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The idea of "sustainable fashion" can be a bit of an oxymoron. The fashion industry is hugely based on trends that change season to season, leading to massive amounts of cheap and poorly made clothing, which can have major impacts on the workers who produce them and the environment. When it comes to shopping, it can be hard to find clothing companies that both honor human rights and have a low environmental impact. But our purchasing decisions have the power to challenge the norm. Check out our tips for creating a sustainable, conscious closet below.

This short video from One Minute MBA briefly explains the fast fashion industry. Fast fashion refers to an industry that produces cheap, disposable clothing and relies on quickly changing trends.

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1. Don't buy anything at all.

Shop your own closet! Are you sure you don't have enough of what you need already? I mean, really, really need? Extending the life of clothing already in circulation does more for the environment than changing the way we make clothes ever could. Research by WRAP in the UK shows extending the average life of clothes (2.2 years) by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5 to 10 percent reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints.

2. Buy used.

This is the best option if you do shop. Buying used clothing significantly reduces the impact of the items on the environment because we are diverting waste and reducing the environmental toll of manufacturing. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, it takes 700 to 2,000 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make your average cotton T-shirt. Buying used is one way to opt out of that process. We can't know for sure the conditions under which the clothing was produced, but we can know for sure our money isn't going directly to a company that profits from exploitative labor practices.

When you do buy used, make sure you look for clothes that you'll hold onto for the long run. Look for durable, quality fabrics and manufacturing (and avoid trend pieces) so you won't have to toss them when they fall apart or you get bored with them. According to the EPA, Americans discard approximately 13.1 million tons of textiles a year, and only about 15 percent of that is reclaimed for recycling. The rest goes straight to the landfill, where it releases methane and harmful chemicals.

Meanwhile, fast fashion is all like:

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3. Be really, really picky when you do buy something new.

There are a number of companies that promote ethical and sustainable manufacturing practices. We really love Everlane, Krochet Kids, and PACT, but there are plenty of others out there if you do some searching. Consider these tips when buying something new:

  • Consider the number of uses. Can you wear the item to work AND a date? Can you wear the item multiple seasons, or better yet, all year? Fuction matters! Buy clothes that you can use for multiple occasions in more than one season. You'll get more use and keep them longer.
  • Go for quality, not quantity. Some great fabrics include: hemp, organic cotton, tencel, lyocell, recycled poly (or any fiber), wool, modal, cupro, and peace silk.
  • Do you know the labor practices of the company? Opt for brands that value transparency so you can purchase with confidence.
  • Ask yourself the following questions when you're about to buy something new:
    • Do I have anything that can substitute what I need?
    • Can I borrow what I need from someone else? What about a swap?
    • Can I make what I need?
    • Can I buy it used?
    • If the answer to all of the above is "no," ask yourself: Why do I need this? You should be able to answer that before you buy.
  • A lot of people avoid buying sustainable clothing because they think it's expensive. At first look, that can seem true. But if you buy one quality shirt that will last for years instead of a new, cheap shirt every two months, you'll end up saving money in the long run. Think of your closet as an investment. The payoff is that you'll have items that you can love for years to come. (Note: We know that for many people, low-cost, sweatshop-sourced clothing is the best financial option, and investing in quality clothing just isn't an option. Do the best you can. For others, I suspect it's possible for you to change your spending habits without breaking the bank.).
  • Do without until you find a decent option. When we shop with urgency, we buy things we don't actually need and maybe won't even want in a matter of weeks or months. Know what you're looking for, and buy only that. Patience pays off.

As designer Vivienne Westwood said: Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.

Header photo courtesy of Everlane

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Kailey is an editorial intern at BUST for the summer of 2016. She hails from Austin, Texas and currently studies journalism and women's and gender studies at The University of Texas. You can contact her at kailey@bust.com.

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