Six easy ways to give your wardrobe a green makeover

Jayne Cherrington-Cook
·7-min read

Watch: How to make more environmentally friendly choices when it comes to your wardrobe

Actress Sophie Porley, who played Elle Nightingale in Hollyoaks until 2018, is on a mission to make the planet that little bit greener.

“My journey into sustainability probably got kickstarted, like many people, after watching David Attenborough's Blue Planet,” she says.

She continues: “I know that I was left feeling just shocked and devastated to see what we've done to our wildlife, to our planet as a whole. I know it can feel overwhelming thinking, ‘What can I personally do as an individual?’ It's such a big problem.”

Read more: TV presenter and author Konnie Huq admits she hasn't bought clothes for a decade

Fast, affordable fashion has created a whole host of problems for our planet. Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year, while the average lifetime for any item of clothing is around a measly 2.2 years.

It’s not just over-consumption of clothing that’s a problem - it’s also the manufacturing. The UN says that the fashion industry, including the production, contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while there’s also a huge water waste during manufacture.

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Porley says: “To make one T-shirt, such as the one I'm wearing, it would take on average 2,700 litres of water. So, you think of a litre bottle of water, which you'd try and drink in a day… 2,700 of those!”

As a lover of fashion, Porley admits she’s had to “dig deep” to find some sustainable fashion alternatives.

“I have loved clothes my whole life,” she states. “I love dressing up. I love styling them so I'm definitely not sitting here saying don't ever buy clothes again, because for me it's not realistic. It is part of my passion of life.”

If you’ve got a clothes habit that could be hindering our planet, here are six ways to be greener – while still looking stylish.

1 Wear what you already have!

“Did you know that in the summer of 2019, the UK alone spent 2.7 billion pounds on 50 million outfits that would only be worn once?” asks Porley.

With that mind-blowing stat in mind, it’s time to open your wardrobe and wear the most sustainable thing you can find – the clothes you already own!

“Everything in your wardrobe has already been made, and that is the most sustainable thing you will ever, ever, ever wear,” explains the actress.

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“So, re-wear everything. Mix and match it with other things. Get creative… Work out ways to make old outfits feel new, but just keep what you have for as long as possible. And that is the most sustainable thing that you can ever do in your wardrobe.”

2 Share it

Porley says as a teenager she often shared clothes with friends for a night out but as she got older – and fashion got cheaper – she started buying her own stuff instead.

“I wouldn't worry about wearing it once,” she admits. “In fact, it was more desirable to wear it once, because once you photographed it, for some reason, it needs to disappear, which is absolutely insane!”

Read more: How to make more of your wardrobe with stylist Antonia O’Brien

She suggests sharing your clothes with friends and family is a great way to dip your toe into sustainability. It also means you don’t have the wrench of deciding what to give away – plus you may get to rummage in someone else’s wardrobe as well!

3 Swap it

If you no longer want something, why not go to a swap party? No money changes hands – just clothes.

“You can get rid of stuff you don't want from your wardrobe, and then you can pack it with stuff you do!” says Porley.

Read more: Is sustainable fashion only for the rich?

While the current pandemic may have stopped many of fashion swaps, there are still some being held in a socially distanced way. Search for clothes swaps on Eventbrite in your area and if there’s not one, host your own! Fashion Revolution, a charity set up when the Rana Plaza building, a clothes factory complex in Bangladesh, collapsed and killed more than 1,100, has lots of details on how to create your own fashion swap party.

4 Buy second hand

While the only truly sustainable way to shop is to not actually shop at all, buying second hand comes close so checking out charity shops, vintage sales and online auction sites is the way to go if you really need a shopping fix.

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Porley has a top tip for sourcing great stuff from charity shops.

“If you go to very expensive areas, usually the charity shops are filled with slightly more designer things, so you can get such a bargain,” she recommends.

The actress herself has been using Depop, an app which allows you to buy – and sell – second-hand fashion.

Read more: Boots launches pair of tights made entirely from plastic bottles

“The reason I like selling them is because I know that someone's actually paying money for them and that they really want the item,” she reveals.

“I know that it's going to be used again, which gives me such joy. And I've bought a lot of stuff on there too. I've bought dresses that are half the original price and still in amazing condition.

“You can get such great bargains and just know that all the clothes are getting extended lifelines.”

5 Rent

It’s a relatively new concept, but fashion rental services are definitely on the rise. The idea is that, depending on the business model, for either a monthly or one-off fee you have access to a whole new wardrobe of clothes that you rent for a limited time.

Porley cites Hurr, Onloan and By Rotation as some of her fave offerings and says you can really rent some amazing outfits – stuff that you might not normally be able to afford either!

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“They have some gorgeous outfits that are super expensive designer brands,” she states.

“Some of them too, that you might not necessarily want to or be able to do afford the outfit, but you can afford to rent it for a few days or for a week.

“You just get to send it back and it's not clogging up space in your wardrobe and you don't have the burden of worrying about the impact it has had on the planet.”

6 Buy sensibly

If you do have the urge to buy, Porley recommends that you choose the best possible quality that you can personally afford. Buying quality goods not only means that they will last longer, but will also encourage retailers to provide better quality clothes that stand the test of time and aren’t thrown away six months down the line.

Obviously, any item of clothing will last longer (and therefore mean you won’t have to buy a replacement so soon) if you look after it.

Read more: How to be a sustainable parent

“Make sure that you take care of everything you own,” implores Porely.

As well as repairing clothes, keep an eye on how often – and what temperature – you wash them at.

What’s In My Wash, a campaign by digital innovators Hubbub to raise the issue of microfibers in clothes, recommends washing things only when you really need to, avoiding use of a tumble dryer and washing clothes at 30° and on shorter cycles, which can help reduce the release of toxic plastic microfibres by over 50%.

Watch: Simple beauty and bathroom swaps to help live a more sustainable life