Let’s get it over with: our addiction to cheap clothing is destroying the environment. What’s a logical counter-move to all this seemingly unending waste? Switching to a sustainable capsule wardrobe. I mean, come on. As a species, we consume 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. Fast fashion, that villain of the clothing industry, is responsible for 20 per cent of the world’s wastewater and 10 per cent of carbon emissions. And this is before we begin to look into the human rights abuses, ecosystem destruction, and what have you.
Of course there are sustainable and ethical fashion brands in every category – which you will also find on this site. But is it enough to continue buying, but just from less destructive companies? Continue to indulge in shopping sprees, except at sustainable brands?
Or should we also consider buying less?
With every season, we tend to overhaul our wardrobes. What’s ‘in’ this year will not be tolerated next year. Trends are changed to lure us to buy, buy, buy. More and more.
Can we put a stop to this while still clothing ourselves well and enjoying fashion?
Can we try building a sustainable capsule wardrobe to get some control over our fashion choices, with the guiding principle of environmental sustainability?
What is a Sustainable Capsule Wardrobe?
The term ‘capsule wardrobe’ was coined back in the 1970s, and has become pretty ubiquitous now. It refers to a pared -down, simplified wardrobe that contains a relatively small number of classic, carefully chosen, versatile items. The capsule wardrobe is a basic wardrobe foundation, with staple pieces that can be paired with more fleeting pieces. The main attraction of the capsule wardrobe, in popular culture, is minimalism. The main attraction of the capsule wardrobe, in my opinion, is its potential for environmental sustainability. That is, of course, if you have curated a sustainable capsule wardrobe – i.e. collected pieces that you either purchased secondhand or purchased from a sustainable, ethical brand.
Lemme go over that again.
Can we live with a minimal set of clothing items that we wear regularly and repeatedly over years, that is versatile and of excellent quality, and that can save us money and planetary resources?
Answer: Yes, with a sustainable capsule wardrobe.
Think about it. The average American spends about $2,000 per year on clothing. Mostly fast fashion. Cutting this down by choosing to build a sustainable capsule wardrobe is a win-win solution. You get to save money (while still being chic and well dressed), and you also get to reduce the load on the environment (and the abuse of vulnerable people).
Can a Capsule Wardrobe be Sustainable?
It all boils down to money, in simplified terms. A capsule wardrobe’s main advantages are to minimize not just clutter but expense. And when it comes to clothing expense, fast fashion is a major contributor while also being one of the biggest environmental sustainability issues faced by the clothing industry. The United States alone produces more than 15 million tons of textile waste every year.
By reducing the amount we spend on fast fashion, we help reduce its effect on our environment. We can, instead of buying fast fashion items that have several drawbacks, opt for quality, slow fashion pieces from various sources. We can build a lovingly curated sustainable capsule wardrobe that will last us years, and provide more personal meaning. After all, fashion is art, and your clothing is a daily expression of you, your moods and your choices.
But how does one go about doing all of this?
How to Build a Sustainable Capsule Wardrobe
It’s not that complicated. If you have an eye for curating fashionable, ethical pieces, then you can browse through ethical brands and pick out your ideal sustainable capsule wardrobe. If you’re not so confident in your skills in fashion, then here’s a simple step-by-step process to make things easier.
What does your closet look like now?
Take some time to go through what you already have, and categorize them under various necessary items. A winter capsule wardrobe category list might look like this:
- Winter coats & jackets
- Leggings, trousers & jeans
- Sweaters, tops & blouses
- Dresses, skirts & formal wear
- Boots & Socks
- Mittens, scarves & beanies
Categorize your items, take a good look at what you have, and decide which pieces you want to keep, and which you aren’t really sure about keeping. Which are the ones you haven’t worn in years? Make some hard decisions to let go of items you do not need and will not miss. And remember to get rid of them responsibly – donate them to someone who needs it more than you, or sell them to thrift stores and make some helpful cash while you’re at it.
What’s your personal style?
You’ve sorted out your closet, and separated out the ones you intend to keep. As you look through your pared-down wardrobe, are you able to see what your personal style is like? Do you like wearing dresses in winter? Or are you a jeans-only type of gal? Do you have any specific colors that you gravitate towards? Specific types of material? Think about what you have already, and what your ideal wardrobe would look like, and try to understand your own preferences. That will go a long way in making sure you do not get fed up with clothing that you have bought but no longer enjoy.
Do you need something you do not already have?
Ideally, you already have everything you need. Seasonal capsule items, sufficient variety, and quality pieces that are not in danger of falling apart anytime soon. In this case, you’re done with your sustainable capsule wardrobe, and can close this article (and thank me later for helping you save some money?;)).
If, however, you find yourself lacking certain essential pieces, then you need to get shopping. But first, there are some pieces of advice: buy quality pieces that are classic. They shouldn’t go out of fashion in two weeks, with you feeling odd wearing a peach-colored teddy jacket when the rest of the world has moved on from that. (Unless, of course, the peach teddy jacket is a big part of your style statement;)) Think neutral colors, classic texture, and quality brands. Of course, if possible, you should buy from a sustainable and ethical brand (scroll below for the full list), but a better option is to head to your nearest thrift store (or online vintage store) and see what they have that you might like.
Yes, you can shop for clothes (new or secondhand), but make sure it’s only when you absolutely need that item, and that the brand you’re buying from is an ethical, sustainable one. You may think it’s a bit of an overkill to obsess so much over a piece of clothing, but the effects of our hyper-consumerist lifestyle are devastating to the planet, and the least we can do to stop our contribution to that is to be mindful of what we buy and where we buy it.
Quality over quantity
A defining quality of a capsule wardrobe is…well, its quality. And, especially when you’re putting together a sustainable capsule wardrobe, you need to go for the long-lasting, quality pieces. One excellent coat that lasts years and years instead of 10 cheap ones that end up ripping on the second wear. It may pain you to spend multiple times more on one item of clothing than you would have on a Zara top, but it’s the better choice in the long run – for the environment, and for your wallet. Pick items that are made with good quality material, that come with clear care instructions, and, if new, come from a company that has clear sustainability goals.
Look for versatility
This is easy if you’re a fan of neutral colors: get various pieces in neutral colors so they can be paired with other, colorful pieces. Do that even if you’re not a raving fan of neutral colors.
Find shoes that go with several styles of dressing – trousers, a dress, or even with Daisy Dukes for a quirky summer ensemble.
Find staple pieces in neutral shades of your favorite colors, and make sure they can be paired with more than one outfit.
That’s how you know they’re versatile: they go with a mix and match version of many different ensembles. Pick as many versatile pieces for your capsule wardrobe as you can.
Re-evaluate every season
Your sustainable capsule wardrobe is not a static, one-time exercise. You will need to pop in and check how well (or not) it’s working for you, and make the necessary adjustments. Various people will say various things. “The ideal capsule wardrobe contains 40 pieces.” Or, “A capsule wardrobe without an LBD is no capsule wardrobe.”
You don’t have to follow such mantras if you don’t want to. Your capsule wardrobe is yours, and will reflect your life and your needs. Everyone’s “staple” looks slightly different, and your goal is to build the sustainable capsule wardrobe that’s ideal for you. It may take time, it will take a bit of trial and error, but when your goal is to reduce your consumption, you will get the hang of it and get better at wardrobe decisions sooner rather than later!
Which are the Best Sustainable Capsule Wardrobe Brands?
Buy secondhand clothes – at your local consignment store and thrift shops, or at the numerous online secondhand stores.
If you need to buy something new, then check out these seven brands that excel at the capsule wardrobe game. They are all ethical businesses that have sustainability as their guiding principle.
1 // ADAY
2 // COSSAC
3 // ENCIRCLED
4 // KESTAN
5 // LEFT EDIT
6 // SUUNDAY
7 // VETTA CAPSULE
Curb Wasteful Shopping
In the final analysis, a sustainable capsule wardrobe will bring out, and let you enjoy, the essence of your style, while also saving you quite a bit of money. Of course, getting some control over your fashion spend will also indirectly (and, in many ways, directly) help the environment. Shopping isn’t the enemy here. It’s the rampant consumerism that’s destroying a lot of things that we ought to care for very seriously. Things such as nature, community, art. The simple solution at the individual level? Don’t be a wasteful shopper.
Read More About Ethical Fashion
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NOTE: All brand photographs belong to the respective brands/businesses.