MAIYET COLLECTIVE | NEW YORK | JACINTA FITZGERALD
THE CASE FOR BUYING LESS & BETTER CLOTHES
“As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our clothes in use for longer.”
Rose Marciano, CEO, Patagonia
It used to be that I’d know if bell bottoms were making a comeback by reading my air-freighted copy of Vogue six weeks after they were on the Paris runway. Now, a quick check of my Instagram feed tells me minutes after Kendall Jenner has crossed the Bowery in velvet flares, and I can shop that look in seconds. Social media influencers, funded by brands ranging from Boohoo to Bottega Veneta, offer a continually changing array of looks. The speed of new offerings leaves us no time to cultivate our own style before one trend passes and another one takes its place.
Our desire for new clothes is insatiable. More than 100 billion garments are produced each year, a 100 percent increase over the year 2000. That’s 14 new pieces of clothing annually for every person on the planet. But according to one Greenpeace study, we only wear 60 percent of what’s in our wardrobe.
Globally, one garbage truck of textile waste is sent to landfill or burned every second.
Yes, you read that right, every second. At present only recycle 13 percent of our clothes are recycled in some way. And mostly this is down-cycled. The rest go to landfill or are incinerated. Let me say right now that the dump is never the best option for your used clothes.
Waste is not the only problem with our burgeoning taste for new clothes. While shoppers are being seduced by on-trend imagery and aspirational lifestyles, workers are being exploited, toxic chemicals are flowing into local drinking water sources and our global resources are dwindling. The way we consume clothes through buying, using and tossing is not sustainable.
As the European Commission’s Kristine Dorosko told Sourcing Journal,
“We are currently living on 1.6 planets ... We are using 10 times more natural resources than 100 years ago.”
So what’s a clothes-loving girl to do? No one wants to be responsible for contributing to this mess. The best way to start is to stop. Before making a new purchase, stop and think: Do I really love this? Is it going to add value to my wardrobe? Is it durable and well made? Will I wear it often? #30 wears is a good rule. And do I know how to care for it? In the words of Rose Marciano, CEO of Patagonia, “As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer."
First things first — take a good look at your closet. Get acquainted with all of your clothes, and rather than following the latest trends, become a style maker yourself. Experiment with new styles. Try setting a goal of not buying anything new for three to six months. Fashion brands themselves are going on a fashion fast with leaders like Bruno Pieters committing not to make anything new for nine months in response to the industry’s waste issue. It’s a bold move for some, but believe me it’s incredibly liberating once you start, and you soon discover what works for you and doesn't.
When you need to buy new clothes, choose brands that work to reduce their impact on the planet and take care of their workers, and think about your purchase as an investment. Buy responsibly made and durable pieces, take care of them and repair them whenever possible.
Make the most of each purchase. As the usable life of a product increases its overall environmental footprint decreases, and so does its cost.
Some innovative brands are working toward a circular model by taking the full life cycle of their products into consideration. Patagonia, Eileen Fisher and Riz Boardshorts all offer take-back programs that allow customers to return their clothes to the store when they are done with them, which then get recycled into new products. When choosing materials, go for the sustainable choice. Look for regenerated, recycled or repurposed materials, or if you prefer natural, pick low-impact hemp or certified organic cotton, linen, wool or silk. Swap viscose, which can be extremely hazardous to the environment, for lyocell or Tencel, both of which are made in a closed loop system from responsibly managed forests.
With human rights violations increasingly apparent in the industry, it’s important to support brands that have ethical labor practices. Ethical Clothing Australia, GOTS and the Fairtrade labeling system are standards to look for. Some brands work with artisans in developing countries to create beautifully handcrafted products, supporting sustainable business growth and social development programs. Others produce locally and visit their factories often, building up a long term relationship with them. As supply chain transparency becomes the new norm, more and more brands are disclosing the factories and people who make their clothes. This information can usually be found on a brand’s website, in its marketing material or on a garment’s label. If that information is not visible, then ask for it.
Ensure the garment is well made by checking the seams. It’s a bad sign if the stitching is unraveling, and raw cut edges are a no-no, unless you like your clothes fraying and rolling up at the hem. If the fit is not quite right, consider having the garment tailored to your shape. Likewise, check if it is pre-shrunk or has a shrinkage allowance, as natural fibers can shrink, and there's nothing worse than your beautiful new T-shirt becoming a crop top.
The sharing economy for clothes is here.
While buying fewer and better clothes will give your wardrobe a good foundation, we all want to switch up our look now and then. There are some great secondhand and consignment options offered both in- stores and online. The growing movement toward a sharing economy for clothes is another waste-free way to try new looks through renting, borrowing or swapping. Rent the Runway led the way with high-end rentals, Australia’s version is Glamcorner, and now you can lease clothes through stores like Anne Taylor, Filippa K and Mud Jeans. At Lena Library you can borrow clothes instead of books, allowing you to experiment with your look without contributing to the industry's waste problem. Clothing swaps pop up all the time. If none are happening in your area, consider making one with your friends or workmates.
Technology is giving us exciting innovations, too, such as the Levi’s x Google smart jacket designed to address our desire for newness without creating waste. The jacket is designed to last for many seasons, and the integrated smart technology gives it the ability to be updated without having to be replaced. UMd is a brand by tech company Unmade that offers customized, made- to-order clothes and accessories. Once the customer has personalized the style online and placed their order, it is produced to meet their specifications, thereby eliminating any waste caused by the overproduction of garments.
The power of the individual to drive change has shown its might over the last year.
Your purchasing choices can help drive change. Imagine the impact if we all become clothes activists at home. You vote with your dollar. While buying fewer, better clothes won’t solve all of the fashion industry’s problems, it puts some of the power back in your hands. Start by making informed choices. Jump off of the cycle of disposable fashion, and take care of the clothes you already own.
Check out the Good On You app, available globally, which rates brands based on their social and environmental policies to help narrow down your choices. And to peruse an array of great ethical and sustainable brands, visit online multibrand stores such as Well Made Clothes, Gather & See, Rêve en Vert, The Acey, Maison de Mode and GALERIE.LA.
This article was written by Jacinta FitzGerald and originally published in The Regeneration Magazine, Issue 3 - The Eco Fashion Revolution, where it appeared alongside articles by some of those leading the charge towards a next generation fashion industry.
The Regeneration Magazine highlights creatives, thinkers, artists, and entrepreneurs who are making waves in the environmental movement and changing the conversation about climate change. The publication offers something that traditional media outlets do not when it comes to covering the climate crisis: hope. You can order a digital or hard copy through their website.