5 Plastic Free Fashion Tips to Update Your Wardrobe

Looking for easy ways to update your wardrobe and make it more eco friendly?  Find five tips for a greener closet in this plastic free guide!  But that's not all - today also invites an alternative view of vegan products as we delve into the issues of fast fashion, plastic pollution, and synthetic fibers.  

Plastics in fashion is a hot topic and a complex problem, so it's important to consider all sides - and our contributing author certainly offers that in this article all about sustainable wardrobes.  Get ready for DIY hacks, swaps, and more in today's special post!

And when you're done reading, I want to know what YOU think.  What is the balance when it comes to having a sustainable wardrobe?  How can you choose eco friendly pieces that are durable and fit your style?  Be sure to share your ideas in the comments xx

fast fashion plastic pollution
photo by The Donkey Sanctuary

Five plastic-free ways to update your wardrobe 

Updating your wardrobe has never been easier. With some fashion websites adding hundreds if not thousands of new, affordable styles every week, there’s no excuse for wearing the same outfit twice. But did you know that your purchases could be harming the environment? Whilst many fashion e-tailers are at pains to market their wares as sustainable, a study from the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) finds that the vast majority of items listed on these websites contain new plastics. Around half are made entirely made from petrochemically-derived polymers such as polyester, acrylic, elastane and nylon, which are drilled or fracked for and use large amounts of energy and create environmental damage in their production. Compounding the issue, these ‘fast fashion’ items are typically discarded after a couple of wears and ultimately end up in landfill where they can take hundreds of years to break down. 

So how can you feed your fashion habit but avoid purchases that are full of harmful plastics?

Plastic Free Fashion Tip 1 - Love your clothes

How many times have you said, “I don’t have a thing to wear”? And how many times has it actually been true? The fact is, most of us have more clothes than we need. They may not be shiny and new but if you take a proper look, you may be pleasantly surprised at what’s lurking at the back of your wardrobe. Keeping and wearing your clothes for longer not only saves you money, it also benefits the planet, with WRAP research showing that extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use would reduce their carbon, water and waste footprints by 5 – 10%. 

So before loading up your shopping cart, reacquaint yourself with what you already have. And if you don’t like what you see, think about how you could alter or upcycle items to give them a new lease of life. Changing the buttons on a jacket, adding a side stripe to trousers or reviving faded clothing with an eco-friendly dye can work wonders.

clothing hanging on hangers on a rail
photo by nimagens

Plastic Free Fashion Tip 2 - Choose second-hand

If your wardrobe desperately needs a refresh, avoid buying new where possible and embrace the growing trend for pre-owned fashion. According to Real Leather. Stay Different research, one in ten 16- to 24-year-old women has snapped up a bargain from second-hand fashion marketplace Depop in the past six months alone. This is not only a cheaper way to shop, it’s also more sustainable and a sure-fire way to create a look that’s unique to you. 

Second-hand marketplaces like Depop, Preloved, Vinted and thrift.plus are also the perfect place to sell your unwanted items and make some extra cash. So, bear this in mind when going through your wardrobe. An item you’ve fallen out of love with might be someone else’s dream purchase. 

Plastic Free Fashion Tip 3 - Go natural

If you must buy new, buy natural. That means avoiding synthetics and selecting fabrics that are kinder to the planet such as linen, cotton, leather and hemp. 

Hemp is actually one of the most environmentally-friendly choices around. As a plant it’s fast-growing, uses little water, doesn’t exhaust the soil nor require pesticides. As a fabric, it’s strong, long-lasting and even has anti-microbial properties.

Leather, another durable material, is a more sustainable choice than people think. By buying leather you’re not only investing in a material that will last, you’re also making use of the natural by-products of meat and dairy consumption that would otherwise go to landfill.

So, be material-savvy. Check the labels and product details of any items you plan to buy to keep man-made fibres out and natural materials in. These may be more expensive but they’re far better for the environment and tend to last longer too.

neutral tone eco friendly cotton fabric
photo by Melanie O

Plastic Free Fashion Tip 4 - Beware of vegan alternatives

Don’t get caught out by products marketed as vegan. They’re not always as eco-conscious as you think. Vegan leather shoes, belts and bags, for example, are often made of either polyurethane (PU), or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – i.e., plastics from oil. Even natural alternatives to leather like pineapple or mushroom ‘leather’ use synthetic products as binding agents.

Faux fur is also misleading. No animals are involved in its creation but it’s typically made from synthetic polymeric fibres such as acrylic, modacrylic, and/or polyester, which are essentially forms of plastic.

And that vegan puffer you’ve bought instead of a goose down jacket is actually filled with polyester fibres – plastics, again.

So, do your research before acting on the vegan claims made by brands and plump for natural when you can as the all-round best bet for the planet. 

[Blogger note: not all vegan and synthetic products are created equal!  Vegan swaps and synthetics are not evil - it's just a matter of knowing what is and is not causing harm.  While some (like the plastic based items mentioned above) are contributing to the pollution problem, there are many brands out there who are striving to find alternatives that are natural AND vegan friendly.  That's why I loved the old Po-Zu shoes which utilized materials like coconut, apple, and recycled rubber (gutted they have no switched to less sustainable options) and products that harness the power of bamboo, stone, tree bark, leaves, cotton, hemp, fruit, vegetables, and other green resources!

bright clothing hanging on a rail
photo by pindec

Plastic Free Fashion Tip 5 - Buy less, buy better, or don’t buy at all

Ultimately, keeping plastics out of your wardrobe means doing things differently and that includes buying less and buying better. So, rather than having a wardrobe full of inexpensive items that quickly go out of fashion, invest in a few key classics that will stand the test of time. 

Supplementing your quality staples doesn’t necessarily mean buying new or even second-hand. What about swapping clothes with friends and family or even with people you’ve never met via apps like Nuw or By Rotation? 

And if you need a special occasion item, what about hiring rather than purchasing something you may only wear once? It’s not impact-free due to transportation and dry cleaning but, arguably, it’s better for the environment than buying new each time. 

By making small changes like these, you can help break the harmful fast fashion cycle of buy-wear-discard-repeat. If we simply do nothing, it’s estimated that the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. So, make do and mend, upcycle, swap, opt for second-hand and do your bit for the environment today. 

About the Author:

Steve Sothmann is the author of Real Leather. Stay Different and argues the importance of continuing to use traditional materials over synthetics.  They have led many webinars examining the ethics and sustainability of leathermaking, are a champion of slow fashion, and urge for due diligence in supply chains.  

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