It was the most beautiful denim skirt I had ever seen. Like a Cinderella ball gown made from faded jeans, sewn together. I was 15, it was from Topshop, and I was convinced that life would be incomplete without this skirt in my wardrobe. I eventually bought it thanks to my ‘lucrative’ career as a part-time babysitter, and I wore that skirt every chance I got: mufti day, Christmas, Dream World. I was a woman in love.
I can’t tell you what happened to that skirt. Nor can I tell you where my blue woolly jumper has gone, or the pink diamante stilettos I wore to my year 12 formal ended up. Abstaining from judging my sartorial choices (it was the early noughties and Britney was dancing with g-strings on outside her jeans!) I’m sad to think that items I had loved and treasured so much were so mindlessly discarded.
I was recently asked to write about waste in the fashion industry. It made me think about these clothes and how even though I loved them so much at the time, I was able at some point to throw or give them away. No, while I’m not about to start advocating for keeping every single thing we buy forever (that would definitely go against my new minimal living experiment!) but I do think it should make us really think about what we’re buying.
My grandmother’s wardrobe is fabulous. She has the same outfits from those 60s dinner parties she hosted in suburban Melbourne and power jackets she wore as a Double Bay gallery owner in the 70s. A few years ago when I was going through a ‘Hat Stage’ (I hear you questioning my style choices again…) she fished out old hats she hadn’t worn for decades and gave them to me. I wore them with pride; relics from a time before I was born. There is something special about clothing from yesteryear with a unique story to tell.
Isn’t it sad that in today’s rapidly consuming culture we have misplaced the story of our clothes? Clothing has become disposable; suitable only as long as the trend lasts and the best story we can often share about our new culottes is that they cost “$24 in the Iconic midseason sale!”. Cheap clothing and rotating trends mean our wardrobes are bursting at the seams, and yet most of us only wear 30% of our clothes.
In 2015 a powerful film came about fashion called The True Cost. I saw it with some of my friends who work in the fashion industry. They sat in shock as they learnt about the levels of toxins produced by the fashion industry, and saw the faces of young women working long hours to sew our garments. Since that film, and the increasing popularity of campaigns like Fashion Revolution, we are beginning to talk more about where our clothes come from, and who made them. But we also need to talk about what happens to our clothes once we buy them.
Our Clothing Doesn’t Just Disappear
It doesn’t matter if we buy a Fairtrade t-shirt made with GOTS certified organic cotton if we only wear it once, leave it at the bottom of a draw and eventually throw it out. What’s the point? Not only have you wasted your money, but you’ve also wasted the resources that went into making that t-shirt.
Our clothing is filling up landfills quicker than Zara can release their new collection inspired by NY Fashion Week. Which is troubling considering how much of our clothing is made from polyester, a material that features heavily in our clothing and takes anywhere between 20 to 200 years to decompose! And then imagine all those chemical dyes that seep out of our clothing and into the environment.
Just because we’ve thrown out those old jeans and dresses doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. Unless they were repurposed into new materials, or some thrifty person is wearing my old dresses, I wonder how much of my clothing is sitting in landfills, or floating in the middle of the Pacific garbage island.
Buying Quality Over Quantity
In the past few years, I have become more mindful of my wardrobe. I no longer buy cheap polyester dresses and shapeless jeans but instead invest in clothing that fits me and will last longer than Katy Perry and Taylor Swifts friendship.
It’s clothing that has a great story to tell, just ask me. I’ll tell you about my Veja sneakers, which were made using sustainable rubber and eco-tanned leather, manufactured in Brazil with Fairtrade conditions. Or my Kowtow marl grey dress, which was produced with hands that earn a fair wage, using cotton that didn’t harm the environment. They weren’t cheap, but I could afford them because I wasn’t buying copious amounts of of-the-moment stuff from cheaper brands.
As I write this I’m sitting in a café in Sydney, where the weather has turned from a scorching summer to a chilly autumn. I have pulled out the trench I have been wearing for the last 5 years. It’s a Lisa Ho trench my sister bought when she worked for the designer years ago. When my sister grew tired of wearing it, I bought it off her. At the time I didn’t give much thought to it, I just needed a jacket for winter and couldn’t afford to fork out hundreds of dollars. She gave me a good price, I got the coffee stain dry cleaned and I have worn it season after season. Each time I wear it, someone will always compliment me on it. It’s a testament to when something is made well, it will last. And if you buy well, it might even stand the test of time and not date.
Buying second-hand saves something from being thrown into landfill, and you avoid buying something new that is eventually going to be thrown away as well. It is also a great way to avoid paying a hefty price-tag if you’re on a budget. (A good dry cleaner will be a lifesaver and help it looking new in no time).
My jacket now has a story. It has lasted many winters; journey’s to work on Sydney buses, wandering the chilly London streets in spring and a trip or two to the tailor to fix the lining.
My mindful wardrobe is not just about buying better and making it last longer. It’s also about reducing how much I throw out. I buy items that are made well, and I care for them to make sure they last. And when it does come time to part with them, I’ll make sure they go to a charity shop, or I contribute them to a recycling program.