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Sustainable Fashion: A Beginners Guide

Sustainable Fashion: A Beginners Guide
Carly Jacobs

Before we jump in – here are my thoughts on the low/zero waste movement and by osmosis sustainable fashion. 

I’m 100% behind waste reduction and I’m very strict with myself about it but I don’t freak out if I need to buy some undies at Big W. I need you to know that that you’re not failing at a sustainable existence if you own more than a single pair of pants. Or have a bathroom cabinet that contains something other than a tiny jar of ‘tooth powder’ and a stainless steel razor that shaved off half your shin skin the last time you used it.

We need to take our waste reduction seriously (like anyone who puts a lone banana in one of those flimsy single-use plastic produce bags deserves a wet willy) but if we make the process of sustainable living rigid and inaccessible most people will be too freaked out to even try. We don’t want that.

This post is a supplement to this Straight & Curly episode about sustainable fashion so make sure you listen here. This post has all the links and things I mention in the episode.

What is sustainable fashion?

This quote from sums it up nicely.

“More sustainable fashion can be defined as clothing, shoes and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects. In practice, this implies continuous work to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, from design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing and final sale, to use, reuse, repair, remake and recycling of the product and its components.”

So sustainable fashion doesn’t just mean environmentally sound it also means protecting the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the clothing you wear. It means educating yourself on the supply chain of your clothing, what it’s made from, who’s making it, if they’re being treated fairly, how long you will wear an item for and if it’s made well enough to last you for a decent period of time.

Sustainable fashion blogs you should follow

Peppermint Magazine – okay so this one is a magazine but it’s excellent. Most libraries have amazing back catalogs of this mag. They also have beautiful simple patterns each month so you can make your own clothes which is super sustainable.
Daria from – She has a fantastic course and does these beautiful seasonal capsule wardrobes. I LOVE capsule wardrobes.
Fashion Revolution – Australian information about sustainable practices – super hard to come by so this website is a must. They have the hashtag #whomademyclothes and they ask people to ask that question before they purchase new items.

The Clothing Exchange – you can run events to do clothing swaps!
Walk Sew Good – Two women walked (yes walked!) 3500km across Asia filming and sharing positive fashion stories.

Styling You has a fantastic blog post that outlines some great Australian brands if buying local is your thing.

Sustainable fashion Instagrammers

sustainable fashion

@shannydoots – She’s American and she’s ’not quite plus-size’ which is awesome because a lot of the sustainable fashion community seem to be on the smaller side which isn’t helpful to average/larger women.

sustainable fashion
@ajabarber – similar to Shannydoots!

sustainable fashion
@unmaterialgirl – I think she’s Brisbane based and committed to a sustainable wardrobe

sustainable fashion

@girlgoneretro – retro clothing store

sustainable fashion

@fayedelanty – thrift instagrammer

sustainable fashion

@marielle.elizabeth – sustainable fashion on a plus-sized body. She has a hashtag #slowfashionforall you can use when you find size-inclusive sustainable clothing! She also lives in Canada which is fantastic for winter inspo.

@slowfashionseason – Promotes a season from June to Sept where you only purchase slow fashion. Such a fantastic place to start. It’s a set time frame, so you can cut your teeth on it. I didn’t even know it existed so I’m going to sign up this year.

Sustainable fashion tips for beginners

All of the outfit shots featured below have been taken in the last 6 months – none of the brands in these outfits are going to win any sustainability awards but I’m sharing them to show that if you purchase good quality clothes and wear them for a long time, that’s great too. Not everything you wear has to be blessed by a zero carbon footprint sustainability goddess. Even if you just start being CONSCIOUS first. That’s a great place to start.

Sussan jumpsuit (purchased a year ago), Sportsgirl cardigan (purchased 5 years ago), Sportsgirl headscarf (purchased 10 years ago) – The Sussan group currently has a Not Good Enough rating on the Good On You App so that’s not ideal BUT I have a very solid track record of their clothes lasting a very long time as well as me actually wearing them for a very long time so that’s a win in my book.


1. Download the Good on You app 

This app is endorsed by Emma Watson and it’s fantastic. You look up your favourite places to shop like Sussan (not great) and Country Road (pretty good!). This means I’ve been able to look at the two places I buy my most of my clothes and I can decide where to put my money.

Kmart jumpsuit (purchased very recently – they still have them!), Sportsgirl cardigan (purchased over 5 years ago) and Funkis clogs (purchased 3 years ago).

2. Choose your battles 

Decide what’s important to you. There are a few questions you need to ask when you buy clothing.

  • What’s the environmental impact of this item?
  • What’s the socio-economic impact of this item?
  • Was everyone in the supply chain paid and treated well?
  • Where any animals harmed in the production of this item?
  • What’s going to happen to this item when I no longer want/need/can wear it this item?

It’s really hard to get an item that covers all bases. So you need to pick what’s the important thing to you. For example, some vegan products aren’t amazing for the environment because of the use of synthetics but conversely, a lot of sustainable fabrics like cotton can be unsustainable if they’re produced poorly. My two top priorities are environmental impact and socio-economic impact. I obviously care about animals but I wear leather (and eat meat) and I believe in sustainable and cruelty-free practices of using animal products and animal by-products in clothing production so that’s where I stand. Choose your top two priorities and aim for those.

FCUK dress (purchased 6 years ago), Funkis clogs (purchased 3 years ago).

Don’t beat yourself up 

You don’t have to have a fully sustainable wardrobe. If you find an amazing cheap top you absolutely love and you’re sure you’ll wear until it falls apart, it’s totally fine to buy it. My rules are.

  • Must be made from mostly natural fibers
  • I have to absolutely love the item and not be able to live without it

That’s it. This means in the past month I’ve bought a boutique Australian designed jumpsuit and another from Kmart. They’re both excellent and I’ve worn them both heaps. I do try to avoid buying fast fashion and the Kmart jumpsuit required a few alterations because not surprisingly it wasn’t super well made. BUT it’s 100% cotton and I’ve worn it heaps. You don’t need to be perfect all the time. Also as an in-betweenie (someone who isn’t mainstream sized and isn’t quite plus-sized) getting clothes that fit me well is hard. It’s all well and good for Mary-Kate Olsen sized people to have 100% sustainable fashion wardrobes but it’s a touch harder for the rest of us. I’d much rather buy something I love from a good quality chain store that I will wear and mend for years than spend a lot of money on something sustainable that I won’t wear because it’s not quite right. This doesn’t mean I drop $20 on a new top every 5 minutes at Target, it means if I find a lovely, 100% natural fibre piece of clothing I love in a chain store, I can buy it. No biggie. But I have to LOVE it. No excuses.

Country Road dress (purchased ten years ago and they have a Good rating on Good on You)

4. Start by replacing what you have 

Take it slow – you don’t need to become an overnight fully sustainable wardrobe master. Just do what you can. Everyone loves strict rules and things being binary but it’s okay to wear $600 handcrafted shoes with a cheap t-shirt you bought years ago at a $2 shop. Just try to make sensible choices where you can.

Sussan jumpsuit – purchased a few months ago because the last Sussan jumpsuit I bought I’ve been wearing constantly and it’s 100% linen. Again not an amazing rating on Good on You but if I wear it for another 5 years at least, I’ll be happy.

That’s it!

You can listen to the full episode here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I’d love for you to share your favorite sustainable brands, Aussie brands or any brands doing cool things with recycled materials.

How sustainable is your wardrobe?


  1. Steph 4 years ago

    I love this post! I use the Good on You app and find it really helpful. I’m also a huge fan of op shopping as you are not adding to landfill and are often supporting a good cause. There is an excellent St Vinnies near me with great clothes and they also run a soup kitchen and outreach van at the same shopping centre a few nights a week – what’s not to love?

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 4 years ago

      I’ve been buying lots of stuff second hand online recently and it’s been great!

  2. Michee 4 years ago

    I really like this post. I found that I am beating myself up about buying anything from any shop that has less than “great rating” on Good On You. Then you get stuck in feeling like I need to buy expensive clothes that are not completely my style. So thanks for taking that load off me and just start small with being sensible about my purchases.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 4 years ago

      That’s the thing, being conscious is the first and most important step. Even just cutting back on fast fashion makes a huge difference.

  3. aleena mishal 3 years ago

    I bought this from the US online stores, and it was amazing.

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