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Contribute to Sustainable Fashion by Making Clothes Last Longer

by Orianna

Picture of a lint shaver and lint roller

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You Can Contribute to Sustainable Fashion Practices

Many clothes produced today are made to last one season and then they’re done. We produce more than 17 million tons of textiles every year and less than 15 percent of them are recycled. If we all make a concerted effort to make our clothes last longer, then we will buy less and less material ultimately ends up in a landfill. We also have the added benefit of spending less.

Before I get into clothing maintenance strategies, take a few minutes to think about your buying habits. Do you take stock every season and buy several items every 3–4 months? Or do you buy 1–2 (or more) items every month? Are you strategic in your choices, such as buying items to make outfits, or do you purchase based on the whim of the moment?

Advertisers do everything they can to drive behavior to whim purchases. This is why tracking your preferences online is so important to them. Once advertisers know what you like, they show you ads for items they think will attract you. Sometimes it can be difficult not to purchase that bag or cute pair of shorts that has popped up on the page you are reading!

However, one thing that has helped me is to seasonally go through my closet and take stock of what I have, what condition my clothes and shoes are in and then make a plan. I identify items for recycling, donation, or sometimes sale. I then take a look at what outfits I have that look nice. I also think about where I will be going in the upcoming few months. Will I have work trips? A vacation? Or maybe a special event? Will I be dating? Or mostly just staying home and working from my home office?

This is really my way of creating my capsule collection. (Read more about capsule wardrobe's here.)

Aligning purchases to your conscious lifestyle is important — it means that you won’t end up with a cute dress you never wear or an impractical coat for your climate.

Once I think about what my needs are for the next few months and I have sorted out what I have, I make a list of what I would like to purchase. For example, I may like to purchase a new black t-shirt to wear on dates with a cute pair of jeans. Or, I may need two new pairs of pajamas because several existing pairs are at their end-of-use.

Once I have the list, I shop based on my budget, product quality, and sustainability practices of the supplier (as much as possible). This is also something to consider — what are your purchasing values?

I consciously add new items to my wardrobe and I try to care for them to get the longest practical use. Below are the ways that I care for clothing items to make them last longer.

6 Ways to Make Clothes Longer

1. Employ Basic Sewing Skills

I have a black pair of leggings that I absolutely love. Somehow, they got the smallest little hole on the back right side. Rather than throwing them out, I can get out my small sewing box and just put in a few barely noticeable stitches to ensure that the hole is closed and doesn’t get bigger. This is really easy with a black pair of leggings because the black thread blends right in.

Don’t be shy about being resourceful! A small little imperfection like this won’t make these leggings any less comfortable or nice looking — especially when worn under a sweatshirt or a long tee.

2. Get a Fabric Shaver

This is my favorite way to care for clothes and make them last. Have you ever had a sweater that used to be soft but over time developed small balls of fabric (called “pilling”) all over it? That’s what this fabric shaver is for! Any loose threads or balls of fabric are removed making your clothes look brand new!

The $12.99 investment in a fabric shaver is easy to justify when considering the number of additional wears you will get from pieces of refurbished clothing.

As a side note, if you have cats that scratch your fabric furniture, you can also use this method to keep it looking fresh and new.

3. Get a Lint Roller

Lint rollers are great. I recently had a purse that was in great condition but seemed to have a little dust in the grooves on the top. I used a lint roller and it helped tremendously. The purse had a fabric strap so I used the fabric shaver to freshen it up. The purse looked brand new! I decided that I no longer really needed it, but it looked great, so I sold it for cash to a local consignment shop.

My efforts to refresh this piece made the difference between putting it in the donate bin and selling it. I was able to use those funds towards buying a new dress. Plus, someone else is going to get a great deal on a clean and well-cared-for purse.

4. Use a Wet Washcloth

This is particularly effective for shoes. Women who wear open-toed fabric shoes can tend to have skin come off on the area where their toes rub the fabric. (Yes, kind of gross but true…) This can leave shoes looking less than beautiful when you take them off. A solution is to take a damp washcloth and scrub fabric shoes.

This also works for shoes that have gotten dusty in a closet or kids' shoes that have gotten muddy. Cleaning shoes well can make them ready for use for you, or better candidates for donation or sale.

The image below shows a purse strap before and after refurbishment. I used the fabric shaver, a lint brush, and a wet washcloth to achieve the after look.

picture of before and after handbag strap

5. Consider Quality When Purchasing

While style is certainly a consideration and over time fashions change, some items are timeless. I have a beautiful pair of Gucci shoes in my closet that I bought in Australia in 2000. Yes, that was 21 years ago. But they are still beautiful and look great with the right outfit.

picture of a foot with a sandel and the words '2000 Gucci'

This brings up an important point. I am not always an advocate of buying the cheapest items. A sweatshirt from H&M is going to have a different length of use than a sweatshirt from Prada. The quality is just different.

If there is something you really love that is a luxury item, buy it if it is within your budget. Just consider how much use you will get out of it and commit to taking care of it. If you can see yourself wearing the piece for 4–5 years without it going out of style, great. If not, keep looking.

6. Try Hand Washing and Line Drying

Some clothing items require more gentle care. For example, a few years ago I went to a bra boutique and bought some expensive lingerie. The woman told me that the items would last longer if I hand washed and line dried them. While I initially thought about this as an inconvenience, after a while I got used to it.

I would wash the items in a natural detergent and hang them to dry over the shower curtain rod in my private bathroom. She was right — they stayed beautiful and like new for a long time!

One note is that some black items like black T-shirts look better if they line dry. Using the dryer tends to make the black and other dark colors fade faster. Take stock of your clothes and see which items are candidates for more thoughtful washing routines. I don’t think this is practical for all items, so be strategic and choose a few.

Final Thoughts

Adopting conscious living practices and embracing sustainable fashion is crucial for creating a more sustainable future. By making our clothes last longer, we can significantly reduce the amount of textile waste ending up in landfills and minimize our environmental impact. Additionally, prolonging the lifespan of our garments offers the added benefit of saving money.

To contribute to sustainable fashion practices, it's essential to reassess our buying habits and make thoughtful choices. Taking stock of our existing wardrobe, identifying items for recycling or donation, and creating a capsule collection based on our needs and lifestyle can help us align our purchases with conscious values. Considering factors such as product quality, budget, and the sustainability practices of suppliers can guide us towards making more sustainable choices.

Caring for our clothing items in ways that extend their lifespan is key. Basic sewing skills can be employed to mend minor imperfections, while fabric shavers can remove pilling, giving garments a refreshed look. Lint rollers are effective in removing dust and debris, revitalizing accessories and clothing alike. Using a wet washcloth can help clean fabric shoes or remove stains, making them suitable for continued use or donation. When purchasing new items, considering quality over price can lead to longer-lasting pieces that transcend fleeting trends.

Lastly, embracing alternative washing methods like hand washing and line drying can extend the life of delicate garments and preserve their beauty. By being strategic and selective in choosing which items require more thoughtful care, we can optimize the longevity of our clothes.

Incorporating these practices into our daily lives empowers us to contribute to sustainable fashion, reduce waste, and promote a more mindful approach to our wardrobe choices. Together, by embracing conscious living and sustainable fashion practices, we can make a meaningful impact on the planet and the fashion industry.

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