Seven ways to build a more environmentally-friendly wardrobe

We're voracious consumers of fashion. If you're like the average Australian, your wardrobe stacks on a hefty 27 kilograms each year as you feed it new clothes.

And then there's the stuff you don't see.

Before a garment even gets to your closet, it's likely soaked up copious litres of the world's water supply, used untold chemicals, perhaps sacrifices an animal for its skin or, possibly, been made under dubious conditions.

Doom and gloom aside, many fashion players are sorely aware of the need to lift the industry's game. To truly consume sustainably is to not consume at all, so unless nudism is a viable option, look to brands that minimise their impact.

1. Transparent brands

If a label has nothing to hide, they could do worse than to take a leaf out of basics label A.BCH's book. Launching last month with a manifesto of transparency, the brand is upfront about their products – made in Melbourne using organic, natural and recycled textiles – the costs including mark-up and delivery.

Similar pricing clarity is given at Everlane, which also features online profiles of the factories they use to make their clothes and bags. Everlane says they demand stringent workplace compliancy from suppliers. The trade-off, however, is all those air miles clocked up to ship garments from factories scattered around the world to their US warehouse and then to you.

2. Local brand

Committing to kitting out in Australian-made gear is one way to cut garment miles and keep a lid on your wardrobe's carbon footprint. Just because something is stitched on our shores, doesn't mean it's all sunshine and roses, though. Exploitation of outworkers (garment makers working from home) is not unheard of.

Isolated and facing language barriers, they're often oblivious to their rights, which is where Ethical Clothing Australia comes in. ECA audits supply channels and accredits locally made garments by brands including the likes of Nobody Denim, Akubra and RM Williams.

3. Slow brands

The churn and burn of fast fashion and the relentless fashion seasons play no small part in the industry's sustainability issues. Common to many ethically minded collections is a tendency towards timeless looks that aren't beholden to trends.


Generally, this also means forking out a little extra for quality that lasts longer than a season. UK brand Tom Cridland takes the "buy less, buy better" philosophy up a notch with the 30 Year Collection, guaranteeing your threads will hold out until 2047 – if not, they'll replace them free. Even guys who can afford to regularly throw around cash, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kendrick Lamar, are said to be fans.

4. Philanthropic brands

Even if our clothes aren't 100 per cent kind to the planet, it's nice to know that buying them could be altruistic act. Plenty of luxury and entry level brands manufacture in developing countries, but a "made in PRC" or "made in Bangladesh" tag doesn't necessarily indicate sweatshop standards – it's just very hard to know the difference.

Patagonia is one of many Fair Trade certified labels. It's part of a wide-ranging commitment to social responsibility, including donating one per cent of their considerable sales to grassroots environmental groups and selling neoprene wetsuits made from natural, renewable rubber. Meanwhile, Melbourne brand Homie gives special meaning to "street" wear, giving young homeless people retail training. They also hold regular 'VIP Shopping Days' to give away new threads to those sleeping rough, including events for women who are on the streets due to domestic violence.

6. Earth-friendly brands

The choice between natural and man-made fibres isn't as clear cut as it may seem: whether a garment consumes natural resources or is made from artificial, non-biodegradable textiles, it's still  likely to have used chemicals and lots of water in production.To counteract this, brands are adopting production efficiencies, low impact dyes and giving thought to the details.

As well as sourcing organic cotton, Nudie jeans are fastened using non-toxic rivets and finished with reclaimed leather brand patches. Levi's has made moves to improve water consumption with the Water

7. Animal-friendly brands

Vegetarian designer Stella McCartney has been an ethical pioneer in luxury fashion, shunning leathers, furs, skins and feathers since launching her eponymous label in 2001 – guys who buy into her philosophy can now buy into her clothes since the launch of her men's collection late last year.

While it's all very well to swear off animal textiles, toxic PVC isn't the answer to replicating leather. New York label Brave Gentleman uses Future-leather, an eco certified, high-tech microfibre, on footwear. It complements an especially stylish collection of vegan apparel using recycled cottons and polyesters, fabrics crafted from recycled water bottles and buttons made of tagua nut.

What are you doing to create a more sustainable wardrobe? Let us know in the comments section below.