Let’s get real about fashion’s impact on our environment: studies have shown that the fashion industry is the second-largest contributor of pollution on the planet, and yet fast fashion sales have grown by 20% over the past three years. If we truly care about sustainability beyond a surface-level cultural fascination, we need to not only think about our own consumption habits, especially within fashion, but we need to properly maintain the items we already know & love. The following tips & advice are just a few of the ways how to sustainably take care of your wardrobe.
In The Laundry Room
According to Tree Hugger, between 75 to 80% of our clothing’s lifecycle impact comes from washing & drying. Outside of investing in a more energy-efficient washer & dryer or handwashing each item, there are some high-impact ways to make immediate changes.
One of the most immediate ways to make a change is to wash your clothes in cold water. EPA statistics suggest that you can use up to 90% less energy just by eliminating hot water heating. Moving onto drying, over-drying your clothes is one of the most damaging things you can do. It can shrink your pieces over time and warp the elastic, ultimately undermining the durability of the fabrics. Try hanging your clothes to dry instead, either outside on a line or inside on a drying rack.
The next time you’re shopping for laundry detergent, opt for concentrated formulas. The more loads per bottle, the fewer bottles you need to buy, leading to less packaging in landfills. It’s a win/win all around.
Repair Before You Replace
A relationship with a tailor can totally transform your wardrobe, and not only for the existing styles in your closet but for thrifted & vintage items as well. Simple adjustments, like shortening the straps or raising the waistline of a dress, can make a forgotten favorite feel brand new.
Engaging the services of a tailor can be expensive, but as an alternative, you can turn to YouTube for tutorials on how to repair a rip or replace a button by hand. If you’ve lost the spare button that originally came with your item of clothing, visit a local craft store & they can help you locate an appropriately sized button to replace it with.
Clothing isn’t the only item that can be repaired. Cobblers have breathed new life into several pairs of my most-worn shoes and are also very helpful for preventative maintenance. Simple repairs, like replacing the sole of shoes when they are worn thin or worn away entirely, like from the toe of my favorite pointy toe boots are common fixes. Cobblers can also replace heel tips, extend calf widths in certain circumstances, and even repair handbags or other leather items.
How To Shop With Longevity In Mind
“All those thigh blowouts? It’s not our thighs, it’s the fabric” says repair shop seamster, Sparrow K. They see repairs of all sorts come through the shop where they work, like broken zippers to broken handbags and an assortment of items in between. When it comes to shopping for new (or new to you) items, Sparrow K. recommends considering fabric content, seam construction, and how often an item is going to be worn. “A lot of times people will spend more money on ‘nice’ clothing that will only be worn once or twice but spend less on cheaper quality everyday clothes. If you’re on a budget especially, I feel it’s far more effective to put money into the pieces you’ll wear the most,” they said.
Speaking of fabric content, be sure to carefully examine the care labels of every item before purchasing. Nearly 70% of dry cleaners use a known air pollutant, perchloroethylene, as a cleaning solvent per the EPA. Perchloroethylene, also known as PERC, is also considered a “likely human carcinogen” by the EPA and has been linked to cancer and brain damage. There’s been a push in recent years to switch to green dry cleaning and alternative solvents, but as data suggests, the adoption rate hasn’t yet reached the mainstream.
Just because an item is broken doesn’t mean that it’s beyond repair. With a little creativity and determination, a great seamstress or cobbler can work wonders. Sparrow K. had many innovative solutions to share from their work in a repair shop during our interview. “For example, we end up fixing lots of purses. A lot of the time, instead of replacing or repairing a part, which might not be cost-effective, we’ll alter it instead. If a purse has a broken zipper, we can cut the zipper out, and add a magnetic snap instead. Or with the handles, if they’re broken or torn, instead of replacing them with costly leather, we use heavy-duty nylon strapping. It comes in dozens of colors, and you’ll never have to worry about them breaking again.”
Broken items can also be repurposed entirely. Local designer Alyssa Bird of Regenerous Designs upcycles the remnants from clothing manufacturers and reimagines them into earrings, headbands, and scarves. She also recently used unwanted test t-shirts to create an art installation and documented the entire process. If you’re still looking for inspiration, Buzzfeed (of course) has a list of 21 useful things you can make out of your old clothes. The many ways your clothing can find a new life is only limited to your imagination (or Google skills).