Nearly 92 million tons of textile waste ends up in a landfill each year. What’s worse is the fashion industry accounts for roughly 10% of global carbon emissions. Fast fashion encourages low cost clothing and new styles weekly resulting in mass overproduction. I had no idea the clothing crisis was so bad. It’s changed the way I think about shopping, maintaining, and donating clothing items. Once a year, I try to go through my closet and pull out the garments I haven’t worn. From there I can either sell, donate, or swap out these clothes for new ones. But there are other ways to live a more eco-friendly life. Here are 10 tips for greening up our closets:
1.) Avoid Fast Fashion Companies
Who are the biggest culprits in the fast fashion industry? I decided to dig up some names and much to my dismay, one of my favorites: Forever 21, makes the list. This is disappointing, but I’m perfectly happy to stop purchasing new clothes if it means not supporting textile waste and human rights abuses. It’s not just environmental hazards that earns criticism, but the dangerous working conditions abroad where these clothes are made. Big names like Victoria Secret, H&M, and the Gap make the list for violating human rights in their warehouses. A brand that frequently tops the naughty list is Shein. This company cranks out poorly made clothes at cheap prices creating tons of textile waste. Avoiding these brands and opting for eco-friendly options is better for the environment and textile workers.
2.) 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.
I’m a big fan of Marie Kondo’s Kon Mari method of deciding which items “spark joy” and which ones don’t. This way you’re focusing on the things you want to keep and not so much on the ones you want to get rid of. This makes the purging process more positive and gives you an opportunity to thank the items you’ll be discarding instead of treating them like trash. As you clear out a space, ask yourself if the item “sparks joy.” Does it make you feel good or is it time to let it go? I also clean out items that are the wrong size and those I haven’t worn in over a year. It’s amazing how much stuff you can purge!
A lot of clothing items can be sold for a profit. As I go through the piles of clothing to get rid of, I scan for those in good condition, that are gently worn, and not too out of date. A lot of consignment and resale shops are very picky about what you bring in. Don’t trouble yourself with multiple boxes of clothes that have been out of style for nearly a decade. Search for your best options and see how much money you can make. This handy guide offers some tips on getting the most out of your gently used clothing whether you’re selling online or at a resale shop.
cat fell asleep in my sell pile!
I often run across clothing items I’d like to keep that are in need of repair: lost button here, and a torn seam there. I put my repair clothes in one pile and try to commit to fixing one item per day. 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 rips. I’m determined to repair my damaged clothes instead of just throwing them away. There are also a few pieces I’m very fond of that might not fit properly. These I like to tailor, but for big or complicated jobs, I hire a friend with better sewing skills.
In the past, I would take all of my clothes to a donation bin box without considering whether or not they were actually fit for donation. The problem with doing this is that the charities that receive these clothes often use only about 20 – 30% of what’s given to them. The rest either ends up in a landfill or gets shipped abroad to a 3rd world country where the textiles sit in massive heaps, leaching dyes and chemicals and posing a major environmental threat. There’s a better way to donate those unwanted items. For starters, we should all work to not dump trash on local charities. I’m guilty of doing this. I don’t like putting stuff in the trash. I never stopped to consider the shoes I was giving away were too worn out to be useful or the clothing items that were stained and torn were not suitable for donation. I bagged up everything regardless of whether or not it could be used. By doing so, I haven’t kept anything out of the landfill, I’ve only made it someone else’s problem to dispose of. I want to do better, so I decided to do a little research about better ways to donate. It’s also good to give locally instead of to large companies. According to Fashionista larger organizations like Goodwill, Red Racks, and the Salvation Army can only use a small portion of what’s given to them. The rest is either sold to for-profit companies that export the clothes to 3rd world countries or dumped in a landfill. It’s better to give to local churches, women’s shelters, and homeless shelters. The clothes are more likely to be used and less likely to be marked up for a profit. Fortunately, there are several local charities in my hometown and my next plan is to give them a call to make sure I’m giving them only what they need and use.
7.) 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. 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.
8.) Have a Swap Party!
I’ve started a new annual tradition of clothing swap parties. Several of my friends came over with their bags of clothes and we went around picking and choosing new outfits. It was a great way to bond, chat, and consider how NOT valuable clothes really are. Seeing garments that were once expensive on the rack end up in a free pile really changed my perspective on how much money I spend on new clothing. I thought more would be taken, but I ended up with a lot of leftover piles. Turns out everyone was more eager to clear out their closets than they were about the free clothes! If a clothing swap party is not for you, consider just offering up the clothes for free or donating those that are gently used and in good condition.
9.) Buy Green, 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. 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! One company I’ve been following called FABSCRAP prevents textile waste by turning old clothes into stuffing or other items to be reused. It’s my dream to have my own upcycling business, and I can’t wait to get started!
Hope to see you there!