Every few weeks I see articles on fast fashion, specifically the impact it has on the environment, and every time I read one it reminds me of why I got into sewing.
This isn’t new information, the issues with clothing production have been raised for years, but the negative trends have continued, and even accelerated in some cases with the push of “new styles” on a continuous basis. The result is more waste and pollution through the entire clothing life cycle, starting with the materials that are used to create items, and ultimately when most are thrown away at the end.
There are some exciting new technologies and solutions on the horizon to help address these issues, but until these become mainstream and part of regular production processes, there are things that can be done now to help.
1) Don’t buy it unless you really need it, and buy quality
American consumers spend billions of dollars on clothing every year, and at the same time generate over 15 million tons of textile waste. So before buying that new, $10 shirt, first consider if you really need it, and if you do, invest a bit more in a higher quality shirt that will last longer. Also, look at buying secondhand to get the most out of an item that’s already created.
2) Repair, alter, or upcycle
If the clothes you have are damaged or don’t fit anymore, there may be options to repair them or have them altered. If you’re buying higher quality clothes to start with, this is even more likely an option because the fabric is often more durable. There’s also the option of turning your clothes into something else, like shirts into throw pillow covers, or completely re-fashioning an outfit into a new garment. The possibilities are endless.
3) Donate or recycle
When an item has reached the end of its usefulness, rather than tossing it in the trash, reach out to local women’s, homeless or crisis shelters where items can go directly to the people that need them the most. If they don’t need your items, donate them to a secondhand shop. Only about 10-20% is actually resold to consumers in those shops, and about 75% ends up taking one of the various paths to recycling or export. This represents a huge oversupply of clothes, and has created various industries that have issues of their own. So when possible, follow tips 1 and 2 above to help reduce the amount that ends up needing to be donated or recycled.
I’m sure most of you are already aware of these issues, and I’ve bought my fair share of cheap clothes, but as part of this industry, I want to keep it top of mind and find ways to integrate better practices anywhere I can. This includes making, repairing, and upcycling my own clothes, offering these services to others, and training people how to sew. I strive to create high quality items, from durable materials, that will last, and when necessary, can be repurposed into something else before they reach the end of their usefulness.
I even look at my production processes to see where I can be more efficient and reduce waste. For example, scraps from large projects I save and make into smaller items, or use for piecing or quilting. After that, if the scraps are too small to make into something, I’ll use them as stuffing in throw pillows and pet beds. Anything I can do to reduce the amount that ends up as waste.
What are your thoughts? Reach out to me with any comments, suggestions, constructive criticisms, or other solutions you’re aware of.
To learn more, see just a few of the recent and older articles that have been written over the years on this topic below:
- Lucy Siegle (2017 Oct 10) Can we make fashion greener? – BBC
- Audrey Gorden (2017 Aug 31) Fast fashion can kill your wallet and the environment — here’s how you can help – Chicago Tribune
- Zero waste Daniel turns clothing scraps into fashion (2017 Aug 12) – NowThis News
- Lucy Siegle (2017 July 29) Fashion must fight the scourge of dumped clothing clogging landfills – The Guardian
- Alden Wicker (2016 Sept 1) Fast fashion is creating an environmental crisis – Newsweek
- Zhai Yun Tan (2016 Apr 10) What happens when fashion becomes fast, disposable and cheap? – NPR
- Lauren Indvik (2016 Jan 20) What really happens to your clothing donations? – Fashionista
- Elizabeth Cline (2014 Jul 18) Where does discarded clothing go? – The Atlantic
- The facts about textile waste (Infographic) – Council for Textile Recycling
- The life cycle of secondhand clothing (Infographic) – Council for Textile Recycling
- Lucy Rodgers (2015 Feb 11) Where do your old clothes go? – BBC