Five tips for creating a more sustainable wardrobe

1. Think about the faces of the people who make our clothes

We should be giving more thought to the people who labour over our clothes; who have the skills and knowledge to stitch, pleat and tailor. Fashion employs one out of six people on the planet - most apparel workers are women, some are boys and girls. The overwhelming majority of whom endure unsatisfactory working conditions, distinguished by harassment and exploitation, and do not earn a living wage. In 2016, Esprit, H&M and Next were found to have Syrian refugee children sewing clothes in subcontracted factories in Turkey. These sorts of human rights violations are sadly far too often reported. It’s crucial that we, as consumers, collectively hold brands accountable and ask for more transparency. It’s our prerogative to ask our favourite brands ‘who made my clothes?’. 

 "You cannot exploit women in one country to empower them in another". Hayat Rachi

“We need to ensure that the clothes we purchase are made by people working in fair and safe conditions. Pick up any item in your closet and you can just about guarantee a woman made it, since 80% of garment workers are women. So, it’s clear that issues with global fashion supply chains disproportionately affect women”. Libby Robinson, Co-Founder The Harmonic

“There is a powerful connection between treating our things as disposable and treating the people who make these things as disposable.” Naomi Klein, Author and Activist 

“The first time I visited the factory our garments are made in, my perspective deepened. Seeing first-hand the beautiful smiles of the people who create our garments, shaking their hands - hands that are filled with characteristics of people who have dedicated their lives to the skill (I met a cutter who was missing some fingers from failing to wear his chain mail gloves in his younger years!)” Emma Jarman, Co-Founder Commas

Think About Who Made your Clothes

2. Buy quality over quantity 

The fundamental building block to creating a more sustainable wardrobe is to purchase high quality items that can be loved, worn and cherished for years to come. Although buying quality is more expensive than fast fashion, it doesn’t mean you need to spend more money on clothes. The key is to allot the money you already spend differently. For example, if you usually buy five or six pairs of pants a year, take the total number you would usually spend on all those pairs and instead buy one beautiful, high-quality pair.

“Before fast fashion, clothes were made to last. They were worn, re-worn and repaired. Now, clothes are often so poorly made, they fall apart, stain easily and start to smell, they have to be constantly replaced. This means anyone who buys fast fashion because it is all they can afford ends up worse off. A better solution to the expense of sustainable fashion is to learn what good quality craftsmanship and fabrics feel like and buy secondhand.” Lucianne Tonti, Author Sundressed.

“What can our clothes say about what we value? Who we are? And also the world we live in? What will our children see when they look at pictures from now and see how we dress? A different outfit for every day - closets brimming with new clothes that we have little or no connection to?” Liz Sunshine, Fashion Photographer

3. Think about why you love and wear some clothes more than others

Late fashion photographer Bill Cunningham once said, ‘fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life’. 

It has become pertinent that what we as a society get from clothing is so much more than warmth and protection. If that were the case, we could easily meet those needs. But what we get from clothing is much more than that - they create belonging, empowerment and allow for self expression. Understanding why we love some clothes and wear them more than others is crucial to changing the consumption and disposal patterns at the crux of fashion’s carbon footprint. So, the next time you’re feeling your most confident, take a moment to think about what you’re wearing.

“Beauty and desire are essential to sustainability, because it’s the clothes we love - the black dress that makes us feel confident, the coat that makes us feel composed - that we take the best care of, that we keep forever.” Lucianne Tonti, Author Sundressed

“I believe in the power, beauty and opportunity in clothes, but not at the cost of other people or the planet.” Liz Sunshine, Fashion Photographer 

4. Buy clothing with resale value in mind

The secondhand clothing market is booming now more than ever. Steep price hikes by high-end brands like Chanel are driving some luxury buyers to look for less expensive used items. Other consumers are choosing to buy secondhand clothing because a used designer handbag doesn’t cost any more of the planet’s precious resources to make.

“Used luxury sales were up 65% last year relative to 2017, compared with a 12% rise in new luxury sales, according to a study by Bain & Co. It forecasts that over the next five years, secondhand luxury sales will increase annually at around 15%, double the expected rate of new sales.” The Wall Street Journal 

“I used to do a yearly market at Rozelle or Kirribilli and re-invest the money into new pieces. If I knew I couldn’t sell it, I would give it to my nieces to love and wear. I’ve always purchased items with a resell value in mind.” Emma Jarman, Co-founder of Commas

To ensure you’ll be able to resell your clothing, it’s important to understand the resale market and which brands hold their value.

Facebook Marketplace, Depop and Ebay

These platforms are fantastic for reselling your clothing, as you can reach a large audience. Of course, they require a bit of time and patience, but if you’re up for the challenge, it’s a great way to keep your unwanted clothing from going into landfill and earn some money to re-invest in your wardrobe. Just be mindful of scammers as these platforms can be targets for local and international con artists attempting to access sellers bank details, addresses etc.

Selling with The Harmonic

The Harmonic focuses on high-end, sustainable brands from Australia and New Zealand. We provide a full service solution taking all the hassle out of reselling; from cleaning, photographing and marketing, right through to packaging and postage. Sellers can choose between consignment or a ‘sell for credit’ option - empoweing our clients to fully participate in the circular fashion movement. We have also recently launched a Buyback Program allowing our customers to easily resell their purchases back to The Harmonic when they are ready to be re-loved. 

Second Hand Luxury Sales 

If you’re interested in reselling your designer luxury goods, platforms such as The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective are great for this purpose. The major thing to remember is that the better condition your item is in, the higher the resale value will be. It’s also crucial to keep the authenticity tags and boxes or packaging if possible so that they can be verified as genuine.

5. Buy garments made from natural fibres

Polyester, a fibre made from fossil fuels, represented 52% of the global fibre market in 2020. Clever marketing ploys by major fashion brands have positioned polyester as one of the most sustainable materials. However, this is simply untrue. Plastic clogs up our oceans and strangles marine life. Each time a garment made of polyester gets washed, it sheds microfibres of plastic pollution into our waterways, which inevitably end up in the bellies of sea creatures and in our soil. What’s more, it is estimated that a garment made of polyester takes anywhere from 20-200 years to decompose. Recycling technology is still in its infancy, with only 1% of polyester being recycled at present.

On the other hand, clothing made from natural fibres, such as cotton, linen, hemp, silk or wool, will not only break down in landfill relatively quickly, they are breathable and insulating too. Although there are many issues with the conventional methods used to grow natural fibres for our clothing, many brands are choosing to source their raw fibres from farms that utilise organic and regenerative ways of farming. This type of farming not only mitigates harm to the environment but promotes healthy landscape function, biodiversity, soil health and water cycles.

Buy Clothing made with Natural Fibres

In her book Sundressed, author Lucianne Tonti argues that regenerative farming could be key to reversing damage to the regions that the fashion industry has typically used and abused. What’s so promising is that some of the biggest players in the fashion industry, such as Patagonia, Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent are already early adopters. Closer to home, our beloved Maggie Marilyn has also committed to working with farms embracing these principles.

“Polyester is a plastic, made from a finite resource; it will never biodegrade. We shouldn’t be wearing it. It doesn’t belong on our skin.” Lucianne Tonti, Author Sundressed

“Cotton reacts to temperature. It breathes when you are hot and provides warmth when you are cold. It is durable and supple. This flexibility makes sense, when you consider the particles a cotton shirt is composed of were once belonging to a plant photosynthesising energy from the sun. Another natural fibre, wool, is similarly alive. Its complex molecular structure makes it resistant to wrinkles, stains and water. It is elastic, soft on the skin and breathable. It is warm, comfortable and protective. Linen is lightweight and gets softer and smoother with each wear. Silk is drawn from a cocoon; it shimmers like water but a single filament is stronger than steel.” Lucianne Tonti, Author Sundressed

The Harmonic has curated a Natural Fibres Edit where you can shop pre-loved garments made from 100% cotton, linen, silk and hemp.

Note: If you do own and wash synthetic fabrics you can use a product like The GUPPYFRIEND Washing Bag - a pragmatic solution that prevents microplastic fibres from entering rivers and oceans through the washing of synthetic textiles. The broken fibres are collected in the corners of the washing bag and after washing and can be easily removed and disposed of.

Written by Chelsea Donaldson.