You are on page 1of 7

Style Yourself Sustainable

Friends –
Thank you so much for taking the step to learn more about a sustainable lifestyle. With everything going on in the world,
it can seem like what we do as individuals is a drop in the bucket. The good news is, though, there are a lot of us trying to
do the right thing, and all of these drops are adding up to big changes and a lot of pressure on big corporations to update
their practices.

This e-book is a crash course in sustainability – what it is, why it matters, and how we can all incorporate sustainability
into our wardrobes to not only help the planet, but find our best style ever. I hope that you glean some actionable tips to
incorporate into your own life. If you think up any questions for me, give me a shout at

Also, podcast people! Go check out The Sustainable Style Podcast, on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and everywhere else.
My cohost Kaitlynn Gee & I interview people throughout the fashion supply chain, talk trends in sustainability, and
discuss more ways achieve a sustainable, minimalist wardrobe.

All my love,

What is Sustainability?
Sustainability refers to improving the process of making, owning, and disposing or recycling of clothing to make it kinder
to the environment, people, and animals. Right now, the life cycle of clothing – starting from when cotton seeds are put
in the ground – is ridden with toxic chemicals that endanger workers and pollute waterways, and waste that is filling up
dumps and oceans. Under the umbrella of sustainability, there are practices that affect the environment, and others
that affect humans and animals. We typically refer to human and animal friendly practices as ethical, and
environmentally friendly practices as sustainable.

Sustainable Issues Ethical Issues

Current fashion production has a lot of sources of Current fashion production methods mistreat
waste: humans at many points:
- Pattern design that creates excessive scraps - Buying conventional cotton seed can drive
- Over-ordering fabric, resulting in unused farmers into debt
yardage (sometimes resold as deadstock) - Farmers and their families and communities
- Excessive inventory are exposed to pesticides that can cause lung
- Destruction of pieces that do not meet irritation, rashes, or much more serious
current standards conditions including cancer and birth defects
- Recycling programs that send “recycled” - Factory workers are frequently underpaid
garments to overburdened secondhand - In some garment producing countries, the
markets in Africa, or landfills minimum wage is 20-50% of a living wage
- Excessive washing and drying - Clothing factories can be unsafe working
- Disposal in trash rather than recycling conditions, like Rana Plaza
And an excessive use of toxic chemicals: - Factory workers are exposed to harsh dyes
- Conventional cotton seeds are soaked in and finishing chemicals
pesticides before planting, and the plants are - Tannery workers can have dangerous
regularly sprayed with chemicals chrome exposures
- Harsh dyes - Models are frequently overworked,
- Dangerous chromium is used in conventional underpaid, and are too often victims of
leather tanning sexual abuse
How can you dress sustainably?
What does it mean to dress sustainably? It’s simple: make the most out of what you have and reduce your
consumption of new pieces, particularly those made using conventional processes.

You don’t need to empty out your closet and throw away every fast fashion label. If you wear a piece of clothing and like
it – keep it!

Buy less, buy better

Reducing how many new items you buy is a simple way to reduce your impact on the environment, and it has fantastic
side effects. For example, two years ago, I had four weddings to go to in one summer. I started hunting for outfits and
was pretty bummed by what I could afford with my budget for each wedding. I took a snack break, and staring out the
window over a hunk of bread, I had a crazy idea – what if I wore the same dress to all four weddings? Would anyone
really care? Also, the window was pretty dirty, I should clean that.

Then, as if by fate, I received an email from the clothing rental service I had been eyeing – the yellow Marchesa skirt set I
had desperately wanted to rent was for sale, and the price was my entire summer wedding budget. I bought the used
sample and wore it to all four weddings. I stayed on budget, I found a piece far beyond what I ever thought I would own,
and it was way less stressful to plan one outfit rather than four. It turned out the skirt had pockets and I didn’t even
need a handbag.

If you are buying less, you can buy better. You could buy 5-7 cheap blazers to rotate through for work, or you could buy
2 gorgeous wool blazers – which do you think will make you feel better about your outfits?

Buying less naturally brings up the question of durability. I regularly hear that people want to make smart choices and
choose pieces that are durable and will last. That is a fantastic attitude to have, and I agree that well-made clothes are
the way to go! However, if you are buying fewer pieces, it also means that each piece will get worn more often. A well-
made garment may last for more wears, but you may end up wearing that wool blazer twice as often as you wore its
polyester predecessor. So, it’s possible that you may still need a new blouse/sweater/pair of jeans after a year, even if
you do choose well. This is fine! Clothes wear out, it’s part of the circle of life! Repair when possible, update if necessary,
and recycle it when it has lived a long, full life.

Make the most of what you have

Your closet may be a gold mine! (It may not be, I don’t really know, but let’s start with a positive outlook!) I bet that your
closet is full of pieces that you are wearing every day, and possibly even some pieces that you really like.

I bet there are also some pieces in there that you don’t wear regularly. But you bought them because at one point, they
seemed useful or beautiful – so there’s a chance that there is some life in these underutilized pieces yet! Here’s how
we’re going to figure it out.

Think in outfits, not in garments.

How do you end up with an overstuffed closet full of pieces that don’t work together? It’s because we have been
encouraged to shop mindlessly, and buy garments as they catch our eye. Then when we get them home, we don’t have
all the pieces to make that garment into an amazing outfit.

We need to flip this thinking around. Start the process in your closet. Think about the occasions you will dress for in the
upcoming week or two weeks:
- work or errands
- going out to dinner/socializing
- working out or getting outdoors
Get specific. Picture yourself walking in the door to work and sitting down at your desk, or think of exactly the restaurant
you want to go to and what you plan to order. Now think of your favorite outfit, or the outfit you’d love to wear for that
exact moment. This is a great exercise to think about what your “best self” might wear, but also – be realistic. If your
office is business casual, make sure that your daydream outfit is business casual, not a full suit.

What pieces do you need to make that outfit? Do you have everything you need in your closet, or are there a couple
more pieces you need to source? Start a shopping list in your phone of the pieces that you need to finish your go-to

Get smart about alterations

You thought we were going to shop first, didn’t you?? We are, but actually, we’re going to shop your closet before we
start looking elsewhere.

Okay, let’s say that your work outfit was a silk blouse, tailored pants, and a lightweight wool blazer, and that you have
everything but the blouse. What else in your closet might work? Are there any rarely-used dresses that we could crop to
blouse length? Any tunics that could be tucked? A lightweight sweater that could be a good stand in? Get creative & try
on a couple of pieces that could do the trick.

Think about how you can modify pieces in your closet to fill these needs on your shopping list! For example, I have a
client who does circus classes. When I first met her, she was wearing leggings and tank tops to her classes. She
mentioned that a lot of people in her circus classes had really cool style, and that she wanted to dress more
adventurously as well.

She showed me inspiration images of layered warmup looks for dancers - leggings with leg warmers, long tank tops with
a cropped tight sweater over it, that kind of thing. It was clear that she wanted to play with length.

While we looked through her closet, I found a fitted long sleeve tee, an Under Armour shirt, that she had gotten for free
at a clothing swap and wasn’t wearing. We cropped it to right under her bust, and created a little warmup top she could
wear to class!

Altering your own pieces can be a great way to find hidden value in your closet. Some practical altering advice:
- Alterations vary from $10-$60+ depending on complexity, and you can always get a quote before committing to
doing an alteration. Just call your local tailor and ask, “Hey, I have a dress I’d like to crop into a blouse. How
much do you charge for that kind of thing?” Easy peasy.
- Before altering, think about why you are not wearing a certain piece of clothing, and ask if the alteration will
address that issue. If your pants are itchy, hemming them isn’t going to fix that. If, however, the pants are too
long, hemming will address that issue.
- Also – once you know how much an alt will cost, think about the finished garment and ask yourself, “Would I pay
$20 for that blouse?” What I’m trying to say is, don’t waste your money altering a polyester dress from Forever
21. That ship has sailed, girlfriend.
- Tailors are not judging your body. Seriously. We’re just looking at you, and a lot of us have strong nasolabial
folds because aging is a bitch. Yes, we probably know what your measurements are from looking at you; we
have eyes & it’s our job. Don’t worry about it.
- Pants can be shortened to any length: ankle, capri, knee, mid-thigh, or short shorts. If you are going very short,
be cognizant of where the pockets end. You may have to shorten or remove the pockets to prevent them from
- Shirts can be cropped to any length: hip, low waist, high waist, at or above the bust.
- THE #1 MOST COMMON ALTERATION I do to my own garments and I did on set as a tailor, is slimming the
sleeve of a blouse, sweater, or blazer. It makes vintage pieces look more modern, and it adds a hint of body line
when you have an outfit that needs to be covered up, like for work or for winter.
- Most garments can only be altered 1-2 sizes before you have to introduce big design changes. That doesn’t
mean it’s impossible, it just may be more expensive.
- Blazers should fit the way you want to in the shoulder before you attempt alterations. Messing with shoulders is
expensive and frequently, you won’t love the outcome.
- Blazers again – if the buttons on the cuff are real, you will only be able to change sleeve length from the
shoulder, which is usually $60 and up.

What else can you do to change up a garment? You can add patches, embroidery, or painting to cover a stain or add a
design detail. You don’t need any expertise to try – there are dozens of tutorials online. You can mend a garment with
visible mending techniques or more subtle options. Go wild! If a piece is already stained, you have nothing to lose by
trying. Have fun with it!!

And if your garment is made from natural fibers, it can be dyed! You can try dyeing at home or send a piece out to be
dyed. I encourage you to attempt natural dyeing at home – it’s really fun and you probably have almost everything you
need to get started (typically: water, salt, vinegar, and some food scraps or spices to serve as dye).

Do a google search because there are a lot of people who know more about this than I do, but you can make gorgeous
dyes from yellow onion skins (deep mustard/saffron color), turmeric (bright yellow), red onion skins (muted purply red),
walnuts (brown), avocado pits (soft pink) and many more. There are also swatches online, so you will be able to see how
the fabric your garment is made of will take dye – silk grabs dyes like crazy, and cotton is more muted.

Shop secondhand and vintage

Yessss! There are thrift stores, consignment shops, and vintage popping up everywhere and for every need.

I strongly encourage you to check out thredUP and The RealReal, my two favorite online consignment shops. The user
experience is nearly the same as shopping any other brand online, including allowing returns. thredUP carries hundreds
(thousands?) of brands you are familiar with, at deep discount, in a wide range of sizes, including plus, tall, petite, and
maternity. And also, kids. These sites just make it so much easier if you don’t live close to a thrift store or if you need
something on short notice. thredUP carries everything from Target and Old Navy all the way up to Gucci and Chanel, and
The RealReal focuses on contemporary and designer clothing – pieces you’d find at Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus.

If you are shopping secondhand in person, my tips:

- Bring your shopping list – it’s so easy to get distracted by a fun sequined dress or orange armchair. Remember
what outfit needs you are trying to fulfill!
- Do a quick scan of the whole store, not just the section where the garment you want “should be”. If you are
looking for jeans, breeze through both the women’s and men’s sections, and if you are petite, take a peek at the
kids, too! You never know what you are going to find.
- Be flexible about sizing. Grab anything that looks like it might fit. Different brands fit different ways, and
especially if you are looking in a different department than you usually do, the sizing might be meaningless to
you anyway.
- You might find a treasure, and you might go home empty handed. That’s part of the fun! Sometimes I go in
looking for jeans and end up taking home a dozen mason jars. Sometimes I leave with nothing. It’s just how
thrift stores work.

Take good care of your clothing babies

I’ve read that 40% of the carbon footprint of clothing comes from how you care for it!

Wash clothes on cold and hang dry when possible. Washing cold reduces laundry energy use by 90%, and according to
the EPA, can save you up to $40 a year!! There are exceptions - of course I wash my stanky workout clothes on hot and
tumble dry.

Also – washing cold and hanging dry extends the life of your clothes significantly! Think about all the heat and friction in
a wash cycle – that’s where most of the wear and tear on your clothes comes from!
And speaking of washing, we all do it waaaayyyyyy too much. You don’t need to wash every garment every time you
wear it. I wash the garments that have been close to my body after every wear, but looser clothes and outerwear can
get worn multiple times, until you get schmutz on them or they get funky. Then toss them in that cold wash.

End of life planning

A major part of the carbon footprint of a piece of clothing is actually how we dispose of it. The great news is, many
garments still have value, even when we’re tired of them!

When you are finished with a piece of clothing, you can either:
- Sell it, via an online platform like eBay, Depop, or Poshmark
- Consign online with thredUP or The RealReal, or in person at a store like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, or
Greene Street
- Donate to your local thrift store
- Recycle via Terracycle or an organization like For Days

Selling takes the most effort, but will also yield you the highest return. If you aren’t sure whether a garment is worth it,
do a quick search for similar pieces to see what they are selling for.

If you are doing a big closet cleanout and have a lot of clothes in good condition that need new homes, consigning can
be the answer. You will make less money per garment, but it’s also much less effort – you simply mail in or drop off your
clothes, and you’re done!

Donating is very straightforward. Make sure clothes are clean and repaired before donating.

Recycling is for clothing that is ripped, stained, or worn out, and needs to be taken down to the fibers before something
new can be made. As with every other category, you should always wash clothing before dropping it off or sending it in
to be recycled.

For stylists - How to incorporate sustainability into your styling practice

A number of budding sustainable stylists reach out to me asking about how to incorporate sustainability into their
practice, which I think is amazing!

In the spirit of transparency – I should tell you that when I began, I continued to offer traditional styling services with
conventional brands, as well as sustainable styling. Do what is best for you; at the end of the day, if you can’t pay your
bills, your business isn’t sustainable. For me, it was a gradual shift until I could focus on sustainability full time.

The part that can be tricky about integrating sustainable clothing into your styling practice is that styling is so heavily
based on the buy-and-return model. You need to be able to find secondhand and sustainable options that are available
to you to either borrow, or buy and return.

Many thrift stores do have a return policy, and will allow you to return for either cash or store credit. Depending on the
shop, I don’t mind store credit – you can just use it on your next shopping trip.

If you want to do pulls from your local thrift for clients, reach out and try to develop a relationship with the manager.
Explain what you do and the arrangement you are looking for. Many people outside our industry don’t understand the
mechanics of it, so explain it plainly, like “I would like to borrow 10-15 garments for 4 days at a time. My client is going
to try them on, and decide which ones she wants to purchase. Then I’ll bring the rest back here, tags on and unworn.”
The store may allow a loan or rental, or they may prefer that you buy the items and return what you don’t want.

Notes on working with thrift stores – keep in mind that they aren’t retail shops, they’re usually nonprofits working on a
tight budget. Be respectful and try to come in midweek, during the day, whenever possible. If the store is slammed, that
is not a good time to have a chit chat with the manager.
All that said, there is one valuable opportunity with thrifts: social media. They usually have almost no marketing budget,
but they still need photos and videos for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Consider offering an Instagram takeover,
where you record 2-3 minutes of video of you shopping the store and talking about your project, or upcoming trends.
Give the audience a couple easy tips for shopping thrift!

Online options that offer returns – thredUP has a $2 restocking fee currently, and The RealReal’s is slightly higher. If you
are in NY or LA, The RealReal may allow you to do a pull for a client. Depending on where you live, it may still be
worthwhile to shop these options, even with the restocking fee.

Make your secondhand picks feel high end. No matter where I source garments from, I do my best to give clients a
luxury experience. When they come to my office, I offer them coffee or water, and I stage a pretty rack of the options on
beautiful wood hangers. I mix the designer options with the secondhand options and prep everything the same way.

If you are taking your client shopping in store, add a secondhand or vintage shop to the mix. Go early and pre shop to
make sure there are options that will work for your client. If you think that your client may have apprehensions about
used clothing, only take them if you think you have a slam dunk. Remember to check the measurements of the garments
because vintage sizing can be cruel!! I’m a modern 4 and I wear everything from a 6 to a 14 in vintage clothing.

Think about what motivates your client. Some clients will find the bargain prices of secondhand clothing compelling.
Others will love that the discount gives them access to a higher tier of brand names. Others may appreciate the
construction of a vintage piece. Figure out what they like and draw their attention to that.

Demonstrate value. If nothing else, the savings from a secondhand garment is a compelling reason to hire a stylist, so
make sure you are not only telling your client the price, but also the original retail price! I did a pull for an engagement
shoot, and the bride loved this cream Eileen Fisher sweater I found from thredUP. When I explained that it was $68,
originally $358, all of a sudden, my luxury service seemed like a smart financial decision, too.

Get smart about sustainable brands. Remember how there are two parts to sustainability, the environmental part and
the human part? It’s the same thing when you are looking for a sustainable brand:
1. What is it made of? Check the fabric content. Look for natural fibers that will be biodegradable: organic
cotton, hemp, linen, wool, silk, etc. If no natural fiber option is available, then consider recycled polyester
2. Who made it? Look for keywords on a company’s website like fair trade or fairly compensated, that indicate
that workers are well treated.

You can also check my website ( for ideas – I have several hundred sustainable companies
listed under different categories. If you can’t find something you need, give me a shout at

Good luck and let me know how it goes – leave me a comment on Facebook, Instagram, or my website!

Facebook: Lauren Engelke – Sustainable Stylist

Instagram: @lauren.engelke

Twitter: @lauren_engelke


Hi, I’m Lauren.
I have been an on-set stylist and tailor for the past 5 years. Before that, I was a data analyst in tech, and my job
was to seek out inefficient processes in the company and redesign them. I love being in fashion, but my desire
and ability to streamline, simplify, and improve the ways we do things has never left me.

I developed a love for secondhand shopping in my teens, when I discovered that I could afford the clothes I
wanted on a babysitting budget, if I opted for preloved garments. I continued shopping secondhand into my
twenties, snapping up designer suits for $60 to wear to my first job and diving into the furniture section of the
local thrift when I moved cross country and needed to furnish a new apartment.

After several years tailoring and styling, I began to see the excesses of the fashion industry: the relentless
march of dozens of new styles every season, boxes of chemical laden clothes arriving from the factory to shoot,
and the buy-and-return culture of styling. The world I had so long admired was starting to lose its luster.

On set with a clean beauty brand in NYC in 2018, during a rare quiet moment, I looked at the racks of designer
and fast fashion clothes that we had sourced to fit to the models. Suits were back in fashion, and I couldn’t help
thinking that the chic vintage shops in my neighborhood were probably loaded with suits like these. Could a
stylist actually make it, offering styling with secondhand pieces? I decided to try.

I went home, pulled out a pile of secondhand outfits, and asked a friend to take photos for me. I began posting
my outfits to Instagram and talking about sustainable fashion – and my Instagram began to take off.

My day-to-day has changed dramatically since then. I focus almost entirely on sustainable fashion, and now I
am primarily a blogger and speaker on the topic. I take select personal styling clients, because I love the human
connection that clothing gives us.

I believe that it’s possible to love fashion and love the planet. I believe that buying less and buying better will
not only help the Earth, but will help us all find our best style and live more simply.