Sustainable Fashion 101: How To Shop Your Closet

4 ways to make the most of your clothing’s untapped potential.

An embroidered illustration of three items of clothing hanging on a clothesline

(Embroidery illustration: Ashley Wong; Photography: Erik Putz)

The best thing you can do for the planet (and your bank account) is to shop less, but that’s easier said than done. The good news? You don’t need to hit the mall to put together a whole new outfit—there’s likely plenty of untapped potential hanging in your closet, and it won’t cost anything. Here’s four things you can do to make the most of what you already own.

An illustration of a pencil and paper on a pink cloth background

(Illustration: Stephanie Han Kim)

1. Take stock of what you have

First, make sure you can see every single thing you own—you’ll probably be surprised by what you find. “So many people have the components of a great closet; they just aren’t taking the time to get to know their clothes,” says Alyssa Beltempo, a slow-fashion influencer and sustainable stylist from Ottawa. Then, figure out your personal style. “Set aside all of the items you wear often and identify what it is you like about them,” she recommends.

An illustration of a needle and thread on a pink cloth background

(Illustration: Stephanie Han Kim)

2. Fix what’s damaged

Socks can be darned. Rips can be patched. Even a dreaded jean-crotch blowout can be mended. “Just because there’s a little hole in something doesn’t warrant it going into the garbage,” says Beverly Gan, the founder of the House of Sew, a studio that offers sewing lessons in Edmonton. Sewing is much less intimidating than it may seem. “It just requires a lot of patience,” she says.

An illustration of a measuring tape on a pink cloth background

(Illustration: Stephanie Han Kim)

3. Tweak and tailor

It’s the little touches that really bring an outfit together. “Roll the sleeve, tuck your shirt in, add a belt, give it a little lint roll,” suggests Beltempo. If you’re unsure about the fit of an item, chances are it will end up gathering dust at the back of your closet. But small alterations, like hemming or taking in the waist, can make a world of difference. Beltempo recommends striking up a relationship with a local seamstress or tailor: “The more they get to know your style, the more suggestions they’ll be able to make.”

An illustration of a t-shirt going into a box on a pink cloth background

(Illustration: Stephanie Han Kim)

4. Declutter with intention

Instead of doing a huge purge once a year, keep track of what you’re wearing as you go and start a “maybe” section in your closet for pieces you aren’t sure about. “After a couple of months, try styling each ‘maybe’ item with your go-tos. If it’s still a no, donate, sell or swap it,” says Beltempo. Closet organization apps, like Stylebook or YourCloset, can be useful to generate new outfit ideas from your existing wardrobe, and to keep track of how often you wear each piece.

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