Let’s be honest, most of us have been guilty of buying clothing and accessories that we end up not loving or wearing only a few times, at some point in our lives. Whether we purchased a specific piece of clothing for a special event or splurged on an item to only wear it a few times because of weight changes or accidental shrinkage in the wash, most of us have at least a few items in our closet collecting dust and taking up space.

How does this affect us?

Believe it or not, the fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. The production and distribution of the fibers, garments, and crops used in clothing can contribute to many forms of environmental pollution. In fact, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of the carbon footprint of the world. It’s also the second greatest polluter of local freshwater in the world.

Many people shopping for the latest trends often don’t realize the impact that the production of our clothing has on our planet. For example, the amount of water used to make a t-shirt is enough for one person to stay hydrated for 900 days while the amount of water needed to make a pair of jeans is equivalent to hosing down your lawn for 9 hours straight!

Each year, more than 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced and sold around the world. That means that billions of used articles of clothing are thrown away every year to make room for new ones. While it may seem harmless to some people to throw unwanted clothing in the bin, clothing in landfills will emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

But the apparel industry’s impact extends to more than just the environment. Social and economic issues are front and center as well. Check out the True Cost Documentary Trailer for a summary of the situation.

What can we do?

Australians are disposing of 6,000 kilograms of fashion and textile waste to landfill every 10 minutes! Put another way, Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard about 23 kilograms into landfill. The average American throws out around 81 pounds (37kg) of textile waste each year.

So, start with buying less, caring for your clothing appropriately and repairing them when necessary. When you do need more clothing, try to get it second hand or hire it! Focus less on trends and instead learn what your style is so you can invest in good quality, timeless pieces that make you feel great.

Image credit: Karina Dyer, Personalised Style “One of the most common problems that people tell me is that they don’t know how to dress for themselves anymore. Whether that be for their new career, new body shape or size, their lifestyle, or simply because they don’t feel good in the clothes that they own anymore.”

For your unwanted clothing that is still wearable, consider participating in a clothing swap. Swapping is one of the best ways to practice sustainable fashion as it keeps clothes in rotation and out of landfill for as long as possible, and it takes no extra resources from the planet (or from you) to find something new to you.

Another option is to rent out your clothing. The Volt is an online platform targeted at young Australians interested in saving money and storage space at home by leasing their clothes to strangers.

You could also donate to a local charity, like Dress For Success and Fitted For Work or a thrift store. Online clothing re-sellers like thredUP, accept gently used clothing from a variety of brands. If you opt to donate your unwanted clothes to them, they’ll donate $5 to a charity of your choice. In fact, last year they donated over $70,000 to their charity partners.

Image credit: Tania Goranitis, Women Against Waste “Is there still a stigma for you around wearing second hand clothing? Or have you reframed it from meaning “I can’t afford to buy new” to “I choose to wear second hand for the planet?” We know that our event attendees are all about the benefits of second hand; they told us they come because of concern for the planet and NOT because they need help to source clothes and accessories at low cost.”

I have had great success passing clothing on to family and friends and it’s how I get most of my clothing too. Over the years I’ve also sold clothing at garage sales and in Facebook Buy, Swap, Sell Groups. I often give things for free in these groups because I much prefer to see items go to a loving home than get something in return, however, there are many Buy Nothing groups online as well, the theory being that what goes around comes around.

Ways to Keep Your Clothing and Accessories in Use for as Long as Possible

If you’re not willing to part with your unwanted clothing just yet or have a few pieces that can’t be passed along to others for reuse, you can try these fun ways to keep them in your life for as long as possible.

Transform old clothing into new clothing

A little ingenuity and technical skill can go a long way in transforming old garments. It’s really quite impressive how old clothes are transformed into new ones. You could turn adult clothing into children’s clothing or mix two pieces to make one new piece.

Image credit: Sarah Tyau, Life is Beautiful “So my skills are actually very basic. Actually quite few skills are needed in refashioning since you keep the button holes, darts, zippers, and it’s mostly just straight stitching. My vision makes up for my skills though, it takes me 15-30 seconds to envision the piece to something I’d want it to transform into.”

Repurpose – limited only by your imagination

Old clothing is an invaluable resource allowing you to ‘use what you have already’ to meet your needs (reduce consumption) and reduce waste. I’ve turned t-shirts into shopping bags, mop sponges, and dog toys, socks into hair bands, leather boots into a fly swat, scarves and jumpers into cushion covers, and so many more fabrics like sheets and towels into so many more things around the home like dish cloths, ironing board covers and more.

Check out this wedding dress that was converted to a play tent by Brenda Wetmore Giffen, Brenda’s Online Boutique – very impressive!

Here’s some more detail for other repurposing projects.

Turn your clothing into pillows

This is a fun and unique way to get clothing that may have sentimental value to you off the hanger and into the spotlight where you can see it every day. Start by strategically cutting square or rectangular pieces from the clothing and then covering an old pillow. You can then sew a pillow cover from your shirts and pants and stuff it with old socks. You can tear your not-so-sentimental unwanted clothing into small strips and use them for stuffing as well. Save the most detailed parts of clothing items for the front of the pillow such as T-shirt designs. If the clothing is not big enough to cover the pillow size you want, patch different pieces together.

Image Credit: Tammy Logan, Gippsland Unwrapped “Perfectly imperfect 💕😁. While the sewing gear was out we turned some cardigans and jumpers that I hadn’t worn for a few years into covers for these floor cushions ✂️♻️. It’s another example of my home-based circular economy… I used something I didn’t want, to create something I did want. It reduces waste and sticks it 🖕🏻to consumerism. It’s personal empowerment and freedom. It’s one example of the craftivism (activism using craft) throughout my home. Who would have thought there was so much meaning tied up in some homemade cushion covers, but it’s there…

Make a T-shirt quilt

Not only is this a great way to save your favorite brand T-shirts, graphic tees, or old sports shirts, it’s also a very popular trend right now. To make your quilt, start by picking out about 20-30 shirts depending on the size of the quilt you want. Next, lay out the shirts in a 5×6 pattern that is appealing. Try to use the parts of the t-shirt that stand out the most such as band logos, fun designs, or sports team names. Take a picture to reference later. You can then start to cut your shirts into the correct sized quilt squares you want. To make this process easier, consider using a piece of cardboard as your guide. Trace the cardboard onto each shirt and then cut them out. Next, iron on the interfacing to the back of each shirt and then prepare to start sewing! If you’re new to quilt making, check out this helpful article to help get you started.

Use as fabric crafts

If you love to craft, this is the perfect option for you. Some old clothing isn’t nice enough to keep hanging around, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a useful resource. Use pieces of your old clothing to make a variety of patchwork crafts. You can also rip the fabric into narrow strips to crochet or knit into colourful scarves, head wraps, hats, or rugs. If you’re feeling super crafty, you can even make casings for long, thin items such as hockey sticks and fishing rods using thicker strips. The possibilities are endless!

Image credit: My Poppet

Turn them into rags

Worn clothes make the best cleaning rags because the fibers are more soft and absorbent. Old flannel shirts are the best for polishing more delicate areas such as glass, dress shoes, and high-sheen metals like the chrome on your car. If you have curly hair, you can even turn your old t-shirts into head rags!

Recycle the fibres

Some retailers now run recycling programs and accept used clothing in store. The used clothing is sorted, resold or processed for rags or other textile by-products. The clothing might be repurposed into a plethora of everyday items such as insulation, compressed fluff for the automotive industry, carpet padding, baseball filling or jewellery box lining, you never know where your recycled clothes might end up! A well known program is the one started by H&M in 2013 in which stores give vouchers in exchange for used clothing. Patagonia, The North Face, and American Eagle Outfitters have all launched similar programs that funnel used textiles into the recycling sector and spread awareness of textile waste. SCR Group will also accept worn or damaged clothing. Sometimes charity stores do this as well, you just have to ask. You can also use Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You website to find drop off locations.

Keep in mind that recycling comes after reducing and reusing, but if we do all these things we can give clothing a long life and keep them out of landfill.

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6 thoughts

  1. I am shocked to read that each t shirt I buy uses so much water to produce. I generally wear a t shirt with a skirt all year round and I wear them until they are faded and beginning to look horrible to me. I certainly do not buy much clothing and make my own skirts most of the time. Because I live in Queensland I choose to wear natural fibres as I feel the heat. I was aware that making cotton requires a lot of water. I guess my question is this: Are there viable alternatives to t shirts? I would truly appreciate input.

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    1. I wish I could wear a t-shirt and skirt all year round, it’s so cold here in Gippsland right now! I guess it’s not the t-shirt itself that’s the problem, so you can keep wearing t-shirts, but we need to think more carefully about the fibres our clothing is made from and how soon we discard clothing. So, you are doing a great thing by wearing out your t-shirts. It depends on your lifestyle a bit, but I have ‘public’ clothing and when they look terrible they become my household and garden clothing, and then they get repurposed into other things. So the clothing is useful for as long as possible. When it comes to choosing the right fibres, it often depends on what you can afford but there is also a lot to consider. For example bamboo fabric is touted as being environmentally friendly because growing the crops require significantly less inputs of water, pesticides etc than cotton but the process of turning the bamboo into a fibre uses a lot of chemicals. It’s all these complexities that make me try to stick with sourcing second hand clothing rather than working out what is the best new fabric to buy, and there is just so much used clothing out there that we only sell one third of it through charity stores in Australia.
      Tortoise & Lady Grey is a slow fashion, sustainable style blog that I like (http://www.tortoiseandladygrey.com/) and she has a guide to sustainable textiles (https://gumroad.com/l/sustainabletextiles) that you might want to check out.
      I hope that helps.
      Tammy

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  2. I do it differently, I spend more to buy less. I try to buy the most ethnically made, longer lasting clothes which initially cost a lot (almost a fortune) but I find that they last very long. I take good care of them and look after them properly and they last so long. I have dresses that are 15 years old and still in perfect condition. I think the whole fast fashion is killing good craftsmanship and quality clothes. Most of my friends tend to buy cheap clothes every season and just throw them out after few wears and the quality is so bad that they don’t last long.

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    1. That’s another great way you can make a difference, for sure. 😃 But I’ve had plenty of people tell me that spending more on clothing hasn’t meant better craftsmanship for them, which is a shame. I think that shows we need to learn more about our clothing when we make decisions and not assume more expensive means better made. I’ve got some 10, 15, and 20 year old clothing too. I love the memories and comfort associated with these pieces. ☺️

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  3. Recently I have also started to think more carefully about buying clothing. I now peruse the local Op-Shop and in particular have had some success buying jackets for work for a fraction of the price. Least week I bought a beautiful woollen jacket for work that was in great condition and it only cost me $8.00! I think if I bought it new it would have cost me at least $200, what a saving! And it fits and looks great too.

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