How Can I Participate in Better Fashion?

June 13, 2019

I recently read that some of the alarmist "facts" thrown around — namely, that the fashion industry is the world's second biggest polluter — are not entirely traceable, and may constitute "fake news". 

But, whether this specific claim is true or not, it is clear that our consumptive habits have run wild. Here are a few (actual) facts related to the fashion industry: 

  • Nearly three-fifths of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced.
  • More than 8 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions are produced by the apparel and footwear industries.
  • Around 20 to 25 percent of globally produced chemical compounds are utilized in the textile-finishing industry.

(Data from reports by McKinsey & Qantis, & the textbook Handbook of Textile Effluent Remediation, as reported by The New York Times)

All of this is uncomfortable, not least because to face the reality is like staring down a tsunami wave — it really feels like personal decisions are not going to have any bearing on the problem! It's at a scale that feels very out of control.

But, if we know, we should act based on our knowledge. We don't have to take on the responsibility of the world, but we can take responsibility for our own dollars and choices.

Here are some ways that we can participate in promoting better fashion, and protecting the earth from abundant clothing waste:

Keep the clothing you use for longer

Buy better quality to start

Most synthetics are made for the look, not the lasting power. This means that a sweater (even a $120 J. Crew sweater) can pill within 2 or 3 wears; you won't like how it looks more ratty, and will probably stop wearing it. What a waste! In my opinion, it's the producer that is for shame here, not the buyer. 

Choose fabrics that are not blended, and opt for natural fabrics when possible (over synthetic/plastic mixes like polyester, nylon, & acrylic). The oil industry may be the biggest world polluter, but when oil is being processed to create disposable clothes, it seems to me there is more complexity to this story. 

Better quality does not always mean more expensive. There are a lot of pricey clothes that are not built to last. A friend of mine finds, ironically, the Gap Factory store full of reliable, natural fiber clothes — but, you really need to look at the labels.

Choose styles that are classic & lasting, rather than trendy

What do French women wear? What photos do I see and love the style? Start a Pinterest board of "classic women's style" or even just "style I like" and sift through for the looks that worked a decade or more ago, and still do today.

This doesn't mean you have to wear the exact same uniform for the rest of your life. But, there is still a difference between styles that are moderately trendy (say, overalls) vs. ultra-short-lived (say, bandana halter tops or fat, ergonomic-looking shoes).

In larger cities, many malls have style consultants who can help you create a personal style for free; or, for a fee you can find this service in smaller locales or online. It's not necessary to sacrifice looking good for caring about the environmental ramifications of fashion. Just make sure to share your priorities with your consultant.

Return to mending

Something you notice when reading books like Little Women, East of Eden, or Jane Austen, is the time that they spend mending. Darning socks & repairing clothes is simply not how we spend our time in 2019!

Apparently, this is because we are too busy now, but... I think we just prefer watching Netflix! And in the culture of disposable clothes, there is something odd about the look of a repaired item, rather than one that is pristine (ironic, though, that I bought a pre-ripped pair of jeans last month). 

You don't need to spend your evenings with your needle & thread, but there are undoubtedly entrepreneurs in your area who make their living on alterations & repairs. The next time a piece of clothing is damaged, ask them if it is repairable or what options you might have for it to extend its life.

Don't go new

Clothing Swaps & Exchanges

An item that may be "meinh" for you may look fabulous to me! Organizing a swap party with friends — or joining into a regular event that may happen in your area — is a great way to socialize and find gems that have lost their lustre to someone else.

Again, good quality, natural fabrics will last through multiple wearers, whereas synthetics may look too world-weary to make it to a second (or beyond) sartorial home.

Buying Second-Hand

No takers for the friend exchange? The second-hand clothing market is only going to grow in the coming years as people get fed up with the pollution & consumption of the fashion industry. Find the stores in your area with a niche to your interests — in a large enough market, you will be able to find shops that specialize in various demographic or brand-specific interests. Or, go the online route with ThredUp.

Do the Inner Work of Contentment

Frankly, much of our restless spending & improvement is addressing other areas of our life. I'm no psychologist, but I know that if shopping is my balm to life's pains & insecurities, I'm going to spend a lot of money and have a lot of stuff. The satisfaction & sense of settlement that comes with a new thing is a rush that simply does not last.

Try a shopping ban, spend time in prayer or meditation, journal, or seek help from a counsellor. A stuffed closet can't necessarily be KonMari'ed away.

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