It’s true. Fashion creates a lot of waste and negatively impacts the planet, and any fashion that doesn’t, often costs more. It’s easy to think (or be pressured into thinking) that the only way to cut down on the waste and impact is to spend more money than you have, or own only 100% organic, eco-friendly recycled potato sacks, but that’s simply not true.
Sustainable Fashion Doesn’t Have to Cost a Cent Extra
I realize that you can reduce waste and lessen your environmental impact for free, and this has nothing to do with how much you spend or what you buy. Below are the three sustainable fashion guidelines that I use — and recommend to reduce the impact of your closet.
1. Dispose of your clothes responsibly.
Dispose of unwanted clothes responsibly. There’s no reason to throw clothes away! The average American creates 82 pounds of textile waste per year. Of that, only 15 percent is donated or recycled, which means that the remaining 70 pounds per person, per year, ends up in landfills.
Many people donate or sell their gently used clothes, but it is a common, and incorrect assumption that you should simply throw away clothing that would be unusable or unwanted by others. Even stained, worn out, or holey clothing can be used as industrial rags, and most clothing recyclers will do this automatically.
Resources to help you sell, donate, recycle or otherwise reuse your clothes abound on the internet. Check out one of my favorites, re-fashioNYC, in the video below:
2. Wash clothes thoughtfully.
According to a life cycle analysis commissioned by Levi’s, 58% of CO2 emission and 45% of water use occurs in the “use phase” of a pair of jeans. In other words, by washing and drying your jeans, you emit more CO2 than was emitted to make them and almost as much water as it took to grow the cotton and dye the fabric.
The good news is that, in addition to prolonging their life, washing your clothes on cold and line drying reduces CO2 emissions by 90%, when compared to washing in warm water and machine drying. Check out Melissa Young’s “Sisterhood of the Air-Dried Pants,”a story about girls in a Cornell dorm who preserved their jeans and the environment by air drying them on racks instead of using the dryer.
As soon as I moved to New York, where I have to walk down seven flights of stairs and cross Broadway to wash my clothes, I realized that I had been washing my clothes much more than was necessary. I recognized that having a washer and dryer in my apartment had made me lazy and given me quite a few bad laundry habits.
If I got a small stain on an otherwise clean shirt, I’d throw it into the hamper without a second thought. Not only did this cause stains to set, potentially ruining a perfectly good shirt, it also meant that I was washing a lot of clothes that were clean.
Now when I get a stain on something, I wash it out immediately and hang it back up in my closet. I also wash a lot of things in the sink or shower to freshen them up between laundry trips, saving time, water, and energy.
3. Buy quality clothes that you love.
Consider how long a garment will last (quality) and how long you will actually like it (personal style). It is startling to me how many things I think I want that I end up not wearing once they’re hanging in my closet, and the data backs me up.
Despite a steady decrease in the percent of income Americans spend on clothes, the amount of clothes we own has steadily increased, pointing to the accumulation of cheap, low quality, fast fashion.
Accordingly, I have instituted a waiting period between thinking I like something and finally buying it. If I see something I want, I force myself to leave the store and sleep on it. If I still love it the next day and am willing to make the effort to go and get it, then it’s probably a good investment and not something that will languish in the back of a drawer.
I fell head over heels for a coat last fall and ended up stalking it for weeks, including two visits to the store to try it on, before I finally pulled the trigger. I’ve worn it every day since. The coat was a splurge, hence the multiple visits, but with this mentality, it makes much more sense to buy one expensive coat that you will love and wear for years than a few coats that you tolerate for a season, before discarding them and moving on.
“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.” – Vivienne Westwood
This idea of buying consciously, as opposed to the trend-driven stockpiling of cheaply made clothes, is not easy. A lot of time, money, and advertising are spent trying to convince us that we need that new pair of shoes.
The whole idea of seasonal collections in the fashion industry perpetuates this never-ending desire for the new. Buying quality pieces that you love is a habit, however, and with practice it is not only possible, but also extremely rewarding to bow out of the fashion rat race.
Posting Guideline – Stories published on WeHateToWaste.com are intended to stimulate productive conversations about practical solutions for preventing waste. Information provided and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors and implies no endorsement or guarantee by WeHateToWaste.
Hi Ruth – I love these simple suggestions that everyone can get behind! It’s especially wonderful when sustainable choices also save us time and money and even help others in the process! I think more clothing brands (and other brands) should take a page out of Levis’ book and encourage their consumers to practice sustainable care and disposal habits for their products. Luckily, It looks like the industry is making moves toward sustainability on their end, even developing a tool called the Higg Index! Check it out here: https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/12/12/sustainable-apparel-resource-higg-index-gets-makeover.
However, I think more care definitely needs to go into educating consumers about best practices for product care and disposal.
I agree with all of this! It’s so great to see some new takes on sustainable fashion that I haven’t considered before.
I’ve recently realized (at least 10 years too late considering how obvious it is) that another great way to get more wear out of your clothing is to wear undershirts. This way, nice tops that require more effort to wash and are more likely to wear out quickly can be saved by washing them even less frequently. I’ve found that wearing an undershirt keeps a top clean for at least twice as long. It honestly feels like magic. And considering undershirts are never seen, they can be worn for years and years without needing to be replaced, as well.
In addition, I think that thrifting and looking at used clothing is another great way to be more sustainable, because if you shop hyper-locally then you also cut down on your emissions used to buy the clothes. Also, I’m a huge fan of small businesses, so shopping locally helps my particular agenda in more ways than one! In addition, thrift/consignment stores are also likely to have older clothing, which have a little more structural integrity (As you said, “Despite a steady decrease in the percent of income Americans spend on clothes, the amount of clothes we own has steadily increased, pointing to the accumulation of cheap, low quality, fast fashion.”)
Awesome tips and tricks, Ruth – thanks for sharing your ideas! My roommates and I host annual clothing swaps (sneaking in a few household items as well) and invite all of our friends along. It has been such a great way of building community and talking about waste reduction with my friends. I also love thrifting, you can find such gems sometimes!
What great tips and tricks to reduce clothing waste! They’re all so simple and easy to incorporate into your routine. I’ve been donating my gently used shoes and clothing for years and have always wondered about an option for my items that have endured much more wear and tear. I am honestly surprised I have not heard about the re-FashioNYC initiative before. I have also noticed the trend of people gravitating towards cheaper and lesser quality items and tried to pinpoint when and why it began. Perhaps there will be a shift soon.
These tips are extremely helpful! This reminds me of Patagonia’s marketing campaign “Don’t Buy This Jacket”, which urges customers to only purchase items they truly need and will wear frequently. I think the most important aspect of sustainable fashion will always be to simply consume less and make more thoughtful, high-quality purchases. As someone who has always been very passionate about clothing, I frequently make purchases at older vintage stores for certain wardrobe items. It makes the experience far more fun and eco-friendly! Something I was fascinated to learn about was the proper, sustainable washing of clothes. This was something I was previously unfamiliar with, and I plan to begin following the proper guidelines from now on!
These 4 tips are a great way to maintain a quality wardrobe and reduce waste! I have never thought about fashion in terms of sustainability and waste management, but it is a fun way to improve lifestyle habits and would benefit the environment. The fashion industry definitely creates too much textile waste and clothing brands should implement these strategies in operation and distribution.
Hi Ruth! I love the idea of re-fashion NYC. It helps us win from every aspect: more jobs are created, clothes are not thrown away, we can give them a second life or even more, and it’s free and easy to get the bin. In France, we have a similar system led by donation organizations but they do have flaws (pick ups aren’t systematic that leads to overflowing of the bins). They should definitely check this video! Great job on creating such an efficient system! Thanks on the great clothing tips, I will definitely sleep on it next time (I think) I have to have that dress.