Think for a second – how many items of clothing do you own that you never wear? or wear so rarely that your closet is beginning to seem more like a storage unit? If the answer is too many or too much then consider each of these five reasons to start slowing your cloth consumption with deep thought and care.
The hardest hitting topic when it comes to producing food for the world to eat and if you haven’t noticed it already – it boasts a direct correlation to your wardrobe as well. It is also common knowledge by now (or should be) that cotton is the heaviest polluter with its many pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers. Not forgetting to mention the negative social impacts such as suicides of farmers and large corporations forcing people off of their lands all for the sake of our love affair with t-shirts. GMO cotton brings in a whole other slew of problems that are only just beginning to surface…
Cotton surely isn’t the only natural fiber crop to blame. Silk, bamboo and the leather industry all share their dark side in the closet.
Possible solutions: purchase fibers, yarns and cloth from organically produced crops from as close to your home as possible. Fibershed is setting a good example in California as to the growing and raising of locally produced fibers along with establishing an ever growing list of creative artisans that turn the fibers into works of art. A greater momentum is needed if we are to respect ecological farming methods! The controversial hemp bast fibers should be allowed into production, support it whenever and wherever you can.
Natural sources vs. fossil fuel based plastics
First look at the bottom line: most natural sources of fiber can be composted, poly fleece can only be recycled at best. At its worst, upon washing, thousands of tiny particles are released unseen into the waste water which goes out to the sea, to local rivers and lakes, and eventually winds up in your fish fillet. It is garbage that continues to pollute with each wash and wear. Melting clothes down to form a park bench certainly isn’t an option of disposal nor is burning a leather jacket tanned with chrome. Burning of plastic and leather gives off carcinogenic fumes – don’t do it!
Possible solutions: Avoid clothing that combines multiple materials in one item and choose linen, hemp, organic cotton and vegetable or brain tanned leather when you can. The higher price is offset by the good you are doing not only for small farmers and the environment, but for your health as well.
A general rule of thumb, the harsher the color, the more toxic the dye. Color is beautiful, but overdoing it is very harmful to the earth. Synthetic dyes are a booming industry, yet they pollute fresh water and groundwater alike, they also cause serious health issues to factory workers and their families. Allergies, although not generally talked about in relation to synthetic dyes, are in fact out there – something else to think about when swaddling our beloved babies.
Possible solutions: choose plant dyed fabrics, better yet, embrace the fact that you can have color with no dyes at all! Did you know that organic color grown cotton can come in at least 14 shades?! Wool comes in so many colors of grey, brown, black, white, cream and fawn, that when blended, the natural hues and shades are endless. Nature is full of color with its harmonious color scheme, a handful of things stand out, much more stand in. Maybe we should stop trying to stand out like parrots and try blending into our local landscape. Be unique by using texture instead of color, wear complex knit stitches rather than the homogenous, dense machine knit that is so familiar to us all.
Handmade or mass produced
What to choose? Both have their virtues and limitations, the easiest option is usually to pick the latter. I ask, does it really need to be this way? Factory-made has the upside that the end product is cheaper, it sells well at the mall and it is a quick way to clothe yourself. Cheap, fast and easy. Where is the connection to the land, to the farmer, to the artist? Should it matter?
Possible solutions: after seven years of contemplation on the idea of sustainable clothing alone, I can honestly proclaim that a new era of cloth is on the horizon. Radical homemakers should not only learn to mend, they should learn to craft.
Take up knitting, spinning, weaving, leatherwork, felting – whatever it is that a keen interest finds you doing. Start small, one project at a time. Learning the basics of sewing takes no time at all if you believe that the lessons are invaluable. Tailoring remains for us the most difficult part of creating our clothes, trial and error helps us along the way. Perhaps custom seamstresses will once again be an occupation to hold in high regard, as well as shoe makers that make footwear on an individual (pair of feet) basis. If we are to minimize our use of resources, then customization is essential.
Deciding how much is enough is a very personal choice. As you start to simplify your life you will realize that you need less of everything – and this is wonderful news! Whittle your wardrobe down to a few pairs of pants, shoes and sweaters, can’t you feel the liberation coming soon?
The solution: You must fully embrace simplicity in order to desire less. Experiences are more valuable than items on a shelf and yes, you can wear the same pair of pants more than two days in a row and still be clean and fashionable. Minimalism is not about being poor or having dull taste, it simply means that you know where and when to stop/reduce consuming.
If any of these five reasons to start slowing your cloth consumption strike a fiber with you, by all means examine your closet and see if there isn’t something (or twenty) that you would like to give away. Purge, little by little, then create new clothing until you are completely at peace with your wardrobe and with yourself.
Where are you at on your journey to a sustainable wardrobe?