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Build Your Sustainable & Ethical Closet with Tips from Jess With Less!

With Fashion Revolution Week around the corner, now is the perfect time to reflect on our wardrobes and shopping habits. Are you looking to make the switch to a more ethical (good for people) and sustainable (good for the planet) wardrobe? If so, you'll want to read this interview below with Jess from Jess With Less. We'll dive into how Jess got into sustainable fashion and transformed her wardrobe, and how you can too. Think it might be expensive? Jess has fantastic tips below to keep your closet in your budget!

Jess With Less shares her tips on sustainable fashion, simplified living, and zero waste! All photography has been provided by Jess.

ZWC: When did you start caring about how and where your clothes are made?

Jess: Before I really knew that ethical fashion was a thing I would stick with shopping secondhand. I knew that by only buying used clothing I was at least not directly supporting the fast fashion industry. I’d say about 5 years ago? I first saw H&M do a conscious line and started to research small label brands that were US based. I think Elizabeth Suzann was one of the first brands I found!

ZWC: What inspired you to move towards sustainable and ethical fashion?

Jess: For me fashion is art, and it’s so much deeper than just putting clothes on in the morning. A huge part of my love for sustainable fashion is to have clothing that has a story and a connection to people. When you can trace everything that went into a garment: the fabric, who made it, and who designed it. It just doesn’t get more special than that!

I think we have all lost the connection with the items we own and purchase. I love that a movement like sustainable fashion is growing. We all want to feel connected with other people and are starting to connect more with the things we bring into our lives.

ZWC: How would you describe your current wardrobe?

Jess: Mostly secondhand with a mix of investment pieces ethically sourced along with newer brands found secondhand as well. I have a few sustainable brand favorites but honestly 80% of my wardrobe is thrifted!

ZWC: How does developing your personal style help you reduce your consumption of fashion?

Jess: I think social media makes this hard since we see something we like and automatically want to try it even if we might not like it as much on ourselves. I try to not be too influenced with what I see and stick to what makes me feel good when I wear it and build my wardrobe off of that.

ZWC: Does your interest in zero waste help inform how you shop for clothes?

Jess: I look for brands that work hard to do better when it comes o their environmental impact. Whether it be using organic cotton, plastic free packaging, or using deadstock fabrics.

ZWC: What suggestions do you have for someone just starting out with building a sustainable and ethical closet?

Jess: I think Pinterest specifically is great for narrowing down what you like. Pin things you are attracted to and after a while you will notice a trend and start to understand what you like most.

I also recommend paying attention to how you feel when you wear something. Often we get something simply because we like how it looks but do we like how it looks on us? Get rid of the uncomfortable jeans and shirts that won't stay tucked in.

Also remember that this will take time! Shop secondhand and don’t think you need to toss everything and start over new!

ZWC: Many people find sustainable and ethical fashion to be expensive. What recommendations do you have for sticking to a budget?

Jess: #1 rule is to shop slowly, I think you could even shop fast fashion if you only bought what you know you need and will wear A LOT. Maybe an unpopular answer but its important to stop the impulse shopping. Treat you clothing like it’s an investment even if it isn’t expensive.

If you have more time, then wait to find sustainable brands secondhand. I wrote a post on the best online shops for secondhand clothing. I have found many items that were out of my budget secondhand after a few weeks of waiting and searching.

ZWC: To you, what makes a brand sustainable?

Jess: Loaded question! Let’s get the definition on sustainable: able to be maintained at a certain rate or level. So for me I first choose clothing that will last me and I know I will wear again and again. I look for natural fibers, organic cotton is preferred but not used a lot even in the “sustainable fashion” world. I also make sure I can trace the brands factories and judge their level of transparency. We are making a change in the fashion industry but no single brand is financially able to do all of the “sustainable” things.

I choose brands that are open and honest with their efforts and mission. This can look like a bunch of different things! Some donate to important organizations. Some only use organic cotton, some have the highest payed workers. All amazing things and these brands need our support and encouragement so others will follow!

ZWC: If you’re going to buy new, instead of second hand, what’s your criteria that helps you to decide that it’s a worthwhile purchase?

Jess: Will I wear it a lot, do it go with most of my current wardrobe, is it good quality? Always ask these questions before you buy!

ZWC: Thanks Jess!! These are great tips that all of us can take away to switch things up in our closets! The more we become conscious closet curators, the less we'll be sending our fashion to the landfill.

For more tips on going zero waste, read the book and head to zero waste 101!


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