Does growing your own wool, linen, or cotton give you eco friendly clothing? Not necessarily. Eco-friendly clothing includes the ideas of organic, fair trade, local, sustainable, waste-free, DiY, and even vintage. Growing fibers, like wool or linen organically could lead to eco-friendly clothing, but it might also lead to wool bags stuffed to overflowing, being tossed in the landfill because there is no market. Closets already overflowing with fashion, aren’t eco-friendly just because they are sourced from organic hemp. Let’s give attention to the full production cycle from growing the fiber, processing, production, cleaning rituals, and finally waste. Since the textile industry is the second highest contributer to water pollution — agriculture is number 1 and the paper industry, number 3 — ensuring that our homestead wardrobe complies with our personal values is important. But where do you begin? Our clothing is probably the last area that we actually look at when it comes to Green Living.
A while ago, I came across 12 Rules to Dress By — (Amisha Ghadilai) It was interesting and thought provoking. I shared the infographic on my Facebook page. It lays out 12 categories of eco friendly clothing and gives suggestions for incorporating sustainability into your wardrobe. It gave suggestions for making your current wardrboe more sustainable but it left our some important values that homesteaders espouse — like DiY, creativity, and sustainable farming practices.
Here’s my personal guidelines for eco-friendly clothing and a sustainable wardrobe.
You can download this handy, free, Wardrobe Transformation Worksheet(pdf) to help you get organized toward a more eco friendly wardrobe.
The 12 Rules for an Eco-friendly wardrobe
1. Ask yourself, do you need something new?
Retail therapy is not sustainable. Go through your wardrobe and get rid of the things you never wear, repair the garments that just need a button sewn on, or a seam secured. Get out the iron and bring your most loved clothes back into wearable order. Maybe you don’t need something new. Maybe you just need a new look from your vintage clothes.
2. Set a limit to the number of clothes that you have.
Do you have so many clothes, shoes, or purses that you no longer know what’s in your closet? Are you running out of closet space? Organize your closet and give away or sell the excess. You will be happier with just enough clothes rather than too many. I aim to have enough clothes to go between wash days — allowing clothes to airdry. Sunday and business clothes, in addition to everyday “work” on the farm clothes, complete the wardrobe. Accessories like shoes, belts, scarves, and bags can change the look so that you can get by with fewer clothes.
3. Remake your clothes in the style that you love
For eco friendly clothes that are kind to your budget, alter vintage clothing that you already own in a style that suits your personality and ethos. I once knew a beautiful woman who took plain clothing and embellished it with studs, sequins, emboidery, and fabric paint to make it uniquely hers. She had an artistic flair and her vibrancy entered the room when she did.
Don’t think you don’t have time. You will be saving time by not needing to shop so often. Invest some time to learn the skills you need to clothe yourself. It will give you a lifetime of serious enjoyment and freedom from the bondage to the fashion industry.
Online courses like the ones offered by Craftsy can help you learn the skills you need to clothe yourself, without having to go far from home. Pick one and try it on for size. I’ve been super pleased with the Craftsy classes I’ve taken so far.
And be sure to check out the Ultimate DiY Bundle, on sale for just a few days this week. It includes how-to books and patterns that will help you learn these essential skills, at your own pace, while giving you inspiration.
4. Support small, ethical local designers
If you do need something new and you don’t want to make it yourself, find out who the local, ethical designers are in your region and support them. If their work seems over the top for your budget, consider buying a pattern, or a smaller item to encourage their business. As these designers become more successful, their work more accepted, their prices will begin to show it, as they find ways to streamline their workload. Shop local.
5. When you make it yourself buy organic or fair trade fabric or yarn
Organic yarn, organic wool, organic fabric, or natural dyes all speak volumes about your values and what you care about. Seek out the sources or even grow your own. Right now organic fabric is really hard to find. If you get it in the bolt and dye it yourself, you’ll have enough fabric for years of sewing. Can’t find organic fabric? Keep asking. The industry responds to consumers. Don’t let them ignore you. Or consider weaving the fabric yourself.
6. Have a wardrobe clear-out
Sort and clean out your closets and drawers. The stuff that is unwearable can be upcycled into rag rugs, tea towels, dish cloths, unpaper towels, dust rags, and even quilts. If its in good condition consider selling it at a consignment store, on e-bay, or at a garage sale. Or if you don’t want the hassle — pass it on to a friend or a thrift shop or free-cycle store. Just don’t send it to the landfill. Many larger thrift stores also have rag recycling depots. Ask.
7. When buying something new ask: Is it organic? Is it sustainable? Is it fair trade? Does it use ethical dyes?
Today’s fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. (The first is agriculture.) Our clothing is full of chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, dyes, bleaches, waxes, and starches. The people involved in the manufacture and those living downstream from the industry suffer health problems and their water supplies are compromised. Fish and wildlife suffer, too. Change won’t happen until consumers demand change. You DO have power.
8. Make it yourself
Even if you’ve never made anything for yourself before, you can learn to make your own clothing. When Gandhi first invented the Charkha and taught India how to spin using it, he didn’t know how to spin or weave. He started small and ignited a revolution. Start small. Sew a pair of shorts, a top, a pillow, knit a hat, crochet a slipper. Learn the skills you need to clothe yourself and your family and add to your “library” of skills. Hand made doesn’t have to look frumpy, either. Using quality materials your clothing can look fantastic. Take the time and enjoy the process. Yes you DO have time. A sock can be knit while you travel in the car, wait to pick up the kids from their piano lessons, or standing in the grocery store lineup.
I spin my yarn in the evening while others watch television, or read books. If you homeschool, you can knit while your children do their lessons. Or grab your crochet hook while your waiting for Facebook or Pinterest to load. Grab the overlooked minutes while the potatoes or rice are coming to a boil. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish during the spare moments of waiting that take up your week.
9. When buying something new: Is it a Keeper?
Don’t buy something that’s just for one occasion. Plan the purchase into your wardrobe. What about the grad dress or the wedding dress? Can it be used for another occasion or can it be upcycled after the event? Can it be passed on to another?
When Sarah graduated from high school, her dress was sewn, by a local seamstress, from a stretchy velvet fabric. Although a full length dress, the style was a classic empire waist dress. She will be able to wear it for many years at any formal event. In contrast, most of the other grad dresses were low cut, strapless, backless and revealing. Most of the girls felt uncomfortable and even un-pretty in their fancy dresses. They won’t be wearing them again. Make your fashion purchases be items that you will wear again and again.
10. Buy only fair trade clothes.
Many of the fabrics that make up our clothing are manufactured in mills, in Asia. The working conditions are inhumane. The workers are exposed to chemicals and lint that challenges their health. The dyes are toxic. And that’s just to produce the fabric. Many of the clothes available in department and clothing shops, even expensive brand named clothing, are made by piece labour in sweat shops. Even American-made clothing uses this method of manufacture. The working conditions are deplorable and the workers, paid by the piece, often don’t receive minimum wage for their time. This is not fair. Buy from small designers that can tell you the story behind the garments. If its not fair don’t buy it.
11. Wear vintage clothing
Wear used clothing, everyone does. Vintage clothing is generally well made. It has stood the test of time. It is unique. When you wear vintage clothing you won’t find anyone else wearing the same coat or shirt as you. If you need a fancy dress or suit for a special occasion — vintage is the best buy. Most vintage formal wear hasn’t been worn too often and is a ready for upcyling. If it needs a little personal touch consider embellishing or changing the buttons for an entirely new look.
12. Enjoy your clothing
Every piece of clothing has a story and the story that it tells should be something that agrees with your values. If you commit to a lifestyle of eco friendly, sustainable, and organic (or even frugal) your clothing should tell the same story as your values.
One problem I have with the story of clothing is that organic can look like you are wearing a flour sack — especially if you are a bit “fluffy.” Think of the hippy styles of the 60s and 70s that were supposed to echo the folk costumes of the world, unfortunately lacking in the skill of the folk costumers.
That will change as more of us put pressure on ourselves and on the fashion designers to offer us attractive, well made, organic, fairtrade clothing that stands the test of time, that is sourced from local materials, and flatters our figures. Or we can encourage ourselves to knit, crochet, weave, felt (and spin, and dye with natural dyes, embroider, quilt, gather, tuck, embellish, bead, etc) the fashionable eco friendly clothing that we really need.
Is it: upcycled, vintage, sustainable, organic, fair trade, local, handmade, made to last? Ask yourself before you invest in another piece of clothing.
The one other question I ask myself: Is it free?
Most of my recent clothing “purchases” have come from Blessing’s Boutique, a free store at Gospel Chapel, a local Mennonite Brethren Church, in Grand Forks, BC (Canada). Blessings Boutique is open to everyone, in person only. There is no means test to qualify to pick up clothing there. They specialize in kid’s clothes from 3 months to teens. They also have women’s and men’s clothing, although in a lesser amount, and some household items and toys. The Boutique is open on Friday afternoons every week from 11am to 3:30pm. You might have a free store in your area, too. Ask around.
Resources to help you transform your wardrobe:
Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe
Cut-Up Couture: Edgy Upcycled Garments to Sew
Janome HD1000 Heavy-Duty Sewing Machine with 14 Built-In Stitches
What’s one success that you’ve had in sourcing or making eco friendly clothing for your own wardrobe. Leave a comment and tell the story.