“…we are all stewards of our clothing, responsible for seeing it through its different phases of life… what if more of us thought about clothing in the way people – until very recently – have always thought about it? Clothing is valuable. It should be valued.”
An excerpt from Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. Read this book (but borrow it to stay eco-friendly). I was expecting it to discuss sweatshops but was pleasantly surprised that it focused more on the decline of clothing quality and skilled labor. Here are some of the highlights of what I learned:
- Inexpensive clothes are that way because of cheap labor and poor quality
- Sewing is a skill that has virtually disappeared in a single generation
- You’re not doing anyone a favor donating your clothes to a thrift store
I have never been a big shopper. The faster I can get in and out of the mall the better. But even I have clothes sitting in my closet that I never wear, or that I swear never looked as good after the first wash. I have been thinking about clothes recently. First a bedroom renovation made me want to tackle my piles of clothes. Additionally, having gone through a pregnancy just over a year ago, my body just doesn’t fit right in my old clothes anymore. Reading this book, combined with having watched Minimalism and the documentary The True Cost, has convinced me I need a wardrobe makeover both literally and figuratively.
Below are some of my thoughts moving forward on this project.
Reduce: Invest in a high quality, low quantity wardrobe.
I am aiming for a small number of highly functional garments. The first thing I am doing is making a carefully considered master list of the clothes I need. There are several minimalist wardrobe examples on the internet that I am using as a guide. My list is still a work in progress so I cannot share it yet. I want each item to be of the best quality (that I can afford).
I have immediately encountered a major problem: I have no idea how to tell if clothing is high quality. I see more reading in my future. I found the blog post by Anuschka Rees How to assess the quality of garments: A beginners guide as a good starting point.
It was also important to me that I begin to look for local designers/retailers. I have literally never shopped anywhere but the mall so this will be an adventure. I did manage to find a listing for Canadian-made clothing companies that I will likely reference throughout the process.
In agreement with my environmental goals, I am also interested in buying clothing made from natural fibers (cotton, wool etc.). You can find a quick resource on eco-friendly fabrics here.
The first item I decided to add to my wardrobe was socks. Simple, and avoids the whole complication of ‘I want to loose the pregnancy weight before I buy new clothes’. Okay, so I need to find high quality socks, made locally from eco-friendly fabrics, and that can be paired with multiple outfits as per keeping my wardrobe minimalist.
After spending about 6 hours researching socks (compared to a typical 5 minute spontaneous purchase at a department store) I decided on these Organic Cotton Crew Socks from Maggie’s Organics. They are 98% organic cotton (low environmental impact, degradable), black and natural colored (pairs well with most clothes), made in the USA (okay, not Canada but pretty damn close), and the fabrics are fair trade. Reasonably priced at $8.50.
I have never been so excited for socks to arrive in the mail. Or as apprehensive. They better be amazing.
Reuse: Learn How to Sew
A generation ago, fixing a rip in a shirt or taking in a seam to improve the fit of a pair of pants, would be a no-brainer. Today minor clothing damages are enough for a garment to become destined for the landfill.
Many years ago I was taught how to use a sewing machine but even if I did remember how, I never did any clothing alterations or repairs. Sadly, I even own a sewing machine that has been collecting dust in the basement (an inheritance from my late grandmother). So I called up my mom, who has lots of experience sewing, and planned a visit complete with a sewing lesson. Stay tuned for some questionable attempts at clothing repair.
Until I become an expert seamstress, I will have to employ one. Just last week my husband indicated that the zipper on his otherwise-perfect winter coat was broken. Off to the local seamstress it went. Full zipper replacement was $30 compared to buying a new jacket.
Recycle: Find a better way to dispose of unwanted clothes
For clothes that I cannot re-sell online, or that are beyond repair, I need a creative solution to disposal. According to Over-dressed, only about 20% of the clothes we drop off at the thrift store are actually put on the shelves. Most are sold to textile recycling facilities, shipped overseas, or sent to the landfill. Because today’s cheap clothes are often of poor quality, the rarely make it to the second hand market.
I am particularly intrigued by the idea of turning old clothes into yarn that can then be reused to make something new. I am already an avid knitter/crocheter (who spends way too much money on yarn) so this isn’t a big stretch for me. Check out this video on how to make ‘yarn’ from old t-shirts.
For someone who doesn’t care too much about ‘fashion’, I am very excited by all the new ideas I have after reading this book!