How To Make Your Clothes Last Longer.
Now that we’ve had a look at the life cycle of your products - let's take a look at the consumption stage, and see what we can do to lengthen the lifespan of our clothing with good care and love. Taking care of the pieces that we already have in our wardrobes is one of the most important stages of the life cycle of a product. If we look after things better, they tend to last longer, and with the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles going to landfill every second, this is proving to be quite important.
Fast fashion has created a disconnect between customer and producer, and the more involved we are with pieces and brands we are purchasing, the more respect we have for them, and in turn, the better we will care for them. Buying higher quality pieces that are (potentially) more expensive creates a stronger connection between us and the clothes, because we value them more.
Focus on developing your own style, as the hyper speed that trends rush through us means we get sick of certain styles quickly. Did you know that 50% of fast fashion pieces get thrown away within a year of production? This is mainly to do with quality, material and trends, and also our detrimental hyper consumption habits. If the pieces you are buying are high quality pieces made to last, you will want to take extra care in how you use them. Fast fashion garments are often cheaply made with low quality fabrication and trims, but we can still make them last a little longer with the right care.
“By thinking of the garments we wear as short term tools rather than long term investments, we contribute to wasteful consumption patterns that inevitably lead us towards drastic climate change.”
Remember, the wardrobe you currently have is the most sustainable one. Keeping your pieces in rotation for longer is the most important thing you can do, regardless of how ‘ethical’ those products are. Even if all the pieces you currently own are from fast fashion brands, try your best to take good care of them, and going forward, try to incorporate some of the following steps to lengthen the life of your favorite pieces.
“Another way consumers can have a disproportionately positive impact on biodiversity is to get more use out of clothes they already own. Using a piece of clothing nine months longer can reduce its associated CO2 emissions by 27 percent, its water use by 33 percent, and its waste by 22 percent.”
10 Tips on taking better care of your clothing, and making them last longer.
1. Read care labels
Firstly, you will need to identify what your garments are made out of - certain materials require certain care. Is it a natural fibre? Synthetic? Dry clean only? Wool? Read the care labels provided, and if you're unsure about something, google will always help.
Being aware of what pieces are made of synthetic fibers will also help if you’re trying to minimize microplastic fibres from entering the ocean.
2. Treat stains right away.
Spot clean stains as soon as possible for the highest chance of removal. There are many different ways to treat different stains, research for particular foods/drinks to ensure you're using the best method.
"The longer you wait to remove a stain, the less likely you’ll be able to remove it." —Johnny Xirouchakis, general manager of Madame Paulette, a high-end, New York City cleaner.
3. Wash less and/or hand wash.
Focus on washing your clothes less - most natural fibres are naturally breathable, and will often just need to be aired out. Hand washing is also a great way to make your delicates last longer, soak them in luke warm water for an hour with a gentle detergent, before line drying.
Washing less will decrease the amount of water waste you're generating, spot cleaning can be a great alternative to remove marks without putting it in the wash.
Cold washing clothes is also, in general, better and it may keep them from losing their colour, keeping prints crisp and colours bright. Unfortunately, this is not always the most hygienic way, so with delicates and towels, wash on warm.
4. Freeze for a refresh.
Putting your favourite jeans in the freezer overnight will kill the bacteria in the fibres which cause them to get smelly. This will slow down the rate that they wear out, and will also keep the colour from fading (by reducing the amount of times you need to wash them).
This trick can also be used to get chewing gum off your clothing, freshen up smelly shoes, and kill off unwanted pests (like moths and bed bugs).
5. Learn to repair.
Learning to do small repairs like fixing holes and replacing buttons can increase the life cycle of a garment by a lot - just think of that skirt you love but haven’t worn in months because that one button is missing? Use YouTube to teach yourself tips on easy repairs, or look up your local alterations store for repairs out of your league.
“As a society, though, we have become less inclined to make do and mend because the advent of fast fashion has made clothes so affordable that there is no incentive to repair them.” - The Guardian.
6. Air Dry
The washing and drying stage is obviously where most of the resources and energy goes. Did you know that you could save up to half a tonne of CO2e a year, by switching to line hanging your clothes instead of using a dryer machine?
Dryers can cause heat damage to the fibres which in turn breaks them down faster. This will make clothes shrink and age prematurely, this is especially true for any pieces containing elastic.
7. Store properly.
Storing your clothes properly will help in making sure they don't deform and age prematurely. Always fold your knits, and store any pieces out of direct sunlight, the same goes for t-shirts as hanging can deform them over time. Make sure your wardrobes are dry and ventilated to avoid any moth or mold build up.
Circulating your clothes can help keep them in rotation, and remember, dust bags are created for a reason. Store your shoes and accessories in their bags to keep them free of dust and grime build up.
8. Beware of microfibres.
Every time you wash an item, small particles of fibre break down and break off. These are called microfibres, and when the clothes being washed are made from synthetic materials, these are micro plastics. Micro plastics are a big issue, and clothing accounts for 20-35% of micro plastics in the ocean. Focusing on natural fibres, washing less and using a guppy bag will not only keep your pieces safer, but will ensure these micro pieces of fiber stay out of our oceans.
“An average of 700,000 fibers is released in a standard laundry load, and half a million tons of microfibers (which are a type of microplastic) end up in oceans every year. An estimated 35 percent of primary microplastics in the world’s oceans originate from the washing of synthetic textiles. Toxic chemicals in synthetic microfibers poison marine wildlife.” (The State of Fashion 2022).
9. Get pieces altered, or rework them to fit.
Sometimes, some pieces just need a little makeover. Reworking your jeans into shorts, or getting your trousers hemmed will add new desirability to older pieces. Admit it, you always avoid that certain piece in your wardrobe because it fits weird, and is a bit too loose here and tight here. Taking it to an alteration service to get fitted, or reworking it into a whole new piece yourself, will make you enjoy it more, and in turn, keep it for longer.
At the end of your clothings life, there are a few options of disposal. There are textile recycling systems popping up in many places, and donating your clothing is not the only option. As a lot of charity shops are overrun with low quality donations, make sure that the pieces you are giving are of high quality. If not, think of other ways to recycle them. Are there fibre recycling plants in your country that you could send them to? Can you down cycle your pieces into cleaning cloths?
“Everything can have another function at the end of its life,” says De Castro. She cuts up old swimsuits to use as hair ties (old tights are also good for this). And old T-shirts make the best cleaning rags.
Remember, slowing down and being a more conscious consumer takes time. That’s the whole point. Building a deeper connection with our purchases will increase their value in our eyes, and we will enjoy them for much longer. Our hyper consumption of low quality products is an issue that’s far reaching and deeply ingrained, and we need to change our mindset around what we really ‘need’.
Resources and further reading:
The State of Fashion 2022 <— This one is especially interesting.