Sustainable Fashion is a Lie — Here Are a Few Alternatives

sustainable fashion
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This article is part of a brand partnership.

Controversial opinion: sustainable fashion doesn’t exist.

As a consumer, everything you buy — whether it’s clothing or otherwise — equates to more, well, consumption. And more consumption is just plain bad for the environment. Yes, this is a rather simplistic view and sustainability is obviously more nuanced than this. But generally, using up more of the planet’s resources is bad.

Look at some of the most sustainable fashion brands out there right now. While some are merely greenwashing, others have done incredible jobs of lowering their CO2 emissions, reducing water waste, choosing box manufacturers that specialize in recycled materials, and opting for fabrics and materials that reduce harm to the planet.

All of these efforts are wonderful and certainly a great alternative to fast fashion. But, at the end of the day, all these sustainable fashion brands are still using water, emitting CO2, and doing other things that harm the planet, even if that effect is as minimal as possible.

If you’re dedicated to lowering your personal impact on the environment, you have other options.

Mainly: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rihanna.

Ok, so maybe Rihanna can’t help you here. But the others definitely can. So, let’s break it down.

But first, a note: Sadly, lowering your environmental impact costs money. It shouldn’t be the case, but it tends to be. Many of these suggestions below will not be accessible to everyone. Keep that in mind as you read through the article.

Reduce the Amount of Clothing Your Purchase

As best you can, try to reduce the amount of clothing you consume.

The ideal way to do this would be to opt for well-made, classic pieces that will stand the test of time and trends. This will reduce your need to buy clothing over time.

alternatives to fast fashion
credit: Tarek Shahin

Of course, this isn’t the cheapest of options. Well-made clothing is usually more expensive than that $8 tee you bought at H&M. The hope is that, over time, clothing will cost you less in the long run. But, this doesn’t necessarily help the person living paycheck to paycheck or who only gets paid minimum wage.

Another, more affordable, way to reduce the need to buy more clothing is to take care of the clothes you can afford to expand their lives as long as possible. Things like sweater stones, quality stain remover, a small sewing kit, and more can help keep your clothing in better condition and won’t cost an arm and a leg.

sustainable fashion alternatives
credit: cottonbro

Lastly, turn to a tailor if your clothes no longer fit. It’s completely natural for our weights to fluctuate, but unfortunately, this can mean the need to buy new clothes when ours no longer fit. Taking it to a tailor can help your let out or take in pieces and keep you from having to buy something new. Of course, this is an expensive option and not accessible to everyone.

Reuse Your Outfits

This should be an obvious one but wear that dress more than once!! Just because you were spotted wearing that LBD to a wedding doesn’t mean you can’t wear it again to another one!

I know, I know: rewearing clothing, especially to big events like weddings, parties, etc. can be seen as taboo. But there are ways you can rewear a piece without letting your whole outfit get stale.

ways to reuse outfits
credit: Thirteen

Easy ways to add variety to an outfit include swapping out your jewelry, switching shoes, wearing a different hairstyle, and mixing up your makeup look. It won’t take more than a few small tweaks to make that old dress look brand new again. And the best part? It won’t cost you a dime.

Recycle Old Clothing

If you’ve truly worn a piece as long as you can, it’s time to recycle it. This can mean many things.

If you simply want to find a new use for it, you can use that old t-shirt as a cleaning cloth or rag. If you have a few sewing skills, you can create a quilt out of old sweaters. There are plenty of ways to find new uses for old clothes that don’t take a ton of sewing skills.

If you’re ready to get rid of the clothes completely, there are plenty of places that will take your pieces. The most obvious option is a local thrift store.

find clothing bank near me
credit: Alan Fryer/ The Geograph project collection

Your neighborhood may also offer fabric recycling programs or clothing recycling bins that take any kinds of fabrics, not just clothing (here’s how to find one near you).

Some stores also offer recycling programs that might even get you a discount on your next order. These include Patagonia, Reformation, and more. You can see a more comprehensive list here.

However, be mindful of which fashion brand recycling programs you use. Some take-back programs are merely greenwashing and while, they may be better than throwing your clothes in the trash, won’t really do much else (ahem, H&M).

Final Note

Hopefully, these methods will help you reduce the amount of clothing you consume. Of course, not all of these methods will be attainable for everyone, but do the best you can and the planet will definitely be grateful!

Photo license:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license


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Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.