Tips for the Environmentally-Conscious Fashion Consumer

Six ways to give a little extra love to both the planet and your wardrobe

Even if you don’t keep close tabs on the fashion industry, you likely have heard rumblings about its growing reputation as an environmentally harmful industry. And it’s probably worse than you think. In fact, the UN Environmental Program reported that the fashion industry alone accounted for 10% of all global carbon emissions in 2022.

The rise of fast fashion—a strategy that allows brands to duplicate high-fashion trends at rapid production rates by utilizing cheap materials and offshore labor—has cultivated an era of toxic overconsumption among consumers. The combination of these brands’ affordable market prices and constant influx of new collections featuring moment-to-moment trends encourages consumers to buy, buy, buy—only for these garments to be discarded a few months later, when their low-quality material begins to unravel, or their momentary trendiness is deemed obsolete. When these cheaply produced garments end up in the landfill, it has drastic effects on the planet, as much of it is made from environmentally harmful materials like viscose, polyester, and nylon, which can take up to two centuries to degrade.  

Avoiding this cycle can be difficult, especially when shopping on a time crunch or a budget, but being a conscious shopper doesn’t always mean exclusively buying from high-end or sustainable stores. It can actually be a lot more fun than it may sound. In honor of the recent Earth Day, we offer a few simple tips to help give a little extra love to both the planet and your wardrobe.  

  1. Check the price tag—does it add up? 

If you find yourself at a mall or department store and you’re not sure how to gauge the sustainability of a brand, simply check the price tag. If an item’s price seems too good to be true, it’s probably because it is. Consider all the processes, materials, and people that go into putting a single shirt on the rack. If you aren’t shouldering the costs of these things, it’s likely that somebody else somewhere, be it the planet, or the manufacturers behind the scenes, is. 

2. Heed the material dos and don’ts 

Most garments will have an inside tag that lists what materials they are made of. Take a quick peek at these tags when shopping and stay away from anything containing polyester, nylon, acrylic, viscose, or non-organic cotton. Opt instead for organic or recycled cotton, linen, or hemp. 

Garments made from recycled material are always a safe bet

Provided

3. Invest in timelessness 

The capsule wardrobe is a popular concept that has been combatting fast fashion and its quickly-fading fads. The idea is to assemble a wardrobe with a small number of versatile garments that can be paired together in any combination. Cultivating a timeless wardrobe full of pieces meant to last is a simple way to become a more sustainable shopper, and will eliminate frequent closet cleanouts where garments are discarded and likely tossed into the landfill. This style practice also adds a touch of elegance to your personal style, and your future self will thank you for investing in pieces that outlast momentary crazes.

An enduring wardrobe is both sustainable and stylish

4. Borrow from the past 

Thrifting is the surest and simplest way to shop sustainably. Luckily, Minneapolis has a thriving and passionate vintage scene that consists of not only brick-and-mortar stores, but also monthly markets, where various vintage brands gather under one roof to offer their updated selections.  

The Minneapolis Vintage market occurs monthly, at various venues across the city

Photo by Darin Kamnetz

5. Trends are cyclical—don’t be so quick to discard  

The evolution of trends is circular. And whether it takes five years of 50 years, even the worst of fads always manages to make its way back through the cycle. (If shoulder pads can do it, anything can.) Hang on to those momentarily trendy items that have gone out of style, because it is likely they will be momentarily trendy again. You might also be surprised by what you’ll find when diving into the depths of your own closet. Some of your long-forgotten pieces buried in the bottom of your drawers or shelved away in storage might be able to experience a revival. It can be almost as good as an actual shopping haul (and cheaper, too.)  

6. Swap with friends 

It’s natural to grow tired of your own closet, even if you generally like everything inside of it. Sometimes newness is just as important to us as style. Next time you feel the urge to undertake a massive style overhaul, try organizing a swap with friends instead. You can each bring a collection of pieces you feel you’ve overworn and swap with each other, resulting in exciting new outfits that will freshen up your wardrobe, completely free of cost—to both you wallet and the environment.  

As Minnesota Monthly's Style Editor, Emma keeps a close pulse on all things retail, style, and fashion in the Twin Cities and beyond. Since graduating from Miami university in 2022 with degrees in English-Literature and Media and Culture, Emma has accumulated a wealth of experience in both the editorial and fashion industries, including producing a sold-out runway show for Fashion Week Minnesota. She harnesses this experience, as well as her passion for storytelling, to communicate the diverse perspectives of individuals who have helped shape the Minnesota fashion scene and its one-of-a-kind events, brands, and businesses. When she is not writing, you might find Emma at a yoga class, thrifting, walking her Bernese Mountain Dog, traveling, or drinking overpriced coffee. You will never see her in the same outfit twice.