How to start an ethical wardrobe

Author: Sara from Petra Alexandra

Step 1: take a deep breath.

The first thing most of us want to do when we decide we're done with fast fashion, is want to toss everything out. Who wants to feel guilty when wearing their clothes? Maybe you watched The True Cost, or maybe you leaned into this lifestyle another way - but here's what I will remind you to do:

Take a deep breath. Let me be the one to tell you that IT'S OK TO LOVE YOUR OLD FAST FASHION CLOTHES.

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When talking about ethics, sustainability goes hand-in-hand. There's more to it than buying up every $95 tank top in the market.

Let's be frank: no one can afford shopping ethically at the same rate as we did when consuming fast fashion. It's a sure-fire way to dig a massive hole of debt. There's this idealism created through social media when comparing to others - you see people with endless outfits that are made up of all things ethical, with no way of telling how long it took them to get there. It all seems instantaneous.

So then: how do you convert to only buying ethical in the real world - if you're NOT trading for clothes?

Step 1: love what you have.

Okay, so I know your first instinct is to want to buy all the new pretty things. But when we're spending a LOT of money on quality items, we can't do it all at once. And the most sustainable thing to do is to wear your existing clothes until the end of their lives. There's no shame in wearing old fast fashion - I do all the time! They're some of my favourite pieces. Honour them by wearing them! Re-making them, tailoring them, etc. I found out I didn't like a skirt because it wasn't quite the right length. I hemmed it instead of tossing it, and LOVE it now! Hello extended life. Fashion waste makes up about 20% of all landfill waste, and 85% of the clothes you dispose of ends up in the landfill, so the more we can re-use and extend the life of our clothes, the better!

Step 2: slowly evaluate.

Learn which silhouettes you reach for. Take photos of your outfits every day - even if they're mirror selfies. Understand what you will always wear, on days when you're tired, or joyful, or active or wanting to feel powerful. Take note, take pictures, look back on them later. You'll start to see patterns and themes in how you dress. Do you tend to love crewnecks and wear them the most? Or are you happiest in dresses? Daily photos can offer a perspective that allows some objectivity when evaluating your style and what feels good.

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I find things like the #10x10challenge so helpful in testing the versatility of what you already own. It opens you up to thinking outside-the-box. We need to re-learn how to make the most of pieces. Instead of avoiding outfit repeating, it becomes a bigger victory to find a new fun way of wearing the same garment.

Step 3: set aside.

I'm big on taking it slow. If there are any garments that just aren't working for me, I set them aside in a box and leave them there for a few months. I call it my "wardrobe purgatory" because I'm still open to taking a piece back if I find I'm thinking of it often. Some second-chance pieces become favourites again. Once a few months have passed, find a home for your garments. I swap with my sister, cousins, friends and coworkers. Next, I take them to Plato's Closet, which allows me to get a little cash and feel confident that they only choose garments they'll sell. After that, I take the rest to Value Village or to textile recycling facilities like the ones mentioned in this article for Toronto. 

Just google textile recycling in your area!

Step 4: take inventory of what you're missing.

I can easily get out of control - I love shopping. It was hard to adjust to a new, slow pace of consumption, but living in a new city on my own meant I couldn't afford it. By necessity, I learned. The best tip for not losing control? Start a Pinterest board. Pin items you have on your shopping list, right from the brand's site. Keep it there for 3 weeks. If you still want it when you go back (and you can afford it) go for it! Oftentimes, you can see all the impulse buys and duplicates you otherwise would have just purchased without thinking.

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Step 5: fill the gaps.

When shopping consciously, there's a helpful hierarchy of welcoming new items into your closet: first option is to mend or alter what you have. Then borrow, and if you can't borrow, thrift. If you don't find it thrifting, opt for a conscious brand. This has helped me to stay economical while rounding out my wardrobe.

Step 6: remember, loved things last.

The biggest thing that will ensure success when building your wardrobe is longevity. I do a few things to extend the life of my clothes:

- use natural detergent

- wash clothes less frequently, only when they smell / need washing

- always hang or lay flat to dry

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Don't be afraid to LIVE in your clothes - camp in them, adventure in them, wear them to work. Clothes are meant to be lived in, but these 3 tips will help them really last!

Looking for ethical brands but don't know where to start? My two biggest resources when I first delved into conscious living were The Good Trade and the GoodOnYou App.

The Good Trade is an online publication with a variety of articles ranging from ethical fashion to sustainable living, to feminism and self-care. They've got some AMAZING ethical brand round-ups, too.

The GoodOnYou App is a resource that allows you to check the conscious ranking of brands you know and love. They evaluate on a scale of ethics, including treatment of workers, living wage, environmental sustainability and animal treatment. Not sure if your favourite store is ethical? Download the app and it'll tell you!

I hope all this has been helpful! Feel free to pop over to for more tips and how-tos in conscious living.




Sara is a Canadian blogger that inspires many women around the world to rewear their clothes, follow her on Instagram as well as on her blog for ethical fashion and sustainable living.

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