In this episode, I explore my biggest tips for a sustainable wardrobe for FREE: Making your clothes last! I cover the 4 tips I have for showing your wardrobe some love, so that it loves you back.
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Hello and welcome to Everyday Ethical, a podcast about all of the small ways that you can be more sustainable, without the pressure to be perfect. I’m your host, Bethany Austin, and I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who talks about everything from slow styling to cruelty-free cleaning.
In last week’s episode we covered an important topic within slow fashion: How you should dispose of your clothes once you’re actually done with them! From charity shops to recycling, we covered it all. However, as I said in the episode: being more eco-conscious when disposing of clothes isn’t enough. Ideally, you want to be getting rid of things in your wardrobe as little as possible. And that’s why I knew I had to chat with you all about this topic.
Today we’re going to be discussing how you can make your clothes last longer so that you don’t have to worry about the best way to dispose of them.
Okay, let’s dive in.
To kick off today’s chat, I want to re-visit a statistic that I gave to you in the last episode which, if you haven’t listened to yet, you definitely should once you’re done with this one! Here’s the stat: 350,000 tonnes, or around £140 million worth, of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year! That means that over 30% of our unwanted clothes currently end up in landfill. (source)
As I touched upon, a huge proportion of this isn’t biodegradable, meaning that the textiles will be on the planet, adding to our pollution problem for many years to come. And on top of that, clothing going to landfill is a monumental waste of the energy that it took to create it, since it wasn’t even used to its full potential.
This means that we all need to be more aware when it comes to disposing of our clothes, to do our bit to lower our environmental impact. Ultimately though, the best thing that you can do for the planet isn’t to buy whatever you want, wear it once and then responsibly get rid of it. The whole process needs to be responsible in order to benefit the environment most, which mainly means buying less and making what you do buy last!
Easier said than done though, right? In a society where we now have 52 “micro seasons” within fashion and the pressure to buy new constantly has never been so intense, I totally get that it’s difficult to make this transition.
Enter this episode!
Whilst here in the UK we used to have a very “make do and mend” mentality, that has well and truly died. For most of us – myself included until recently – a hole in jeans or a snagged hem would just mean buying another item. Probably for super cheap from a highstreet shop! So I knew I had to delve into the topic of making your clothes last longer. After all, the longer something lasts, the less you buy. Or at least that’s the logical thing to do!
I’m going to cover all of the ways – big and small – that I try to get the absolute most out of every item in my wardrobe and how you can start implementing the tips to take a big step toward more sustainable fashion.
My first tip for keeping your clothes in tip top shape so that they last for years to come is to be aware when you’re washing them! Listen. I get it. Throwing everything into the same wash, on 40 degrees and then chucking them in the tumble dryer is easy. I mean, I dread washing so adding different steps to the process was a huge learning curve but I got there! And my clothes thank me for it.
First things first, read the labels on your clothes! Actually look at the temperature things should be washed at or even if they should only be hand washed and then listen to the instructions! Having this awareness will hopefully save you from any unneeded laundry emergencies featuring white pants turned pink, or wooly jumpers that would now only fit a Bratz doll if you’re lucky.
Building on this awareness, make sure that you’re not overwashing any items. I mean, I’m not telling you to wear your sweaty gym socks for four days in a row. Please. Don’t do that. But things like jeans and jumpers can often be worn more than once, depending of course on the circumstances.
Over-washing can cause fabric to get thinner and more vulnerable, leading to snags or holes at a much faster rate. That’s why it’s so crucial to be conscious of what actually needs to be washed and what doesn’t.
Next, start being more strict with your colours, ensuring that you’re not mixing darks, lights or colours all together. I mean, I’m sure that you do this already but if not, I promise this will keep your clothes looking newer for longer. As an alternative, if you only wash for yourself and simply don’t have enough of one type of colour to fill a load, don’t let that water go to waste! Invest in a box of Colour Catchers – which are biodegradable, by the way – so that any colour leakage doesn’t spread to other clothes. Nobody likes it when their white tops go slightly grey and this is a fab way to prevent that and make them last much longer.
In the same vein of washing, also be aware of how you’re treating your delicates. Underwear and bras can get absolutely mangled in the wash. And twisted bra straps are my absolute pet peeve! I would massively recommend switching to hand washing bras wherever possible. This will make a world of difference in terms of helping them to keep their shape, colour and, erm, structural integrity! If the idea of hand washing sounds like a total ballache though, at least invest in a delicates bag, which will keep your bras in one confined space, so that they don’t get tugged about so much in every wash. Say “hello” to know more mysteriously snapped straps, my friend!
Finally, as far as washing is concerned, I make it a rule of thumb to not tumble dry wherever I possibly can. Tumble dryers are actually really awful for the planet. To hear more about eco-friendly practices when washing clothes, head to season 1, episode 16 where I talk about it in more detail. But, yeah, just trust me that the energy they use is not worth it! Plus, much like over washing, they damage fabrics over time and make them more likely to break.
Instead, opt for line drying or using racks inside of your house. It takes a little bit longer and is slightly more of an inconvenience, but it will save your clothes and save you money on your energy bill, too! Win win.
Anyway, enough about washing your clothes.
Another tip for making your clothes last longer is to learn the basics of repairing or altering. I’m not expecting you to be the next Coco Chanel. Even if you just learn how to use hemming web, that’s a step in the right direction!
Like I said, as a society we’re too used to throwing things away as soon as they’re damaged, so I’m trying to teach myself at the moment how to fix minor problems with clothes. I’ve been practicing with my sewing machine again so that I can repair torn seams, plus I want to learn how to darn tears as well.
I would massively encourage you to do the same. That way, they next time you damage an item, you can simply fix it and maybe even get years more use out of it! That’s a sustainability power move, right there.
Alternatively, if the idea of learning how to sew makes your palms sweat, you could opt for using a tailor instead. Your town most probably has one – just have a google – and they will be able to fix everything from split seams to tears. Plus, if you’ve bought an item that doesn’t quite fit, they’ll probably be able to help you in that department too.
It’s kind of outside of our nature to use tailors now, I know. But when you’re making an item last way longer instead of buying something new, it’s well worth the investment. And hey, if you want to save your pennies, see if your nan can help! That’s my first port of call.
My third tip, and probably one of the biggest steps you can make towards having a wardrobe that lasts is to invest. Now, obviously this isn’t a universal rule but, in my experience, buying slightly more expensive, higher-quality items means that they will last longer. For example, I’ve had times where I’ve chucked a Primark pair of jeans through the wash a couple of times and the colour has faded and they’ve lost their shape already. On the other hand, I’ve now invested in a pair of Reformation jeans, which are such high quality that I just know they’ll last me years. And I even got them in the Boxing Day sales. So I basically made money on them!
I totally get that investing isn’t always an option. It certainly wasn’t for me until probably last year. So don’t be hard on yourself for this one. Maybe even see if you can get a higher-quality piece secondhand to save you some pennies. I love Depop for this and you can actually find a tonne of items new, with tags for a fraction of the price.
Like I said though, I know that being able to spend more money on clothes as a way to cut down on waste comes from a position of privilege and requires you to have one lump sum to spend, instead of several smaller amounts over time. So just do what you can in terms of investing in quality!
Wherever you do shop though, one thing you can definitely do is to try and make sure your clothes will last in terms of style, as well as physically. Listen. I love a trend as much as the next person. I used to be a fashion blogger, for god’s sake! However, we all know that trends come and go. More quickly than even in recent years.
That’s why I would highly encourage you to try developing your own personal style and only dabble in the more trendy items, if that! This can take some work to figure out but I personally loved scrolling through Pinterest and creating a board for any outfits I loved. Then I was able to clearly see any themes in them, to know what direction I should take my wardrobe in that is focused on my own taste, not what other people tell me I should like.
On top of these, try to focus on timeless pieces and making these the foundations that you work your wardrobe around. White t-shirts, jeans and black boots will probably be something you wear now and in 10 years time, so this is a sure fire way to make sure that your clothes get as much wear out of them as possible. I’ve recently been trying to move my wardrobe over to a more neutral colour palette of mainly black, white, grey and beige. I’m loving it so far and it has made dressing SO much easier.
For more advice on this, go and check out the blog and Instagram of Nati Machiatto. She is a sustainable style blogger and total icon that you need in your life. I’ll be sure to link her blog and socials in the show notes because she is the queen of having a minimal, versatile wardrobe but maintaining personal style.
My final tip for making your clothes last longer is to not be afraid to update items! Obviously, in terms of sizing this can mean learning some basic alterations or heading to the tailors, as I’ve already recommended. However, it can also be more aesthetic related.
One thing I want to do is to dye a few of the items in my wardrobe that are in colours I know I won’t wear anymore. I’ll probably dye them black, let’s be honest. This is such a great way to give an item a new lease of life though, even if you’re re-dying something the same colour to make it look more vibrant and new.
You can get super creative with updating old items, fraying edges, adding patches, sewing things onto them or embroidering them, if you have those skills! If it’s going to make you want to wear an item again and feel like it’s brand new, I’m all for it.
So there you have! Those are my recommendations and most of them are super simple, be they mindset shifts and awareness, or getting a little bit creative and thoughtful with your wardrobe. Let’s re-cap the ways that you can make your clothes last as long as possible
- You can be more careful when it comes to washing, making sure that you don’t over-wash and being sure that you follow the instructions on the label
- You could learn how to repair an item, so that if something breaks you don’t have to get rid of it
- You can invest in more high-quality items that will ware less quickly
- You can get creating and figure out some ways to update your clothes
By committing to some of these things, you can create a wardrobe that will last you as long as possible, meaning that you won’t need to buy as much either. This will cut down on the demand for fast fashion, which is a hugely cruel and environmentally damaging industry (check out season 1, episode 3 if you want to learn more). Plus, it will mean less items contributing to the massive textile waste issues that we have.
What’s not to love?
If you have any tips for looking after clothes better, please do drop me a message on Instagram. I’m @bethanypaigeaustin, but I’ll be sure to link it in the show notes, too. And whilst you’re there, I would love it if you’d share this episode on your Instagram stories by print screening it! It really helps me out and it brings me SO much joy to see who’s listening.
Anyway, I’ll be back in your ear holes next week, you eco warrior you.