By Adeline Hawley, GHS Class of 2022
Striving for a stylish, yet more individualized and sustainable wardrobe
This summer was too short, and the fall season is officially here with the return to school and pumpkin spiced lattes once again available at Starbucks. After a year of hybrid and remote learning, maybe you’re like me in wanting to embrace a slower, calmer, more reflective pace, and lifestyle.
Aligning this attitude with a back-to-school wardrobe is an opportunity to make a break from a trendy, “fast fashion cycle” by slowing down, buying less, and making what you have last longer.
The Sustainable Fashion Club at GHS, a new club that I co-lead, helps bring awareness to textile waste and offer ways to live a more sustainable life. Here’s some ideas on how to have a stylish, individualized and sustainable wardrobe.
Transition your wardrobe from summer to fall
Not yet ready to put away those favorite summer clothes? Start by gradually incorporating a few plush fabrics and rich colors such as deep orange, plums, greens and blacks to your summer cottons and lightweight items. You may already have a couple of colorful chunky sweaters that can be paired with favorite summer pants or a cotton or silk scarf with a cotton top. Trade out sandals for sneakers or Doc Martens. Wear a thrifted, oversized button-down shirt on top of a favorite summer dress for a light, layered look.
Invest in a few basic pieces
Buying a few basic year-round staple pieces will allow your wardrobe to be more versatile for colder weather, or to change-up a look from casual to more formal.
Check that you have a base layer of a few fitted tops in white, black or grey, and include bottoms such as flared yoga pants and a couple of updated vintage jeans – try flare or cargo. These should fit well and be affordable.
If flare doesn’t work for you, don’t try to force a trend. Instead go with a shape and style that works for you. Avoid the trap of buying a one-size-fits-all piece from the trendy store if it doesn’t really have you looking and feeling your best.
Choose your retailers carefully and read labels
While many of our favorite brands are guilty of mass producing “fast fashion,” we as consumers bear the responsibility of overconsumption of trendy-here today, gone tomorrow, poorly made clothes.
While many brands such as H&M, Gap, and Zara are guilty of “greenwashing” — using ethically responsible and sustainable language, yet are far from embracing large-scale sustainable standards, many of these same brands are trying in earnest to improve their business models to change to more sustainable fabric sourcing and ethical manufacturing. While the industry has a long way to go, there are signs that it’s nearing a tipping point. Madewell continues its goal to keep old jeans out of the trash and in circulation by recycling over one million pairs of consumers’ donated jeans. Its customer gets a $20 off a new pair of jeans while their old jeans either go to the resale market or shredded for housing insulation. Consumers are demanding more transparency about its favorite brands and as a result, more sourcing information is being included on clothing labels. The Gap has a line of workout clothes that uses 70% recycled polyester; and H&M has a line with recycled cotton, and another line made from Bionic Yarn, a company which transforms recovered plastic from shoreline, waterways, and coastal communities into engineered textiles. As the future holds promise, what we can do now is become more aware, buy less, choose better fabrics and timeless styles.
My favorite way to build a more sustainable wardrobe is to shop resale. Thrifting is fun, a big cost savings, and usually supports charitable organizations such as local Goodwill, Salvation Army, Greenwich Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop, and Housing Works at various New York City locations. More importantly, with 17 million tons of textile waste ending up in landfills and 200 plus years to decompose, buying thrifted clothes reduces landfill waste.
Before heading out to shop, it’s helpful to have a list of new styles and clothing pieces that you want to build new outfits from. There is no shortage of inspiration from social media platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram, and style influencers on TikTok and YouTube. There are several popular online, second-hand websites such as Depop, ThredUP, PoshMark, and Mercari that help show what is trending but double check the return policies before making a purchase.
You might want to add to your list: a crocheted vest, sweater vests, colorful striped sweaters, tweed blazers, nylon sport jackets, cargos, and corduroy pants. Once you have your basics pieces, you’ll find it easy to layer with these thrifted colorful sweaters, jackets, and even mismatched patterns. Buying thrift allows you to develop your own style because not everyone will have the same pieces that you’ve carefully selected. Buying thrift means that you can shop across the aisle – from graphic tees, striped polo shirts, and suit vests in the men’s section, to bright colors and patterns from the woman’s racks.
Help close the loop!
Once you have determined that some clothes in your closets are ready to be retired or be thrown ‘out to pasture’ – DON’T! I mean don’t literally throw those garments in the trash, i.e., the landfill, as they will take over 200 years to decompose! Think again about repairing or extending the life of that item – Does that shirt just need a new button? Now that you’ve grown another inch, could those too-short, long jeans make better distressed shorts? Could you camouflage that coffee stain into a colorful tie-dyed sweatshirt? Then clean and sort resalable items to drop off at various clothing donation sites as listed above.
So, how best to dispose of garments that are torn, stained, or otherwise unwearable or resalable? The Town of Greenwich, Greenwich Recycling Advisory Board (GRAB), is in its second-year partnership with Fairco-Greentree Recycling, a textile collection hauling service that aims to keep textiles out of landfills. According to the Fairco-Greentree Recycling website, 70 lbs. is the amount of clothing, shoes, and textiles that the average person throws away per year with 85% of all discarded textiles sent to U.S. landfills when nearly all could be reused and recycled. In addition to clothes, they will take shoes, accessories, towels, bedding of any condition – all dry and odorless, except for stuffed animals, rugs, and pillows. Their recognizable green bins are in several locations around town such as: Holly Hill, Cos Cob Library, Arch Street Teen Center, Eastern Greenwich Civic Center, Nathaniel Witherell Nursing Home, and soon at Town Hall. Periodically these bins are located at Greenwich High School when they partner with GHS clubs in their fundraising efforts while raising awareness about textile waste. These designated green bins prevent the textiles from going to landfills and direct them to secondhand options and fabric scraps.
While many big brands and recycling companies are making efforts to reduce their textile waste and close their product cycle loops, we consumers need to do our part as well. If we lead with proactive ways to slow down the speed in which we consume and discard, we can start to be part of the solution. It is possible to have less, spend less, and yet be stylish and smarter about more sustainable choices.