So, you probably understood that clothes are kind of a big deal to me. Not really because I am into fashion – I am really not, although I do occasionally like dressing up like probably 99% of people. No, it’s more because I had a very slow and long epiphany, that eventually became clear one day: I did not need to keep doing what I had always been doing. And this has permeated every aspect of my life, or so I like to think. Everytime I catch myself doing something mindlessly, like shopping in a mall once was, I try to reevaluate it with this thought in mind. Does what I am doing right now make sense? Is there another, a better, way to do it?
For clothes, the answer is yes. Why?
Because cheap clothes suck! They don’t fit well, they are poorly made, and of poor-quality fabric. According to one study, the average number of wears women clothes gets is 7. SEVEN. S-E-V-E-N . Would you wear a perfectly tailored, beautiful silk dress only 7 times? Nope. A cheap, poorly fitted polyester dress on the other hand? I might have done this.
This overconsumption, coupled with the poor quality of today’s garments, is incredibly wasteful. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: the way mass produced clothing is made (i.e., 100% of what we regular people usually buy) is an environmental disaster (so much water is needed, for instance, to produce cotton – not to mention the pesticides), and above all, ethically terrible.
There have been many eye-opening scandals, like the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. But isn’t it sad that we need those to shift our consumption patterns? Don’t we all know that cheap clothing has a price? I remember working for a retail company and having access to the amount of money each individual garment cost them. The mark up was insane (like easily 80%) and I realized that meant there was absolutely no way in hell the workers were paid a decent living wage. And you know what? I had always known it, and yet I had to see it myself to fully realize what that meant.
That’s something we should keep in mind. We don’t know the specifics on how these workers are treated, and how much they are making when they make garments for H&M or Forever21 or the Gap. But we can safely assume that their working and living conditions are far away from anything we would condone if we were asked directly.
I get it though. I am far from being rich, and I know not everyone can afford to invest in ethical, eco-friendly designer clothes. But here are a few ideas for you, and they have the added bonus of being cheap (sometimes even free) and absolutely eco-friendly, since they don’t involve creating new clothes but instead reusing:
Go vintage or second-hand: if you do it well, you’ll never be as well dressed for as little money. A few thought though:
- it might take time before you become good at finding deals and steals, so persevere!
- it’s a great way to develop your personal style and dress in a more unique way. The drawback is, you can’t expect to successfully go shopping second-hand with a very specific idea of what you are looking for. Keep an open mind, and maybe go shopping a bit more than you’d normally have. It’s more fun than shopping in a mall, and as long as you are being honest about how a garment fits you and whether or not you like it, you will be buying better.
- some stores will let you trade your used clothing in good condition for their clothes. That’s an awesome way to declutter AND to get new clothes for free or almost nothing.
Find (or organize) a swap-party: basically, you bring the clothes you don’t want to wear anymore, put them on a table for other people to look at, and then grab the clothes that catch your eye and you know for sure you are going to wear. You can do that with friends, find a Facebook group, or look in your city for organizations that offer this.
Last but not least: join a “free” group on Facebook. They are popping in many cities and allow people to give away what they do not want anymore. Watch out for junk (there is a lot) and always commit to liking and wearing what you want to get – it would be too bad to create more waste.
And of course, get educated! Elizabeth Cline’s book is a great resource. What most struck me when I read it was the idea that we had never been spending so little money on clothes (even though we, in the western world, are generally way better off than people in the 1900’s). And yet, I have complained many times that a $50 dress is too expensive. That definitely made me rethink my priorities.