I’m going to host a clothing swap party soon (again). And not just as an excuse to sip wine with my girls, but also because clothing swap parties offer two of my favorite activities: decluttering and getting free stuff. Once a year, I try to go through my closet and pull out the items I haven’t worn. From there I can either sell, donate, or swap out these clothes for new ones. But since learning about the toll the fashion industry takes on the environment, I’m striving to be more mindful about how I shop for clothes. Nearly 85% of clothing ends up in the landfill where it will take years to decompose while leaking dyes and other chemicals into the environment. Meanwhile fast fashion encourages low cost clothing and new styles weekly resulting in mass overproduction. A clothing swap party is just one idea to prevent our clothes from becoming trash. Here are some other ways to green-up that closet.
1.) Shop Resale
I strive to buy as much clothing from resale shops as I can (except for socks and undies, of course). Used clothing is less expensive and requires no further production. Not to mention you’re supporting the local economy instead of a major chain. Opting to buy clothes that have already been made instead of new ones can also help prevent the harmful working conditions often found in textile factories. Human rights violations in the clothing industry depend largely on supply and demand. Ending the demand for new clothes can help curb these violations.
Limiting the amount of clothing in my closet was difficult at first, but once I started clearing things out, it was hard to stop. I follow Marie Kondo’s method for decluttering and go through each piece one by one, deciding if it “sparks joy.” I also had so many duplicates. How many little black dresses do I need? I’m going to scale back my closet to the essentials. Items to discard get divided into categories – those to sell, donate, swap, or upcycle.
Whenever I’m tasked with discarding old clothes the first thing I do is try to sell it. There are several resale shops in my hometown, and every once in a while I get lucky and make some money. I could also sell many items online or through a yard sale. Once I get some products made, I’d like to open a flea market booth and see if I have any luck there.
4.) Donate or Swap
I sell or donate clothing that is in good condition. I’ve had some success selling used clothes, but the money I make from used clothes sales is hardly worth the trouble. Therefore, most of what I clear from the closet gets donated. Something to remember: if it’s not in good condition, don’t dump it on non-profit organizations. It can cost them money to dispose of unusable items. I’m going to contact several charities soon to determine what can and cannot be donated. Clothes that cannot be sold or donated can be put in the repair pile or used for various projects.
In today’s society, it’s easier just to go out and buy something new than to repair it, but that’s a habit I’d like to break. Simple mending skills are not terribly difficult. I have fond memories of my grandmother teaching me how to sew a button on a piece of fabric. My mother is also quite the seamstress and taught us how to mend tears. I’m determined to repair my damaged clothes instead of just throwing them away. Sew Guide offers help for repairing clothes.
6.) Take Care of your Clothes
Clothes last much longer when they’re properly cared for. Having fewer items to care for has certainly helped. With smaller piles to deal with, I can take the time to fold and maintain the few pieces I own. Good on You has a great article about ways to make clothes last longer.
7.) Wash and Dry Sustainably
Did you know most people use too much detergent? Only a small amount of soap is actually needed to get clothes clean. I’m going to be more frugal with my laundry detergent and invest in more eco-friendly brands. I can also opt for line-drying my clothes. Line-drying is not only better for the environment, but it takes less of a toll on delicate items. And I love the way line-dried clothes smell. Also buying clothing items made from sustainable materials like cotton, hemp, linen, silk, and wool means better manufacturing practices and is often more durable, too.
8.) Buy Durable
One year I went shopping for hiking boots. I was torn between two similar pairs. One of them was $79 and the other was $150. I asked the attendee the difference and she said, “You just have to try them on and see.” I’m very frugal with my money and was leaning towards the cheaper pair until I tried them on and walked around in them. I couldn’t believe the difference in quality. Ten years later, I still have that very same pair of hiking boots. Spending a little extra money on a quality item will save money in the long run.
9.) Buy From Green Companies
There are a number of clothing industries striving to produce eco-friendly apparel. Supporting these industries instead of the major chains that crank out cheaply made clothes can make a big difference. Many of these companies upcycle old fabrics or only produce clothing from sustainable materials. They are also more likely to be fair trade and advocate for human rights. Roadrunner offers a list of companies working to reduce textile waste.
Inevitably, there will be clothing items and other textiles that can’t be sold, donated, or repaired. These are the items that I hope to upcycle. What can be done with old clothes and textiles? Turns out a lot! I can’t wait to try some of the ideas from sites like Upcycle my Stuff. It’s time to bust out that old sewing machine and see what I can do!
Finally, for the clothes that can’t be sold or donated, I want to find clever ways to repurpose them. There are tons of projects that involve upcycling old clothes from turning outdated garments into fashionable ones to stripping it into fabric and making rag rugs. I want my projects to be useful, practical, and affordable. These are some of the ideas I would like to attempt:
Mop Heads and Rags
One of the most obvious reuses for old clothes is to use them as cleaning supplies. I might not make money on this project, but it will prevent me from having to go out and buy new rags and mop heads.
Once I get a business up and running and make a name for myself, I’d like to make swag: t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other merch. With so many T-shirts out there from other businesses, why reinvent the wheel by starting new? I’d like to put my brand on T-shirts previously used for other companies. Old clothes can also be embellished and dyed to give them new life.
One of the most useful ways to upcycle shirts is to turn them into tote bags. Plastic bags at grocery stores are incredibly wasteful and opting for reusable ones can help keep our landfills clear. I want my tote bags to be durable and washable, too. I can’t wait to try this project.
Have you heard of hillbilly heat pads? At least that’s what we call them. They’re super easy to make and come in very handy if you’ve got pain or just want to be toasty. All you need is some rice and some fabric. The tutorial above lists all the steps.
After doing a little research about this awesome company called FABSCRAP, I became interested in their method for turning clothes into shoddy, which is basically a stuffing used in pillows. Why spend anymore money on cotton when I can make my own stuffing for pillows and other projects? Whether or not I can find the tools necessary to make it is yet to be determined, but I think it’s a process of cutting into bits and then shredding the material.
After my grandfather passed in the fall of 2021, one of his caretakers made us all a very sentimental gift out of his old shirts. It was such a sweet gesture. How hard could it be to make a pillow out of old clothes? This project can also be done with a variety of fabric and in different styles.
This might be one of the more complicated projects I would like to try. These rag rugs are so cool. I’ve already got a pile of old sheets that can’t be donated that would be perfect for a project like this. I’m worried it might be a little time-consuming though.
Everybody needs potholders and oven mitts. I’m sure I could make my own using old clothing. Some could be sewn simply enough, but I’d also like to learn how to crotchet. Fortunately, my mom is an expert. There are also no-sew options like the tutorial listed above.
My goal this year is to buy less clothing and only shop resale when I do (except for socks and underwear, of course). For clothes that cannot be sold or donated, I’ll use for projects. I can’t wait to get started!