What is a capsule wardrobe? And how to create a capsule wardrobe with sustainable brands.

What is a capsule wardrobe? And how to create a capsule wardrobe with sustainable brands.

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In an industry that promotes new and disposable styles daily, having a capsule wardrobe with interchangeable pieces that can be worn creatively for every occasion saves money and time. A capsule wardrobe is a sustainable option because you create more looks with fewer, high-quality pieces, meaning you get lots of wear out of your clothes. 

It also means your clothes don’t end up in a landfill after barely having been worn. 

Why is a Capsule Wardrobe Sustainable? 

Why choose a Capsule Wardrobe

Overconsumption is rampant in our time. From industry veterans like Forever21 to newer fast fashion alternatives like Shein or Cider, fast fashion companies, and fashion industry marketing keep playing with our desire for newness and change to get us to think that having rooms filled with clothes will make us better dressed.

This feeds on the feeling that if we don’t have it in our closets we are missing out. We ask ourselves ‘what if I get invited to a party and I don’t have that on-trend bejeweled mesh top to go with?’ So we buy more items we do not need, discarding them soon after. 

When we buy mindlessly like this, we use up natural resources that come mainly from the global south and emit a huge carbon footprint. We end up using land and water that could have been used for food security, for example; or deforesting natural reserves that are the world’s carbon captures, like the Amazon. And when we then throw away said impulse purchases, we put them in a landfill where they produce more greenhouse gas emissions.  

Having a more distilled closet on the other hand is coherent with what was found on the Hot2Cool report. They found that to keep within planetary and social boundaries, we should only buy 5 new clothing items per person per year. 

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

One way of achieving said distilled closet is by choosing 10, 20, or 37 timeless, long-lasting pieces that go with everything else and can be dressed up or down, depending on where you are off to. This is the capsule wardrobe. 

The concept of a  capsule wardrobe has been around since approximately the 1940s. It was popularised again by Susie Faux, with her boutique Wardrobe, where she curated minimalist designers like Jill Sander and styled women in a way that meant having quality clothing to go with their working women’s lifestyle. 

After that, in 1985, Donna Karan launched her capsule collection “7 Easy Pieces” with the idea that women could dress without complications and accomplish everything. It included wrap skirts, a white shirt, a tailored jacket, and something made from leather. 

capsule wardrobe history_Photo from Donna Karan’s Runway Show
Photo from Donna Karan’s Runway Show 

What are the benefits of having a capsule wardrobe? 

environmental benefits_photo of hiker outside

Less decision fatigue

Having a capsule wardrobe will mean less decision fatigue since you will have fewer things hanging in your closet that you know for sure you like and can mix and match. Getting dressed never looked easier. 

Quality over quantity

Your items will last longer because you have made sure to invest in quality over quantity. A capsule wardrobe will therefore give you a more polished look and more confidence.

Cutting down costs 

Even though buying a quality blazer, leather jacket or a pair of sleek pants may cost more upfront, knowing that you will wear your capsule wardrobe pieces for a long time will break down the cost in months or even years in the case of a good outerwear piece. Not to mention not giving in to impulse buying will also save you from breaking the bank. 

Reduced environmental impact and waste 

As we established, having a few pieces that can maximize the number of looks you can get is not only a win for you, it is a win for the environment. Knowing yourself, and honing your personal style in fewer pieces means there will be less demand for newly made cheap clothing. 

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe Mindfully

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe

Creating a sustainable capsule wardrobe doesn’t have to be hard, here we walk you through the process so that you too can simplify your life and your closet while doing good.

Start a capsule wardrobe step-by-step process

  • First, look at what you already own. See what you wear the most and start with that. Remember, the most sustainable option is always what is already in your closet.
  • Notice some pieces don’t fit, can’t be tailored or you truly don’t wear anymore? Consider giving them to a friend, a local trusted charity that is traceable (otherwise they will end up in a landfill in the global south) or recycle them with companies like SuperCycle. If you are creative, making an upcycling project from these pieces could be a rewarding experience.
  • Take some time to develop your style. Whether you are more casual than elegant, or more outdoorsy than boho, this will factor into the types of items you end up with in your closet.
  • Think about your lifestyle. Do you go on date nights once a week but hike every day? Or do you work from home and have client meetings twice a week? Knowing the possible occasion you’ll be dressing for can help you choose the types of things you’ll need.
  • Choose a color palette. Some people recommend neutral colors for capsule wardrobes. And even though you can have some staple pieces like a white bottom down you don’t need everything to be white, blue, black, or beige. Your palette can be more earth tones, berries, or rainbow, and have silhouettes be what’s more streamlined.
  • Make a checklist to see what you are left with and what you are missing. Most stylists recommend classifying it in tops, bottoms, dresses, skirts, shoes, and sneakers. Most of them include denim as a separate category and make seasonal-specific garments another.

A Ten Piece Sustainable Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe for Women

  1. A pair of lofty low jeans from Nudie Jeans will stand the test of time since they are not too tight or loose. They are made with organic cotton, for an extra feel-good factor.
ethical brand nudie jeans
  1. When you require something more elegant, the Jane Straight Fit is a no brainer for dressier pants that will make you look sharp. 
ethical brand frank and oak
  1. Pair it up with a modern take on the usual button-down with a boyfriend oversized fit from Ministry of Supply. It is perfect for a day at work or a friend’s dinner. 
capsule wardrobe brand ministry of supply
  1. You can never go wrong with the 60% Hemp & 40% Organic Cotton T-Shirt from AlterX. Pair it with jeans and a leather jacket and you are ready to hit the road. 
ethical brand alterX Co
  1. The original crew neck cashmere sweater from NAADAM is the perfect crew neck to go on its own, layer over a dress, and wear with a vest or jacket for chilly days. For a pullover crewneck to layer with turtlenecks or a button-down, you can go with the 100% Egyptian cotton crew neck from KOTN or the Unisex SoftWool from NAADAM.
sweater brand naadam
ethical brand kotn
  1. If you want to mix it up, wear the sweater over a dress like this one from Toad&Co for fall, or wear it on its own in the summer. For a colorful alternative option try this dress from Pact.
black dress for capsule wardrobe by Toad&Co
  1. To keep from the cold and pull the whole outfit together, the long puffer from Culthread is the perfect match, alongside their more lightweight leather jacket.
vegan jacket by culthread
  1. It is always good to have at least a casual and sharp option for shoes. Like an everyday Chelsea boot by Nisolo and a pair of white sneakers from Thousand Fell.  
shoes by nisolo
  1. Instead of investing in a trendy handbag, get a tote bag from Parker Clay where all your essentials can fit.
bag by parker clay
  1. Wear a pair of Astor and Orion Crescent hoops to accessorize.
earrings by astor and orion

For a ten-piece capsule wardrobe for men, check out our guide.

What should I consider if I want to create a capsule wardrobe sustainably? 

  • Go to your favorite thrift stores. Secondhand, when it is made with natural fabrics and a sturdy construction, is always a good idea.
  • If there are garments you do have to buy new, to make your purchase sustainable ask these questions about the brands before buying (or just use our easy to use brand guide):
  1. Are they transparent? Do they show you on their website where their products are made? Or where do they source their fabrics?
  2. Materials and process. What is the materials’ water usage? Is it made using toxic chemicals? Is it made mainly with virgin petroleum-based fabrics?
  3. Is it made to last both in construction and materials? Is it easy to care for and repair?
  4. Business model and take-back programs. Does the brand recycle its clothing? Does it use a made-to-order model? Is it BIPOC owned?
  5. Are their suppliers and employees treated and paid fairly?
  6. Do they contribute to developing the community in any way?

If digging into the brands on your own seems daunting, don’t worry, we have your back. We have curated a list of sustainable fashion for your capsule wardrobe below. 

Sustainable and ethical accessories for a perfect capsule wardrobe

Sustainable accessories for a capsule wardrobe

To enhance the versatility of your capsule wardrobe or add a touch of playfulness and newness, here are some things to keep in mind when getting sustainable accessories.

Sustainable jewellery 

3D-printed accessories, like the ones made by Astor & Orion, create no additional waste or use of resources.  Recycled, ethically mined, or lab-made minerals mean your rings or earrings are less impactful to our land, use less virgin materials, or don’t contribute to conflicts abroad. Who made them and how they are treated is also crucial. 

Sustainable bags, backpacks, or wallets 

If you are set on leather, look for recycled or regenerative leather, brands that can ensure no deforestation or at the very least, sustainable tanning processes like vegetable tanning or certified by the Leather Working Group. Leather bags, backpacks, or wallets made from quality leather will for sure last you a lifetime. 

Brands that do so include KOIO, Parker Clay, and Nisolo. If you are looking for vegan fabric options there are some made from recycled fabrics and some plant-based options like Mirum or Culthread.

Maintaining your sustainable capsule wardrobe

In order to maintain your capsule wardrobe you should set up a schedule to assess it, and see if the pieces still fit your style and needs. 

Learn about the proper care for each material, responsible brands usually have care instructions or how-to’s. For example, KOTN has a care guide on their website for cotton clothing which includes avoiding bleach on stains and washing with cold water. Air drying is less abrasive on your clothes as well as the environment. 

Another important thing to keep your clothes fresh is checking for any minor repairs, fit issues and adjustments. Take the pieces to your local craftsman or better yet, take a course on mending and join a local mending club. 

Store away seasonal items in containers that keep away moisture and mold, and protect your clothes from the elements. 

Ethical and Sustainable brands to build your capsule wardrobe 

Transform your look with ethical fashion brands curated in our Ethical Brand Directory at Eco-Stylist! We rate them based on their transparency, fair labor, and sustainability. We also look at how trustworthy they are and whether they are inspiring us to create a more regenerative fashion industry.

Whether you’re looking to spruce up your wardrobe or totally rebuild it, we make it easy to dive into responsible style. Below you’ll find a selection of brands that can provide you with the pieces that will assist you in forming an eco-friendly and socially responsible capsule wardrobe.

Want more help building a capsule wardrobe?

Try our sustainable personal shopping subscription. We can help you build the capsule wardrobe of your dreams.


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