Five Innovative Ways To a Zero-Waste Wardrobe

the cycle for non zero-waste clothes

In search of zero waste

When trying to create a zero-waste wardrobe you won’t find an aisle marked “zero waste business shirts”. Every time I go clothes shopping I find myself facing lots of choices – all the wrong ones. I only buy new clothes when my wardrobe is genuinely short, like I don’t have enough shirts to last the week. What I’d like to get is organic cotton, minimum. What I end up being offered is non-organic cotton, at best. Or a polyester/cotton mix. Or even pure polyester.

WRAP is a UK-based organisation working for zero-wasteThis is what clothing stores say to me:

“buy us, it’s cheaper, it’s novelty, think how big your wardrobe will be”

This is what I want them to say:

“buy us, our clothes are zero waste and won’t harm the Earth”

What do zero waste clothes even look like?

I need to know things like:

  • Were pesticides or fertilisers used to create the fibres, that go towards the fabric in the shirt I am considering buying?
  • Were the workers treated fairly and not put in any danger when contributing towards this shirt I am considering buying?
  • Was anything dumped in the Earth or in any waterways in the process of making this shirt I am considering buying?

No waste created. No chemicals thrown overboard, no materials dumped. Zilch. Where on Earth am I going to find all that? Here are some options:

Option 1: the High Street giants

Can the big brands help you create your zero-waste wardrobe? Brands like C&A, H&M. I’m not a trendy fashionista so the guys who get my attention are usually the ones with the money. These days that means multinationals. A bit battered by Covid-19 but they are still there, especially online.

Cradle-to-Cradle zero-waste certification
Gold Level Cradle to Cradle Certified™ t-shirts by C&A

Perhaps surprisingly retail chain C&A was one of the finalists of The Circulars 2018. The Circulars recognise leaders moving towards the Circular Economy, where waste is reduced to almost zero. As you might imagine, this sort of change doesn’t happen overnight.

C&A has launched the first Gold Level Cradle to Cradle Certified™ garment in the fashion industry, a range of organic cotton T-Shirts that will compost in 11 weeks. This means:

1. All materials are certified organic, safe and non-toxic

2. 100% compostable

3. 100% renewable energy

4. 100% recycled water

5. 100% social fairness

6. 100% open source

I’m not sure what ‘open source’ means – I thought it was a geek thing. But I understand the others. Impressively these garments sell for between €7-9.

Also among the Cradle to Cradle finalists were the H&M Group. Between 2013 and 2019, H&M collected 54 000 tons (equivalent to 275 million t-shirts) of used textiles for re-use and recycling. They are major users of recycled materials, saving about 30,000 tons of CO2 between 2012-16, compared to conventional alternatives. Worth a lot in one’s search for a zero-waste wardrobe.

Option 2: rent it, lease it

A rental business model is an important part of zero waste, and the Circular Economy. VIGGA.US is a start-up Danish baby clothes rental company and a finalist in the Circulars 2018. What’s their business model & how zero-waste is it?

VIGGA send out a bundle of clothes to customers, who exchange these for larger sizes as the child or belly grows (that’s about every minute, if you’ve ever had a baby you’ll know). The returned clothes are checked for flaws, treated and repackaged. What a great idea! VIGGA subscribers could reduce their CO2 footprint by up to 80%, according to the Circulars website.

Option 3 – support small sustainable brands

Mud Jeans are made with up to 45% recycled content. The remaining material is organic cotton. What’s even more interesting is you can lease them, meaning Mud Jeans own them and so are responsible for taking them back and reusing the material. Neat.

Mud Jeans - 45% recycled content
Mud Jeans

Option 4: buy used

Buying used definitely counts towards your zero-waste wardrobe, because buying doesn’t add to any waste tip.

Charity shops are the tried-and-tested way. There must be at least four or five in every High Street, at least here in the UK (maybe because everyone else is moving out?). There’s nothing like the satisfaction of knowing you’ve given an item a new life, as well as donating to a good cause – AND had a good time browsing.

If you are really posh, upcycle. Visit the Moral Fibres blog and see how some people (not me) can turn old scraps into something you’d see at an exhibition. Your kid will be the best-dressed kid at the party – at least until someone spills Coke all over it.

Option 5: use a zero waste fabric

Another finalist at the Circulars 2018 was Evrnu. Evrnu, brainchild of Stacy Flynn and Christopher Stanev, creates a high quality cellulosic fibre using post-consumer cotton textile waste. The process uses 98% less water than virgin cotton, and generates 80% less greenhouse gas emissions at factory gate than polyester. New eco-friendly fibres are one of the coolest things to put in your new zero-waste wardrobe.


See also: Sustainable clothing: 9 great reasons to change


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