With the glut of cheap, disposable fashion at our fingertips it’s easy to get sucked into thinking there is nothing we can do to halt the tide of fast fashion from claiming our wardrobes, our op shops and ultimately our landfill. The problem feels so overwhelming and that there’s nothing we can do but I disagree. Here is my list of practical actions that will help you to dress well while still making a difference to the planet, as well as your wallet.
Wear natural fibres.
This is my top rule – and for good reason! I almost always wear natural fibres because synthetic fibres are deeply uncomfortable to wear. They are hot and sticky in a Yeppoon summer and freezing cold in what passes as winter here. Synthetic fabric also sheds minute plastic fibres during every wash, which can enter waterways and the food chain. Yes, I know that cotton production uses a lot of water and pesticides, but it’s a lot less damaging than mining for petroleum-based products to use in synthetic textile production. Besides, you can always buy organic cotton instead (and you can’t buy organic synthetic products now, can you? 😉 )
Make your own clothes.
If you make your own clothing, you know exactly who made it and under what conditions. You will also know just how much effort went into the garment’s creation and you will never look at mass-produced sweatshop clothes the same way again.
Buy well-made clothing.
If the garment is well-made it will last a lot longer than a cheaply made one, which means it won’t need replacing because the seams came apart at the first wash. It’s a false economy to buy cheap fashion. It falls out of fashion quickly and it’s often poorly made with cheap-shit fabric, which means it won’t be wearable for very long and will need replacing (even if it IS still fashionable). Buy a well-made item out of good quality fabric and you won’t need to replace it as often.
Buy good quality items from op shops.
Even if it is an op shop find, I still follow rule number 1 (wear natural fibres). Unfortunately, fast fashion is filling up our op shops more rapidly than they can sell it and their racks are often filled with cheaply produced synthetic clothes. I keep an eye out for good quality secondhand and vintage items made from cotton, rayon or leather because I know they are likely to last.
Limit buying new clothes to neutral basics.
Although my wardrobe is predominantly handmade, I believe it’s still ok to buy some mass produced fast fashion. It’s ok — I really mean this. When you do buy from a major chain store, still follow rule number 1 (wear natural fibres) and limit your purchases to items such as tops and skirts in neutral basics. Why? Because there’s always a place for neutral basics in your wardrobe, they don’t fall out of fashion and you’re guaranteed to get plenty of wear out of each item. It kills me when I see garments that have barely been worn ending up in landfill.
Re-use buttons, zips and hardware from worn-out clothing.
If you’re following rule 2 (make your own clothes) you will most likely realise that buying zips, buttons and other clothing hardware gets expensive pretty quickly. So don’t throw them out when your garment is past is wear-by date. If you’ve worn the life out of the garment, remove all the buttons, zips, buckles etc. and keep them for the next garment you make.
Compost old clothes made from 100% natural fibres.
Another reason to only wear natural fibres is that they are 100% compostable. I like to throw old clothes and towels into my worm farm, where the worms happily feast on the fibres and make the best compost for my vegie patch. And it’s heaps better than sending them to landfill!
Learn the difference between ‘fashionable’ and ‘stylish’.
To me, fashionable means following new trends, and with the trend-cycle getting faster and faster, it’s harder and more expensive than ever to keep up-to-date with them. Finding your own style, on the other hand, is timeless. I prefer vintage and retro styles as they flatter my curves and I can always find garments and sewing patterns that fit the bill. So I encourage you to find your style and make sure you dress stylishly, not fashionably.
Don’t wash clothes every time you wear them.
Natural fibres are at their weakest when wet, and being swished around in a washing machine weakens them incrementally over time. If you’re using a front loader washing machine, your clothes can have an even shorter life because the action of the machine uses the physical impact of cloth on cloth to remove the dirt, rather than the water. (That’s why they use less water than top loaders). So, if your clothes don’t have spills or stains on them, and don’t smell too funky, air them out and re-wear them before washing them. You’ll get the added bonus of not using as much washing detergent and less housework at the same time. There’s even been a study that recommends washing clothing less frequently.
Wash clothes in cold water, and line dry.
Hot water damages fibres too. It can make dyes run, ruining both the garment that contributed the dye and everything else in the wash. It can also shrink natural fibres such as cotton. Hot water reduces the life of your clothes, so wash in cold water to extend their life. And if hot water reduces the life of clothes, hot air can have a similar effect – so always dry your clothes on the line (and out of the sun if you don’t want colours to be sun-bleached).
Learn how to mend and alter clothes.
It almost goes without saying to learn to mend and alter clothes, but so few of us do. Knowing how to make basic alterations and mending our torn clothing will help give our clothes longevity. And if you don’t want to learn how to mend or alter clothing, that’s ok too. You can support your local economy and pay your local dressmaker or seamstress to do it for you!
These are 11 simple actions that help me dress well while not screwing over the environment, but it's certainly not an exhaustive list. Do you have any suggestions to add? Leave them in the comments below!