We can extend the useful life of clothes and even the fibers they’re made from by creatively applying slow-fashion principles.
A customer recently asked me to repurpose a pair of her Stovepipe Pants into cropped pants. Her lifestyle had changed and there was still plenty of wear left in the Stovepipes. Her request was pretty much the antithesis of a fast-fashion approach in which consumers would toss the stovepipes and pick up some new cropped pants as part of a continual wardrobe acquisition-and-expansion program. This is the attitude and business model on which H&M, Zara, and other fast-fashion retailers depend.
A sample of sashiko embroidery stitches.
While shortening a pair of pants is pretty prosaic, sometimes repurposing or mending a garment offers an opportunity for self-expression while extending its life. Sashiko, “visible-mending” art, calls attention to what were formerly rips and worn spots by making no bones about the work being a mend. Instead, sashiko seeks artistic solutions to restoring worn clothes using artfully applied functional embroidery. Typically made up of running stitches in geometric patterns, this embroidery work was traditionally used to strengthen homespun clothes as well as create new garments from worn components. As I blogged back in 2016, we can change our consumption habits by changing our relationship with clothes. It’s encouraging that a handful of sustainable clothing makers are leading the way today by repairing, renewing, repurposing and reselling used clothes received back from customers.
Overdyeing is another way to prolong a garment’s life. I’m lucky enough to have a professional dyer available when I want to refresh garments. Whether the original shade is showing its age or you just want to change things up, there are a number of home-use dyes that will do the job. Keep in mind, though, that most of these dyes will not work with synthetics. And if your garment contains polyester thread, it won’t take the dye either.
Minimizing the number of times you launder a garment extends its life too. As I noted in the blog post, Wash less and care more, there are many ways to minimize the wear that results from washing and drying clothes. But the first step is to stop tossing clothes in the laundry hamper as a matter of habit. Give them the sniff test. The hemp content in Sympatico’s fabric resists both microbes and mildew so you can go longer between launderings. For more ideas about smart clothes care, see 7 laundry tips that treat your clothes and our planet gently.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates Americans get rid of 81 pounds of clothing every year. Despite the fact that 95% of the fabric in those clothes has the potential to be recycled, 85% of all discarded clothes end up in the landfill. When we consider that the manufacture of all those clothes is the second largest polluting activity on the planet (petrochemicals are the first), it becomes clear we must clean up our act.