YOUR WARDROBE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
By Rafa Salti
Every once in a while, as citizens and consumers, we hear of a poignant and revealing documentary about the negative impact of the fashion industry. Personally, every time I watch one of these, I get filled with sadness and anger at the heartbreaking scenes of damage to human and wild life. The amount of repair that needs to be done can sometimes feel overwhelming. What’s certain however, is that we can all do a little something. Here are some steps you can take to start helping from your wardrobe.
1. ORGANISE YOUR CLOSET
2. CLEAN YOUR CLOTHES CORRECTLY
- Wash your clothes at 30 degrees or less. Higher temperatures are a waste of energy and cause accumulative damage to fabric and details such as embroidery, elastics, and hardware.
- Don’t dry clean unless you absolutely have to. Dry cleaning works by soaking clothes in dangerous and harsh chemicals that can transfer to your skin and lungs, and fray your clothes over time. Toxic dry cleaning solvents are not tightly controlled outside of a few individual states in the US and a few member states in the EU, and recycling them is energy- and water-intensive. Clothes that can’t be washed can be easily steamed. Steamers range in size and price but if you can, invest in a good one to last you long.
- Hand-wash wool and silk in lukewarm water. With a drop of gentle detergent (or even shampoo!), soak, rinse, and then hang- or lay-dry. Some machines have a hand wash cycle, but make sure it’s on cold (no temperature) and that spinning is low (less than 500rpm or no spin for delicate garments).
- Avoid tumble driers. They are terrible for the environment and the heat is damaging to most clothes. If you absolutely have to, do your best to wash and dry as infrequently as possible.
- Reduce frequency of washing. Most days your clothes don’t need a wash after one wear, hanging clothes in the air and sunshine after wearing will keep them fresh longer. For dust marks and/or a light spill, spot clean with extra diluted vinegar water and spray your clothes with organic lavender water to refresh and protect them from moths.
3. REPAIR, MEND, AND HOME-CYCLE
A damaged piece of clothing, as many reports tell us, will most likely end up in a landfill even if you donate it to a charity shop or drop it at a take back program. Because of that, we need to make the best of our clothes before giving up on them:
- Professional repair: there are many services that specialise in repair. You can look online or contact your local dry cleaners, my favourite where I live in the UK is The Seam.
- Home mending: if you fancy yourself a new hobby, you can either look for a local workshop or find videos on YouTube on mending techniques. To add character to your clothes try visible mending and embroidery.
- Home-cycling: when an item is beyond repair, you can try to recycle it at home. Same as mending, you can look for local circles, or look for ideas about repurposing damaged clothes online and in books as well. My favourites are patchwork and t-shirt yarn knitting.
4. GIVE YOUR UNWANTED ClOTHES A SECOND LIFE
You should use this opportunity to learn as much as you can about your style, your size, and what is practically wearable for you. The goal is for you to ultimately have no unwanted clothes in your closet.
- Unwanted whole and clean clothes: you can resell these on secondhand apps and websites, my personal favourites are Depop, Vinted, and Vestiaire Collective. You can also donate them to a charity shop folded neatly in a clean bag. Most charity shops receive huge amounts of donations and are staffed with volunteers who, just like you and I, won’t like the idea of digging into a rubbish bag. If your “donation” looks unsightly, it is very likely to be tipped into a textile recycling bin or worse yet, into a rubbish bin.
- Unwanted damaged clothes: your best option is your local authority’s textile recycling program. If that is not available to you, you can call your local charity shop and ask them if they take rags. You should put your clothes in a separate bag marked “rags” and let them know when you drop it off. In some cases, you might know of a brand or a designer collecting secondhand clothing for upcycling or a take back program, this is a wonderful alternative if they are transparent and truthful about what happens to the clothes afterwards. But be careful, many of these are greenwashing and marketing schemes and most of the clothes end up as landfill anyway.
5. FIND THOUGHTFUL ADDITIONS TO YOUR WARDROBE
Everyday in our world, someone is trying to sell us something: instagram ads, influencers, celebrities, public transportation ads, product placement in series and movies, etc, etc. These voices end up crowding your head with ideas about who you should be, what you should wear, what makes you look thinner or sexier or smarter. They invent flaws in you that only their product can repair and the real you ends up lost under all these layers of pressure and anxiety. This is the main reason why we buy so many things we don’t wear. It’s the online equivalent of an insisting sales assistant, but this one is using advanced methods of social psychology of scarcity, envy, and cast systems. Either way you end up buying something you don’t really want with money you would’ve liked to keep.
So, if after all the sorting, mending and recycling, you discover a need for something you don’t have, here’s what you can do:
- Swap: You can check swap apps in your country or look for swap events in your town, or even organise one yourself. Invite friends and family members with loosely interchangeable size and style, add music and snacks and you have the making of a party.
- Second hand: as the fashion waste issue indicates, there are heaps and heaps of clothes out there. On the flip side, for the environmentally concerned fashionista there are apps, websites, non-profit and for-profit shops for secondhand clothes and the list is endless. Many online secondhand retailers will let you filter your search down to the brand, colour, size, season, and condition. This is a wonderful way to find exactly what you want, pay less for it, and save the world from one more new item.
- You NEED something new: look for ethical brands. These are usually small, and transparent about where and how they manufacture and what their clothes are made of. If you are limited by budget, aim for natural fibres such as cotton, wool, and silk, and if you can, make sure they’re organic. No matter what you do, avoid new polyester at all cost. It’s a fossil fuel fibre that causes environmental damage through out its lifecycle and remains massively under-recycled.
Clothes are our second skin. They are a visual representation of who we are and what we’re all about. To change our clothes – an immense part of our image – we might need to be brave and change a bit of ourselves.