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.
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.
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.
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