Whether you’re new to the slow fashion movement, or you’ve been telling everyone within earshot about the perils of fast fashion and overconsumption for the best part of a decade, you’ll probably be familiar with the idea of extending the life of your clothes in the name of sustainability. It sounds simple—the longer you keep a garment, the less time it spends in landfill and the less often you’ll need to buy a replacement. Too easy, right? But in this era of fast fashion hauls, cheap mass-produced clothing, short trend lifecycles and influencer culture, it’s incredibly tempting to forget about your sustainability goals and succumb to that on-trend top for a fleeting hit of dopamine.
According to Clean Clothes Campaign, 60% of the 100 billion garments made in 2018 will have ended up in landfill within the year. Not so dopamine-inducing when you think of it like that! By extending the life of your clothes, you’ll not only keep them out of landfill, you’ll also be likely to buy less, which is just as great for the environment as it is for your wallet. We’ve uncovered seven ways to extend the life of your clothes to help you reduce your consumption and become a more sustainable shopper. Consider this your guide to making better purchases and keeping them on high rotation in your wardrobe for seasons (maybe even decades) to come.
1. Shop with conscious brands (or not at all)
The first step to becoming a conscious consumer is by not consuming at all. Reducing your consumption will have the most positive impact both environmentally and socially. But if you are on the hunt for a new item of clothing, that’s OK too. Just try your best to avoid fast fashion brands whose business model is based on mass production and planned obsolescence—the act of producing something with the intention of it to be replaced quickly. Instead, try to support conscious brands that have considered their environmental and ethical footprint. Look for fashion labels that prioritise transparency, mindful manufacturing and sustainable fabrications, trimmings and dyes (*cough* Nu Form *cough*). It may seem like the more expensive option, but we argue that you’ll be more likely to love these products and take care of them, which will result in less consumption and less money spent in the long run. And so the cycle continues…
2. Look for quality
Quality is so important when it comes to getting a decent lifespan out of your clothes. Look for garments that are made well with strong seams, good zippers and durable fabrics. Unfortunately we tend to get what we pay for when it comes to clothing. So if a $5 tee shirt seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Alternatively, just because something is expensive it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good quality. Be sure to do some investigating when you’re at the shop or check out the reviews before purchasing something online. Natural fabrics are great, and usually quite durable, but they aren’t automatically the strongest fabrics available. They are, however, less likely to shed microfibres in the wash, which have been linked to plastic pollution in our oceans.
3. Avoid trends and only buy things you are sure you love
Sure, that fluro green top with the cut outs is a lot of fun but if you’re only going to get two wears out of it then your attempts at becoming more sustainable have gone down the drain (and so has your hard earned cash). Instead, look for clothes that go well with all the other items in your wardrobe. This requires you to take stock of what you already own, know your personal style, then purchase items that complement your existing wardrobe. This will look different for everyone, but let’s just say you have a cupboard full of black and white pieces, then a bright coloured top might be just what you’re missing. Of course, if you find something you absolutely adore, sometimes it’s OK to make it yours without consulting the contents of your wardrobe. Because the more you love something the more likely you are to take care of it and keep it for a long time. Our tip if you fall in love with a garment: Sleep on it! If you take your time to really consider the purchase (we’re talking days, if not weeks) you’ll know that it’s right for you and you’ll be sure to wear it over and over again.
4. Take care when washing
This is perhaps the most important step when trying to extend the life of your clothing. By following the care instructions on the tag, you’re less likely to have an item lose its shape or colour in the wash. In the same vein, reducing the amount of washing you do all together is much better for the environment. If you wear something and it still looks and smells fresh, then pop it back on the hanger for another day. Less washing means less water down the drain and a longer lifespan on your clothes. Other general washing tips include: only washing when you have a full load, washing with cold water, using environmentally-friendly detergents, air dry on the line and avoid fabric softeners or bleaches.
5. Make do and mend
OK so this step may not be achievable for all of us! But if you have access to Youtube and a needle and thread, you can try your hand at mending any garments that have seen better days. If a trained eye is required, find a local seamstress or dry cleaner who knows their way around a sewing machine. If all else fails, wear that hole with pride. It shows character after all.
6. Consider your clothing’s ‘afterlife’
If you have an item of clothing that’s seen better days or you’re absolutely sick of it (we’ve all been there), take a moment before you throw it in the bin. Can it be upcycled into something new? Can you give it to a friend? Is it made from 100% natural fabrics that can be composted? Can you sell it on an app like Depop? Can it be donated responsibly? By diverting clothing away from landfill you’re keeping it in circulation longer and reducing the negative impact it can have on the environment.
About the Author
Caitlyn Spanner is a writer and soon-to-be mum based in Meanjin (Brisbane), Australia. She’s passionate about conscious fashion and helping purpose-driven brands share their stories through words and strategy.