Clothing is an area where it’s easy to get bogged down in details regarding which fibres are earth-friendly, and which processes create more than their fair share of greenhouse gases. I was recently bouncing around the internet (man, you can get lost in there!) and came across a quote regarding clothing and the environment. It said something along the lines of
“The three best things you can do for the environment are: 1. Stop buying clothes 2. Buy from thrift stores or 3. Buy products that are organic, local, sweatshop-free, etc.”
Let’s look at #1. I think the author was being a little tongue in cheek, because society kind of expects us to wear clothes. Even if you are buying fabric to make your own clothes, you’re still contributing to most of the problematic processes; sure, you’re avoiding the mistreatment of the workers putting together your wardrobe, but not the ones who wove the fabric. You might be eliminating the waste of excess, but unless you make a lot of cup cozies and children’s headbands, chances are you are still tossing leftovers. And there are still a ton of chemicals used and fuel costs accrued for ever metre you buy. There really isn’t any way to avoid buying clothes, short of abandoning all your worldly goods and joining a nudist commune. If that’s your choice, hey – power to you! Just so you know, they might not have internet access.
Personally, I think #2 should be #1, but I’ll get to that. #1 also brings up the notion of wearing your clothes until you simply cannot wear them anymore, which is a great suggestion in many cases. We don’t need six belts; we need one or maybe two, and if they’re practical and in match-able colours, they can probably stay in the closet until they’re about to fall apart. We don’t need Guess’ latest release just because this skinny comes in denim a half a shade darker than the Guess skinnys we have right now. And we don’t need a new winter wardrobe every fall, or fourteen bikini tops every summer, just in case someone from last season remembers and calls you out.
I’m exaggerating a bit, obviously. But one big thing to cutting back on waste (and simultaneously, damage to the planet) is differentiating between what we need and what we want.
I’m getting there. It is amazing how just changing my diet and thinking more about the foods I purchase and consume has translated into other aspects, like shopping. I barely ever go to the mall anymore, and if I do, it’s usually for tea from the glorious David’s Tea (where I usually bring back empty tins to refill, and pack a fold-up bag to carry it all in). It helps that I’m pretty well set for basics (tanks, socks, and the like) right now – as much as I would love to start buying organic when I need (or is it want?) something, I really can’t afford to. So for now, I am focusing on the “wearing them until they fall apart” concept. I also have to take into consideration the fact that the “inexpensive” items I buy usually end up being “cheap” as well – meaning the hems start unraveling, and little holes miraculously pop up in random places – so maybe when the time comes, pricier, organic ones will be worth it.
And that takes us to #2 (my #1): buying from thrift stores. What a perfectly marvelous idea! There are exceptions, of course. You probably don’t want to get your undies from the Salvation Army, and often those above-mentioned basics like undershirts are pretty stretched out and beyond salvage by the time they get to the racks. But what about jeans! I have a lot of jeans (way more than I “need”), and I haven’t purchased any of them new in almost a year. Jeans are easy to wear until they fall apart, because the worn out look suits them so well, but luckily some people still ship theirs off. Obviously, this any number of totally legitimate reasons, but I thank them for it regardless! All of my jeans are still brand name or designer – because I scan the racks for them and snap them up for seven dollars!
If I were buying them new, I would avidly dig into the process of making the pant – whether the dyes are natural, whether they are organic, and obviously if they are Vegan. (There, I snuck in #3 in the nick of time!) But when it’s second hand, I’m ok with being more lenient. I’m still not going to buy a pair with leather inserts or fur cuffs (dear lord, do they make those?), or buy a brand that is specifically recognized for their wasteful or otherwise cruel practices (cough, Tommy Hilfiger, cough). If it’s just plain old cotton/spandex, I’m not going to sweat it – this particular pair has already been purchased, and there is nothing I could do to stop that.
There are obvious arguments to this logic, and I welcome them if you want to bring them up, but that is how I see it, at least right now. Someday when I can afford to be more choosy, and really “vote with my dollars,” I most definitely will. But until then, I’m happy to scoop up someone else’s cast offs.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, right? I think I just touched on all three!
PS: Here are some kind and thoughtful sites that sell Vegan/socially conscious clothing:
Rawganique (Check out the sweet wallet I just bought from them: