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Eco-fashion forward: 10 ways to make your wardrobe greener

From buying secondhand to washing your clothes less, everyone can do their part in making style more sustainable, writes Meadhbh McGrath


Style queens: Geraldine Carton and Taz Kelleher from Sustainable Fashion Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Style queens: Geraldine Carton and Taz Kelleher from Sustainable Fashion Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Style queens: Geraldine Carton and Taz Kelleher from Sustainable Fashion Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

The country's undergoing a green political revolution - but it doesn't just stop at the elections. As discussion of the environment moves from climate change to a climate emergency, more and more of us are waking up to the importance of sustainability. And while we may have dutifully invested in reusable coffee cups, water bottles and LED bulbs, where our wardrobes are concerned, we still have a long way to go.

A 2016 report by McKinsey consultants found that nearly three-fifths of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made.

"This doesn't just affect people who are really into fashion, it affects every single person who wears clothes," says Taz Kelleher, co-founder of events collective Sustainable Fashion Dublin, which hosts swap shops, charity shop crawls and upcycling workshops around the city.

Small changes in how we shop, care for and dispose of our clothes can make a big difference. Here are 10 ways that even the laziest among us can green our wardrobes.

1 Buy secondhand

Long before 'sustainable fashion' became a buzzword, charity shops and vintage clothes offered an eco-friendly alternative to the high street. Geraldine Carton, co-founder of Sustainable Fashion Dublin, notes that it's also more wallet-friendly.

"A lot of people say, 'Sustainable fashion is so expensive, I can't afford these organic cotton trousers' and that's fair enough, but secondhand shopping is accessible to everyone," she explains.

Hazel O'Malley, who opened Hazel's Nuts About Vintage in Killarney in 2016, said she discovered sustainability after becoming disillusioned with "fast fashion", the rapid production of cheap clothes by mass-market retailers in response to catwalk or celebrity trends.

"I was a complete shopaholic," she recalls. "I wanted something different, and I found vintage that way and got to see that it's better for the environment."

Hazel adds: "These shops are great to have in small towns. When I go buying, I have regular customers in the back of my mind, 'That'll suit so and so'. It's almost like a personal shopper."

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Unlike today's fast fashion pieces, vintage clothes, she points out, tend to be built to last. "It's a good way to shop if you want to be individual." It can be frustrating, as you won't instantly find something you like or in your size, yet Hazel urges patience. "You could go in 10 times and not see anything, and then one time you'll see something amazing that nobody else will have."

2 Swap til' you drop

Swap shops provide that new clothes thrill without having to spend a cent. Last month, Hazel held one as part of Fashion Revolution Week, a campaign to improve conditions in clothing factories. Now, she's planning to make it a regular event, with the next one scheduled to take place in June.

"A woman told me that she brought in five items and just went away with one, but she was absolutely delighted because she needed something for a wedding and that saved her so much money and stress," she says.

3 Buy less

Our wardrobes are bulging yet we feel like we have nothing to wear. It can be tempting to give into fast fashion - at time of print, Boohoo.com listed 366 dresses for sale at €10 or less - but Hazel emphasises caution.

"Think: do you need it? How many other things in your wardrobe will it go with? How many wears will you get out of it?" she asks.

"We've really gotten into a throwaway culture. Even mentally, it sort of leaves you empty: we're buying stuff, we're getting the high for the day, then that subsides and you're left feeling guilty because you're after spending money you shouldn't have spent. And the high street shops bring out something new every week, so you're never going to be on trend, you'll always be behind the curve."

Instead, use your spending habits to send a message. "The way we spend our money will definitely make brands sit up and notice. They won't keep producing in the way they are if we're not buying it," says Hazel.

4 Wash green

It's not as simple as turning the knob down to 30°C and using an eco-friendly detergent. "Everybody is washing their clothes way too much," Taz explains. "You should wash a pair of jeans once or twice a year. So much of the time, we can freshen up our clothing just by airing it. Try and cut back by air drying your clothes, avoid ironing if you can and fold your clothes as soon as they come off the line."

Geraldine adds that we should be aware of microfibres in synthetic clothing, which can seep into the ocean during laundry. "One way you can overcome that is with a Cora Ball," she suggests, which can be purchased for €35 from Reuzi.ie. "You put it in with your washing and the microfibres cling to it, which stops them from going into our water systems."

5 Make do and mend

"Right now, people see clothing as disposable as a cup of coffee, because it can be as cheap as that," says Geraldine. "You need to value your clothes the way people did in the past." She recommends learning how to sew on a button, fix a torn seam or patch a hole rather than simply tossing out damaged clothes. "Previous generations would mend a rip or tear without even blinking, but we don't have that skill anymore."

6 Discard responsibly

"The worst thing you can do is throw them in the bin," says Geraldine, pointing out that Ireland produces thousands of tonnes of textile waste each year. Look up your nearest textile recycling bank, where clothes will be shredded and used as furniture stuffing, insulation and cleaning rags. However, this should be your last resort - unless clothing is very heavily worn or soiled, donate it to a charity shop or drop your items at a clothes bank.

7 Learn the art of upcycling

Breathe new life into your forgotten clothes with a shorter hemline, added embroidery or stylish side stripe. At Sustainable Fashion Dublin's DIY denim and DIY clothing workshops, Taz explains: "We show people how to paint, embroider, stitch, take up, take in, to fall in love with their clothes again."

8 Shop sustainable brands

Celebs from Emma Watson to Meghan Markle have embraced ethical designers such as Stella McCartney and Ali Hawson's Edun. If you don't have an A-lister's budget, look to affordable labels such as eco-friendly Veja trainers (available from Brown Thomas), vegan leather bags by Matt and Nat (available from Avoca), or T-shirts and leggings from Dublin shop Fresh Cuts.

9 Sharing is caring

US company Rent the Runway and Irish offerings such as The Nu Wardrobe and Borrower Boutique allow users to 'rent' clothes for a fraction of the retail price. Taz suggests a return to our adolescent habits and shopping your friends' wardrobes. "When I was a teenager and you went to discos, you'd borrow each others' clothes," she says. "For big events like weddings and graduations, we encourage people to borrow - you shouldn't be buying an item of clothing to wear one time."

10 Change your mindset

Make a promise to yourself not to shell out a few hundred euro on a dress for Ladies' Day or a wedding that you know you won't wear again. "We'll spend huge amounts of money on once-off outfits," says Taz, who urges reassessing your priorities and spending to "build up your basics, like jeans and white T-shirts".

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