KEEP IT IN USE
Rinse and repeat, but not too often.
Image by Michelle Nace.
Keep it in Use
The concept of keeping an article of clothing for the long haul; washing and storing it properly, swiftly attending to stains and rips and choosing to continue to wear it (literally) to death has, for the most part, been lost - taken over by the overwhelmingly convenient idea that replacement is cheaper than investing in garment life extension. Now that fast fashion dominates mainstream clothing purchases, clothing prices are lower than ever! Yet consumption rises year on year as does its more sinister effects on our long term behaviour and, I'd argue, mental health. I'm not here to guilt you out of fast fashion either - affordable clothing needs its place but it's the volume I'm taking issue with today.
Global consumption of textiles has more than doubled since 2000 and 90% of clothing is discarded before it should be. We all must know deep down that buying more and more stuff isn't making us happy and it's definitely not making the planet a better place. Even in the COVID world we occupy where it seems every other day another store, brand or company has closed down, people are still buying up. They're just doing it online. The good news in all this is that people are shopping their values more now than ever, a trend that's thought to have accelerated thanks to COVID.
Still, clothing is notoriously considered a commodity. Most people don't understand what's in their clothes, let alone who made them or how they came to be. They are often treated as disposable; sending those barely used polyester-blend tees to St Vinnies, so we can buy something new, never felt so easy. But we don't realise how many of those pieces still end up in landfill where they rot slowly, releasing methane in the process. In fact, it might be over 500 years before that poly-blend tee degrades, and even then it only fragments into minuscule pieces that blow off into the air and can end up in our oceans and in the digestive systems of our precious wildlife. While I'm not against cleansing one's wardrobe or giving quality items to a charity shop, if it's just to make way for another thoughtless round of new purchases then I think we missed the point of cleansing.
So how on earth can we humans, who tend to throw away clothes after just seven wears, increase overall garment utilisation? How can we "Keep it in Use"? I'm sure there are a million great ideas out there, especially now that up-cycling is the new hot thing, second hand clothing is expected to overtake fast fashion in revenue by 2030 and COVID has woken many of us up as to why we should shop our values. These ideas are shiny and exciting, but might also be inaccessible for a lot of people. I'd like to propose a super simple solution that's been around since our grandmas were washing our undies by hand and darning socks by the fire. Something that EVERYBODY can participate in. And that my friends, is the loving and responsible act of Care.
Care may seem simplistic, but it can be profoundly impactful, once you get past all the excuses as to why it's too hard and, believe me, I've heard and made them, too.
I've personally found that when I care for my things (repairing them when they tear, hanging them between washes and wear, treating each piece as valuable), some sort of bond develops between myself and the item. This is especially true with high quality garments or significant pieces that have sentimental or familial meaning. Maybe it's a form of extended self care, when you take care of your things like they are irreplaceable. Honestly, it doesn't take much extra time, and you'll save time browsing and impulse shopping, plus your hard earned dollars in the end. It may also help you reflect on the kind of new pieces to buy in the first place or adopt a "cost per wear" mentality.
Mending is an act of environmental activism.
Constantly looking for more and more stuff to cram into my wardrobe is depressing because when I buy in this mind-set, I still never really like what I have. I still feel like I have nothing to wear, and that I'm not yet enough - this is especially true for "trendy" garments. So, I've given up shopping for new clothes almost entirely. It's A.BCH and second hand for me all the way and if I'm adding something in, then I need to take something out (donate, gift, re-sell, pass on). I have a way smaller wardrobe footprint, and don't feel like I'm missing out. It's easier to find what I need and to plan my outfits.
So what can we do, dear wearer and washer of clothes? Marie Kondo our wardrobes and start over? I want to challenge you to not do that unless you really will stop buying stuff to replace it. We can glean some of the organisational savvy and storage tips though. Did you know that most of the environmental damage that happens due to clothes occurs AFTER purchase? Yep. The washing, the drying, the ironing, the throwing away, the shipping of second hand clothes around the globe, the greenhouse gasses released during their slow-if-at-all decomposition. All of these things are what make the biggest difference! Not the brand name, not where it was made and not the price tag. It's not saying we don't care about those things, we can and do. But individuals hold a massive opportunity to make a big difference by making currently owned pieces last through Care.
In light of all this, here are my top Care tips to help you "Keep it in Use".
1. Don’t over wash
Washing and drying a load every two days creates around 440kg of CO2e each year. Over washing also sends clothing to the grave faster, so unless its been rubbing up next to your skin, sniff-check before you wash! (is that gross?) Things like overcoats and jackets may never need to be washed!
2. You can never have too many wash bags
Use several wash bags (AKA delicates bag - available here) to protect your strappy things, organic cotton tees, lingerie and cloth masks. Don’t shove everything into one bag, but seperate a few items only into each bag for washing. Anything labelled “hand wash only” can be washed in this way - always on cold.
3. This stain remover will change your life
Ok, you have a spill. It happens. Cream sweater, fresh off the drying rack. You're feeling good. You take your lunch (who else eats pasta for lunch?) and even though you were SO careful, you splatter those tiny red dots all over yourself. Here's what needs to happen. Take that sweater off as soon as you can, wet and apply this laundry bar on the stain. Use the material to lather up by gently rubbing the fabric together, or use a clean white cloth. Rinse in tepid water. Stain is most likely gone. What I'm trying to say is attend to your stains and spills IMMEDIATELY. Don't leave it for the next wash. Spot clean the stain now. You'll likely save this garment from an early pyjama downgrade.
Using a laundry bar and delicates bag in your washing routine can have a big impact on the longevity of your clothes.
4. Leave the tumble dryer alone
Did you know you can "save" more than half the carbon emissions omitted in a garment's entire lifecycle by drying on the line instead of in the dryer. My advice is if you really need to use one, do it on an air-dry cycle (no heat) - it’s a lot gentler on the planet and your clothes will keep their quality longer with the less heat they're exposed to.
5. Air out your grievances, I mean, t-shirt
Sniff test everything (dirty underwear or sweated-in activewear are exempt), if your garment isn't exactly fresh you could try hanging it out in some fresh air before resorting to the laundry basket. You’d be surprised how often you get an extra wear employing this technique. By not over washing your clothes, they'll last longer (see point 1). Clever or lazy, you decide.
6. Cold is Gold
Wash on cold! It preserves the life of your garments! I can’t tell people this enough, especially for garments with organic fibres, which need a little more tenderness than conventional fibres. Cold is also better on your delicates, and will help preserve the life of every item you wash.
7. Repair is the new Netflix and chill
I've repaired many a garment while watching tv. And is it just me, or have our attention spans become even shorter in COVID restriction life? I find while I'm watching that I'm also constantly looking at my phone. Sometimes I even look at Twitter. Why. But when I do something a little productive while watching tv, like mending a hole in a shirt or fixing a customer's ripped jeans, that I get a little endorphin kick. If you relish that "accomplished feeling" (if you know it, you know it) but ALSO love to chill in front of the tv after a hard day's work then I highly recommend investing in a repair kit and practising some basic stitching. In no time you'll be volunteer-darning socks for your household.
8. Put your clothes in a home.
One thing I will say for Marie Kondo is that despite sparking mass dumping of clothing, she really gets what it means to tidy up. When you fold or hang your garments immediately after washing or wearing them and assign them a "home" where they can live, you are less likely to dump your clothes onto the floor to collect dust, get crushed and trampled on. This little act of respect can help change how you feel about your clothes, not to mention you'll have easier access to wear and rotate them.
Fun fact. Extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months would reduce the garment’s carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20-30%. So simple! So chic! If you've ever felt confronted with how enormous all the environmental issues can feel, then taking care of your clothes has never been a more important, not to mention simple, way to begin to combat them.
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