Closet Detox Challenge

Whether it’s because you’re concerned about the amount of unnecessary toxins we’re exposed to everyday, you’re worried about the environmental impact of the clothing industry or its dubious human rights track record, you’ve decided to take the Closet Detox Challenge.

Congratulations! Here is where you can take your first steps towards making a difference with the way you dress. Use this handy chart to help you take your detox journey, and check out all the explanations of each step below:

Closet Detox Challenge

Step One: 

You can start the Closet Detox Challenge at any time, whether it’s time to switch your closet over for winter or summer, spring cleaning, the new year or simply a free weekend.

Start by taking inventory of everything currently in your closet. This includes garments, accessories, jewelry, outerwear, active wear, lingerie and shoes. Separate everything into two sections: items that you put in the washing machine (or send to the dryer cleaner’s) on a regular basis, and items that you take care of by hand (including shoes, bags, jewelry and other accessories).

For the fabric items that you clean on a regular basis, separate out any synthetics. This includes any synthetic/natural fibre blends, such as poly/cottons. Take a step back and look at what you have. This is the physical representation of the toxins in your closet. Just like polymers found in beauty products, polyester has been linked to endocrine disruption.

I can’t be alone in wondering why fast fashion pieces smell so bad that they need to be covered up in perfume, or wonder what ever happened to the health scare connected to bras made of synthetic fabrics that contained toxins. And the health risks are not the only reason to eschew synthetics: their production pollutes land and water supplies and can poison textile workers.

Separate everything into two sections: items that you put in the washing machine and items that you take care of by hand.Click To Tweet

But unlike the beauty industry, not much research has been done on fashion’s link to toxin-related illnesses. For now, it’s best to err on the side of caution. In order to Feel Good, it’s important to eliminate synthetics from your closet immediately or over time.

Step Two:

Next, look at the pieces from your closet that you wash on a regular basis are made from natural fabrics. Separate out any that are animal byproducts: silk, wool, or fur.

It’s likely that what’s left — clothes made from exclusively plant fibres — is primarily denim or other cotton. But if you have any linen, bamboo, hemp, or jute, take a look at those as well.

These fabrics are prizes by the ecochic community because of their sustainabilitythey take less energy and resources to produce. Especially where organically grown, including plant fibres in your wardrobe can help you to Wear Good.

On the other hand, there’s fashion items made from animal by-products. In wintery climates like Canada (where I live), eliminating synthetics and all animal by-products is a tall order. Fur is easy to go without, but wool is a little more tricky. Look for ethically produced goods like those from cruelty-free Alpaca, cotton yarn, bamboo wool, or cruelty-free or recycled wool.

Step Three:

Now take a look at your clothes’ labels. Sure, not all Made in USA labels are the same, and just because a garment was produced in a region with questionable labour laws doesn’t mean that it involved forceable labour. The key here is to look for transparency whenever possible. Many brands that produce garments using forced or child labour won’t want that information to come to light.

Not sure where to start? Check out third party research. Websites like Project Just, Rank A Brand, KnowtheChain, and Ethical Consumer will help you to understand each brand’s ethics and how they line up with yours. And when in doubt, try to support local makers. That way, your closet will be an expression of your identity including your ethics, and will help you to Do Good.   

Third party sites can help you to understand each brand's ethics and how they line up with yours.Click To Tweet

Step Four:

Remember how you separated accessories such as bags and shoes — items that don’t go through the washer and dryer (or the dry cleaner’s) on a regular basis or at all? Chances are that you’ve got some leather or vegan leather in your collection.

Detoxing your closet from all things leather is not only for the vegans out there — the production of this fashionable material is also environmentally devastating. Luckily, there’s recently been a push for sustainable alternatives that has resulted in alternatives such as pineapple and fermented tea leathers.

But what about traditional faux leather? These are polymer-based (AKA petroleum-based) alternatives that are not much better for the environmental than their natural counterparts. One of the biggest problems associated with plastics in clothing is the way that they shed when we put them through our washing machines. Microplastics find their way from our plumbing to the oceans, causing massive ecological consequences.

If you do own plastic-based shoes or bags that you wipe down instead of machine wash, I wouldn’t worry about those items too much. Plant-based leather alternatives may be on the horizon, but it will still be some time before you’ll find them at your local mall.

Step Five:

Now that you’ve taken stock of your closet, you’ll want to detox it of the baddies! Use the chart to help you organize what’s going out, and what’s staying in.

What’s Going Out

Taking any piece that ‘doesn’t give you joy’ in the moment, bagging it up, and taking it to your nearest thrift shop isn’t a robust way to detox. The toxins and environmental impact will be out of your closet, but they’ll still be issues whose consequences could effect your health & well-being.

Taking any piece that 'doesn't give you joy' to your nearest thrift shop isn't the way to detox. Click To Tweet

Instead, I like to try a couple different tactics. The first one is to Donate Wisely. Formal wear can be donated to make a younger person’s prom night special, and professional and business attire can help someone find work and interview ensembles. Local women’s shelters are always in need and even fur can be donated to causes that rescue fur babies.

Another option is to start a clothing archive. I’ve been through the closet binge-and-purge cycle many times before, and more than once I’ve regretted my flighty ways and slavery to trends. Certain pieces of clothing are so special: they are attached to memories, they make you feel like your best self. Why throw that all away?

If you have a piece that you need to detox from but can’t bear to part with it, why do it? I don’t want to promote packrattery, but I’ve experienced regret over hasty donations one too many times.

Just make sure that those treasures can be passed down to a child or niece or nephew by properly storing them.

What’s Staying In

Now that you’ve taken stock of your closet and fully detoxed it, be sure to keep the momentum of your detox by taking note of what you’ll buy (and won’t buy) in the future:

  • Whether selling or buying, resale is always a great option. Whether it’s consignment, vintage, thrift shops or buy & sell apps like Depop, resale goes a long way to relieving the environmental burden of the fashion industry.
  • Look for natural, plant-based fabrics and conscious alternatives to your favourites brands. As mentioned, sites such as Project Just and apps like Good On You can help you identify these alternatives.
  • Check out Local Makers. Etsy is a seriously powerful tool for finding cool duds from fashion designers and seamstresses in your country, and because they’re small it’s easy to ask them questions about their materials and get someone completely custom-made for you.
  • By considering your consumption, you’ll be helping to reduce textile waste and the demand for toxic fabrics.

Is eliminating all synthetic fabrics from your closet unrealistic? You bet it is! The Closet Detox Challenge is not only a commitment, but an ongoing journey. It’s not about sacrificing style or glamour, but about careful consumption that helps to push the fashion industry towards positive health, environmental, and social outcomes. And above all, remember that new innovations and information are made available all the time and so the challenge is not about perfection, but progress.

Closet Detox

Now that you’ve completed the challenge, check out some more info & resources:

Have you taken the Closet Detox Challenge? Let me know how it went for you in the comments below!