How to Eco-Grade Your Wardrobe & Packing List

How to Eco Grade Your Wardrobe

One way to be a little more conscious? Grade the items you bring with you on your next trip or vacation!

Okay, okay, I know 99% of you read that title and were like, “Grade what? How? Why?” And then once you read what I mean, you’re going to follow that with, “Dude, I’m just trying to pack my shit up for vacation. I’m not trying to grade myself!” Which, fine, valid! Feel free to skip this and find another post here that’s more helpful.

However if you are interested in being more conscious of what goes into your suitcase, then I hope you’ll enjoy this little guide on eco-grading your packing list and, by extension, your wardrobe.

What I Mean When I Say Eco-Grade

So this whole concept for eco-grading, I came up on my own. But knowing my crappy memory and how much online reading I consume in a day, I probably read about this concept somewhere once upon a time and have forgotten my sources. If this sounds familiar, please leave links below and I’ll happily amend this section!

Basically, what I’ve been doing is eco-grading my clothes and anything I own really. I don’t have a points system, per se, but I just think of each thing I own and what I’d rate it in my sustainability efforts. Kind of like when you break down your credit score.

I mainly do this with my packing because most of the time I’m living out of suitcase and the items I think about the most are what I’m dragging with me to the other side of the world. However, you can really apply this to you closet in general, not just what you put in your luggage for your next vacation!

Grading Breakdown

Here are the different categories I take into consideration when I think of an item in my wardrobe and what it takes to get an A. This is just my perspective; you can cut out, add in, or readjust any section so that it works better for you.

Point of Purchase

The most important aspect to an article of clothing is, of course, where I bought it. I mean, we kind of know what deserves an A and what deserves an F, but here’s a stupidly detailed explanation:

A: Secondhand

By far the best situation. Secondhand is both budget-friendly and good for the environment. You’re not adding to the fast fashion demand by buying from Goodwill! My absolute favorite jean skirt is technically from Gap, but I got it at a Portland Goodwill for a whopping $6.00 USD. None of my money went to Gap, which means I did not add to their production demand.

B: A Brand that Covers 4 Main Factors

  1. Sustainably made
  2. Ethically made
  3. Uses environmentally-friendly fabrics
  4. Body positive

Okay, so let me break this down more because I feel like often the first three both overlap a bit and are often lumped together. Here’s what I mean:

Sustainably Made

The brand employs slow fashion models with the intent of creating pieces that are meant to last years and years. It is also made as locally as possible to you, so, of course, a brand may do better in this category to someone in Australia vs. someone in the US. Do you know how much damage it is to ship across the world?

Ethically Made

Who makes these products? Is the brand fully transparent with the factories they use and where they use them? Do they treat their employees right? Do they focus on diverse employment? Do they fire everyone who forms a union and then blame it on a pandemic?

This also depends on you. For example, I feel like if you’re selling to a US audience at higher US prices, you should be paying your workers, no matter where they are, the same thing you’d pay a US factory worker. I know this hardly ever happens, which is why I really love when I see companies that are entirely made in the US.

Seems kind of wrong for your factory worker to earn in one month what you sell your yoga leggings for. Isn’t that right, Lululemon?

Environmentally-Friendly Fabrics

Basically not fresh polyester.

If you buy from a company that utilizes recycled or eco-friendly material, that’s amazing! The fact that girlfriend collective can breakdown plastic to make such quality yoga leggings is incredible and makes me love them even more. Other fabrics I can think of are tencel, econyl, silk, organic cotton, linen, and hemp.

I know rayon and viscose are sometimes eco-friendly, but I think often it’s difficult to make sure the process is done sustainably and I find both materials are not particularly good quality no matter the company.

For a brand to get this factor, they have to only work in environmentally friendly fabrics. They can’t just have a one-off organic collection that’s maybe 5% of the store inventory.

Body positive

When I say I’ve been every size in the book! Maybe I don’t know the world of 00s and XS, but I’ve been as tiny as a size 4 (ah the days of swimming and ab workouts with my hot coach) and as large as an 18 (dose of depression, seasonal depression, and no self control around food), I know the painful reality of not being able to find your size. I’m pretty sure Brandy Melville would have broken me as a fourteen-year-old.

Anyway, I think it’s super encouraging when a brand is able to be inclusive in both their sizing and who they use as their models. When I look on a website’s shop section, I want to see women of all shapes, sizes, skin colors, ethnicities, abilities, and more! Not to fangirl over girlfriend again, but they absolutely nail this.

C: They have 2 to 3 of these factors

Most brands, even the uber sustainable ones, usually fall into this grade level. Ever notice many, many slow fashion and sustainable brands work with very thin, wispy models? It’s definitely a thing and I don’t know that that message is overall great if you’re trying to change the fashion industry.

I remember falling in love with a slow fashion company that was making silk slips but they only went up to a size L. When I messaged them about expanding their sizes, I got a very blithe “Nope!” Kinda soured the brand for me. I mean, at least pretend you’re trying?

D: They have 1 of these factors

One is better than none?

F: They have 0 of these factors

H&M would rate a total F. Despite having their “organic” line, they have a slew of issues of their sizing, their production, their cheap fabrics, and their many brushes with ethical issues (uh, remember the monkey fiasco?!).

This yellow dress is such a mainstay!

Fit

A: Fits perfectly and is easy to alter

Pretty much every dress I own! I can just throw them on and know they fit nicely and should I gain or lose weight, I can alter them easily to adjust.

C: Fits okay but can be a bit tricky

You know those trendy square length tops are? I think they’re so cute, and I even have one or two. My question is: how do you wear them?! Is everyone really just going around wearing strapless bras all the time? How? Why?! There are a few pieces I have and love, but I do need to think about what I wear with them when I do. This usually means going strapless or attempting braless, which isn’t always the most comfortable.

F: Fits so poorly I wonder why I bought it (or it shrinks!)

Target! H&M! Why do you do this to me? I have a few dresses or jumpsuits that I loved from both these places and slowly they just shrunk up! This navy rayon jumpsuit I still do have from Target got really short all of a sudden, and I thought I was going crazy until I saw a dressing room selfie I took to ask my friends if it was cute. Literally went from a regularly length pant to cropped in a matter of a few wears! Can you tell I have a deep mistrust of rayon?

Quality of Material

A: High Quality and Uses Recycled or Eco-Friendly Fabric

The absolute best scenario when buying new is buying from a company that uses recycled, eco-friendly, and/or organic fabrics. I won’t rehash it here, but you can just reread the fabric section under “Point of Purchase.”

C: At least Good Quality and Uses Natural Fabric

Think Old Navy. Old Navy is definitely fast fashion, but I’d put it at a higher level than H&M or Forever 21. Most of my clothes are made from natural fibers, usually cotton or linen, and the quality is much, much better. Many people I know have commented on how some of their ON stuff has lasted them much longer than they though, especially their workout section.

D: Quality at Least Lasts

Honestly, I have some dodgy shirts from H&M that have somehow lasted a few years. They’re not in perfect condition, but they’re good enough that I bring them with me on trips and can still wear them.

F: Poor Quality, Poor Craftsmanship, and Poor Fabric Choice

99% of everything I’ve ever brought at Target, Forever 21, and H&M. Don’t even get me started on the old stuff from Charlotte Russe!

Phap vien Minh Dang Quang, Buddhist Temple, HCMC, Vietnam
Have worn this dress in Italy, Morocco, at a wedding, in Korea, Vietnam… so many places and occasions!

Versatility

A: Goes with a lot and can wear almost always

Think a simple black dress that goes with everything. You can put it on with sandals to go out sightseeing for the day but also add some heels and jewelry for a nicer dinner out. Depending on the type of wedding you go to, you might even be able to swing it there!

C: Probably can wear multiple times a year at least

Any item of clothing that you know you can wear quite a few times a year but isn’t something you reach for each month constantly. If you’re being really strict, you could put seasonal clothes in this category, but I’m thinking more of things like nicer tops, heels, or fussier dresses.

F: Can only wear in certain situations

Anything you buy to wear for certain occasions. Think dresses for weddings, prom dresses, etc. In an ideal world, anything you buy, you can repurpose for other things. I made sure the bridesmaid dress I bought, I’d be able to dye and cut short into a nice cocktail dress for later!

Length of Ownership

You know how on your credit score, you can only improve with time? Like you can’t speed up getting a better score when the top level is “open line of credit for 25+ years.” You just gotta wait it out. That’s like what this section is!

A: 10+ Years

Isn’t it kind of crazy to think of owning something for 10+ years? That’s fast fashion for ya! I’m not sure if I’ve even owned any article of clothing for that long. Jewelry, purses, and even some shoes maybe? But not anything I wear regularly.

I did just rediscover a gold cross necklace my mom gave me when I was 13, so I guess that’s lasted for 14 years now! Speaking of my mom, I know for a fact she’s had some of her “festive” (because she is offended at “ugly”) Christmas sweaters for at least as long as I’ve been alive, so…

B: 5 to 10 Years

Should be looking good for the long haul. I have a few pieces about to enter this phase and some purses/jewelry already here.

C: 3 to 5 Years

Doing better than most!

D: 1 to 3 Years

This is when garments really are put to the test. If it’s made it through the year, it’s at least better than most fast fashion clothes. However, I feel like these years really separate the cheaper fabrics from the nicer ones.

F: Under 1 Year

The curse of fast fashion: cute clothes that don’t make it past a year. They start to shrink; the threads start to come undone… with polyester items, it’s always that run that starts and ruins the whole dress.

Grading Examples

Now some examples, so you can see what I mean when I run through this in my head.

This Red Linen Dress

  • Point of Purchase: C
  • Fit: C
  • Quality of Material: A
  • Versatility: A
  • Length of Ownership: F

Kind of surprising it comes from one of the most popular sustainable brands out there, huh? This Reformation dress actually doesn’t fair that well when it comes to my eco-grading. For one, Reformation has some, uh, racism issues that certainly do not earn it any ethical points. I also have issues with its use of fabrics like rayon. They do get points in body positivity and sustainability though.

Additionally, this dress didn’t fit perfectly. It’s cut very stiffly across the top, so I actually had to alter it to fit around my boobs better. If you compare to my yellow dress above, they’re very similar cuts but the yellow one is actually designed for, you know, breasts. It is 100% linen and is such a nice dress to throw on, so it does score an A in both those categories. I’ve only owned it for a year and worn it a handful of times, though, so we’ll have to see if that F turns into a better grade down the line!

Gamcheon Culture Village

This White Top

  • Point of Purchase: F
  • Fit: A
  • Quality of Material: D
  • Versatility: A
  • Length of Ownership: C

This shirt was one of those very random purchases from H&M probably sometime during my last year teaching in Namwon. I’m actually shocked it’s lasted so long and become such a favorite because on paper it shouldn’t. Flimsy H&M viscose crop top in white? How has this not gotten stained or fallen apart?! And yet, it’s lasted me around 4 years and is currently in Vietnam with me. It’s one of my most flattering shirts and is insanely easy to just throw on with nearly all my pants, shirts, and skirts.

My only issue with it at the moment is that the elastic has stretched a bit, so I need to go in and replace it, but not too bad for a shirt that’s been worth at least multiple times a month in warm weather since purchased!

As you can see my wardrobe will hardly ever rank as 100%, but I’m hoping over time it gets as close as possible! Any purchases I make these days, I really think about the brand, the fabric, and everything before buying. I know this all sounds super excessive, so feel free to pick and choose parts that make more sense to you than others! Any steps we take to being more conscious about our clothing choices is a step in the right direction in my book.

How about you? Would you eco-grade your closet and suitcase? What’s your best purchase? Let me know!

For more of my conscious travel advice, check out these posts:

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2 Comments

  1. June 21, 2020 / 7:32 am

    Wow I love this concept! I’m already thinking through a couple of clothing items I own and how they would be graded. I consider all these things when buying clothes, but have never put an actual value on them. This makes it so much clearer and easier!

    • Samantha
      Author
      June 21, 2020 / 11:47 am

      Hi! Thank you! I’m excited to try it out more and more too! Now that I’ve written it down, it’s more organized in my head so I can be more critical when looking at my clothes.

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