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How to Build a Sustainable & Ethical Wardrobe on a Budget

Capsule Wardrobe Course

For my many, myself included, transitioning to a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe can feel overwhelming. Where do I start? How do I afford it? At the beginning of this year I challenged myself to build a more sustainable and ethical closet. After watching the documentary The True Cost I’ve also sought to give up fast fashion. I’ve slipped up a few times by purchasing a few fast fashion pieces, but overall I’m heading in the right.

The textile industry is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, behind oil. Fast fashion’s impact on our planet is huge. United Nations Climate Change News states, the fashion industry contributes 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production. Each year, the average Americans discard 82 pounds of textiles. Historically, clothing was something people held onto for a long time. Today, with fast fashion people see their clothing as disposable and cycle new clothes into their closet year round, often only wearing their “new” item one or two times before discarding it.

Moving to a more sustainable wardrobe takes work, knowledge and commitment, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Often people hear the words, “ethical” and “sustainable” next to fashion and instantly think “expensive” or “luxury.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are some amazing ethical brands out there to support that do have a higher price tag than fast fashion pieces. There are also so many ways to build a better closet without spending a fortune. Here are my tips for building a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe on a budget…

Summer Capsule Wardrobe

Use What You Already Own

This might seem obvious, but I think many people think they need to buy new things from ethical brands to replace the old. While this is a great goal it isn’t budget friendly. Instead, work with what you already own. You could dye on old dress a new color, change out the buttons on a top or simply repair or alter pieces you already own that need improvements.

Take Care of What You Have

Similar to the tip above, but it’s important to take care of the items you already own and love so they will last. This means:

  • Washing pieces like sweaters less by wearing an undershirt or using a garment refresh spray.
  • Dry less and hang dry garments to prolong their life.
  • Use natural soaps without harsh chemicals to maintain the integrity of the fabrics overtime.
  • Clean and polish shoes after wearing them and before storing out-of-season shoes.
  • Fold your garments neatly and store so you can see everything you own. I have a video where I show you how I store my capsule wardrobe and full closet tour for inspiration.

Buy Secondhand

When you’re in need a new item, start by looking for it secondhand. The average American generates about 82 pounds of textile waste each year. That adds up to more than 11 million tons of textile waste from the U.S. alone. Buying secondhand is the most affordable way to added new pieces to your closet, reduce your waste and help the environment. Plus, it’s fun!

There are so many ways to shop secondhand from your local thrift store, a clothing swap with your friends to online consignment shops. My personal favorite online shop is thredUP – the world’s largest online thrift store with your favorite brands up to 90% off. thredUP is offering my viewers a special discount of 30% off your first order with the code KITTY30.

Buy Natural Fibers

Buy natural biodegradable fibers like cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, rayon, silk and wool. These fabrics breakdown much faster than synthetic fibers. For example cotton tasks about 5 months to breakdown, linen about 2 weeks, hemp very quickly and bamboo about a year. Avoid synthetic fabrics like polyester which can take 20 to 200 YEARS to decompose. [source]

Sustainable ethical fashion on a budget

Go for Timeless & Neutral

The idea behind sustainable, ethical and slow fashion is building a wardrobe you love that will last you a long time. So when you do buy a new garment look for pieces made of natural fibers as I mentioned above, but also go for timeless silhouettes and neutral colors. A classic white linen button down will stand the test of time against any trends.

Create a Seasonal Capsule Wardrobe

A capsule wardrobe is a small selection of curated garments and accessories usually ranging from about 20 to 40 pieces. I’ve been a capsule wardrober for several years now. It’s helped me refine my personal style, spend less money, curb my fast fashion addiction and made me more content with the items I already own. I’ve also hon in my skills of buying less, buying better. I have a course all about building your first capsule wardrobe to get you started!

One of my favorite aspects of a capsule wardrobe is culling through my closet seasonally to really take the time to inventory what worked and what didn’t. Then, I’ll transition my closet to the next season pulling out garments I haven’t seen for about year. It’s fun because they feel “new” again, but without spending a dime.


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