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How to Build a Sustainable Closet

by BUST Magazine

IT’S NO SECRET that the fashion industry is rough on the planet—it’s responsible for more than 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, according to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. And the United Nations Environment Assembly says that, next to agriculture, toxic waste from textile dyeing is the world’s biggest water polluter. On top of that, we throw most of our outfits out anyway—almost three-fifths of clothes get dumped within a year of production, according to a report by McKinsey & Company. (Don’t even get us started on the way the industry treats its workers, most of whom are women.) A lot of brands are starting to address this, but not every one that claims to be “green” is worth buying from—and even the sustainable stuff doesn’t give you a license to consume recklessly. Here’s how to curate a closet you love that you can feel good about, too.



It’s not that difficult. Generally, the companies taking action are pretty vocal about it. But sustainability is a spectrum. No brand is making the ultimate no-damage, zero-waste product—and they likely never will. Instead, look for companies that are making conscious decisions and educating their customers about them. “They’re not always going to please everyone, ” says Melanie DiSalvo, an activist who works with brands like Eileen Fisher on supply chain sustainability, but companies “have to take a stand.” That stand can be taken in a number of ways, whether it’s eschewing chemical-laden dyes for natural ones, easing their water pollution, or focusing on sustainable fabrics like organic hemp, organic linen, or recycled cotton. In general, 10 to 30 percent of fabric is discarded during the cutting process, but some brands are finding inventive ways to get that waste as close to zero as possible. Look for brands that are totally transparent about their supply and production chain, especially if you want to ensure that the person who made the piece you’re wearing was paid fairly for doing so.



Rather than being consumed by which brands you should buy from, refine the way you shop overall, suggests Elizabeth Cline, a New York-based writer and expert on fashion, sustainability, and workers’ rights. If you’re avoiding trends you know won’t last and buying only what you truly love, when you need it, that sustainable approach to shopping outweighs which brands you buy from. Thrifting, vintage shopping, and hitting up resale stores is even better.



When it really comes down to it, we can’t put sustainability in a shopping cart. “If you view being sustainable as a product that you buy, that is a privileged point of view, because sustainable products come with a premium,” Cline says. “We live in a consumer culture and our consumerism drives a lot of climate change. So where is the conversation about combatting that aspect of our culture happening?” Feminists, she says, are leading the way. “We are fearless at envisioning a new world that works better for us.”


By Robyn Smith
Illustrated by Mai Ly Degnan

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!


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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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