Another school year often brings a new "back-to-school" wardrobe, be it uniforms or a different look for a new grade. But before you go out to buy more, consider some statistics found in author Elizabeth Cline's latest book, "The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good" (Amazon, $15).
A third of the microplastic pollution junking up our oceans is coming from what we wear.
A garbage truck's worth of unwanted fashion is landfilled in the United States every 1.3 minutes.
For every two million tons of textiles we keep in circulation and out of landfills, we can reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the road.
Cline walks readers through the impact that clothes, "our most personal and universal possession," have on the environment. In her 2012 book, "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" — Cline drops knowledge that clothing brands' frequent churn of new styles and more affordable fare (aka "fast fashion") sway consumers to buy more. And in turn, shoppers dispose of "staggering volumes of unwanted clothes," which ends as waste (23.8 billion pounds of clothes and shoes in the garbage each year or 73 pounds per person in the United States). The sequel is "The Conscious Closet," which offers tips for consumers to build a wardrobe that does less harm to the environment and is of higher quality, all while maintaining your style and keeping up with trends.
"'The Conscious Closet' is as much education as it is giving people tips and tools for how they can make a difference," Cline said. "What I'm doing with 'The Conscious Closet' is showing people how to live sustainably and that's not an individual project, it's a cultural project — it means changing the way that we live and what we value."
The Tribune talked with Cline about buying less, but feeling more fulfilled in the process when it comes to being more aware of what you don as your "second skin." The interview has been condensed and edited.
On the idea of microfiber pollution and feeling overwhelmed about rethinking your whole clothes game:
"Fast fashion became more common and people were more inclined to wear their clothes a few times. Now we don't have the economic incentive to take care of our clothes, but I think that we still have an environmental incentive. People deserve to know the health impact of what they're wearing, the environmental impact of what they're wearing and the social impact of what they're wearing. When people start making different choices in their life, I found that they feel empowered. You find the things that you feel good about doing."
On the concept of donning a uniform for school or work changing the conscious closet equation:
"The book is a choose-your-own adventure. In the beginning, everybody decides if they're a minimalist, a traditionalist or a style seeker. So if you're more of a Steve Jobs person, then you're a minimalist, which means you feel empowered and freed by having fewer items of clothes. And there are all sorts of strategies in the book for minimalists, for people who want to build a really small, curated, ethical and sustainable wardrobe. But there are also a lot of tips for people who love fashion and trends."
On building a sustainable wardrobe on a budget:
"A lot of the big brands are doing more sustainable initiatives like H&M and its Conscious collection and Zara has Join Life. There's a lot of big brands that are incorporating sustainability into their business like Levi's and Adidas, that it's easier to find than most people imagine once you start to look. I also always tell people to use the Good on You website, which makes it a lot easier to shop ethically and sustainably in mainstream stores."
On the meat-and-potatoes rule — 70% of the clothes you own should be meat and potatoes, 30% should be icing and fluff (color, pattern, shine and accessories):
"It's just about trying to figure out what really works for you instead of shopping because we're so frustrated with what we've got. It's really about thinking through your ratio of accessories to basics to icing to the really statement-making pieces. Because once you've figured that out, it makes your life so much easier."
On personal shoppers and brands like Universal Standard helping consumers build a foundation of core pieces:
"I think that it's great that more brands are offering to help you curate a closet. I've gotten a lot of distance out of using a wardrobe-organizing app called Cladwell. It helps me figure out how to pair things together that are already in my wardrobe. What I love about Cladwell is it reminds you that you have a closet full of clothes, you have plenty to wear and it just gives you inspiration for how to pair everything up in an interesting way."
On this book making people stop and think before they buy:
"Fashion is responsible for 8% of carbon emissions, but it's also our second skin. Clothing matters, and I think that it can really make your life better if you set aside a little more time to think through your wardrobe, think through how you're shopping and figure out if there are ways that you can go about it in a more mindful, conscientious, responsible, sustainable way."