a hanging rack of clothes in a shop

Tackling wardrobe waste: keeping your clothes in the cycle

Trying to shop sustainably is no easy feat in a world dominated by ‘fast fashion’, where inexpensive clothes are produced en masse to keep up with the latest trends. In theory it sounds perfect: a thousand different, affordable styles at our fingertips. However, whilst the costs are low for us, they are high for our planet.

Here in Australia, we are starting to recognise the scale of this issue. Programs such as The ABC’s War on Waste uncovered a sobering figure: Australians dispose of approximately 6000 kilograms of textile waste every 10 minutes, as we needlessly discard our clothes before the end of their lifetime. When you consider the resources required for producing each garment, the wastage is unfathomable.

Most of us have bought into the convenience of fast fashion at some stage, replacing rather than repairing our torn or stained garments. But what can we do going forward to make the life of our clothes last as long as possible?

Invest in classics

One way to reduce wardrobe wastage is to invest in a few high-quality items that remain in style and intact for years, rather than buying large quantities of flimsy clothes that follow the season’s fleeting trend.

Whilst more expensive, these well-constructed garments will last far longer than their cheaper counterparts, saving you money in the long run while also keeping garments from landfill. For example, rather than replacing worn-out boots after each winter, invest in a sturdy pair that will keep your feet warm for years.

Investing in a well-made pair of shoes will save you money over many winters. Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

It is important to recognise that buying high-quality and sustainably produced clothing isn’t always possible, as these items can stretch our budgets and are not always easily accessible. But being mindful of your purchases and only buying what you truly need can make a big difference on the legacy you leave on the planet.

To find some environmentally friendly and ethical brands, filter through the Shop Ethical website or check brand ratings on the Good For app.

Au Naturel

If you are buying new items, it’s also a great idea to look for clothes that use natural fibres such as organic linen and hemp. Synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon can shed microplastics when washed, which ultimately end up polluting our waterways and can enter the food chain.

Keep in mind, however, that some natural fibres such as organic cotton require huge amounts of water to grow; the WWF estimates that it takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt. So, if possible, recycled cotton is the way to go.

Second-hand or rent

Let’s say you are looking for something new to brighten your wardrobe, or perhaps shopping for a special occasion. Renting or buying second-hand is a great solution to cutting down on textile waste, as the garment is kept in use for longer than just one ownership.

image of second-hand clothing in an op shop

‘Op-shopping’ is a fun way to search for second-hand bargains, and a great way to spruce up your wardrobe with something that’s ‘new to you’. Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

‘Lack of ownership’ is becoming increasingly popular within the retail industry, as more and more rental and resale services are becoming accessible to the public. Rather than buying an expensive outfit you may only wear once, you can look your best in a stunning pre-owned ensemble for that special occasion, and let the garment get maximum usage across its lifespan.

Have a look at some of these fantastic rental sites or look for your next second hand purchase on Depop.

Mend, don’t spend

Mending clothes has become something of a lost art; why repair when you can buy new for next to nothing? However, constantly replacing torn or broken items can be an expensive and wasteful habit, and there is no need to part with your favourite items when they can last twice as long with a little care.

Not everyone is handy with a needle and thread, but there is a wealth of knowledge all around you. Look to older friends or relatives who may have grown up in a more frugal time and know their way around a sewing machine. Otherwise, there are plenty of informative websites and videos that take you through the processes step by step. Explore some of these (https://remake.world/stories/style/how-to-mend-your-clothes-during-quarantine-5-easy-stitch-fixes/) great mending solutions, or watch these helpful tutorials on how to darn holes and replace buttons of all types. You may even find that your repair job elevates the look of your item! But more on that later.

From patching holes to hemming pants, there are countless skills you can easily acquire to maximise the life of your clothes. And as an added bonus, there is nothing more satisfying than proudly sporting your repaired garment!

Give your garment a glow up!

Upcycling is about reusing discarded objects or fabrics in such a way that creates a product of greater value. We can use this principal on clothes that are beyond repair, or perhaps looking a little tired and in need of a ‘glow-up’.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to customising – are the bottoms of your jeans looking scruffy? Try cutting them into a pair of summer shorts! How about that tomato sauce stain on your white blouse? Embroider a cute motif over it!

Or, if you want to get even more creative, take out the sewing machine. I repurposed an old scarf and some towelling to make reusable make-up wipes. Kicking two wasteful habits at once!

Upcycled make-up wipes, made from an old scarf that had outlived its original use. Image: Kelley Leech

You don’t have to be a sewing whiz to repurpose your old garments, though. Reusing retired clothes as cleaning rags is a great way to get a final use out of the material. Or perhaps you can explore all the ways you can repurpose those pesky odd socks. If you’re a green thumb, why not use old fabric as a weed mat to line your garden bed? With a bit of imagination, the options are limitless!

Every little bit counts

While textile waste is just one slice of a global-scale problem, taking control of the waste generated from your wardrobe is an easy way to tackle such a concerning issue within your home. Every small, sustainable decision you make is a step towards a better future for our planet. It may take a little extra time and thought, but that effort will not only help you get the most out of your wardrobe, the environment will be looking just as great as you!


Banner photo by Lauren Fleischmann on Unsplash

About author

Kelley Anne Leech

Kelley is an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate with a passion for wildlife, conservation and urban ecology.

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