7 Rs for Sustainable Fashion

Public Domain. Unsplash

Use these recommendations to create a wardrobe that feels as great as it looks.

Is building a more sustainable wardrobe one of your goals for the New Year? Perhaps you want to get away from buying fast fashion and start investing in higher quality pieces that fit you perfectly. If so, you should become familiar with the 7 Rs for sustainable fashion.

While the following concepts are likely familiar to anyone who's done reading on this topic, I love the way it is presented by Kelly Drennan, founding executive director of Toronto-based Fashion Takes Action. Drennan wrote an article on this topic last year and said,

"Most of us can easily list off the 3 Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — as they’ve been part of school curriculum for over three decades now, but our global fashion consumption problem is so off the charts, it's time for a few more Rs — Research, Repurpose, Repair & Rent!"

What follows is the 7 Rs, along with a mix of Drennan's and my recommendations for sources that can you help you explore each of these Rs. Be patient and work at incorporating these into your wardrobe gradually.

1. Reduce

The most important concept on this list is to buy less. This leads to less clutter in our closets. We can see what we own and take better care of it. We are more likely to wear the pieces we have because they don't get forgotten. Drennan writes, "Try shopping for VALUE instead of COST. Investment pieces that can be worn through the seasons for many years have a cost per wear that makes them more inexpensive than fast fashion!"

2. Reuse

Wear your own clothes for longer and learn how to wash them properly to extend their life. Be an #OutfitRepeater. Host a clothing swap with friends or use a bartering app. Buy clothes second-hand when you need them, either at thrift, vintage or consignment stores, or using online sites like Poshmark, ThredUp, and The Real Real.

3. Recycle

I used to think that I could only donate clothes in wearable condition, but Drennan advises donating everything to thrift stores, regardless of its state. She explains why:

"The fact is, EVERYTHING can go into the bins. That's right. Even your holey-toed socks, underwear and stained linens. Not because there is a market to resell these items, but because there is a market to recycle them. And while that market might be small, we have the power to make it great."

The idea is that, by inundating thrifters with recyclable textiles, the industry and government will be forced to come up with better solutions as quickly as possible. Some recycling technologies do exist, but there hasn't been enough investment yet to help them grow significantly.

4. Research

When you have to buy something new, take time to research and compare brands' standards for production. Many brands share this information on their websites, but a careful reading will reveal whether or not it's true or just greenwashing. See if they mention specific factory locations, adhere to respectable certifications, and pay fair wages to workers. Read reviews on repairability and durability. Companies like Everlane and Patagonia do a great job at being transparent about production. You can find lots of other great fashion providers that have been profiled on TreeHugger over the years. Visit the sustainable fashion category.

5. Repurpose

Get creative with your old clothing. We live in the Pinterest era where ideas for old fabric uses abound. "Unused or ripped leather can be turned into clutches, bags and totes. T-shirts can be repurposed into totes, pillow cases, necklaces, and even braided carpets! Old wool sweater scraps can be mixed with new wool roving and made into wool dryer balls," Drennan says.

Look, too, for brands that sell repurposed clothing. You can find these in person at makers' markets and artisanal shows. If you're buying outdoor gear, check out the mainstream retailers that are selling repurposed pieces at reduced prices. The Renewal Workshop is one great business leading this effort.

6. Repair

Always try to repair your clothing and shoes before deciding to throw them out. This is a big problem with fast fashion. Because the pieces are so cheap, it's hardly worth the cost to repair, nor can the shoddy construction withstand a repair job, so many people don't bother. It's a good reason to opt for higher quality clothing.

Develop a relationship with local tailors and cobblers, or learn how to do repairs yourself. Dust off the sewing machine, take a class, and start experimenting.

7. Rent

The clothing rental market is one of 3 trends in sustainable fashion that Triple Pundit says to watch for in 2019. I believe it! Lately I've been seeing all kinds of mentions of rental businesses and fashion libraries across North America and Europe. This notion is not really that far removed from other things that we rent in our society these days, like housing and transportation.

3P's article offers a staggering quote from Tulerie's website, a fashion rental app launched last year:

“The average garment should be worn at a minimum 30 times, even though most can withstand 200 wears.... How do we fulfill our adoration for the fashion industry and stand behind the necessary eco-conscious movement? Closet sharing.”

Check out Rent the Runway, Tulerie, Boro, Fresh Fashion Library, Mia Bella (for babies), Kleiderei, Lena, Le Tote (to name a few). See: These clever companies offer clothes on a subscription basis for more info.