the Fashion Revolution Write a Brand template to help get you started. While you’re at it, tell those brands you want more sustainable products at a price we can all afford! For more tips on how to use your voice to change fashion, pick up a copy of my book The Conscious Closet.