Our guest author is Tamsin Blanchard, Editor at The Guardian
In these times of relentless profligacy – when many of us have never learned or long forgotten the art of repairing – we offer a guide on how to sew, patch, darn and iron your way to prolonging the life of your wardrobe, so that you may think twice before that sale purchase today
It’s not just the fashion industry that has a massive waste problem. We all do. Our wardrobes are bulging with clothes, many of which we don’t wear. The number of garments produced globally has doubled since 2000 to more than 100 billion items. If you are anything like me, you will feel as if you own a good proportion of them already.
As we were approaching Black Friday, which has now spread from a single day of splurge buying to an entire week, we are about to be bombarded with discounts and offers to buy everything from a new fridge to a cashmere jumper ( just you wait, there will be mountains of cheap cashmere).
Part of the reason retailers love Black Friday so much is because they have such huge excesses of stock to offload. Cheap clothes mean small profit margins so the fast fashion model relies on massive volumes to create profit. So by buying excessive amounts of cheap clothes, we all become part of one of the biggest and most troubling waste problems facing the world.
The fashion industry was responsible for the emission of 1715 million t of CO2 in 2015, about 5.45 % of the 32.1 billion t of global carbon emissions in 2015 (according to Copenhagen Fashion Summit’s 2017 Pulse of the Industry report). In light of the world’s governments’ gathering for COP23 for 11 days of talks on how to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions which began on November 6, 2017, we need to think hard about the rate at which we produce – and profligately discard – our clothes.
We need to make our existing wardrobes work more efficiently. It would help if we could see what we have to start with – so a wardrobe clear-out is a great place to start. According to a recent report by Greenpeace, After the Binge, the Hangover, our attitude towards shopping is a bit like our addiction to sugar. It might give us a quick buzz but it doesn’t make us happy. The average person buys 60 % more items of clothing and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago. According to Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), consumers in the UK now keep our garments for an average of just 3.3 years. There’s a need for greater transparency not just on production supply chains but on what the industry is doing with its mountains of waste.
“We need to find ways to break free from our addiction, reverse the throwaway culture and discover new ways to love our clothes,” says Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, the global campaign to promote a more transparent and sustainable fashion industry. “Far from being a part of the problem, we can all, enthusiastically and creatively, become a part of the solution.”
Fashion Revolution’s latest fanzine, Loved Clothes Last (the print version is available now, for £15, from Fashionrevolution.org; and free as a download from 1 December) includes contributions by experts including Rebecca Earley, Elizabeth Cline, Tom of Holland, Andrew Brooks, Kate Fletcher, and Greenpeace, with advice, tips and inspiration on how to make your clothes stand the test of time.
To help us resist the temptations of Black Friday, here is a 12 -step guide to caring for your clothes and make more of what you already have.
1 Learn how to master the basics of how to sew. If you can sew on a button, you need never get rid of a shirt or cardigan again just because it’s missing a button. There are lots of courses on learning to sew. The Sewing Directory will point you in the right direction.
2 Clothes worth wearing are worth repairing. Don’t throw something away just because it has a hole in it. If you can’t sew, try using an iron-on patch to cover a hole. Embroidery specialist Hand & Lock has a patch shop where you can choose from a range of embroidered patches.
3 Celebrate the life your clothes have led with darning. If you do it in a contrasting colour, you can make a feature of your mending. Tom of Holland runs the Visible Mending Programme to highlight the disappearing art of clothing repair. And if you feel daunted by the idea of doing it yourself, Tom accepts commissions to do your mending for you.
4 A single pair of nylon tights will take between 30-40 years to decompose in landfill. Cheap tights are a false economy as they tend to ladder more quickly. Old-fashioned remedies such as applying transparent nail varnish around a small hole to stop it spreading might seem crude but are actually quite effective.
5 Buy second-hand and keep an open mind. So many clothes are given away because they have a missing button or a small bit of damage that can be easily rectified using your newfound (or rekindled) mending skills.
6 Invest in decent hangers. Clothes really appreciate being hung up properly and on the right hangers. Hang skirts and trousers appropriately. Muji has a really good range of hangers, lint rollers and cedar wood products designed to help repel moths. Give your clothes space. There’s nothing worse than cramming in another item of clothing into a crowded wardrobe. Some clothes prefer to be folded, like T-shirts and jumpers. Don’t cram them into drawers.
7 Follow care instructions. Make sure you iron at the right temperature, and wash at 30C where you can. If you are unsure of what different care labels mean, here’s there’s a comprehensive guide.
8 The best way to look after your jeans is to leave them alone. If you are buying good quality denim, the Welsh denim brand Hiut Denim promotes its “No Wash Club” for the first six months of your jeans life. After that, they recommend hand washing inside-out jeans in the bath by leaving them to soak in mild detergent. Drip dry.
9 Stains are not the end of the world. You’d be amazed at what a bit of distilled white vinegar and salt can remove. Try it on everything from grass to blood to sweat. For red wine, you can use a combination of salt, detergent and a stain removal stick followed by a 30C wash. Treat a stain as soon as it occurs.
10 Look after your bags by stuffing them with tissue paper when you are not using them, to keep their shape. Take bags to be repaired at a shoe menders. A broken buckle or strap can usually be replaced. There is an added incentive: a well-looked-after bag will keep its resale value remarkably well if you choose to sell it on when you have finished with it. Depending on your budget, Vestiaire Collective, eBay and Depop are great marketplaces for buying and selling bags. A leather bag takes 50 years to decompose in landfill.
11 Treat your shoes to a shoe tree – or stuff with newspaper when you are not wearing them. Give your trainers a rest with a sachet of charcoal deodoriser. Washing canvas trainers in the washing machine is a great trick and makes them look almost as good as new. Try to swap your shoes around so you get a rest from each other. Keep on top of shoe repairs so that soles and heels don’t get too worn down and worn out.
12 Buy the best quality you can afford. If you appreciate the quality of a garment, you are more likely to treat it with respect. A sure way of assessing the quality of a garment – and how long it will last – is to turn it inside out and look at how the seams are finished. A hurried bit of overlocking is a sure sign your garment won’t stand more than a few washes. And if you become attached to a beautifully finished French seam, you may have to indulge your fancy by shopping vintage – it’s no coincidence that even high street clothes made pre 1990s are much better quality than their equivalent today.