If you are the kind of person who cares about the social and environmental impact of their wardrobe, you probably know what things to pay attention to when buying a new piece of clothing. You know which fabrics to look out for, which brands produce sustainably and which secret little shops carry the most fashionable styles.
If you aren’t that knowledgeable, however, that isn’t that big of a problem. Because it turns out, to find the most sustainable clothing around there is one particular place you should always look at first. And that place is neither hard to find nor overly expensive.
We are talking, of course, about your closet.
In the world of sustainable fashion, there’s a saying: The most sustainable piece of clothing is one that’s already in your closet. That’s because no matter how much thought brands are putting into producing their pieces, it always takes water, crops, and energy that otherwise could have been preserved. So here is the best advice to sustainability pros and novices alike: Wear what you have for as long as you can.
In order to be able to do this, you will have to start taking better care of your clothes. So, here are ten ideas and good practices that will help you keep your clothes alive for longer.
- Wash less often
When a piece of clothing gets stained or develops an odor, we tend to throw it into the laundry. If you think about it, though, washing is a pretty drastic measure: It takes a lot of water and energy, it releases detergents and micro-plastic into the water circulation, it damages the fabric and mutes the colors. It’s like refurbishing the building because you spilled coffee in the kitchen.
So, whenever you feel like washing a piece of clothing, try and think of another way to get it fresh and clean again. That spot can be gotten rid off with spot cleaner. That smell will fly away with the wind. And half an hour in the freezer will make your piece feel fresh again.
2. Bag it
If you occasionally do turn on your washing machine, use a washing bag to prevent microplastics from going into freshwater. Solutions like Guppyfriend collect the microfibres your synthetic clothes give off, so you can just throw them in the trash where they belong.
3. Don’t use the dryer
Studies found that clothes dry on their own if you let them. Dryers, on the other hand, use a lot of energy, strain the fabric and potentially shrink stuff. Don’t use them. Don’t even own them, really.
4. Don’t mind the mend
If something is ripped, that doesn’t mean it’s trash. This would seem obvious, except that apparently it isn’t since Greenpeace has found out that only about half of German Millennials have ever had a piece of clothing repaired.
Recently, though, there have been signs of a renaissance: Hashtags like #visiblemending and rising interest in the Japanese practice of Sashiko mending seem to suggest that people are again learning the techniques that have been common only a few decades ago. We say: Wear your patches and stitches with pride. It means you care.
5. Count your wears
Make yourself aware of how often you wear your clothes. You will be surprised how rarely most of your pieces leave the closet. You won’t be alone, however: The great majority of people only wear a tiny fraction of the clothes they own.
That rather astonishing fact turns out to be a potential advantage. It means that most of you have a closet full of almost unworn, good-as-new clothes at their disposal. You should — bear with us here — wear them. Give your favorite pieces some time to breathe and recover, get to know and love that other pair of jeans you forgot you still have. Get some inspiration from @counting_my_wears.
6. Make due
The best way of making sure you wear your clothes for a longer time is not to buy any new ones, unless absolutely necessary. So get yourself in the habit of pausing every time before you make a purchase. Leave the stuff in your shopping cart for a day or two. Come back later and reassess. Do you really like it that much? Will you have an occasion to wear it? Does sit go well with the clothes you have? Will it keep?
7. Buy well
Wearing your clothes for a long time is easy if they are timeless and of good quality.
In order to slow down the rapid pace of clothing consumption, you should make an effort to buy fewer, more durable items. It’s an idea championed, for example, by the fashion blogger Cat Chiang, Natalie Live of the brand The Tiny Closet, and Emma Kidd’s “fashion detox” program.
8. Lease clothing
We don’t like to toot our own horn, but: For your more extravagant pieces that you don’t plan on wearing for longer than a season, leasing from us — if you happen to live in Germany — could be a viable option. That way, you won’t be left with the burden of having to sell, give or throw away a perfectly fine piece of clothing after you had your fun with it. Instead, you just send it back and someone else gets to enjoy it.
No matter how you want to go about reducing your fashion CO2 footprint, the first step is committing to wearing your clothes for longer. And — in the spirit of “Do good things and talk about it“ — please tell everyone about it, so they, too, think more about their impact.
If we want to treat our planet better, we should start with our clothes.