The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

24 New Years Resolutions for a Sustainable & Ethical Closet

As 2019 comes to a close, it’s a great time to synthesize what we’ve learned this year about being a sustainable and ethical fashion lover…. and challenge each other to do better in 2020.

So, I’ve pulled together all the knowledge I have about sustainable fashion and organized it into 23 potential New Year’s resolutions that you can tackle. If you’ve wanted to be a better fashion consumer, but didn’t know where to start, this is your big chance.

There a huge amount of information and resources in this article! I would love you to read through it all, but do not try to do it all. (At least all on January 1st.) That’s a recipe for total burnout. Instead, choose one to three of the following resolutions. Then, pretty please tell me in the comments what you’re going to try!

I would love for us to keep each other accountable, swap tips and information, and support each other. It’s definitely not about perfection, but about curiosity, experimentation and exploration.

So, onto an amazing 2020! Here we go….

1. Swear off impulse or emotional buying forever. Much like a shot of liquor or a sleeve of Oreos leaves you feeling awful not long after, so does impulse or emotional shopping. You’ve just spent money you could have used toward a nice dinner or retirement, to buy something that you will donate to Goodwill next year after regretfully staring at it in your closet for 11 months, and all because you were bored, or had a glass of wine and went online, or got in a fight with your friend… No bueno! If you are having trouble with this, then…

2. Buy nothing new. Have you ever brought your unwanted clothing to a thrift shop, only to watch the clerk toss aside almost everything? Eye-opening, isn’t it? So many things that you paid full price for and now, worthless! So challenge yourself to buy nothing new in 2020. Hit up resale sites, local thrift and vintage shops, Salvation Army and Goodwill. Host and attend fashion swaps. Offer to help your friends clean out their closets and then take home stuff they don’t want. As for undies? See what happens when you wear them until they fall apart. (If he is annoyed, then that is his problem.) Or go really bold and…

3. Take a shopping fast. A shopping fast – for one month, a season, a whole year, or for your next vacation – is a great way to clear your mind of all the advertising clutter that has built up over the years. If you find something you really like, or you are thinking of something that you would really like to buy, then write it down on a list. If you still want it after your fast is over, you can get it. But I bet you 90% of the things you write down you will lose your desire for. The side benefit is that if you wait for a while, you’ll likely come across the best, most sustainable and ethical version. I’ve found the universe works in that way. (Especially if you read this blog, heh.) And if you’re doing this, make sure to…

4. Clean up your media consumption. Unsubscribe from all brand newsletters (except your three favorite ethical brands). Unsubscribe from women’s magazines. Unfollow fashion influencers. (Yes, even the ethical ones! They’re also trying to get you to buy every new Everlane drop.) Stop following celebrity news from any source. Avoid the mall like the plague. Quit TV. (Believe me, I haven’t had a TV in eight years and I am way happier for it.) Basically, remove yourself from situations in which you will be shown toxic mass-market fashion and told that you are not beautiful enough, and watch your desire for that type of fashion fall away.


5. Replace digital media with books. Order these and stack them on your nightstand, in order from easiest read to going in deep: 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg,  A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button, The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth Cline, Secondhand by Adam Minter, Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas, Fibershed by Rebecca Burgess, and Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert.

6. Cancel your Prime membership. Amazon has horrendous, sweatshop-like conditions at its fulfillment warehouses. Workers frequently collapse from heat, exhaustion and dehydration, and some have even died. It’s a ruthless employer that misclassifies contractual employees so it can deny them benefits and easily fire them with no warning. I know that Amazon makes it so easy to shop, but that is sort of the point here. In order to buy less stupid stuff, you need to introduce friction to your transactions. Delete your credit card information from your Amazon account. And next time you need something, search around for an alternative used item, another website to order from, a brick-and-mortar neighborhood store, or get creative with upcycling, borrowing, or, you know, doing without it. Here’s what happened with a Quartz writer went on an Amazon fast.

7. Save money on fashion the ethical way. If you’re on a tight budget, then there are ways to save money on your wardrobe without being exploitative about it. You can buy secondhand, patronize these affordable yet ethical brands, buy direct-to-consumer, and go through my 6-step process for overhauling your wardrobe, which doesn’t involve spending money until the very last step!

8. Only buy from brands you trust. Don’t ever buy from a brand that you’ve never heard of before or haven’t vetted. Look in our shopping guide or google “EcoCult” and the thing you’re looking for – we might have done a roundup of the best brands. Install the DoneGood browser extension, which makes ethical and sustainable online shopping stupid easy. Or look the brand up on the Good on You app.

9. Host a fashion swap. Your friends all have things they don’t want, but are too lazy to bring to Goodwill. Tempt them with refreshments and invite them to bring it all to your apartment for a fashion swap!

10. Check the label before purchasing. You should absolutely understand what you are buying, because the material will affect its longevity, how you take care of it, how much value you are getting for the price, what it will look and feel like if you are buying it online, what you can do with it when you no longer want it, and its overall sustainability. There are three main types of fibers: 1. Natural (cotton, linen, wool, alpaca, hemp, silk); 2. Synthetic (polyester, nylon, acrylic); and 3. Semi-synthetic (rayon, viscose, fabric made from bamboo, modal, Tencel, lyocellacetate). Learn about them! Get to know them! Then choose your favorites and seek them out.

11. Look for recycled. From leather jackets made from upcycled leather, jewelry made from recycled metals, bathing suits made from old fishing nets, and yoga clothes made from recycled water bottles, fashion that closes the loop is all the rage… and also super sustainable.

12. Only buy things you will wear at least 30 times. Known as the #30wears movement, this philosophy says that before buying anything, you should look at it and decide whether you will wear it at least 30 times before it either falls apart or you grow tired of it.

13. Overhaul your laundry routine. The way people typically do their laundry in America is toxic, polluting, energy-intensive, and expensive. Plus, your laundry sheds plastic microfibers into natural waterways and the ocean in every wash. Stop that. Here’s a better way to do your laundry.

14. Avoid “dry clean only” fashion. Speaking of, dry cleaning is so toxic that some former dry cleaner sites are actually designated as toxic Superfund sites that need remediation and cleanup by the government! I’ve actually shocked myself with how often I go to the dry cleaner these days. Which is… once every six months. Seriously. Here’s some great advice from The Frontlash on how to break up with your dry cleaner. It’ll save you money, too.

15. Get political! There are some ideas floating around for legislation that could help overhaul the entire system, such as banning brands from throwing away or incinerating unsold clothing, creating a tariff scheme that punishes unsustainable textiles and countries that fail to enforce ethical manufacturing laws, or even outright banning textiles that were created using toxic chemicals. The big daddy of all of these is a carbon fee and dividend scheme. Learn about these ideas, and advocate for them with friends, family, and your elected representatives.

16. Subscribe or donate to a reputable newspaper or magazine. Legacy newspapers and magazines – The New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, The Guardian, LA Times, Pro Publica and many more don’t just report on sustainable and ethical fashion topics, but that makes them an even more compelling choice to support. That’s because when they do cover the topic, they bring their standard rigor in reporting and fact-checking to the ethical fashion scene. They hold brands and governments accountable, and help you truly understand what is going on in the fashion world. They desperately need your support to do their job well.

17. Take a second look at your sparkles and baubles. For your jewelry (costume and fine), ask questions about the materials. Are the diamonds and gems conflict-free? Are the crystals ethically sourced? Is the metal recycled or Fairmined Ecological certified? Here’s a list of sustainable fine jewelry brands, a list of ethical artisan jewelry brands, and a list of ethical wedding jewelry brands who also happen to make other types of fine sustainable jewelry.

18. Email, tweet, and DM brands your opinion and questions. It’s not enough to quietly start boycotting a brand who isn’t sustainable or ethical. They can’t read your mind – you need to tell them so! On the flip side, if a brand you like has a cool sustainable initiative, compliment them on it! Be vocal in your support or your criticisms, and always pair it with how it will affect your purchasing decisions in the future. More on this.

19. Achieve a capsule wardrobe. (Or close to it.) The less things you buy, the lower your fashion’s environmental footprint. For this, I recommend trying the Capsules app by Cladwell, which helps you define your style and core colors, and then clean out your closet.

20. Don’t buy anything that looks “ethnic” unless it’s actually made by artisans. Does it have a “Aztec print” but it’s made in Asia in a factory? Is it labeled as “Navajo” but sold in an Urban Outfitters store? Does it look artisan but is actually polyester and sold in Anthropologie? Is it sold at a festival booth but the owner can’t tell you who made it? There is actually a glut of authentic, affordable artisan fashion in the market – why would you give money to an American corporation or no-name company for a cheap knock-off?

21. Learn how to make a piece of fashion. Whether it’s natural indigo dyeing, shibori, weaving, sewing, knitting, or something else, you will truly appreciate ethically made fashion when you go through the process of learning how to make it yourself, and understand the hours and love that goes into each piece. It’s a good way to flip your mindset from “Yay, so cheap!” to “Ew, how exploitative,” when you see a $10 purse. Look in your city for textiles classes, and invite a friend!

22. Try clothing rentals on for size. I honestly believe clothing rental is one huge piece of the future of sustainable fashion.

23. Don’t believe everything you hear. Because there is a lot of myths and spouting off in the ethical fashion community by non-experts (there are actually very few experts on sustainable fashion out there, and almost none are on Instagram). If someone makes a shocking statement, ask them for their source.

24. Set up a recurring donation to a fashion nonprofit. Speaking of experts, they are diligently working on reforming the fashion industry. And they could use your monetary support. If you want to help garment workers, donate to the Asian University for Women’s Pathways for Promise program. I also have a list of nonprofits and NGOs working on the issue of sustainable and ethical fashion in this article.

So, which resolution(s) are you taking on for 2020? Let me know in the comments!


  • Alden Wicker

    Ruth Alden Wicker is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of EcoCult, and author of To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion Is Making Us Sick – and How We Can Fight Back. She also writes for publications including Vogue, The New York Times, Wired, The Cut, Vox, and many more.

Last Post

How REI Is Stepping Up Their Sustainability Game

Next Post

Weekend Reading: Did Uighur Slave Labor Make Your Clothes?