Chicago Manual of Style– 5/13/11

A comprehensive guide to sartorial sustainability

By Jessen O'Brien

Fashion is changing with the times. With the return of ’70s styles has come a renewed interest in environmentalism, and the fashion industy is increasingly concerned with making sustainable, eco-friendly clothing. Luckily, being green does not mean a wardrobe of hemp or bamboo fibers. Instead, both consumers and designers are coming up with new ways to be both fashion forward and environmentally friendly.

Naturally, if you want to be an eco-conscious fashionista you need to consider carefully where to buy your clothing. In addition to looking at all of your favorite designers and stores, check out environmentally-friendly collections. For instance, Levi-Strauss uses organic cotton, recycled hardware, and natural dyes. As for the other half of your body, American Apparel makes great organic shirts. But if you’re looking for something beyond the basics, H&M has also been working to make their clothing more sustainable, both by launching the Conscious Collection and by pledging to increase the amount of organic cotton they use by 50 percent every year until 2013. White and flowy, the Conscious Collection consists of the latest Spring/Summer trends. The clothes are for men, women, and children. Best of all? Unlike, say, Yves Saint Laurent’s sustainable looks or, these outfits are both affordable and fashionable.

Alternatively, you can always try vintage and thrift shopping. Go to Ragstock or Knee Deep Vintage, or search Etsy for sustainable pieces. Of course, vintage stores can be challenging, especially when it comes to finding the right size. So, look at lines like Urban Outfitters’ Urban Renewal, a collection made of recycled clothing that’s available both online and in stores, in every size and in all the latest trends. Each piece tends to be slightly different from the next even within one item, so you’re less likely to run into someone wearing the same shirt as you in class.

Even more than what you buy, consider what you have. Weed through your closet for clothing to donate, sell, or swap. Think about ways you can recycle different items, whether it’s by cutting up t-shirts or, if your domestic powers are  impressive enough, sewing them into a pillow or crafting a latch hook rug. A quick Google search can teach you all you need to know, or check out books like Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt by Megan Nicolay.

If you really want to test your fashion and creative powers, take inspiration from more radical movements like the Uniform Project. Two years ago, Sheen Matheiken decided to support the Akanksha Foundation—a non-profit organization that provides education for underprivileged children—by wearing one little black dress everyday for a year while simultaneously vowing never to repeat an outfit. Relying on donated and recycled accessories, she raised over $100,000 in donations. Although you might not want to go to such extremes, the point holds—surely there’s a way to stretch the clothing you already own. You don’t have to come up with 365 unique outfits from one piece, but find ways to be creative with what you have, and you might find yourself buying less.

Whatever you decide to do, try to take a moment before you buy and make sure to purchase pieces you know you’ll love and that you’re bound to wear time and time again. Not only is it good for the environment, but your wardrobe and your wallet will thank you too.