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Sustainable Fashion From Wearwell: Shop Eco-Friendly, Conscious Clothes With This Commerce Editor

Discover what it means to shop sustainably.

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As a commerce editor, shopping is my passion. My first recollection of sustainable fashion was when H&M launched the Conscious Collection in 2010. To be honest, I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. I didn’t start buying exclusively from the Conscious line, which toted items made from at least 50% recycled materials. Until recently, I hadn’t given sustainable clothing much thought at all.

That is, until Wearwell came across my desk. The boutique offers sustainable and ethical clothing, accessories, and styling services from their humble space in BOK, the former Bok Vocational High School turned collaborative workspace in South Philadelphia. Co-founded by Erin Houston and Emily Kenney, Wearwell’s mission is to simplify buying sustainable and make it easy for consumers to support brands that make a positive impact on garment workers and the environment.

As a self-described “crunchy” person, Erin said she struggled to find clothing that fit somewhere in-between the proverbial hippie wear and the formal work attire typically found in her former DC office. One “catch up with Emily dinner” later, the duo decided to revolutionize the fashion industry to work better for people and the planet.

In addition to making sustainable fashion more accessible, it seems the duo wants to make it more fun and take away any insecurities or reservations people might have about choosing sustainable clothing. That’s the vibe I got when I visited Emily and Erin for my very own sustainable styling session. They filled me in on what it means to have a sustainable closet and choose sustainable clothing, then they let me try on a bunch of sustainable looks!

What is sustainable fashion?

If you’re like me, you have a very basic understanding of what makes clothing sustainable. If it’s made with recycled materials, it’s sustainable — right? Before we got to styling, I got clarity on that.

Wearwell partners with brands that have a positive impact on the environment and workers’ rights. In other words, these brands create clothing that has a positive environmental impact.

This can include brands that design with organic materials or use deadstock fabrics (leftover fabric that gets tossed because there’s not enough to create more of a particular garment), zero waste processes, carbon neutral factories, non-toxic and natural dyes, circular or low water use, and salvaged or upcycled materials.

When it comes to workers’ rights, Wearwell considers brands that offer a fair and/or living wage or provide a safe and secure work environment for their employees. Similarly, they choose to work with brands who might allow their employees the right to unionize, provide access to healthcare, or offer additional supports like education, microloans, or health services for employees and/or their children.

How to start a sustainable wardrobe

Once Emily and Erin provided a better understanding of what makes a brand sustainable, my mind turned to transforming my own wardrobe into a more sustainable one. If you’re thinking that’s a mountainous feat, that’s because it is — one Emily and Erin advised me not to tackle all at once. Instead, take things one step at a time.

Step 1: Start Small

First and foremost, don’t expect to be perfect right away. You can’t wake up and create an entirely sustainable closet. After all, tossing everything you have isn’t a very sustainable choice, nor is donating it (necessarily, which is what I’ve typically done with unwanted clothes).

Instead, the Wearwell stylists suggest picking one impact area regarding sustainability and educating yourself on it. For instance, focus on the materials your clothing is made of and start making sustainable choices that way. Or look for brands that prioritize workers’ rights and start making sustainable choices based on those qualities. You can even focus on the environmental impacts the textiles you wear have and start opting for organic cotton instead of traditional cotton.

There are so many ways to start building a sustainable catalog of clothing. “So much of it is habit breaking,” Emily says. Instead of diving in head first, Emily suggests finding a sustainable piece of clothing that excites you. From there, explore that brand a bit more — are there other pieces that speak to your fashion sense? What retailers are offering these brands? Do they have more sustainable brands that interest you?

Once that first domino falls, making sustainable choices becomes like a new, better habit.

Step 2: Shop Your Closet

Another easy step you can take to start creating a sustainable closet is to go through what you already own. Yes, that means pulling everything out of your drawers and closets and trying it all on. Put back what you love and find sustainable ways to donate the clothing you don’t want. Companies like The RealReal and ThreadUP will buy clothing from you in most cases, but Emily and Erin suggest finding ways to donate your gently used clothing locally because that’s usually the more sustainable way to go.

Step 3: Buy What You Need (Sustainably)

Once you’ve taken an inventory of what you own, make a note of what you want and/or need. Then, start the search for that item with a focus on the sustainable area of your choice!

Step 4: Give Yourself Grace

Remember that creating a fully-sustainable closet won’t happen over night — another golden piece of advice from the Wearwell duo. As Emily told me during my visit, it’s important to give yourself grace. Have patience and know that even one small step can make a positive impact!

Editor’s Picks From Wearwell

Shop the looks seen in the picture above plus some of my other favorites the team at Wearwell pulled for me during my visit.

Alexis Twill Trousers

Sustainable Pants from People Tree

Buy from Wearwell, $147

What I Love About Them

  • Pairs well with tops Erin and Emily pulled for me, but also things I already own like the shirt and shoes I wore to our meeting
  • Hugs my body in all the right places to accentuate curves
  • Tapered ankle will play well with a multitude of shoes

Kenzie Top

Sustainable Tank from People Tree

Buy from Wearwell, $44

What I Love About It

  • The color! A stunning yellow that speaks to my heart
  • The versatility — the back is super playful (I would wear this throughout the summer), but this top plays well with layering, too

Sierra Flannel Shirt

Sustainable Button-Up from Outerknown

Buy from Wearwell, $88

What I Love About It

  • Can be worn as a layered look or buttoned up and tucked in to pants and skirts
  • Oversized enough but without all the extra length
  • 100% organic cotton that’s super soft!

Astral Blouse

Sustainable Blouse from Outerknown

Buy from Wearwell, $78

What I Love About It

  • The puffed sleeves are puffy but not too puffy (which my wide shoulders appreciated!)
  • The print — so fun and playful!
  • The tie can be worn in the front or the back

Eve Top

Sustainable Top from Mata Traders

Buy from Wearwell, $76

What I Love About It

  • Again, the print — so fun!
  • The mock turtleneck and longer sleeve give this top a sophisticated look
  • The blend of organic cotton and spandex give this shirt plenty of movement

Val Mini Skirt

Sustainable Skirt from Mata Traders

Buy from Wearwell, $78

What I Love About It

  • Super lightweight material
  • Elastic at the back that make it comfortable and easy to put on/take off
  • Hand-applied block print!

Mila Tee

Sustainable T-Shirt from Elegantees

Buy from Wearwell, $37

What I Love About It

  • Can be worn tucked in (pictured above on me) or untucked (pictured here)
  • The square neckline is super-sleek and chic!
  • You can’t go wrong with a modern take on a classic white tee

Joni Classic Shirt

Sustainable Button-Down Shirt from Etica

Buy from Wearwell, $128

What I Love About It

  • Can be worn as a shirt or layered over something else (as pictured above on me with the Mila Tee)
  • The softest blend of lyocell and linen — my new favorite

Adelaide Tiered Mini Dress

Sustainable Mini Dress from Mata Traders

Buy from Wearwell, $70

What I Love About It

  • I was admittedly worried about the baby doll cut of this dress, but it fell better than I expected and I was so happy with the way it looked!
  • This picture doesn’t do it justice, but the colors on this dress are stunningly vibrant and perfect for a beach trip
  • The fabric was lightweight and flowy

Emerson Striped Trousers

Sustainable Trousers from People Tree

Buy from Wearwell, $180

What I Love About Them

  • Looks great with cropped shirts and tucked in tops alike
  • Plays well with all kinds of shoes from flats to sneakers and booties

Carmen Mockneck Top

Sustainable Mockneck Top from People Tree

Buy from Wearwell, $66

What I Love About It

  • Did I mention my obsession with mocknecks?
  • The pattern on this top (Burgundy Floral Print) is playful but sophisticated and can be dressed up or down
  • The organic cotton makes this shirt perfect for layering or wearing alone

Marley Cardigan

Sustainable Cardigan from People Tree

Buy from Wearwell, $120

What I Love About It

  • This cardigan goes well with items I already own (everything else I’m wearing is mine!)
  • It can be layered as seen here or button up and worn as a top tucked into skirts, jeans, pants, and more
  • The color — earth tones for life

Sustainable Fashion Brands: Where to find sustainable clothing online

Wearwell is partnered with around 50 sustainable brands that offer clothing, accessories, and home goods to an array of women from millennials to older women. In addition to Wearwell and the brands they offer, here are a few other sustainable retailers offering fashion for women:

Styling as a Service: Get sustainable clothing advice from Wearwell

In addition to their online store and brick-and-mortar shop, Wearwell also offers styling as a service! This chat-based platform allows shoppers to get fashion advice from Wearwell’s team of experts. Whether you’re pregnant or nursing and looking for sustainable options, heading back to the office and don’t know what to wear, or budget-friendly sustainable options, Wearwell’s team can help.

Their team of stylists — who are real humans, not chatbots — will reply with answers about items you may be interested in, suggestions for what to add to your wardrobe, pairing ideas for various pieces, or outfits for a certain occasion. It’s a fully tailored personalized shopping experience depending on what the customer is looking for and part of their mission to make it more accessible for everyone to build a sustainable wardrobe. 

If you’re in the area, you can also pay Emily and Erin a visit at 1901 S 9th Street in Philadelphia, PA. They often host events in-store; pay attention to their social media for the latest!

What’s more, Wearwell is offering that same styling service for brands looking to create a personalized shopping experience for their customers.

What will Wearwell do next?

To learn more about sustainability, keep reading!

5 Sustainable Brands For More Conscious Consumption

7 Tips For Sustainable Gardening

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