Action of the month : Build a Green Wardrobe
Spring is finally here and many of us will be rearranging our wardrobes soon to make space for summer clothes. Think your clothes are worn, faded and dull? Itching to usher in the warmer weather with some new ones?
This month, thanks to a special collaboration with Léonie Daignault Leclerc from Gaia & Dubos, a local sustainable fashion company, we’re going to give you some tips on how to care for your clothes and make them last longer. By changing the way you wash and store your clothes, and getting into mending, borrowing, swapping, renting and buying second-hand clothes, you can reduce fashion’s impact on our beautiful planet.
A little background: Fast fashion and consumer behaviour
In a previous post, Get Moving and Go Green, we noted that fashion is the second most polluting industry after oil and is alone responsible for 20% of the world’s water pollution, that we buy four times more clothes than we did 20 years ago, and that it takes 2,700 litres of water to make just one cotton t shirt. The effects of fast fashion, such as worker exploitation, on communities and the environment are undeniable (1).
The drop in price and quality of clothing coupled with ever changing trends and planned obsolescence encourage people to get rid of clothing far too quickly (2). Each year, all around the world, millions of tons of textiles are thrown away, 70% of which gets piled into landfills rather than being recycled or reused (2). On top of that, decomposing clothes produce greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming (3).
Sustainable fashion researcher Kirsi Niinimäki believes that extending the life of clothing is one of the best ways to cure the ills of the industry. And according to a group of researchers at the University of Cambridge, how we care for our clothes has a greater environmental impact than all the other life cycle stages, including growing the raw materials, production and transportation (5).
Here are a few tips on how to care for your clothes and reduce your environmental footprint.
Green your laundry routine
Laundry includes washing, drying and dry cleaning. By adopting a few environmentally responsible habits, you can extend the life of your clothing and reduce your energy and water consumption, as well as the amount of chemicals you use.
- Use eco-friendly, biodegradable laundry detergents and other products as commercial ones contain toxic ingredients.
- Wash clothes on a short, cold-wash cycle as it significantly reduces water and energy consumption.
- Wait until you have a full load of laundry before running the machine. You’ll cut down on the number of washes—and the resources you use. You can set the load size on modern machines, but unfortunately water and energy use are not proportional to the volume of laundry.
- Wash by hand to significantly reduce your environmental footprint. Your delicate clothes will love it, and you’ll do fewer loads.
- Wash clothes less; they’ll stay in good condition for longer. Unless they’re stained or smell bad, there’s no need to wash them just yet.
- Use a clothesline—inside and outside! Yes, dryers are convenient, but it’s much greener to dry clothes naturally by the amazing process of evaporation.
- Avoid dry-cleaning whenever possible—it uses a number of chemicals that are extremely toxic to your health and that of the planet (6). If you really have no choice, seek out eco-friendly dry cleaners.
Store clothes properly
How you store your clothes can significantly affect their lifespan.
Mend your clothes
The hectic pace of our lives and availability of ridiculously cheap clothing encourage us to buy new rather than mend. Our ancestors had a knack for patching things, but nowadays the tendency is to replace them. Few people bother to mend shirts. We either throw them away, or occasionally take them to a seamstress to mend it for us, which can be expensive.
- Get yourself a sewing box with the basic tools: needles, scissors and a few spools of thread. Then encourage some of your lazier friends or family members to mend their own clothes.
- Keep buttons, hooks and eyes—it’ll make mending easier later.
- Learn a few basic techniques. You’ll reduce your environmental footprint, be more autonomous and save money.
Really need something new? Borrow, swap, rent, buy second-hand or buy from local designers
Now you’re more aware and can resist the temptation to buy new clothes. But sometimes, you have a genuine need. In that case, you have several options.
You can pick up great bargains at second-hand clothing stores or sales. Various websites, Facebook groups and organizations coordinate or supervise the sale of used clothing. Not only does this curtail the production of new clothing, it lets you save money, too.
Need a particular item of clothing for a day, a season or longer? Have you thought of asking a friend or family member? Someone might just have what you’re looking for and would be delighted to help out. This is particularly useful for children’s clothing, which doesn’t last long as kids grow out of it so quickly. Social networks are a good place to look for borrowing opportunities.
Organize a swap with friends, family, coworkers or neighbours. Items you no longer wear may make someone else’s day. And come to the clothing swap [Troc-tes-trucs] at the Centre for Sustainable Development in Montreal on April 11, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. and the spring clothing drive at the same place during the week of April 4 to 11. Other organizations across Quebec also hold clothing drives throughout the year.
For some occasions, it can be more practical to rent than to buy. From evening dresses to casual wear, various local businesses now offer this service, sometimes even online. La Petite Robe Noire and Chic Marie offer a service that is modern, eco-friendly and economical. Listen to Radio-Canada’s report, L’économie de partage, jusque dans votre garde-robe [The sharing economy works for clothing, too], to find out more about these kinds of services.
– Buy local or fair trade
If you do buy new, choose clothes made by local designers or fair-trade clothing manufacturers. By making ethical choices like these, at least you know that the people who made the clothes had decent working conditions. And when you buy from local designers, you encourage local talent and get to wear unique clothes made with love and care. You’ll also get a lot of bang for your buck, because you’ll definitely be wearing them season after season!
In short, it’s better to go for quality than quantity. Instead of buying, look after, mend, reuse, share, rent and lend your clothes—all great alternatives!
Places to check out
• Renaissance, Village des Valeurs, and the hundreds of other thrift stores across Quebec
• Les puces
Online thrift stores
• Tout le monde est pu capable de son linge
• VIDE-DRESSING MTL
• Le vide-dressing – XL/aged 14 + (Montreal)
• Mint Condition Fripe
• Exit 29
• UdeM/UQAM Clothing swap/sales
• Les Oubliettes Vintage
• Deuxième édition
Swap/repair websites and groups
• Troc tes trucs
• Touski s’répare
(1) Niinimäki, K. (2013). Tenents of sustainable fashion. In K. Niinimäki (Ed.), Sustainable fashion: New approaches (p. 12-29). Helsinki, FI : Aalto University.
(2) Fletcher, K., 2008. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys. Earthscan, London.
(3) Black, S. (2008). Eco-chic : The fashion paradox. London, UK : Black Dog. Niinimäki, K. (2013). Tenents of sustainable fashion. In K. Niinimäki (Ed.), Sustainable fashion: New approaches (p. 12-29). Helsinki, FI : Aalto University.
(4) Niinimäki, K. (2013). Tenents of sustainable fashion. In K. Niinimäki (Ed.), Sustainable fashion: New approaches (p. 12-29). Helsinki, FI : Aalto University.
(5) Allwood, J.M., S.E. Laursen, C. Malvido de Rodriguez and N.M.P. Bocken (2006) Well Dressed? The Present and Future Sustainability of Clothing and Textiles in the United Kingdom. University of Cambridge, Institute for Manufacturing, Cambridge, UK.
(6) Wrap. (2013). Design for Longevity: Guidance on increasing the active life of clothing. Nottingham, UK: Cooper et al.