We all have different styles, tastes and preferences on how to represent ourselves, but we all have one thing in common – we all wear clothes. We express ourselves through what we wear, we often judge other people by what they wear. But how often do we pause and think – where actually our clothes come from? And I am not talking about the obvious “from the shop” answer here. To get to the shop our clothes had to be made somewhere, from some sort of materials by someone… Very rarely we think or try to investigate those questions, but I strongly believe we all should. Because once you realise how much goes into making our clothes and what is behind your $10 jeans you will treat them in a very different way. As someone said “nothing comes for free – somewhere someone is always paying for it”.
I am a dressmaker myself and because in our family we homeschool our children I work from home. In my work practice I do custom made-to-measure womenswear, although very rarely mainly because of the costs involved, and majority of my orders are clothes repairs and alterations of any kind. I try to practice sustainable approach in making and I am highly aware of wasteful habits in our society. When we can buy everything cheap we don’t treasure what we bought and easily discard broken items instead of trying to repair them. In our family we try to change this. I teach my kids that all things – whether they are toys, furniture or clothes had been made by someone using precious natural resources and we have to respect those who spend time making these things for us to use regardless how much we paid for it.
If you want to start investigating who, how and where made your clothes the good starting point would be The Fashion Revolution website. Fashion revolution is a movement demanding the clothing industry to be more transparent and fairer to all involved. It makes us rethink our buying habits. Have you ever wondered where the majority of your clothes are made? Do you know how much people are getting paid at garment factories in China, Indonesia and Bangladesh, for example? Are you curious to find out what happens to the clothes you donate to charity or return to shops like H&M in exchange for discount vouchers? Are you interested to know how your garment purchases impact the planet? Do you want to learn more on the topic with your kids? Then go to https://www.fashionrevolution.org/resources/free-downloads/ for free educational resources! There you can find interesting activities aimed at kids of various ages. The organisers encourage schools to use these materials and spread awareness about our unsustainable clothes habits with a yearly #whomademyclothes campaign that goes on last week of April.
For various reasons we could not make this session in April, but I believe it is better late than never and this month I organised an educational session about clothing industry using these resources at our local homeschooling coop and it went really well. Apart from the resources provided by Fashion Revolution website I also included a short documentary “How fast fashion adds to the world’s clothing waste problem” (you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elU32XNj8PM )
Here are just a few things that we learned during this session:
All our clothes, even those that say “100% cotton” on the label contain polyester in the form of threads and labels.
There is no technology at the moment that would allow to recycle our clothes due to the fact that most of them are made from mixed fibres which are close to impossible to separate.
Cotton industry uses huge amount of pesticides to grow the crops which destroy the biodiversity and ecosystem around the farms and can also give skin allergies to those who are sensitive to chemicals. (Pesticides do not wash off and remain in the cotton fabric and therefore your clothes.)
Only about 1% of all cotton is grown organically.
Garment workers in Asian countries are getting paid way below minimum wage, are working in very poor and often dangerous conditions.
Luxury high end companies are also underpaying their garment workers making huge profits themselves (not only fast fashion brands). In 2016, for example, the owners of Chanel – paid themselves a $3.4 billion dividend which was more than four times the company’s profits that year. (https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2018/sep/02/academic-exposing-ugly-reality-high-fashion-giuliamensitieri )
If a woman in Italy carefully stitches two coats retailed at €2,000 each a day at her kitchen table, she would only earn between €8 to €10 per day…
Brick industry in Cambodia uses offcuts from Marks & Spencer, Pull & Bear, J Crew and other brands’ clothing to fuel the fires of brick kilns that spew toxic smoke into the atmosphere.
In average making 1 kg of fabric generates 23 kg of greenhouse gasses…
83% of all our waters on the planet contain plastic microbibres with one third of that amount coming from our clothes...
A lot of clothes that we donate to charities do not go to the needy people. Instead they are getting resold to a middleman, then resold to African countries, then resold at their local markets (not given away for free) and then burned there if not sold…
So what can we do to become more sustainable? There are a few simple things we all can consider in our everyday life:
DO NOT BUY NEW CLOTHES if:
You already have the same or similar ones at home;
if it is a one-time wear (like costumes) – costumes are easy to make from what you have at hand;
KEEP IT: Do not get rid of clothes just because you don’t like them. You might change your mind in future. Remember – the most sustainable clothes are the ones you already have!
MEND IT: Start mending clothes that you have. Learn how to mend yourself, find a good clothes alterations in your area or google up Repait Cafe close to you where volunteers repair everything you can imagine (not just clothes!!!!) for free! Just a generation ago it was a must have useful skill that most people had. 🙂
SWAP IT: The idea of swapping clothes is becoming more and more popular. If you have something in your wardrobe you don’t like or that does not fit you any more ask your friends or relatives if they want to swap it for something they don’t like with you! You will have a new item in your wardrobe without buying!
BUY AT OP SHOPS: If you really need something new consider looking at your local op shops. You will be amazed how many good quality clothes you can find there! Op shops are really good for kids clothes too as they grow out of them very fast.
BUY QUALITY: if op shop is not your thing and you really need something new, give preference to good quality items that were made to last instead of cheap alternatives. You can always pass them down to someone who needs or wants them once your kids outgrown them.
NO PLASTIC: This is the hardest one to follow, but if you can – give preference to natural fibres without any polyester/nylon/acrylic or other synthetics added. Even if one day these clothes end up in the landfill they will degrade much faster and easier that man made fabrics.
REPURPOSE: Do not just throw clothes into the bin. There are millions of alternatives! You can give clothes that are in good condition to those who need them among your friends or relatives. Clothes that are not good enough to wear again can be reused for something else. If you are a crafty person you can remake old clothes into new items – cut them up into a yarn and make a rug, cut them into dust cloths. Just google that up – you will be surprised at how ideas you can find!
LAUNDER WELL: Laundering is where clothing has the biggest environmental impact. Wash less and with cold water. Give preference to natural detergents without harsh chemicals, air your clothes between washes and you won't need to wash them as often!
As you see there is a lot to learn and to think about! You can go as deep into the topic as you wish depending on your kids age, but even my 6-year-old was truly engaged with all the activities we did through the day and when asked what shocked her the most from today’s lesson her reply was: “I was surprised to learn that all our clothes contain plastic (polyester) and that old clothes get resold so many times and eventually get burned in Africa and that it damages our planet”.
We didn’t want to end our session on a sad note, and decided to finish it with some craft activities. As a dressmaker I accumulate a lot of fabric and threads offcuts. I never throw them away and instead reuse for other projects including crafts with kids. (I post regularly on my Instagram account about my creative journey including kids crafts activities we do at home @victoriakonash) That day we made pictures using fabric rubbish for applique.