The meaningful wardrobe | A way towards a more sustainable (-ish) lifestyle

Hi sewcialists, I’m Alex, a style & sewing lover and a blogger (Sewrendipity.com) aiming to live a more sustainable life in London, UK.

As a sustainability practitioner in my work life and passionate advocate for sustainable fashion and sewing on my blog, I often get asked about what people should do to be less impactful on the environment. I’m sure that’s not what you want to hear, but there is not a simple answer to this. Sustainability has a myriad of aspects, like environmental impact (soil, water, chemicals, waste), social (workers rights and health, women empowerment, fair pay) and ethical (fair treatment of animals, or no animal derivatives at all). It’s impossible to make the right choices that cover all of them at the same time. So what I decided to do for myself and advise others too is to start by focusing on the one thing that matters the most to you and figuring out ways to address it in your everyday life and why not, in sewing.

I personally am very passionate about overconsumption and waste, avoiding it, reducing it and ultimately, recycling it. This probably comes from years of mindless shopping for clothes that I don’t love and that end up in the back of the wardrobe, unworn. And sadly, this also applies to my early sewing days, when I was making loads of garments that were not well thought out, that did not match my lifestyle and that did not last. Disposable fashion (and making) is just as bad as disposable coffee cups and water bottles and cutlery.

So, just as I decided to fight against disposables by using reusable water bottles, and carrying my own straws and cutlery as well as coffee cups and cloth bags, I started thinking about what can I change in my sewing life that can address this potential disposable clothes issue in my sewing and wardrobe.

That’s how the concept of ‘a meaningful wardrobe’ was born. I have been on a RTW fast since 2015, but I still love sewing as much as I ever did, and it’s quite hard to be a sustainable minimalist when you love making your own clothes (even if just a few items each year).

So what is a meaningful wardrobe to me?

It’s a set of guidelines that I try to stick by when it comes to my sewing queue, general clothes consumption, and wearing more of what I have. The aim is to manage impulse control for what I add into my wardrobe, consider the purpose of each and every garment I make and overall, reduce my personal impact on the planet, all heading towards a more sustainable(-ish) lifestyle.

What are the qualities of a meaningful wardrobe

  1. Intentional
    Intent is my foundation principle, as this is aimed at stopping impulse making on a whim, chasing all the shiny new fabrics and patterns and joining bandwagons that may not be suitable for my style and lifestyle. I want to make sure that what I make or buy (shoes) actually fills in a gap, works well with clothes I already have and is true to my style.
  2. Lean
    I  am an aspiring minimalist, which is mostly a revolt against my previous hoarder lifestyle. I am constantly purging and avoiding clutter and I want that to be the case for my wardrobe as well. Fewer pieces that are loved and get worn often. It makes dressing in the mornings easier, as well as taking up less storage space in my wardrobe.
  3. Informed
    Knowing and being aware of issues is crucial to making good decisions. I want to know where my fabric comes from, who are the companies that I am supporting with my purchase. Instead of just pressing the ‘order’ button, look into their ethics, research them on apps like Good on You or the Fashion Transparency index. This is more difficult for sewers, as even the fabric shop owners most of the time have no idea where their fabric comes from, but at least have a read into raw materials and their potential impact on the environment and make better choices if you can.
  4. Quality
    When we buy fabric or a RTW garment, most of the environmental and social impact has already taken place. So the best thing we can do is make sure that whatever we end up making with it or buying will last a very long time. Sew slowly and mindfully and invest time in making sure it will get a lot of wear. Use finishings that will ensure its durability. Understand what quality looks like is also very important, things like fabric composition, garment care instructions and advice for longevity.

How to work towards a meaningful wardrobe?

  1. Analyse
    I really love a bit of wardrobe geekiness, with style exercises (see Style Bee 10×10 Challenge), wear counts, inventories, etc. This really helped to hone in my personal style and be less prone to distractions when it comes to my sewing queue. This is of course not for everyone, but maybe just a bit of a reflection period at the end of each project (or a few months after completion), can serve the same purpose. Have I worn this garment as much I expected? If not, why not? How did it stand the wear test? These can all be lessons that can be incorporated in future projects and help towards more intentional making.
  2. Learn
    Being aware is the first step towards making changes. After step 1, what have I identified that I need to do differently? Maybe it’s a technique that I need to improve and practice some more, maybe it’s a particular fabric that did not fare well in the wear. What can I learn to make it better next time? I would also strongly encourage you to read more into how different fabrics are made, ask questions from your favourite fabric shops about the sustainability of their fabrics and demand more sustainable options. It’s small choices that can make a difference.
  3. Curate
    When you are introducing something new in your wardrobe (by sewing it or buying it) or thinking if you should remove something from it, ask yourself these 3 questions:

    • Will I wear it 30 times?
    • Can I pair with 5 items I already have?
    • How much do I love it on a scale from 1-10?

What next?

I know that this approach is not for everyone. As I said, I am a minimalist. I actually enjoy capsules and having fewer items to choose from; my creativity is stimulated by restrictions. I also don’t have a lot of sewing time, so I have to be very strict with what I decide to sew. If this speaks to you and you want to slow down your sewing with intent, I hope you found some interesting ideas here and I would love to continue the conversation.

I know that for many people sewing is an escape and a hobby that makes us happy, so I’m not judging anyone who is not interested in a slow sewing challenge. But remember that making a small change is better than doing nothing. A few easy ideas: shop your stash instead of buying new fabric, reuse or recycle your scraps, repair or refashion an older garment. Even if one in 10 projects is a tiny bit more sustainable, it’s better than zero in 10.

If you’d like to know more about sustainable textiles, styling a handmade wardrobe and sustainable sewing, you can hop over to my blog. You can also keep in touch on Instagram @sewrendipity , Facebook Sewrendipity and Twitter (@sewrendipity).