Zero waste shopping ban: Week 3
It’s week three of the zero waste shopping ban, and we’re talking about wardrobes. Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and although we can’t erase the impact of our previous purchases, we can care for what we already own. Cost and resource-use per wear decreases each time we wear a clothing piece. Like it or not, this means that we need to buy less and take responsibility for the clothing in our care. We can’t buy our way to zero waste, but with clothing it is especially important that we consume less.
For many, clothes are a primary means for self-expression and individuality. For others, clothes serve to keep us warm, can make us comfortable (or uncomfortable) and aren’t that important. The best shift you can make to have a more zero waste wardrobe during the ban and beyond is to think of your wardrobe as something to maintain rather than something to add to or edit constantly. Get to know your wardrobe to make the best use of the resources you have.
BEGIn with what you have
Start by taking all of your clothes out of their hiding places. I suggest starting with what you want to (or ought to) discard; as a rule, anything that hasn’t been worn in the past year or the past season it was weather appropriate is probably a resource going wasted. The truth is that regardless of what we paid for an item, unless we can return it to the store, we won’t get our money back when exiting it from our lives. It doesn’t help to hang on to expensive and unused clothing simply because you paid a lot.
There will probably be clothes in the unworn category that you don’t want to give up. They may have sentimental value, they may be saved for special occasions, or they may have been bought for the life you want rather than the life you have. Whatever the case, if there are many items like this, they lose their value. There’s nothing wrong with keeping some old tee shirts or keeping a nice dress around for weddings, however, keeping any item of clothing with an attached memory or many outfits for special occasions (which by nature, don’t happen much) doesn’t make much sense. If it is a matter of not feeling confident to wear something and the piece is not worn by the end of the ban, it needs to go. For example, I love vintage clothes but I have previously purchased vintage clothes that were just too vintage for everyday wear. Not all the clothes we like actually work for us. Let them go. These days trends and fashion come and go so quickly that holding on to something for a few years before giving it away may mean it is no longer in style and less likely to be worn.
If you have new-with-tags items, clothes in good condition and the like, consider consigning them. What I love about consignment is that you get some money in exchange for the items, albeit not a ton, and there isn’t guess work like in donating clothes that they will be passed up and thrown in the garbage without your knowledge. A single Salvation Army donation center in Brooklyn is able to throw away six tons of clothing a day due to the high volume of donations; donating is not a guarantee your clothes will be worn, especially considering 80% of what we donate is sold overseas.
Give away and donate
Things that no longer serve you can very likely serve someone around you. I recommend checking with family and friends before donating unneeded clothes or shoes. Not only do you know the clothes will not be sent to landfill (at least for a while), if you ever decide you want to wear them again for some occasion, a friend or family member would happily lend them to you. As children, my now-adult cousins and I always passed around hand-me-down clothes, and these days I still offer anything I think they might like before donating it. Especially with quality clothing items, people are happy to have them and even pay for them; a series of transactions over good quality bras between two good friends comes to mind.
As for donation, the Salvation Army is one of the most popular organizations, but I suggest donating to a charity like Goodwill instead. Salvation Army may be the only option in your area; even so, it shouldn’t be a choice between giving to an organization that lobbies for their right to discriminate and giving resources that may ultimately help people in your community. Long story short, donate to an organization that you believe in or an organization that is likely to give those resources to people in need, free of charge.
Finally, for clothes you will not wear and that are in too poor shape to donate, keep them as rags. Either cut the unwearable clothes into squares to use for cleaning and picking up messes or leave them whole.
Shop in your closet
Somewhere along the way, you will probably come across a piece that you really like and forgot about. Bring it back into your wardrobe! Not everyone needs to have a minimalist wardrobe, but focus on maintaining what you have instead of getting more. If you’re someone who loves variety, then keep a variety of clothes that you actually wear and enjoy the choice you have. Rather than searching for a new piece for a look, see what you already have that works. If need arises for a piece you don’t have, see if it can be reworked or worn differently for similar effect. Pinterest DIYs are a great place to start.
Make the most of your wardrobe
If it’s not cotton or a mostly cotton blend, it’s time you learn what your clothes are made of and how they’re supposed to be taken care of. If you’re already aware of this, and thus have a small pile of handwash and dry clean only, it’s time to take care of that. Handwash what needs to be handwashed and take a trip to the dry cleaner. Be realistic; if you’re not up for regular handwashing or dry cleaning, just get rid of the piece. Chances are you’ll have the clothes cleaned, wear them until they need to be cleaned again, and they’ll go back to whatever corner they were hiding in. I don’t mind handwashing, but it has certainly piled up; this week I’ll be cleaning some wool Irish walking socks and my cashmere sweaters.
Obviously, I’m not going to suggest you stop washing your clothes, but I do suggest you wash more consciously. For one thing, it is a waste of water and electricity to wash small loads and to wash clothes too frequently if they’re not yet dirty. Washing cold can save a lot of energy, and so can air drying your clothes, which is also believed to prolong their lives. Be conscious of what you’re washing; when synthetic materials like polyester are washed, they release microplastics into the water, which are teeny-tiny pieces of plastic that, due to their concentration, can be ingested by us when we eat fish. Yum. To help increase the number of wears between washes of your synthetic clothes, try and wear undershirts, camisoles, slips, etc. to keep the clothing clean.
Broken zippers, lost buttons, and split seams. You or somebody you know probably has a hand-sewing needle and some thread, and very little special skill is needed for basic mending. If you don’t have these things, it may be an opportunity to spend some time with a friend or family member who does.
This is also a good time to tackle stained clothes; most stains can come out with cold water, patience and dish soap, but commercial stain removers work wonders for the rest. A stain is not a reason to discard a piece, but it must be fixed it if prevents you from wearing something and making use of the resource.
Included in repairing clothes is alterations. Personally, I have a silk skirt I received as a gift this holiday season that is much larger than advertised. I will be taking it in so that it can be a wearable resource for me. If you don’t have the know-how to make any alterations yourself, even little ones, first I suggest looking around online for tutorials and blog posts from more experienced sewers. If that doesn’t yield anything and it is very important to you that the piece be wearable, consider taking it to a tailor so that it can be properly altered.
These recommendations also apply to footwear. To be honest, shoes are not something I’ve had to manage much; I have as few shoes as possible to meet my needs. Look through the shoes you have and go through the other steps. Be sure to clean any shoes that need it as well, and be realistic about the practicality of keeping shoes that are unwearable for whatever reason, be they too tall, too nice, or too easily dirtied.
For your shoes that are absolutely unwearable, there are some options for shoe recycling; I’m not convinced they’re ideal for recycling, however, because most of them want to give shoes to those without, and genuinely ruined shoes would not be acceptable for distribution.
During week three of the ban, you might begin wanting to buy things. Especially looking at our clothes, it can be tempting to see gaps in the wardrobe we want rather than appreciate all the resources we have. Hopefully this week is less busy than week two, and you can begin to feel like you have a more thorough understanding of the resources you already have in your life to use on your zero waste journey.
For more on zero waste wardrobes, check out my most The Perfect Zero Waste Wardrobe, with more information on clothing care and picking new pieces. To see how I’m managing with the hand-washing, alterations, and more, follow me on Instagram @lesswasteworld . Throughout the week I will be posting on my stories about week three of the shopping ban, and I will save them as highlights after so they can be consulted in the future. Good luck during week three!