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How to Build an Ethical Wardrobe That Will Last

Establishing a tried-and-true ethical wardrobe that you can wear and enjoy for years to come is a wonderful way to reduce consumption. Read on to learn why purchasing clothing willy nilly is damaging and how to find pieces that really suit your needs. 

I don’t usually tell people I’m a “minimalist,” not because I don’t believe in simplicity, but because it’s an extremely broad and confusing term that no one can agree upon. 

While some minimalist pressures tell me I need to wrangle myself into only owning one pair of jeans, I know that’s just not me. Does that mean I’m going to retain my crazy, conventional shopping habits? Not at all! But it’s important to know that every “zero waste minimalist” handles their wardrobe differently. 

Just within the zero waste community, here are the wardrobe variations I’ve discovered:

  1. One blogger shops exclusively secondhand but has no wardrobe limits.
  2. Another blogger only owns 18 pieces total. 
  3. Still another owns only 15!
  4. Another writer buys exclusively designer labels, sometimes secondhand, but treasures their quality for life.
  5. Many others don’t limit the quantity in their closet, but only shop with ethical, organic, sustainable brands.

What I’m going to share with you today is simply my take on a zero-waste, ethical wardrobe. Please feel no pressure to “walk by my rules,” but find a system that you’re comfortable with and that supports simplicity.

My Zero Waste, Ethical Wardrobe

In college, I used to be entirely content shopping at H&M and thrift stores. Both options suited my measly college student budget and were convenient enough that they became my go-to’s. Not to mention that Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” came out when I was in college, in Seattle. 

It was kind of a thing… However, while you may praise my “thriftiness,” the truth is that while I was theoretically saving money in the moment, I was really just perpetuating throwaway culture. I’d buy a few items at Goodwill, instantly get bored with them, then send a bag right back where they came from. The result was that I ended up with this horrid wardrobe of totally mismatched items. And I hated all of it!

Today, I have settled a bit more into who I am. I know my tastes and I know my size. And I know what I believe in. Here’s how I approach my zero waste, ethical wardrobe today.

How I Approach Garment Shopping

Now that I’ve grown up a bit and I know what I want my life to look like, it’s a lot easier to carefully choose items that will serve me long-term. These are the questions that I ask myself when decided whether or not to keep an old item in my closet:

  • Does this garment still fit me? Will it fit me tomorrow?
  • Do I feel like strutting around and dancing when I wear it?
  • Is there anything about it that bothers me? i.e. Scratchiness.
  • Is it easy to wash and care for? 
  • Does it work well with my other garments? Can I make several outfits out of this?
  • Do I already own something that can serve this purpose?

I have slightly different criteria for new items that come into my life. When I am considering purchasing a new item (new or secondhand) these are the questions I ask myself:

  • Does this garment flatter me? If not, can I get it tailored to perfection?
  • Is it a classic style or design that I can wear for years to come?
  • Does it feel and look high-quality? Can I see any loose threads or uneven stitching? Does it feel nice in my hand?
  • Does it work well with my other garments? Can I make several outfits out of this?
  • Was it manufactured in an ethical way that supports people and communities?
  • Was it manufactured in a way that supports the environment by treasuring and conserving water and natural materials?
  • Was it made from natural fibers that were grown organically and in a sustainable manner?

As you can see, this is a hefty list! But I can no longer comfortably walk into a conventional store like H&M without feeling a heaviness in the pit of my stomach.

It’s scary to me how flippant we have become with clothing. And at such great cost to the environment and to the people that make it.

A Look at My Closet

By many people’s definition, I don’t have a minimalist wardrobe. I own far more than 15 items. However, I’ve reached a point where I’m comfortable with what I own and I have severely cut back on my shopping.

Besides, I refuse to get rid of the beautiful pieces I’ve already invested in, as long as I know they will serve me well for a long time to come. 

Anything that doesn’t make the cut is sold via consignment or donated. After that, I just buy less! And by less, I really mean next-to-never.

My wardrobe consists of items that suit the cooler weather of Cheyenne, Wyoming and Washington State. When I transition to summer, I pair the same blouses and sleeveless shirts with shorts and skirts or I wear more dresses.

Most of what I keep falls in a varied blue, neutral, and “pops of red” color scheme. I don’t know why, I guess it’s just what I’m drawn to! Keeps things simple.

Here’s what I keep in my closet:

Coats & Jackets:

  • Formal winter coat
  • Warm winter jacket
  • Long rain coat
  • Vegan leather jacket
  • Tweed motorcycle jacket
  • Jean jacket
  • Professional blazer
  • Bomber jacket


  • Little black dress
  • Navy lace wiggle dress
  • Casual green dress
  • Black maxi dress


  • Vintage denim button skirt
  • Pleated black wool skirt
  • Patterned skirt
  • Gray pencil tulip skirt

Denim & Pants:

  • Vintage cut-off jeans
  • Dark wash skinnies
  • Black skinnies
  • Black wool dress pant
  • Yoga leggings


  • Army green tie shorts
  • Denim shorts
  • High waisted navy polka dot shorts

Sleeveless Blouses:

  • White lace blouse
  • Plaid blouse
  • White silk blouse
  • Magnolia blouse
  • Navy embroidered blouse
  • Yoga top

Standalone Blouses:

  • White embroidered silk blouse
  • Red flutter sleeve blouse
  • Black babydoll blouse
  • Blue three-quarter sleeve blouse

Long Sleeve Shirts:

  • Black shirt
  • Gray shirt
  • Blue shirt
  • Breton stripe shirt


  • Gray Everlane v-neck sweater
  • Oatmeal cashmere sweater
  • Chunky white sweater
  • Slim maroon sweater
  • Maroon longline sweater
  • Cobalt Patagonia pull-over fleece
  • Silver gray zip-up workout jacket


  • Open pattern cardigan
  • White chunky cardigan
  • Black shrug cardigan


  • Black leather motorcycle books
  • Chestnut leather riding boots
  • Black rain boots
  • Gray uggs
  • Black suede bootie
  • White low-cut converse
  • Running shoes
  • Black recycled ballet flats
  • Black patent leather pumps
  • Strappy suede sandal
  • Maroon clogs
  • Hiking boots


  • Nude t-shirt bra
  • Lavender t-shirt bra
  • Black push-up bra
  • Black lace bra
  • Various camisoles to go under blouses
  • 10 pair seamless ethical underwear in black and lavender

Think you’re ready to pare down? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Angelo Mathew

Sunday 23rd of April 2017

Some incredible counsel here. I'm liable of purchasing modest (and for the most part spending twice!) so I've made the note and what you say comprehends course.


Sunday 23rd of April 2017

Fantastic! I'm totally okay with spending twice if I know the item will last for years and years. Thanks for visiting! :)

Sarah | Lavender Life

Saturday 21st of January 2017

I love this idea, and I'm definitely planning on buying some more clothes from charity/second hand stores.


Friday 20th of January 2017

This was quite an eye opener. I go with the 'I havent worn it in a year off you to go Charity' notion x

Ana De- Jesus

Thursday 19th of January 2017

For me I do have a lot of clothes as I do work in fashion and get send products, That being said all my treasured clothes get wear out of it and anything I don't like I giveaway to friends or charity so they can find a forever home x


Thursday 19th of January 2017

I'm the complete opposite. If i see something i like i will buy it. my wardrobe is full x