More clothing is being produced and consumed than ever. According to Bloomberg, fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output—more than international flights and shipping combined. No doubt the fashion industry and our governments have a big role to play in producing more sustainable fabrics and providing more recycling avenues. However, as consumers, we also need to play our part by reducing our clothing consumption. Reducing our clothing consumption not only allows us to be gentle on the planet but also on our wallets while creating a streamlined wardrobe where everything fits and makes us feel good. Here are five choices we can make to reduce our clothing consumption.
Wear more of your clothes
With only 20-30% of our clothes being regularly worn and an average of 7 wears per piece of clothing (vs. the 100-200 wears that it could sustain), there is a huge opportunity to reduce our clothing consumption by wearing more of what we have in our wardrobes.
Carve out time to create outfits with what you have in your wardrobe. Pick an item of clothing you hardly wear, or always wear in the same way, and try it with other items in your wardrobe that you wouldn’t necessarily pair it with. Aim to create 3 to 4 outfits with this item. Make it an afternoon of fun by having a girlfriend over. Sometimes a new pair of eyes is just what is needed.
If you’re stuck, consider engaging an image consultant who will help you create outfits you wouldn’t have thought of before. If you don’t want to invest, hop online, and learn about colour combinations and how to mix and match your clothes, or get some inspiration from Pinterest or Instagram to reproduce outfits you like based on what you have in your wardrobe. I personally follow Signe from Use Less, Alyssa Beltempo, and Justine Leconte on YouTube to get some inspiration.
Choose one type of item to include in all your outfits for one week or one day of the week for several weeks. During the lockdown, I found myself wearing only very casual clothes and exercise clothes. To break this pattern, I came up with weekly themes to dress and experimented with:
- Floral dresses (I tend to save them for special occasions…)
- Pants other than jeans (oh how much I love jeans!)
- Black as top or bottom (as I age, I find black is not an obvious choice as it drains the colour out of me, but I can make it work when I pair it with some other colours)
- Prints / patterns (I tend to reach for colour blocks first and use accessories to level up my outfits, but I was not using a lot of accessories during the lockdown, so I decided to wear more of my prints)
- Colours never combined before etc.
Carve out time to alter, or get altered, the clothes that don’t fit you properly or look outdated – adjust the length or the cleavage, change the buttons, remove the sleeves, etc – so you have no more excuses not to wear them. I did a fair bit of this during my clothes shopping diet in 2015 and got these 2 dresses transformed last month.
Wondering how many clothes you really need? Read this blog post
Prolong the lifespan of your clothes
A lot must be said about taking care of our clothes to reduce our clothing consumption. Coming from a humble family, I learned as a teenager when I started to get interested in fashion to take the best care I could of the little I had – being clothes or any other items.
Taking care of our clothes starts from the moment we bring the piece of clothing into our homes. Get rid of the carrier bag, cut the tag, wash the piece of clothing, and find it a proper home in your closet. That’s the best way to get to wear it.
Wash on a colder wash at 30 degrees Celsius, and handwash delicate pieces. Let them air dry instead of using the dryer. Not only it’s gentler on your clothes it’s also gentler on the environment and your wallet.
Always check the tags of the clothes before you buy them. If you’re not prepared to hand wash or bring to the dry cleaner clothes that are supposed to be washed that day, you better not buy them in the first place. Otherwise, they’ll get easily damaged or hardly worn because you won’t like putting the effort in.
Invest in proper hangers and get rid of the metal ones that get easily entangled. Leave some space between each item of clothing you hang to give it some breathing space so they don’t wrinkle or fall off the hangers and end up on a crumple at the bottom of your wardrobe. Fold soft knitwear and heavy sweaters instead of hanging them so that they don’t stretch out.
Mend the clothes that need mending so they can last you longer. If you’re not gifted at mending like me, find a good seamstress. I had an experience last year when the cost of mending the item was one-third of the price I had paid for the item itself, but I decided to do it anyway as I would have needed to replace this item and didn’t want to cost the earth by buying something new. I must also confess it gives me great satisfaction to wear clothes until they are worn out.
Too many clothes in your wardrobe? Reach out, I love decluttering and organising wardrobes!
Borrow or rent – infrequently used clothing and styles you want to explore
Think seasonal wear such as winter and ski wear, even more so for children who are likely to outgrow them by the time they’ll have another occasion to wear them again, or occasional wear such as wedding gowns, cocktail dresses, and evening gowns if you don’t have many occasions to wear them, yet don’t want to wear the same dress on repeat.
Consider Popsicle Asia for winter and ski wear rental if you have no friends from whom to borrow those pieces. Singapore offers plenty of options to rent a wedding gown, cocktail dress, or evening gown, such as Rentadella, The Gown Warehouse, 18atelier, and many more…
I personally rented a cocktail dress and clutch from Rentadella for a wedding a few years ago – the bride herself had rented her wedding gown and looked absolutely gorgeous! The process was smooth, it was not as expensive as I had thought, I got to wear a more stylish outfit than if I had bought one (the cost per wear would have made me flinch), I was not cluttering my wardrobe and I was gentle on the planet. So many wins! I’ll certainly do it again when the occasion arises.
If you like to explore different styles, opt for a monthly subscription plan at Style Theory. Based on your plan, you’ll select a certain number of items of clothing that will get delivered to your doorstep. After wearing them, arrange a pick-up and they’ll bring you your next lot. Style Theory offers formal wear, casual clothes, party dresses, and evening gowns.
Get secondhand clothing – buying or swapping
With the small number of wears that our clothes get, it does make sense to look at secondhand options before buying new clothes.
My son who is now at university and on a tight budget is now a convert to thrift shops and has found items from brands he wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. Some items have even never been worn and come with the original price tag. While his driver at first was cost, he appreciates that his choice also contributes to protecting the planet.
Swapping is another option to get secondhand clothing especially if you have a lot of clothes in your wardrobe and like rotating. I find selling takes a lot of time and is not necessarily worth my time for the value of the items I’d have to sell so I’ve got into swapping instead. I get the pants that I use when I work at my clients’ and that can get easily ruined. Knowing how they’ll end up, it makes sense to me to get something that has already been worn. It also gives me an opportunity to experiment with clothes/styles I wouldn’t buy new as I’m not sure I’d really like them – that’s how I got to try a jumpsuit. And I’ve let myself be tempted by the branded dress below that I wouldn’t have bought new because of the price tag and that has proven a wonderful addition to my wardrobe after I got it altered.
Because that’s the thing. All the clothes in thrift stores and swapping places typically come in only one size. So, you’ll have to go through a fair amount of stuff to find what you need and like, and you might have to invest in getting it altered. Do the math to decide whether it’s worth your time and money.
Buy quality over quantity
Buy clothing made from sustainable fabrics which, according to Good On You, a source for fashion brand ratings, are organic cotton, hemp, and linen as well as recycled wool and Tencel. Download their app to check the impact of your favourite fashion brands and discover better alternatives.
Buy the best quality you can afford so your clothes will last longer, and so you won’t have to buy as frequently as you would otherwise. Although I now avoid fast fashion because of human rights abuse, I must confess that I’ve bought in the past clothes from fast fashion brands that lasted me a very long time because I was paying attention to the quality of the fabric, and I take great care of my clothes.
Some of the ideas above might resonate with you more than others and that’s ok. But I strongly believe we don’t have to be perfect to drive change. If all of us were to take a small step towards reducing our clothing consumption, together we would make a big difference. So, tell me in the comments below, what could you commit to doing this year to reduce your clothing consumption?