Many fashionistas are turning to either upcycling, fixing or organising their clothing so that it spends a longer time in their wardrobes. More people are concerned about the planet we live on and they want to do everything they can to help protect it.
Orsola de Castro is the founder of the global campaign Fashion Revolution, and in her book Loved Clothes Last, she mentioned that she has gone through so many clothes in warehouses and she has been surprised to see how many of them have been abandoned even though they may have a button missing or a broken zip. She feels that people put less effort into mending their current clothes and they focus their attention on purchasing “cheaper” and “infinitely more fun to buy” new clothing.
The 21st century has bought big changes to the world of fashion but it has been hard to ignore the social and environmental damages that the industry has made. There have been increasing waste and pollution levels as well as high uses of natural resources while the global supply chain is heavily exploited. Furthermore, some studies have pointed out that the fashion industry is responsible for two to eight per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Between 80 to 100 billion new pieces of clothes are created even though many of us around the world do not constantly need new clothes.
The fashion industry is trying to do its bit to increase its energy efficiency by switching to renewables, supply chains, reducing the natural resources they use, investing in material innovation and addressing animal cruelty and social justice initiatives. However, it’s an uphill battle as the amount of clothing that is already being wasted ends up in landfills or incinerated after a few years.
Campaigners believe that if we invest in less clothing (three pieces of clothing a year) and keep our current clothes for longer, we can decrease the fashions industry’s impact on the environment. The current generation is used to buying clothing when they feel like they need something new in their wardrobe and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Wrap is an environmental charity that has done research on clothing life and they have found that if you extend the life of an item of clothing by nine months, you could slash its environmental impact by around 10 per cent. Imagine if everyone around the world were to follow this rule over the next few decades. It would all be dependent on if the owner bought high-quality clothes, took care of them and wore them more regularly.
It seems that a generation has passed us when it comes to the careful and important maintenance of clothes. Our grandparents were used to wearing clothes that have been either passed down or repaired while today’s generation is used to wearing a few pieces before moving on to the next best style.
De Castro presents us with a set of beautiful handmade pieces. They are designed with broken zips which are symptoms of a big disconnection from how clothing is produced. She subtitled her book “how the joy of re-wearing and repairing your clothes can be a revolutionary act”. A revolution is needed to get the world back on track. The climate crisis demands action, but so does fashion. As a global industry, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions of the global economy, and as a result, the fashion industry will need to play an important role in tackling the climate crisis.
The first step is to look at your wardrobe and rekindle our love for our clothes again. Unfortunately, we are taught to search for new style options via consumption but styling with your wardrobe will help you to have fun and be creative with clothing. It’s about forming that relationship with your wardrobe.
You can leave two hours of the week where you can open up your wardrobe and look for pieces that you haven’t worn in months, that you can style together. Maybe you have a formal blouse. You can combine it with denim that’s more relaxed and a casual item you’d only wear on the weekend. Make a simple change to something you usually wear. Add kitten heels and a blazer. Also, by putting the dress together creatively, it can become a skirt, or it can become a top. Old things can be reused and have a whole new life. There’s no better feeling than getting dressed in the morning and realizing that you actually don’t need to buy clothing.
Mikha Mekler, a lecturer in production management at London College of Fashion, believes that if you buy clothes of higher quality, it’s certain to last longer. She thinks it’s best to avoid the fast fashion brands and head straight to the ethical labels that have high-quality clothing. Even then, you check each item to see if they have been made with care.
Victoria Jenkins is a garment technologist who says that we should “test the garment”. We should pull at it, stretch it and see how neat the stitching is. ” Does the garment have hanger loops to stop it losing shape? Is there taping along a T-shirt shoulder to stop it from being distorted if it is hung up? Is the hem sturdy or can it be easily unpicked?” These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before selecting your new clothes.
It has been advised that we should wash our clothes less, at cooler temperatures, with natural detergents and inside out so that the colour and prints take a much longer time to fade. Mekler says that a lot of people still get the daily garment care wrong and she washes most of her clothes on a wool wash unless they are very dirty. “Consider hanging lightly soiled pieces in the bathroom while you take a shower and allowing the steam to do the job. Avoid tumble drying; shake out your clothes and hang them out to dry.”
It has been calculated by EPA’s energy efficiency programme that average washing machines use up to 6500 gallons of water annually which is half the amount you would drink in your lifetime. Synthetic clothes are indeed loaded with chemicals and microfibres, which end up in our wastewater when we wash them. After the wash and tumble dry cycles, most of the emissions are produced from in-use. If you cut all that out, you could be considered a sustainable fashionista.
It doesn’t end there though as the safe and correct storage of clothing will help towards their care. You don’t want to leave them in the sunlight and heat but in dry and cool spaces with enough room for them to air out. Katrina Hassan is a professional organiser who says that you should always store your clothes where you can see them easily. If you can see what you own, then you are likely to take more care of it. You’ll be able to see what garments are looking good or which ones need repairing or upcycling.
Tessa Solomons, a sustainable consultant, believes that it would be great if we learned the repair basics such as fixing a seam or sewing a button. This would go a long way to ensure more people throw away fewer items when they are not able to save them. She feels that there is a certain sense of achievement from fixing things in your wardrobe and that people should forget that there are so many resources and video tutorials from Fixing Fashion Academy and repair What You Wear that can help you with whatever you need mending. It helps people to realise that there is still some value in their clothes rather than a cost which helps build a connection with your wardrobe.
De Castro beautifully describes in her book that the act of caring for our clothes extends to caring for the environment and shows our gratitude towards the work that people put into making our clothing. She also feels like we should put some pride back into keeping our clothes and reduce the need for new purchases. “Because the only things we need more of now are trees and whales and birds and bees – not clothes.”