This is Day 147 of the Green in 365 series!
We’re continuing to talk this week about how we can build a wardrobe that works for us, and now that we’ve purged the clothes out of our closet that we no longer wear, we need to think about adding some items to our closets to help round them out and be able to create outfits that are easy to put together, and help us to look and feel our best.
This is honestly, a hard post for me to write, maybe that’s why I’ve been putting it off for the past week or so. Because unfortunately, adding to our wardrobes is not as simple and straight-forward as just running out to the store finding some cute clothes and bringing them home to hang in our closets.
The reality of the fashion industry today is similar to that of fast food – it’s known as “fast fashion” – clothing items are poorly constructed and focused on trends, so that they wear out and look dated quickly, providing a constant consumer demand for new clothing.
I once joked, when making a point about using cloth instead of paper, that we would never dream of using disposable clothing, that we wear one time and then throw away. But, when you look at the way that the fashion industry works today, we’re actually not far from that. This fast, disposable fashion industry is wrecking havoc on both the people who work in the industry, and the environment around the world.
It’s been in the news recently with the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh where over 1,100 people died and over 2,500 were injured. I don’t want to make light of recent tragic events that have happened here in the US, but they have not come close to reaching those numbers of injuries and casualties. And yet, did we hear about this tragedy on the news? Was it covered constantly as rescuers searched for survivors, and families of victims, as well as other garment workers, protested in the streets?
You cannot read stories or look at pictures from this horrific accident and not think different about where your clothing comes from and how it is made. But this tragedy is just one small glimpse into the garment and clothing industry, and yet, the solution is not to just stop buying new clothes all together.
The clothing industry does provide jobs to thousands of workers around the world who use those jobs to support their families. I don’t pretend to understand all that’s going on around the world in regards to foreign economies and workers and governments, but I do know that I can no longer, in good conscience, just stick my head in the sand and pretend like my choices don’t have far-reaching effects.
If we’re going to talk about Building a Greener Wardrobe, we have to address these facts about the fashion industry today, and we have to make a commitment to do what we can, even in some small way, to make a difference in the industry, in people’s lives around the world, and for the environment.
One way you can begin is to research companies before your head out to the store to buy clothes. There are two organizations that have researched clothing companies and rated them based different factors related to worker safety and wages, environmental impact, and transparency about their policies.
Photo by MikeR
Building a Greener Wardrobe
In addition to doing some research about the companies that are producing the clothing we buy, I think there are a few other steps that we can take that can help to make a difference, however small, and help to keep us aware of the choices we are making.
1. Buy Used
For me, this is one of the best answers I have come up with to the question of how to buy clothes that don’t hurt people or the planet. Buying clothes that have already been made means that you are not adding to the demand of constant new fashion, or to the demand for new materials to produce your clothing.
Since a single t-shirt can take up to 400 gallons of water, and a pair of jeans can top 1,800 gallons, to produce, this is an especially important step to take toward changing the environmental impact of our clothing purchases.
2. Buy the Best Quality You Can Afford
This is a tough one for me, and maybe for many of you too, because in today’s clothing industry, more expensive doesn’t always mean better quality, and sometimes more expensive is just simply unaffordable for those of us on tight budgets. But, I will say that you probably can tell when something is very poorly made and will only last through one season of wearing and washing. So try to buy higher quality pieces, when you can, that will last through several years of wear.
3. Seek out Organic/Fair-Trade when possible
Again, this is a tough one for me personally, because these types of clothes often come with a higher price tag and are also harder to find. Occasionally, I have seen organic cotton clothing at big-box retailers, so I try to be on the lookout and buy those items when I can, to show my support with my dollars. You can also find organic and fair-trade clothing at online retailers.
4. Only Buy what you Need and Love
Try to avoid buying the trendy, disposable clothing that the fashion industry pushes, as well as overbuying more clothing than you truly need. Figure out your style, and what works best on your body, and invest in pieces that fit into that wardrobe. I’ll be sharing some more resources later this week for how to do this in a really practical way.
5. Take Good Care of Your Clothes
Finally, once you’ve purchased your clothes and brought them home, be sure to take the best care of them that you can, so that you can make them last as long as possible before needing to be replaced. Wash your clothes in cold water, turned inside out, and on the gentle cycle. This is better for your clothes and for the earth.
Use green and natural laundry care, including detergents, stain removers, and fabric softeners. When possible, hang your clothing up to dry, this is one of the best ways to prolong the life of your clothes and keep them looking their best, as drying them in the dryer breaks down the fabric.
None of us can do everything to change the impact of the fashion industry on people around the world and on the environment. But if we each commit to making some small changes; buying clothing from companies that are trying to do better, buying clothing used, and taking good care of what we already have, together we can make a difference!
Do you think about the impact of your clothing purchases, both on the environment, and on the people who work in the industry? How do you make conscious decisions to make a difference with the clothing you choose to purchase?
Read the whole Building a Wardrobe the Works series:
Find all the Green in 365 posts.
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