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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.