How to buy clothes without destroying the planet | Popgen Tech


You probably buy clothes too often. Changing the way you shop can make all the difference.

(Video: Washington Post illustration; Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post; iStock)


Faced with the staggering amount of waste and resources typically associated with clothing, you might think the key to a more sustainable wardrobe is obvious: stop shopping.

“It would be very easy for me to say, ‘Just stop buying things,'” says Mark Sumner, a lecturer at the School of Design at the University of Leeds who works on sustainability in the textile, clothing and fashion industries. “But that’s a very lazy answer that doesn’t reflect the complexity of fashion and its positive impact on workers.”

Fashion and clothing are an important part of culture, society and individual expression. And at some point, most people will want or need to buy new clothes. To reduce your environmental and social impact, how you shop matters—finding ways to cut down on unnecessary new purchases, thinking about how you might wear what you buy, and finding clothes that will last.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about what brands you buy,” says Katrina Kaspelich, chief marketing officer of Remake, a global nonprofit that advocates for fair wages and climate justice in the apparel industry. “It’s about what changes you’re going to make in the way you consume.”

Reconsider how often you buy new ones

While giving up shopping isn’t the solution, many people end up buying new clothes far too often. One UK consumer survey in 2021 found that nearly 39 percent of respondents said they shop for fashion at least once a month. According to a report by British fashion retailer Drapers, almost a fifth of those surveyed said they buy something new every two weeks.

“The biggest thing anyone can do to make a difference is to reduce their consumption of clothing,” Kaspelich says.

Even clothes from brands that advertise how they use fewer resources still have an environmental cost. What’s more, each new sale can signal to companies that they need to continue production to meet consumer demand, adding to the staggering amount of textiles already in circulation. Despite increased efforts to donate, resell, repurpose and recycle used clothing domestically, clothing can end up overseas, often in Africa or other countries in the Global South, creating a waste problem and potentially harming local economies.

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Clothing also ends up in landfills in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, discarded clothing is the leading source of textiles in municipal solid waste, ahead of furniture, carpets, shoes, linens and towels. In 2018, the agency reported that 11.3 million tons of textiles were sent to landfills, representing more than 7 percent of total waste.

“The best thing people can do is keep the materials they find longer,” says Linda Grose, a professor of fashion design and critical studies at the California College of the Arts.

Instead of buying everything new, experts recommend trying to get the most out of what you already have. Extending the life of your clothing through proper care and repair achieves this.

If you’re looking to add to your wardrobe, consider alternative ways to update your closet. If possible, experts recommend buying second-hand from thrift stores or resale platforms, participating in clothing swaps, or renting clothes for special occasions.

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According to Alena Karpova, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, there’s a difference between what she calls “affluent consumption” and “the consumption that I need to function.”

She and others say that with the rise of e-commerce and the ability to buy things with the click of a mouse, have them delivered within days, and then return what you don’t need with relative ease, it’s no wonder that many people often buy things they don’t need. are not needed.

“It’s not about not buying things,” Sumner says. “It’s about let’s just be careful that we don’t just do momentum, momentum, momentum.”

Whether you’re shopping for a brand-new item of clothing or buying second-hand, your first step should be to think through your decision. “You shouldn’t approach secondhand the same way you approach fast fashion,” Kaspelich says. Be careful, she suggests, and try to be more intentional about adding to your wardrobe.

Karpova, who studies textile and clothing sustainability, recommends rating the clothes you want to buy on a scale of one to 10. “I never buy anything below a nine,” she says. “Shoot for 10”.

Before you buy anything, take a moment to think about the purchase, Sumner says. “Just stop and put the phone down, or stop and walk away from the checkout and ask yourself, ‘Why am I buying this?’ »

Think about lifespan and usage

Experts say that a significant proportion of the overall environmental impact of clothing usually occurs during the use phase, mainly due to how the clothing is washed, used and cared for. It’s also the stage, experts say, where consumers have the most control.

“To me, the magic is really in the use phase,” says Cassette Joyner Martinez, associate professor of design, housing and merchandising at Oklahoma State University.

Buying clothes should be seen as a long-term commitment, says Joyner Martinez.

“I think of it as a marriage, as me getting into a relationship,” she says. “I’m not only going to think about how I’m going to use it and for how long, but I’m also going to think about how this thing is going to end its life.”

Experiment with a capsule wardrobe or a small collection of clothes that can be worn interchangeably to create several different outfits. Experts say that when you’re adding to your wardrobe, try to choose higher-quality pieces, but remember that price isn’t always a reliable indicator of how well-made a garment is. Shop less for trendy styles and shades and opt for more classic silhouettes and basic colors like black, brown, navy, gray or white.

“You can wear things longer without looking dated,” says Karen Leonas, professor of textile science at North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles. Timeless, well-tailored clothing may also have a better chance of finding a new home when you’re done with it.

But while considering these factors can help you shop better and reduce your consumption, several experts say the key is to focus on what you’ll actually use. “As long as you feel good in it and you’re going to wear it, that’s really important,” Kaspelich says.

For example, an inexpensive fashion t-shirt that you take care of and wear all the time may be more sustainable than an organic fiber shirt that you throw away after only a few wears.

What’s more, taking proper care of your clothes, such as not machine washing and drying them too often, can extend their life. The Waste and Resources Action Programme, a UK-based charity, believes that if clothes are actively used for nine months longer, increasing their average lifespan to around three years, carbon, water and waste footprints can be reduced by 20 to 30 percent.

“The longer we can keep our clothes in use, the more we can keep them out of landfills,” Kaspelich says.

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