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Reducing Fabric Waste

Without sacrificing style and functionality

There’s no denying that clothing consumption and fabric waste have gotten out of control. 17 million tons of fabric waste were sent to landfills in 2018. And this number is only increasing. The rise of social media has made people hungry for something new constantly. People see something new that “everyone” has, they purchase it, and then toss it to the side once it seems like people have moved on to the “next big thing.” This leads to a lot of fabric waste!

The problem is not just physical waste piling up, high rates of clothing waste production point to increased resource consumption. It takes 2,700 liters of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt. The production of a single pair of jeans needs 7,600 liters throughout its total production. This number compounds quickly when you consider how many garments are produced each year. NYC produces roughly 400 million pounds of waste clothing each year. These clothes can sit in landfills for around 200 years as they slowly decompose. As they decompose, they release hazardous chemicals into the earth, where they can contaminate groundwater.

So what can we do?

The first action we can take is to buy less. It may sound like a wildly simple solution, but one of the first things to do to combat fabric waste is to reduce the number of new clothes we are buying. If we all buy less, there will be less demand as a whole for new clothing, and producers will make less because large batches will not be profitable.

How do we purchase less clothing? We still need things to wear. The short answer is to purchase things that last longer. But the long answer involves several ways we can all do that.

Be Mindful of What You Buy

Think about whether or not a given trend is something that appeals to you. If you initially see something and think it’s not to your taste, follow that instinct! This will reduce the odds that you find yourself sick of a given piece in a month or two. This doesn’t mean that you can’t participate in trends. If you see a trendy item that you love – buy it! But don’t toss it aside once it’s not the latest and greatest. Incorporate these items into your long-term wardrobe and style them to your tastes to wear them for seasons to come.

Think of Your Closet Long-Term

You can shop from retailers that traditionally follow a “fast fashion” business model while still reducing fabric waste. The key to doing this is to try to purchase pieces that you are truly interested in and that you intend to wear for a long time. Although “fast fashion” retailers often use cheaper materials, they can still last a long time if you take care of them and treat them well. Remember, the problem is over-consumption from fast fashion retailers, not shopping within your budget.

Mend Your Clothing, Rather Than Throwing Them Away

You can greatly extend the life of your clothing by mending them whenever possible. Small tears can easily be mended. Items that have been worn thin can be reinforced. Small amounts of damage are to be expected as you go about your life, but they don’t mean that your clothes are ruined. Not only can simple mending skills keep your clothes in good working condition for longer, but they also give your clothes character!

Shop Second-Hand

Thrift stores and second-hand shops are a great way to replace worn-out items or add things to your wardrobe, while also saving items that have life left in them from landfills. Buying second-hand from others online lets you search for specific items that are pre-loved. Another great option is to organize a clothing swap. Something that someone else has grown away from might be what your wardrobe is missing. Save clothes from the landfill, mix up your closet, and give items new life all in one go!

Prioritize Ethical Manufacturing

At the end of the day, we still need durable shoes and other items that can be tricky to find secondhand. In these instances, it’s important to seek out brands that make quality products and use materials and processes that work to lower their emissions. It is important to look for brands that are open about their production facilities and how they compensate the workers in their factories. Seek out companies that are Fairwear certified or have similar certifications.


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