What Does Sustainable Clothing Look Like?

An article stating we should only need and own 85 items of clothing got my attention recently. And reading horrific statistics about the impact of the fashion industry on the environment also has had an impact on me. Finding out there is a trend called “Outfit Repeater” was also refreshing to learn. So let’s think about ways we can get creative and do better with our clothing consumption. Sending clothing to landfills is no longer sustainable, and that is where the much of it goes even when we bring them to used goods stores.

Eleven Fashion Facts You Might Not Know

  • 100 Billion Items of Clothing are Produced Every Year
  • The Average Person Only Wears 20% of Their Clothes 80% of the Time
  • The Target Audience for Fast Fashion Retailers in Largely aged 18-24
  • Fast Fashion Companies Generate More Pollution than International Aviation and Shipping Combined
  • 60% of Clothes are Made With Plastic-Based Materials
  • The Fashion Industry Consumes Around 93 Billion Cubic Metres of Water each Year
  • More than USD$500Billion Are Lost from Lack of Recycling and Clothing Underutilisation
  • 80% of Apparel is Made by Young Women Between the Ages of 18-24 working long hours
  • We Discard 2 Million Tonnes of Textile Waste That the Industry Generates Annually
  • 59% of All Sustainability Claims by European Fashion Brands Are Inaccurate and Misleading
  • The European Union is Moving to Tackle Fast Fashion Industries

Do You Own More Than 85 Pieces of Clothing?

“In a recent edition of “CBC: What on Earth” on March 2, 2023, Natalie Stechyson wrote about a new report from a Berlin sustainability think-tank, ‘The Hot or Cool Institute’, which suggests the average working person in a four-season G20 country needs only 85 pieces of clothing (including coats, shoes but not underwear and accessories). This works out to about 23 outfits total, which they say can include 1-4 pieces of clothing. It assumes the average person needs work wear, home wear, sports and activewear, festive occasion outfits and outdoor clothing, and that all 85 pieces are in use. The number 85 falls within what the institute calls a “fair consumption space, below environmentally unsustainable levels yet above sufficiency levels that allow individuals to fulfill their basic needs.”

“It is suggested we need to drastically reduce our clothing consumption if we are going to meet the 1.5 target of the Paris Agreement. We cannot continue in the current fashion trends, as the average North American buys way too much clothing.”

“This think tank is also suggesting we avoid excessive laundry and impulse shopping, extend the life of one’s garment through mending and buying second-hand or swapping and choose more sustainable clothing brands.”

“Erin Polowy, editor of the Canadian clothing sustainability website: My Green Closet says with planning your can have a diverse and fashionable wardrobe with very few pieces in it. She can make 40-50 outfits out of 33 items in a wardrobe. ‘There is a lot of creativity that comes with restraint.’”Check out her You Tube video.


To Read the full original article “ Unfit, Unfair Unfashionable”go to:

https: //hotorcool.org/resources/unfit-unfair-unfashionable-resizing-fashion-for-a-fair-consumption-space-2/

Can We Cut Down On our Clothing Consumption?

I just went and roughly counted my clothes. I have more than 4 times this suggested amount of 85. Some of them are seen in the photo below. And I don’t work so really I should likely have even fewer items. Well, I guess if I never shop again I have a surplus to draw from. Some clothes I have had many years and I have a lot of work clothes that I no longer use. I did put all my hangers backwards in my closet at the beginning of the year, and as I wear an item I put it back with the hanger facing forward. So at the end of the year I will see what I am not using. I will deal with the unused clothing then, because having them sit in my closet is not a great plan.

It seems true that we are constantly bombarded with advertising messages to buy more stuff, and we have been programmed to feel attractive and hip wearing a new outfit. Luckily the OUTFIT REPEATER trend is cutting through this flawed thinking. It is possible to re-frame clothing to be the basic need it is, and think of it more functionally rather than emotionally. Being a minimalist is cool. Let’s chat about clothing more from how durable it is, or about what personal style we have created with our core items rather than trying to look like everyone else in the latest thing. Let’s look at our clothing items as basic staples of our wardrobe, each that serves us well from season to season, that we are proud to own. Maybe it is that one basic black dress that is always there for us. Be thrilled with the items we own that have served the test of time. Share that. The most sustainable item of clothing is one we already own that has been worn the most. What is that item in your closet? I dug through my closet to see what item I have continually worn for the longest number of years and it is an above the knee jean skirt that I bought more than 20 years ago for my daughter that I somehow inherited. It gives me joy!

I notice younger people do clothing swaps with their friends, and that has never been something I have done, but why not? “The rise in online clothes swapping platforms has been meteoric, with name such as Threadup, Poshmark, The Real Real ad Depop joining EBay. The French designing resale firm VINTED created a market of 22 million people in just one year through an app for peer to peer mobile sales of secondhand clothing. The caveat here is that selling or giving away old clothes in order to buy new is not a sustainable option; the commitment to secondhand needs to be total, with better regulations to prevent dumping of secondhand clothes either domestically or through exporting”, according to the same article by the Hot or Cool Institute. So online swapping of clothes is another alternative I have not tried, but will.

It is always the case that buying second hand is guilt free. One can donate clothes , especially warm winter coats, to organizations supporting new immigrants. Buying merino wool is guilt free as it does not absorb odour so does not need laundering as often. I noticed a sweater I got at Christmas had tags on it that said it would biodegrade in 10 years…..I better get wearing it!! I guess this is progress!?!? Being more conscious about the environment these past several years, I am usually buying clothing only every three months now, and mostly buying what I need rather than what I like or might want. It saves me money, an unplanned bonus! It is true that we tend to wear our favourites the most, and the rest gets forgotten. Maybe all our clothes will last longer if we wear more of the ones we have. And remember that quote mentioned earlier, “There is a lot of creativity that comes with restraint”. The more I think about it, the more I realize that footwear is the thing that we really do wear out, so it is good to do thorough research about footwear that lasts.

So I am curious, if I already have way over 85 items, am I not to shop at all? So I looked up the original article. It states, “if no other actions are implemented, such as repairing/mending, washing at lower temperatures, or buying second-hand, PURCHASES OF NEW GARMENTS SHOULD BE LIMITED TO AN AVEAGE OF 5 ITEMS PER YEAR, for achieving consumption levels in line with the 1.5 degree target.” Okay then….there’s a challenge!

It suggests we try to replace items with used items. In my wardrobe shoes and jeans wear out the fastest but are hard to fit, so I feel reluctant to buy these used. Maybe I can try with jeans first. We are so accustomed to want to buy a new dress for a special occasion, but these fancy items get very few uses, so are really something to get used or borrowed or rented. Note to self! A good exercise for me, recently , was travelling a month with only carry-on luggage. My footwear may not have always been perfectly matching, but I proved to myself it is easily doable and I was not suffering at all. So I can manage with a much smaller wardrobe. Nevertheless it is a big shift in my thinking to imagine living with only 75-85 items. Like everything, one step at a time! My challenge this year forward is to only purchase 4 items, since my husband already bought me a dress. Thankfully my running shoes and jeans are in good shape still. With such a small number one really would want to choose wisely and shop classic items that never go out of style. I have seen on Instagram people using Threadup so I will check that out, when the need arises. A friend clothing swap is in my future too, when I see which hangers did not get turned around in my closet.

The Art of Outfit Repeating

“It’s In-Fashion to be an ‘Outfit Repeater’. Just ask Kate Middleton, Lizzie McGuire or Gemma Styles who announce they are outfit repeaters and wear their favourite items on repeat, just styling them differently. Wearing your clothes 50x instead of 5 reduces carbon emissions by 400% per item, per year. Investing in higher quality clothes and staple items that you’ll wear forever saves you money because the cost per wear is much lower over 5-10 years.”

Here are 6 Reasons you Should Be an Outfit Repeater:

  • “It is better for the Planet
  • It’s In-Fashion
  • It saves time dressing; accessorize with shoes, belts, scarves, jewelry and layers to keep things fresh while building your perfect capsule wardrobe (items that are timeless)
  • It feels good to wear something comfortable that you that you love
  • It Saves Money
  • It’s No Big Deal -if you are worried someone noticing you wore the same thing twice, don’t sweat it. Chances are your friend/sister/granny/co-worker probably doesn’t remember the jumpsuit you wore last Wednesday anyway. And if they do, they probably want to remember to ask you to borrow it.”


I think it might be fun to go through my closet and assemble an 85 piece wardrobe, or a winter minimalist capsule wardrobe. Something good to do on a freezing day like today. I also plan to research types of classic clothing items that never go out of style. Also I would love to hear from you what brands you find to be great quality and most sustainable, especially for footwear. I hope you feel as inspired to rethink your clothing habits as I feel.

One thought on “What Does Sustainable Clothing Look Like?

  1. Kevin Z

    Great article!!!

    We see lots of clothing bundles in markets along the road in villages that obviously came from North America or Europe.




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